News | 30 July 2020

New Sikh and Punjabi Studies chair to enhance Asian Studies with focus on social justice

By  for UCSC News


Guriqbal Singh Sahota

Associate professor of literature Guriqbal Singh Sahota has been appointed the new Sarbjit Singh Aurora Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies.

Established through the Sikh Foundation by Hardit and Harbhajan K. Singh in memory of their son, Sarbjit Singh Aurora, the chair supports research and teaching in Sikh and Punjabi studies at UCSC from a multicultural and global perspective.

Born in rural Punjab, Sahota grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated with honors in history from UC Santa Cruz, receiving the Chancellor’s Award for his thesis on early Indian nationalism. He continued his studies at UC Berkeley, where he studied Sanskrit and Punjabi, and later entered the doctoral program in South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. 

Before returning to teach at UCSC in the Literature Department, he also taught at the University of Minnesota, was a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, and a Fulbright Fellow in Delhi and London. 

Sahota’s first book, Late Colonial Sublime, received the Mellon Foundation’s Modern Language Initiative First Book Award. He is now working on a variety of writing and photography projects that intersect with the Sikh tradition and the literary languages of Punjab and the Punjabi diaspora. 

Sahota described why he decided to take on the appointment as chair.

“In this moment of racial and ethnic self-reckoning in American society, I wanted to make sure UCSC can help open a new chapter in higher education that would forge a curriculum more in keeping with our times, more reflective of the needs of a multicultural California, and more deeply involved in questions of social justice such that new approaches, paradigms, critiques, histories, languages, and ways of seeing the world can be included in our institutions,” said Sahota. 

“The Aurora chair provides a platform for advocating for a stronger Asian humanities infrastructure at UCSC, while prefiguring what is possible through various curricula and scholarly activities at UCSC,” he added. “The position allows for a bridging of traditional South Asian studies (with its focus on classical Indian languages, literatures, religions, and arts), on the one hand, with critical race and ethnic studies (with its focus on social justice, diaspora, cultural difference, exile, and the politics of marginality).”

Sahota noted that his plans for the term as chair include a variety of events, programs, and public outreach projects—such as film screenings, conferences, photography projects to document the longstanding Sikh/Punjabi presence in California, and workshops to study key texts in the Sikh canon. 

He will also teach at least one course per year on relevant topics and continue to make possible, for both undergraduates and graduate students, advanced research in Indian languages and literary traditions.

“I hope the chair will afford me the opportunity to return to Punjab on occasion, to wander off the beaten track, make some forays into different archives, and maybe discover something captivating in the process,” he added. “Something of the sort seems to happen every time I am there!”

Sahota’s appointment is for a five-year period from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2025. Sahota will succeed UCSC professor Nirvikar Singh, who has served as the Sarbjit Singh Aurora Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies since 2010.

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