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Sikh Foundation Endows Chair at UCR


Sikh Foundation Endows Chair at UCR

Pashaura Singh is appointed to the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies.

(June 5, 2008)

Pashaura SinghEnlarge

Pashaura Singh

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — With contributions from the Saini Foundation and a number of individuals, the Sikh Foundation has endowed the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi (Language) Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Pashaura Singh, UCR professor of religious studies, has been appointed to the position, which is intended to further the study of Sikhism and Sikh culture.

The UCR chair is the second the Sikh Foundation has funded in California, said Narinder Kapany, founding chairperson of the Palo Alto-based organization. The first was at UC Santa Barbara. The foundation has committed to fund other chairs at UC Santa Cruz and California State University East Bay.

The Sikh Foundation was founded in 1967 and publishes books, funds chairs of Sikh studies and Punjabi language programs at universities, and assembles exhibitions of Sikh art for display in prominent museums around the world.

The UCR chair honors the late Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini, who was known for his expertise in treating heart-rhythm problems and served as chief of the cardiology department at Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz.

Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world with more than 24 million adherents. More than 500,000 live in the United States, about half of them in California, Kapany said. About 80 percent of the world’s Sikhs live in the Indian province of Punjab.

“We have been in this country for more than 100 years and many people don’t know about us,” said Kapany, who is known as the father of fiber optics. “We want people to know who we are and what we stand for.”

“The Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies will go a long way to make Sikhs more familiar to members of the university community,” Singh said, “and will help break down barriers that exist between Sikhs and other people who perceive them in a stereotypical manner. It will help through its academic activities to erode the ignorance that now exists.”

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab province of India about 500 years ago. Sikhs believe in the equality of all people, emphasize the family, and advocate service to others and living in the world without being worldly.

“This chair is important to our campus because it provides in perpetuity the opportunity for students of every worldview and every region to become knowledgeable about the history, literature, music, art, religious beliefs and practices, and debates characteristic of the Sikh tradition, in its homeland of Punjab in India and throughout the diaspora,” said June O’Connor, professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies. “Given the migration of peoples throughout the world and therefore the migration of religions, it behooves us all to become acquainted with the many religions that characterize our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious world.”

As the world’s youngest major religion, Sikhism has had to address academic issues and divergent approaches in a more “compact” time frame and within a context of persistent political turmoil, Singh said.

“Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major religions have spent centuries working through various theological, philosophical, and cultural dilemmas while Sikhism has only just begun to make its impact in both the scholarly field and the world of comparative religion and ethics,” said Singh, who is a Sikh. “Although within the academy we now have seven chairs of Sikh studies established in North America with the active financial support of the members of the Sikh community, a great deal of ignorance still persists in North America about the Sikhs and their religious traditions.”

Teaching about Sikhism “will reach far beyond the boundaries of the campus and will play a significant role in addressing urgent community concerns,” Singh said. “It will bring academic respectability to the field of Sikh Studies. As the first chair-holder it is my cherished goal to develop this into one of the leading centers of Sikh studies in the world.”

Singh taught at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for 13 years and joined the UCR faculty in religious studies in 2005.

Singh has written and edited several books, including his most recent “Life and Work of Guru Arjan: History, Memory and Biography in the Sikh Tradition” (Oxford University Press, 2006), and authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, book reviews and encyclopedia entries. His current scholarly project focuses on the music of the Sikh tradition.

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