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Sikh Studies

Above: A rare photograph of some of the first Sikh students who attended the University of Michigan (late 1920s). On the left is Partap Singh Kairon who was studying for an Masters in Political Science at U-M and would later became Chief Minister of the Indian state of Punjab. [Source: Arthur W. Helweg: Asian Indians in Michigan, MSU Press, 2002; image credit: G.S. Grewal]

As one of the world’s leading research universities, the University of Michigan has been home to an endowed chair in Sikh Studies for close to three decades. With a flourishing interdisciplinary program of culture and language courses and a growing Ph.D. program, Michigan is at the forefront of an international renaissance in Sikh Studies. We believe that excellence in scholarship can flourish in harmony with the aspirations of local communities, contributing to the evolution and dissemination of new insights into Sikh tradition, literature, philosophy and the transmission of Punjabi language in an increasingly global society. By constructing solid foundations in research and teaching, the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures is committed to supporting and encouraging growth in Sikh Studies in our world today.

With over 25 million followers, Sikhism (or Sikhi) is often described as the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. Founded in the 15th century in the northwestern region of India known as the Punjab, at the heart of Sikhi are the ten Gurus, from the founding Guru Nanak to the tenth Guru Gobind Singh who transferred authority from individual leaders to the scriptures and the community itself. Although most Sikhs continue to reside in Indian Punjab, there is now a large and thriving Sikh diaspora. 

The Sikh community’s presence in Michigan and its connections with the University of Michigan goes back to the late 1920s when the Ford Motor Company was busy attracting Asian Indians to come and work in Detroit. Sikhs who attended the University of Michigan in the 1930s include Partap Singh Kairon (later the Chief Minister of Punjab) and the writer Gurbaksh Singh who founded the influential magazine Preetlari in 1933.