Global Institute for Sikh Studies

 

GISS

History

Mission

Board

Patrons

Director

History

In the fall of 2015, a group of scholars with a wide-ranging experience of both university-level teaching and community activism began in an informal way to share ideas about the state of Sikh studies and the Sikh Panth (“community”). There was a broad agreement that given the data that has come to light in the past decades a fresh exploration of fundamental issues was needed. Current scholarly imperatives include a better understanding of the following: the details of the founding of the Panth; its beliefs, practices, and social structures; the nature of the Sikh relationship with the land and culture of the Punjāb; Sikhs' religio-political aspirations; and Sikhism's links with Abrahamic and Indic religions. Scholars who participated in these discussions also felt that the current shift in the Sikh Panth from an ethnic/Punjābī identity to a global community represents a historic transition, one with which they should engage more closely. Finally, there was broad recognition of the need to provide accurate information about the Sikhs to the mainstream communities in their newly adopted lands.

The thinking that followed in subsequent months culminated in the resolution to establish the Global Institute for Sikh Studies (GISS) in New York City. The first institution of its kind within the area of Sikh studies, GISS is envisioned as working closely with educational institutions, but its concerns go beyond what is traditionally associated with the academy. GISS will combine an absolute commitment to scholarship, a firm belief in the importance of working with Sikh leadership, and a dedication to providing information to non-Sikhs interested in knowing about the Sikh Panth. Following the highest demands of scholarly rigor, GISS will focus on comprehending the details of the Panth’s past, the complexities of its current state of affairs, the potentialities for its future, and pledges itself to be active in disseminating this information to both Sikhs and their non-Sikh neighbors around the globe.

In its first five years (2017-2021), we foresee GISS as concentrating its efforts in three specific areas. First, we will work to expand the pool of sources for studying the Panth. For instance, we will make available knowledge about early Sikh sites and material culture, considering the implications that these data have for the received wisdom on the formative period of the Panth. Secondly, we will make a concerted effort to advance current scholarly work on early Sikh texts by reexamining the context of their production and the history of their interpretation as developed at the centers of traditional Sikh learning (ṭaksāls). Scholars can then assess whether there is a need to reorient existing narratives of early Sikh history on the basis of new information. In order to accomplish these two goals, GISS plans to create a comprehensive repository of digital versions of early Sikh sources, and contribute toward the task of developing tools and skills appropriate to evaluating these materials. Recent developments in the study of religion and literature in the Western academy will provide the backdrop for this work, but it is expected that distinctively Sikh perspectives on this archive will also emerge with greater clarity than heretofore.

Finally, we at GISS underline our commitment to making the results of our endeavors available to both the Sikh Panth and to other communities with whom Sikhs live in close contact, wherever they find themselves. Given the varied interests of people associated with GISS, we look forward to serving as a source of authoritative information on Sikh history, religious life, political aspirations, and Punjābī culture. We would work closely with Sikh leadership on issues related to delineating the contours of the Sikh heritage; evolving ways to facilitate its transmission to Sikh children born and brought up away from the Punjāb; articulating potential opportunities that accompany the process of globalization; and developing the wherewithal to provide information to non-Sikh forums interested in obtaining it.

With GISS now incorporated, we have launched into a phase that will consolidate the work in which several of us have been engaged in the course of the past few decades (please see pictures posted at various places on the site). With unflinching faith in the importance of our mission and complete dedication to serving the cause of Sikh scholarship and disseminating our research results both within the Sikh Panth and among others interested in this information, we humbly embark on this venture and look forward eagerly to the challenge of making a positive impact on the history of the Sikh Panth.  

Gurinder Signh Mann

Gurinder Singh Mann
Director


GISS EMBLEM: The artistic depiction of the Sikh flag (niśān) with two peacock-feather whisks (caur) at its base symbolizes the divinely sanctioned sovereignty (patiśāhī) of the Khālsā Panth and its right to rule (rāj karegā Khālsā). The cauldron/food (deg) and sword/justice (teġ) imprinted on its canton mark the Sikh obligation to ensure the welfare of all (sarbat dā bhalā) including nature represented in the form of a tree in full blossom with sunbirds savoring the nectar (from a text of the Guru Granth dated 1775).