NUS tells us more about Visiting Chair for Sikh Studies programme


By Asia Samachar | Singapore |

The National University of Singapore (NUS) hopes that the Visiting Chair for the Sikh Studies programme will provide the expertise for its students to undertake courses on Sikhism regularly and bolster research in the field of Sikh Studies.

“Through public lectures and interaction, we also hope that the visiting professors will facilitate NUS’s wider aim of community engagement,” the university tells Asia Samachar in an interview.

NUS, one of the world’s top universities, is expected to introduce the first module of its Sikh Studies programme in the semester starting August 2023, as part of the introduction of the visiting chair.

Dr Jasjit Singh from the University of Leeds has been appointed as the first Visiting Chair for the Sikh Studies programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The appointment is a major milestone in the introduction of the Sikh studies mooted by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB).

The appointment was announced at the conclusion of a recent akhand path in conjunction with the Vaisakhi celebration at the Central Sikh Temple Singapore.

In April 2022, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the CSGB signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalise the visiting professorship expected to commence in 2023. It is expected to promote academic scholarship in Sikh studies both in Singapore and globally.

Jasjit is an associate professor in the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science at the University of Leeds.

He completed his PhD titled ‘Keeping the Faith: The Transmission of Sikhism among young British Sikhs’ in 2012 and was awarded ‘Research Excellence’ status by his examiners. His research examines religious identity and processes of religious transmission among Sikhs in Diaspora.


How did the idea of setting up the Visiting Professorship in Sikh Studies come about?

The establishment of the Visiting Professorship in Sikh Studies (Professorship) was mooted by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB) Singapore. The leadership of CSGB was keen that students – both Sikhs and those from other communities – at the National University of Singapore should have options to study key aspects of the Sikh Way of Life.

How long has it taken for NUS to decide to move forward with this project? What was the timeline?The South Asian Studies Programme (SASP) at NUS was keen to move forward with this project as soon as it was introduced. SASP has long held considerable expertise in the study of South Asian religions although, due to a lack of expertise, the programme has not been able to offer specialised courses in Sikhism for some time. This initiative will bolster the strength of the programme in this field. The fundraising for the professorship started approximately two years and the timeline has been extended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected the fundraising efforts. An MOU between NUS and CSGB was signed in April 2022 to solidify the terms of the Professorship and renew the fundraising efforts. We are expecting for the first Visiting Professor to arrive in August 2023.

What is the existing closest model to what NUS has in mind for the Visiting Professorship in Sikh Studies?

The Visiting Professorship in Sikh Studies is a unique proposition that brings together the strengths of the University and the South Asian Studies Programme.

Is multi religion comparative studies part of the offerings to undergrad students?

The study of religion from a sociological, philosophical and historical standpoint has long been part of the NUS curriculum. Consequently, there are several modules offered that study a variety of traditions including Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism amongst others. Indeed, there is a Minor in Religious studies that is offered to students at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The focus is on introducing students to different religious traditions, rather than adopting a comparative lens.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING: NUS FASS dean Professor Lionel Wee (left) and CSGB president Dilbagh Singh signing the MOU on the Visiting Professorship in Sikh Studies at Central Sikh Gurdwara on 14 April 2022, witnessed by Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence Heng Chee How – Photo: NUS


What is the role of the NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) in this project?

The Visiting Professorship is housed at SASP of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). FASS will be central in the selection of the candidates based on their scholarly accomplishments and the modules offered by the visiting professor when hosted at FASS. Aside from assuming stewardship for enhancing research from an academic perspective, the appointed Visiting Professor will teach elective modules open to students in NUS FASS as well as other faculties in the University. The Visiting Professor will also conduct public seminars for the Sikh community,

What was the initial response of FASS to the idea of a Visiting professorship in Sikh Studies?

FASS was positive on establishing the Visiting professorship and keen to draw reputed scholars who would be best placed to educate students in various aspects of the Sikh way of life.

What is the role of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB) in the endeavor?

CSGB was central in initiating the establishment of the endowment and rallying the community for the fundraising efforts that followed.


What do you hope to achieve with the setting up of the Visiting Professorship in Sikh Studies?

We hope that the visiting professors will provide the expertise for students at NUS to undertake courses on Sikhism regularly and bolster research in the field of Sikh Studies. Through public lectures and interaction, we also hope that the visiting professors will facilitate NUS’s wider aim of community engagement.

Currently, research in the field of Sikh studies is rather limited and often does not apply academic research standards. How do you think FASS can contribute in this area?

Over the past few decades, FASS at NUS has established a global reputation for its excellent contribution to research in the humanities and social sciences. Drawing reputed scholars to helm the Chair in Sikh Studies is expected to bolster this standing further.

What are the key gains of setting-up such a position in a multi-racial and multi- religious nation/society?

Students from a diversity of racial and religious backgrounds will be able to develop a keen and nuanced understanding of different religious traditions in a multicultural setting. Such an understanding is central in strengthening Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society.

How will this contribute to NUS and the population at large?

The Professorship will draw experts in the field of Sikh Studies to NUS and help to strengthen NUS’s position in the field of religious studies through increased research and teaching


Are there Visiting Professorships in other religions at FASS?

CSGB Visiting Professorship in Sikh Studies is the first in FASS and we are hoping for more as we are currently in discussion with other religious groups.

If there aren’t, do you plan to invite other communities to set up a Visiting Professorship?

We certainly hope that more communities will recognise the value of such initiatives and join us to offer deep research and diversity in such areas.

Will you focus only be on minority religions?

No. We are open to studies in various religions.


What is the status of the search for the candidate?

The search committee for the position was established in 2022. A rigorous selection process has yielded success in identifying distinguished scholars in this field. We are confident that the first Chair will be in place by August 2023. In the longer term, there will be continued efforts to identify and select reputed visiting scholars to bring their expertise to FASS.

What are the key criteria when shortlisting candidates?

We are looking out for the strength of their scholarship in this field and their credentials as good educators.

Would the candidate have to be present for the whole semester?

We expect the candidate to offer a module in Sikh Studies and as well offer guest lectures in the broader modules relating to the study of religion or South Asian communities. The ability to have a chair for the entire semester is dependent on a wide variety of factors: the availability of the Chair for the duration; the extent to which the home institute is willing to release the scholar for the purposes amongst others.

Would NUS accept from Visiting Prof part physical presence on campus and part online lessons for the delivery of Sikh studies?

Realistically, yes. The number of reputed scholars in this field is not very large. They have commitments to their home institutes who may not be able to release them fully for the entire semester. We fully expect that in some cases, scholars, while adhering to the high standards of teaching required at NUS, will provide a number of classes physically, but as well hold some online. [Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before the recent announcement of the successful candidate.]


When will the first teaching be introduced?

We expect the teaching of the first module to be introduced in the semester starting August 2023.

Will the post be permanent or will it cease should the funds stop coming?

As this is an endowed fund, we are expecting it to continue in perpetuity once the full targeted amount is raised as the Professorship will be financed by an annual payout amount.


As a research university, are there future plans to elevate this to a Full Chair?

Yes. Though this will depends on the extent raised by the endowment and the agreement between CSGB and NUS for the purposes.

What will be the criteria to convert the visiting chair to a permanent chair?

There are currently no plans to this effect that the moment.


Jasjit Singh appointed inaugural visiting chair of Singapore Sikh studies (Asia Samachar, 22 April 2023)

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