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Predicaments of a "Post-Conflict" Generation: A Comparative Study of Sikh and Ahmadiyya Diaspora Formations

In a time that has been widely described as an era of increasing social and cultural mobility as well as perceived uncertainty over questions of difference, belonging, security, and sovereignty, all issues that are intellectually, politically and morally challenged today, scholars have shown a renewed interest in studying the role of a younger diasporic generation. Among other issues, this generation has been at the forefront of the digital revolution, but it is also critically positioned in regards to new and future challenges of massive proportion.

Professor Nijhawan’s research project focuses on the 2nd and 3rd generation of Sikh and Ahmadi diaspora youth in Canada and Europe (Germany). It contributes to critical studies on diaspora that link issues of post/colonialism, gender relations, racialization and the complexities of migration movements to the emerging interest in (religious) transnationalisms. Whether labels, such as “diasporic population” or “transnational community” are appropriate to delineate the socio-economic as well as cultural and religious dynamics in question is of course open to inquiry.

The project builds on a long-year engagement with a cross-border Punjabi history and society, reaching from Nijhawan’s study on pre-Partition vernacular texts on the Indian subcontinent and the sonic resonances of the 1984 crisis in Punjabi popular culture (Dhadi Darbar. Religion, Violence, and the Performance of Sikh History, Oxford University Press, 2006), to his recent documentary film on diasporic sojourners (Musafer: Sikhi is Travelling, co-dir. K.Singh, 2010). The project therefore situates itself in a series of research interests that evolve around social, historical, cultural and religious themes associated with Punjab.

“Predicaments of a Post-conflict Generation” does not imply that we live in a time beyond conflicts and violence. Quite the contrary could be argued, if we consider issues of epistemic as well as structural violence, discrimination on religious grounds, or racialization as concerns of contemporary currency. “Predicaments” alludes to the specific experiences of the younger generation (18-30 years of age) of Canadian-born and German-born Sikhs and Ahmadis in relation to the violent upheavals of the 1980s that has marked many of their families with histories of displacement, alienation and grief. The reference here is to the violence between the state and the Sikh separatist movement in India around 1984, and the constitutional amendments that have declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims in Pakistan around the same time. Both incidents have been described by researchers as transformative for the very self-understanding of what a “Sikh diaspora” or a “transnational Ahmadiyya community” would signify.

In its analytic core, the project aims to understand how these violent upheavals have shaped notions of identity and belonging for the younger generation of Canadian-born and German-born Sikhs and Ahmadis. These are mostly individuals, who have not themselves witnessed the events or have only witnessed suffering “at a distance.” These issues are seen as woven into biographical narrative and as emotive and cognitive background for an engagement in contemporary issues that are related to Germany and Canada as two contexts of contested multiculturalisms.

The project assumes that “post-conflict” generations have particular stakes while being situated in the midst of processes of internal and external norm setting in their respective societies. Through detailed qualitative interviews and ethnographic research methods, Nijhawan’s research will delineate that far from being passive in response to societal pressures that push them towards ideals of consumerist citizenship and normative integration into secularized public spheres, “diaspora youth” are actively engaged in shaping new imaginaries and ways of belonging that transcend both mentioned frames.

If you are interested in participating in this research and happen to affiliate with one of the two mentioned age groups (roughly 18 to 30 years) in the Greater Toronto Area in Canada and the Frankfurt/Main region in Germany, please don’t hesitate to contact Professor Nijhawan.


Project Timeline: 2010-2013
Supported by: Canada's Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) | Standard Grant
The project received a 2010 nomination for the SSHRC Aurora Prize, which recognizes an outstanding new researcher who is building a reputation for exciting and original research in the social sciences or humanities.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Michael Nijhawan, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University,)
Duygu Gul (Research Assistant, PhD programme in Sociology, York University)
Kamal Arora (community researcher; PhD programme in Anthropology, University of British Columbia)

Further information on the Predicaments of a "Post-Conflict" Generation project:
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