Skip to main content Skip to local navigation
Home » Programmes and Projects » Predicaments of a "Post-Conflict" Generation: A Comparative Study of Sikh and Ahmadiyya Diaspora Formations

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.

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


Michael Nijhawan (Principal Investigator)

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University

Professor Nijhawan’s research interests are interdisciplinary, combining methodologies and theories drawn from social and cultural anthropology, history, sociology, cultural studies and the study of religion. He has conducted extensive ethnographic research on Sikh religious formations in India and Europe. His most recent work focuses on religious transnationalism and diaspora formation. He is also co-editing a book on Suffering in Arts and has ventured into documentary filmmaking.

Email | Web site 

Kamal Arora (Researcher)
Community researcher; Graduate Program in Anthropology, University of British Columbia

Kamal Arora is a doctoral student in Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Her ethnographic research involves exploring the religious practices of Sikh women in New Delhi and the ways in which religious bodies and practices are created, honed, practiced and carried out in everyday life. She also has a number of years of experience working in university research settings, community development and international development, both in Canada and in New Delhi in various fields. Ms. Arora has been working on this study since September 2010 and is one of the founding members of SAFAR: The Institute for Sikh Feminist Research.

MA: Gender and Development (Institute of Development Studies/University of Sussex, United Kingdom, 2008)
BA: Communication and English Literature (Simon Fraser University, Canada, 2004)

Duygu Gul (Researcher)
Research Assistant, Graduate Program in Sociology, York University

Duygu Gul is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at York University. She holds a Masters degree in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University, Istanbul, with a thesis titled “Women of Power: The Policewomen in Turkey”. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations and Sociology from the same university. Currently, she is interested in collective memory studies and transnationalism.

News and Events

2011 | Interviews and field research will continue in Frankfurt and the GTA in 2011–2012.

2010 | Over the first year, two research assistant have been conducting interviews with the “post-conflict” generation of Canadian-born Sikhs and Ahmadis in the Greater Toronto Area.

Publications and Output

Nijhawan, Michael (2010). “‘Today, We Are All Ahmadi’: Configurations of Heretic Otherness between Lahore and Berlin”.British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 27(3): 429-447.

The Ahmadis are widely regarded as heterodox in Pakistan, where they have moved after the Partition of British India in 1947, and where they have later been declared by the state as being ‘non-Muslim’. Faced with violence and discrimination on a regular basis, they have migrated in large numbers to Europe, including Germany. There, they are free to continue their religious practice, but at the same time have been treated with hostility as they become part of central city life. Faced with suspicion both at home and now in Europe,this article explores the double sense of heterodoxy which the Ahmadis now face, and explores the complex reactions, including media campaigns to which they have given rise in Germany.
Nijhawan, Michael (2011). “Sikhism, Traumatic Repetition, and the Question of Aesthetic Sovereignty”. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 23: 128-142.

This article provides a detailed discussion of Arvind Mandair’s new work Religion and the Specter of the West. Written from a sociological vantage point, which is informed by a long commitment to Sikh Studies, the argument presented here focuses on three organizing concepts of Mandair’s work: (1) repetition and how it is to be read within the process of subject formation, (2) trauma as a conceptual tool to rethink postcolonial identity, and (3) aesthetic sovereignty as providing possible exit out of hermeneutic dilemmas of ‘translating religion.’

Contact Us

Principal Investigator: Professor Michael Nijhawan