Sikh Dharam and Postcolonialism: Hegel, Religion and Zizek


  • Balbinder Singh Bhogal Hofstra University



Pre-colonial sikhi, colonial/modern Sikhism, postcolonial sikhi(sm), Dharam, religion, translation, representation


This article ponders what it would require to rethink Sikh dharam today, given the irreversible transformation that occurred from a (pre-colonial) sikhi to today’s (colonial/modern) Sikhism. Such reassessment is approached through the employment of a third term, sikhi(sm). This third term operates as a postcolonial strategy to foreground the legacy of powerful colonial inscriptions, and in doing so, this study aims to recall how (colonial) power continually affects the production of (modern) knowledge. The article therefore charts not only how Europeans created the modern, and now, ‘world religion’ called Sikhism, but how this mode of naming the other as religious through an abstract conceptualization of religion in general, derives from Hegel and his colonial era—an era where the manufacture of religion as a universal category is simultaneously understood as a racial one. Furthermore, Hegel’s way of confronting difference was through an intellectual/academic project of conceptualizing history as the evolution of religion, and that this way of conceptualizing the other married well with colonial adminstrators that sought to control their colonies. This intellectual project to name the other as being part of a religion and therefore of the past, along with its inherent colonial subjugation, has persisted up to the present—even evident in the critical theory of the Left (Žižek). The persistence of this coloniality in contemporary academic discourse is marked by a mode of enunciation that operates to keep the other at bay and relatively voiceless in their subjugated speech. This subjugation is achieved and maintained through a theory of translation-as-representation; where the difficulty of translation proper (as a real meeting of equals with their varied epistemic centers that are allowed mutually to affect each other) is substituted by one where a singular epistemic center is seen as authoritative, and interacts with the other through orientalist modes of representation only it itself fashions, revealing less a heterolingual dialogue and more a hegemonic monologue. After charting the colonial/modern context, the article then briefly sketches some of the key principles that are required to begin the figuration of a postcolonial sikhi(sm).

Author Biography

Balbinder Singh Bhogal, Hofstra University

Balbinder Singh Bhogal is an Associate Professor in Religion and the holder of the S.K.K. Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies at Hofstra University. He has previously held positions at University of Derby, England, James Madison University, Virginia and York University, Toronto. His primary research interests are South Asian religions and cultures specializing in the Sikh tradition, particularly the Guru Granth Sahib, its philosophy and exegesis. Secondary research interests include: hermeneutic theory and its radicalization through deconstruction; Indian Philosophy and its relation to Continental Philosophy, Mysticism, Translation and Postcolonial Studies, and the Religion–Secular and Animal–Human divides. His recent publications are: ‘Decolonizations: Cleaving Gestures that Refuse the Alien Call for Identity Politics’ (Religions of South Asia 2011); ‘Radicalizing Hermes: Philosophical Messengers and Poetic Reticence in Sikh Textuality’ (SOPHIA, 2011); ‘The Hermeneutics of Sikh Music (Rag) and Word (Shabad)’ and ‘Monopolizing Violence before and after 1984: Governmental Law and the People’s Passion’ (Sikh Formations, 2011); and ‘The Animal Sublime: Rethinking the Sikh Mystical Body’ (Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2012).



How to Cite

Bhogal, B. S. (2012). Sikh Dharam and Postcolonialism: Hegel, Religion and Zizek. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 25(2), 185–213.