“Lost in Translation”: How Colonialism Shaped Modern Sikh Identity

  • Vishal Sangu Open University


This article traces the interactions and influence of colonialism on Sikh identity. The specific focus will be between 1870-1920, when Sikh identity was reforming under the Singh Sabha movements. Arguing the “World Religion” understanding of “Sikhism” is a de-political, private, and colonial construct. Focusing on decolonisation of thought and advocating the understanding of Sikhi as a religious-political (Miri/Piri), decolonial, lived identity. This is done through tracing colonial scholarship, Sikh scholarship, and theories and understandings in Religious Studies. Tracing how colonialism affects Sikh identity through primary research focusing on the effects of texts, translations, ideas, language, and understandings from the colonial era and the issues that has for the Sikh diaspora. Arguing the translations of Sikh scriptures by Ernest Trumpp (1877) was catastrophic for understanding Sikh identity. It argues the needed reaction to the defamatory comments made by Ernest Trumpp has led to the modern formation of “Sikhism” in line with the Protestant model of religion. This idea of “Sikhism” is detrimental to Sikh identity as it separates the boundaries between religion and the secular. This article advocates use of a vernacular approach to the study of religion to advocate for decolonisation of Religious Studies through qualitative methods of research, investigating the effects of colonial language and texts of Sikh scriptures has on the Sikh diaspora. Calling for a process of decolonisation through presenting the affects the colonial period has on Sikh religion. 

How to Cite
SANGU, Vishal. “Lost in Translation”: How Colonialism Shaped Modern Sikh Identity. Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion (JBASR), [S.l.], v. 25, p. 124-139, sep. 2023. ISSN 2516-6379. Available at: <https://www.jbasr.com/ojs/index.php/jbasr/article/view/68>. Date accessed: 03 oct. 2023. doi: https://doi.org/10.18792/jbasr.v25i0.68.