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Waves of Revolution: Interrogations of Sikh Political and Spiritual Subjectivities in Punjab and the American West, 1900-1928


My dissertation entitled “Waves of Revolution: Interrogations of Sikh Political and Spiritual Subjectivities in Punjab and the American West, 1900-1928” examines the development of anti-colonial thought and activity among Sikh laborers after their arrival to the American West from 1913-1928. Specifically, using interdisciplinary methods and methodologies in the humanities, I construct an intellectual and literary history of the Ghadar Party, a transnational Indian anticolonial organization that was established in Astoria, Oregon in 1913. The party’s primary objective was to organize a munity against the British colonial government and bring India to independence. With the Ghadar Party, immigrant Sikh laborers created a political organization that was so powerful it almost defeat the British empire. I interrogate the Ghadar Party’s success by critically analyzing the early twentieth century political poetry published by the Ghadar Press in California. Building on this literary foundation, I augment my analysis with approaches from history and anthropology to construct a literary, social, and political history of Sikh spiritual and political subjectivities in the early twentieth century. Prior historical studies on the Ghadar Party define the party as secular and consequently leave out the many ways in which Ghadar was influenced by the Sikh tradition, or Sikhi. Thus, I highlight not only the influences that Sikh knowledges have had on the Party’s ideologies, but also how Sikhi has been depoliticized through this process of secularization of the Sikh tradition’s political history.

This transnational project is thematically structured to: (1) understand secular developments in Ghadar’s history and political activity in Punjab; (2) grapple with the ways in which immigration policy and law affected Punjabi-Sikh immigrants in the diasporic space of the American West in the early 1900s; (3) contend with the non-secular and its presence in the archives of Sikh laborers through their employment of Sikhi within their poetry. This dissertation project seeks to extend the work done by scholars within American Studies, History, Literature, Sikh Studies, and Critical Historical Anthropology to engage more deeply with the laborers of anticolonial movements. By borrowing methodologies from each of these disciplines, “Waves of Revolution” centers interdisciplinary research questions and hopes to advance each of these fields by uncovering new and collaborative ways to interrogate the archive, specifically through critical literary and historical analysis of non-secular knowledges in relation to race, religion, and empire. Through this project, I re-examine the archive and uncover the rich and deeply influential histories of non-secular knowledges in anti-colonial thought and the lived realities of Sikh peoples in the American West and Punjab in the early 20th century.

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