Jasjit Singh is a Research Fellow at Leeds University and a member of the Centre for Religion and Public Life.
Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now?
Long story! Having completed a first undergraduate degree in Computer Science and working in IT, in 2004 I wanted to carry out some structured study on the Sikh tradition, so began studying part time for a diploma in ‘World Religions’ with the Open University in which I achieved a Distinction. This allowed me to then start a two-year, part time Masters in Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds from October 2005 while I was still working in which I also achieved a Distinction.
For my MA dissertation I interviewed young British Sikhs about their views on hair and the turban and found that I really enjoyed the process of research, particularly fieldwork and interviewing. I was particularly struck by the amount of effort and energy being put in by young British Sikhs to teach others about the Sikh tradition, and wanted to understand how Sikhs in Britain learn about the Sikh tradition. Having successfully applied to the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme to carry out a funded PhD in collaboration with BECAS (Bradford Educational and Cultural Association of Sikhs) I completed my PhD in 2012. Since then I have carried out a number of funded projects in the area of religious and cultural transmission including a project on the role of South Asian Arts as part of the AHRC Cultural Value programme, a project on ‘Anger and the Arts’ as part of the AHRC Connected Communities programme, and my most recent project funded by CREST examining the idea, context, framing and realities of Sikh radicalization in Britain.
Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area?
I really became interested in religious and cultural transmission having analysed the numerous events being organised by young Sikhs to learn and teach about the Sikh tradition. This contradicted statements I had heard in religious institutions that young people were no longer interested in religion. It also increasingly appeared that the provision for religious instruction being provided by families and religious institutions was not enough for many young people who were being asked questions which traditional arenas of transmission were not able to answer.
The situation of being in diaspora, in a context where minority religious traditions are generally under-represented in schools, leads many members of diaspora to learn about these religious traditions in a somewhat ad-hoc way. Having examined the role of religious institutions, events organized by young people and the online environment I am increasingly interested in the role of media in shaping the way in which individuals engage with particular types of religious transmission.
What are you currently, or about to start, working on?
I have recently completed a CREST funded research project on the idea, context, framing and realities of ‘Sikh radicalisation’ in Britain. This research was sparked by media reports in 2015 citing Sikh “radicalisation” in Britain. In this report I analysed the key narratives and issues which led Sikhs to protest or participate in activism. I found that the most frequently reported examples of violence involving Sikhs in Britain were against other Sikhs, usually caused by doctrinal or personal disputes or disputes relating to how gurdwaras – places of worship for Sikhs – are run. I also found narratives and issues increasingly being transmitted through media, both social media and broadcast media. Building on the findings of this research I am currently formulating a project to examine the role of minority religious media in the transmission of religion in diaspora.
In what way(s) do you feel your research examines the role of religion in public life and the relationship between the two?
My research examines the role of religion in public life in particular having focused on the role of religious identities and on the representation of religious communities. My work on young British Sikhs for instance highlighted a search for authenticity manifesting itself in them using concepts from the Sikh tradition like langar (community kitchen) and taking these out of religious institutions. My most recent work on the framing of Sikh radicalization has demonstrated how in an increasingly globalized world, narratives about particular religious communities impact globally. Using community consultations in my most recent project to feed in to my research and to disseminate my findings also highlighted that religion continues to play an important role in public life and that there is a strong appetite to engage with academic research on relevant topics.