Welcome to Punjabi Studies at UBC

The Department of Asian Studies at UBC represents the premiere department in Canada dedicated to the study of Asia, and indeed is among the strongest in North America overall. The Department is responsible for teaching a wide range of languages and their literatures, cultural history, and linguistics. Punjabi occupies a central place in the Department’s South Asia program, and represents one of the largest and longest-standing Punjabi-language programs in the world, outside of South Asia.

Punjabi Studies is flourishing at UBC. We have a full program of Punjabi language classes from the first to third years, and have now initiated a new fourth-year program that offers advanced classes in Punjabi literature. For example, in 2017-8 we again offered Punjabi 402, which explores the qissa or narrative “Hir-Ranjha” by Waris Shah (it was last taught in W2016) and in 2015-6 we offered PUNJ 401, exploring devotional literature in Punjabi, for the second time. This year, in 2018-9, we are offering a new class on modern Punjabi literature for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. The Punjabi Studies program features an oral history component that allows students to delve into the local history and experience of the Punjabi Canadian community: oral history has been integrated into Punjabi language classes in the past at the third-year level, and it is the focus of a new fourth-year level course called “Documenting Punjabi Canada” (ASIA 475) that was first taught in 2015-6 by Professor Anne Murphy and was taught in Fall 2017, and will be taught again in Spring 2019, by Ph.D. candidate and documentary filmmaker, Ajay Bhardwaj. Please explore the links above to find out more.  We have recently added a unique undergraduate class on “Punjabi Cinema” that is popular with students, and a new class has recently been approved on “Film in South Asia,” which will explore art or parallel cinema across languages in South Asia, including Punjabi. Punjabi material is also examined alongside other vernacular and classical language works in a class on medieval Indian literature in translation (ASIA 358) that is consistently taught in the Department. Cultural production in Punjabi is the focus of the work of several graduate students in the Department, who work on topics such as Punjabi-language theatre, film, performance, and early modern narrative traditions.

The study of South Asian religions is a particular strength of the Department, and Sikh Studies is consistently taught in a popular class called “Asia 376,” the enrolment in which usually reaches 80 or more. Study of selections of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikh tradition, is prominent in the Punjabi 401 class, as is study of Punjabi Sufi poetry by Bulhe Shah. Our PUNJ 402 class focuses on the Qissā or narrative of Hīr-Rāńjhā, in the context of broader Indo-Persianate and vernacular narrative traditions in South Asia and the Sufi prem-ākhyān which predated the Qissā. We have several Ph.D. students working on topics related to early modern and popular religions of Punjab in the Department. As the co-Chair of the Religion, Literature and the Arts Interdisciplinary Program, Professor Anne Murphy, works with colleagues on the Program’s Advisory Committee to develop a program of historically grounded cross-cultural and comparative religious courses for students.

Community engagement is a major commitment of the Punjabi Studies program at UBC. We have partnered with numerous community organizations over the past decade, including the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration (for several public events and a conference); the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation (for several public events at UBC and elsewhere, and for our annual program, described below); the Chetna Association of Canada; Rangmanch Punjabi Theatre; and other organizations. One special new related development in the Department of Asian Studies is the founding of a Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Annual Memorial Lecture, a cooperative project of the Department of Asian Studies, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society 何鴻毅家族基金佛學與當代社會課程, and the Centre for India and South Asia Research in the Institute for Asian Research in partnership with the Institute of Humanities at Simon Fraser University, the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation, and the Chetna Association of Canada. The first of these Annual Lectures took place in November 2017. The goal of these programs is to bring scholarship to a wider public, and to explore research related to topics of broad interest and import. The Punjabi Language Oral History program, also featured on this site, is fundamentally driven by a commitment to community engagement, and involves students in the documentation and dissemination of Punjabi Canadian history. This commitment to local history was extended in 2017 with Dr. Murphy’s role in a Canada 150+ project entitled “Canada at 150+: Trauma, Memory, and the Story of Canada,” a series of art events in Vancouver that explore painful aspects of the story of Canada deserving of recognition as a part of the commemoration of the confederation of Canada in 2017. The project was initiated by the South Asian Canadian Histories Association (SACHA), of which Dr. Murphy is a co-founder; it received major funding from the Canada 150 Fund, as well as UBC, the City of Vancouver and the Canada Council for the Arts, with additional support from Simon Fraser University Woodward’s.

The Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial program represents a major feature of our community engagement program. First of all, it celebrates all the work being done for Punjabi by UBC students, who present Punjabi-language skits and possibly films (when a class has produced them in a given year). Secondly, awards are presented to student Punjabi-language essay contest winners and to a BC-based Punjabi-language writer, in recognition of “lifetime achievement.” This latter feature is designed to recognize and call attention to the great work being done for Punjabi in British Columbia. We also invite a scholar of Punjabi language, literature and/or culture, or an activist or artist, to address the university and/or broader community, to allow UBC students and faculty, and members of the wider community, to hear from both new and established figures who enrich our understanding and experience of Punjabi language and culture. See more in the link above under “Annual Event.”

Find out more about our Annual Event, ongoing and past research and projects, our class-based oral history program, and more, through the navigation links above.