Research and Projects

Dr. Murphy’s research interests focus on early modern and modern cultural representation in Punjab and within the Punjabi Diaspora, as well as more broadly in South Asia, with particular attention to the historical formation of religious communities and special but not exclusive attention to the Sikh tradition. Her monograph, The Materiality of the Past: History and Representation in Sikh Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2012), explored the construction of Sikh memory and historical consciousness in textual forms and in relation to material representations and religious sites from the eighteenth century to the present. She edited a thematically related volume entitled Time, History and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia (Routledge, 2011), and has pursued her continuing interests in commemoration and memorial practices in a volume entitled Partition and the Practice of Memory (Palgrave, 2018), co-edited with Churnjeet Mahn (Strathclyde University).  She has engaged in numerous Public Humanities and Arts projects over the last five years that have furthered these interests (see below under “Current Research Projects”). Dr. Murphy has published articles in History and Theory, Studies in Canadian Literature, South Asian History and Culture, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and other journals.  As indicated on the list of “Current Research Projects,” below, Dr. Murphy is currently pursuing research on the history of the Punjabi language and the early modern and modern emergence of Punjabi literature, for which she has received major funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council from 2017-23. She received the UBC Dean of Arts Research Award for W2017, was a Wall Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC in 2016-7 and, from May to July 2017, April to July 2022, and October to December 2022, was a Visiting Fellow at the Max-Weber-Kolleg Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the Universität Erfurt, Germany, and was Directeur d’Études Associé (Associate Director) of L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris in June 2019. She was Visiting Faculty at Delhi University in February 2015 and at Punjab University Lahore in December 2019, and returned to the Max-Weber-Kolleg, Universität Erfurt, in 2022 as a Visiting Fellow, after an initial visit in 2017. Dr. Murphy has initiated a student-research-oriented oral history program linked to her own research. which has recently been pursued recently through the projects “Punjabi in BC,” which documents the history of the Punjabi language in Canada, and “Caste in Canada,” which documents the history of caste in Canada; both projects pursue oral history collection with student participation.  teaches classes in the Department of History on early modern and modern South Asia, the vernacular literary and religious traditions of South Asia, and South Asian cultural history. She served until June 30, 2019 as Chair (2016-8) and then co-Chair of the “Religion, Literature and the Arts” Interdisciplinary Program, and was a Faculty Advisor to that program and also the “Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies” program, 2016-2020.

For more on Punjabi Studies at UBC, see:

Current Research Projects

Modern Punjabi language and literature across bordersThis project documents and analyzes the advocacy movement for the Punjabi language and its literature across national boundaries since the 1940s, with a focus on its secular commitments and its relationship to religious mobilization. Dr. Murphy received SSHRC Insight Development grant support for initial research on this project from 2013-5 (extended to 2016) and major Insight Grant support to complete the research from 2017-23. As a part of this project, Dr. Murphy acted as Contributor, Lead for Punjabi literature, and member of Advisory Board for DELI, the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Indian Literatures, a project emerging out of four French institutional partners: the academic research teams THALIM (Theory and History of Arts of Literatures in Modernity), MII (Iranian and Indian Worlds) and CERC (Centre for Comparatist Research and Studies), and the laboratory Résurgences. She also convened a related conference at UBC in 2017 with colleague Professor Anshu Malhotra entitledBhai Vir Singh (1872-1957): Rethinking Literary Modernity in Colonial Punjab (August 2017 that resulted in a special journal issue in 2020 and a book volume in 2023. Dr. Murphy published a book-length translation related to this project in 2022, and is currently completing a manuscript for a monograph on Punjabi language advocacy and literary production in India and Pakistan. She extended the project to document the history of Punjabi in Canada with the support of funding from the UBC VPRI office’s Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), which enabled UBC students to conduct oral history interviews among those involved in Punjabi language education and literary work in BC, from 2019-23, and held a related conference in 2017 that resulted in a special journal issue in 2020 and edited volume in 2023.

See ongoing research results at: Modern Punjabi Literature & Arts: Ongoing Research

Dr. Murphy delivered an online lecture on 2 June 2020 on the work of Indian Punjabi author Daleep Kaur Tiwana, as a part of the Lyallpur Young Historians Club online lecture series.  An essay on this topic will be published in the forthcoming edited volume Punjabi Centuries, edited by Dr. Anshu Malhotra (University of California at Santa Barbara). See:

Punjabi in the (late) vernacular millenniumThe historical formations of Punjabi language and literature: This project examines the historical emergence of the Punjabi language in relation to broader theories of vernacularization in north India, and particularly with reference to religious community articulation. This project emerges out of and alongside the research undertaken on modern Punjabi language and literature, to account for the historical formations of Punjabi and its manifestation in Sufi and Sikh contexts. As a visiting Fellow at Max-Weber-Kolleg, Universität Erfurt, Germany from May-July 2017 Dr. Murphy explored early Punjabi’s religious valences in relation to broader theories of vernacularization and religious individualization (the then-ongoing project at Max-Weber-Kolleg); she continued work along these lines with the Max Weber Kolleg in 2022 as a part of the Kolleg’s new project on religion and urbanity.

Intersections with the Arts: Punjabi cultural production, the contemporary arts, and historical practice:Dr. Murphy has begun to develop a large-scale partnership project that will draw together a range of cultural historical work and contemporary creative practice across institutions and individual artists and scholars in Canada, the UK, Europe, India and Pakistan. The early developmental phase of this project, which has been underway since 2013, has included a number of initiatives, such as a theatrical production in Punjabi and English completed for the commemoration of the Komagata Maru incident in 2014 (for details, see:The Komagata Maru Project 2014) and a major project entitled “Trauma, Memory and the Story of Canada” completed in 2017 in association with her role in the South Asian Canadian Histories Association (2016-2020); both projects engaged the visual arts and performance in engagement with the past. Murphy organized an exploratory workshop, funded by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, in 2017 along such lines. To enhance related work at UBC and coordinate with pedagogical initiatives, in 2017-8 she co-organized with Professor Hallie Marshall (UBC Theatre and Film) a seminar series to promote collaboration across departments at UBC entitled “Enacting Culture/s: Theatre and Film Across Disciplines.” She brought together a series of projects to explore “Art and Memory at the Border: Historical practice and the creative arts” — this included a project called “Creative Interruptions,” in which Dr. Murphy served as a project team member, funded by a grant held by Churnjeet Mahn (University of Strathclyde, UK) from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), 2016-19. In its Punjabi component, “Creative Interruptions” explored the history and memorialization of a shared pre-Partition religious past today in the Indian Punjab through artists’ residencies in Fall 2018 and an exhibition in Amritsar and Preet Nagar, India, in February 2019, and in London in June 2019. That project was extended in 2019-20 with a set of artist residencies in Lahore, Pakistan in December 2019, and culminated in an exhibition entitled Dūje Pāse toṅ: From the Other Side — Arts Across the Border, from the Two Punjabs, at The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford BC in summer 2021 (delayed from summer 2020 due to Covid-19) that brought together the work created in India and Pakistan to consider the ways the once-shared past of the whole of Punjab can or might be remembered in the present through creative practice. The exhibition at The Reach was intended to enhance public discourse on the Public Humanities and their role in guiding and shaping our exchange with the past with the support of a SSHRC Partnership Engage grant. See the exhibition website at:

For a selection of online resources, see: Modern Punjabi Literature and Language: Resources

Recent Past Projects

Scholarly workshop: Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957): Rethinking Literary Modernity in Colonial Punjab (August 2017):  This workshop brought together emerging and senior scholars from North America and India to consider the life, work, and legacy of Bhai Vir Singh, who had a profound impact on Sikh and Punjabi culture and history. A selection of essays originating in the conference was released as a special issue of Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory, co-edited by Dr. Anne Murphy and Dr. Anshu Malhotra (University of California, Santa Barbara) entitled Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957): Rethinking Literary Modernity in Colonial Punjab, 16: 1-2 (DOI: A book volume containing some of these essays in addition to a selection of new essays was published in 2023 through the Critical Sikh Studies series with Routledge Press: Bhai Vir Singh (1872–1957): Religious and Literary Modernities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Indian Punjab. These two publications allow for critical analysis of this important figure and his contribution, politics, and literary impact in light of our current historical understanding of Punjab and the colonial period, by senior and emerging scholars in Punjabi and Sikh Studies.

Art and Memory at the Border: Historical practice and the creative arts: 2017 was the 70th anniversary of the division of the once united cultural and linguistic region of Punjab into two parts along religious lines, one in India and one in Pakistan, amidst large-scale violence and mass migration. The “Art and Memory at the Border” project addresses this troubled history as it relates to the present lived experience of the past in both Punjabs (that is, the Indian Punjab and the Pakistani Punjab) and the Punjabi Canadian Diaspora through a creative arts and cultural history project that seeks to excavate, document, analyse, and represent the once-shared past across the border and the shared histories that connect people now divided by a border.

Komagata Maru Project 2014: Performing the Komagata Maru: Theatre and the Work of Memory This event in early May 2014 comprised a significant component of UBC’s contribution to a region-wide recognition of the centenary of the Komagata Maru incident, when a ship carrying mostly Punjabi and Sikh would-be immigrants to Canada was turned away from Vancouver in 1914 after an excruciating two-month wait in the harbour.At the centre of the project was a theatrical production, comprised of parts of three plays (two in Punjabi and one in English) that reflected on the incident and its ongoing relevance.