SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Contemporary Punjab: Society and Culture across Borders

Module Code:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to: 

  • Articulate an understanding of the study of historical and contemporary Punjab
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of how local/regional identifications of Punjab relate to Indian and Pakistan nationalist as well as communal frameworks
  • Understand how fixed regional approaches to the study of Punjab are problematized by globalising processes constituted by, for example, diasporas
  • Appreciate and comprehend different contextual and disciplinary approaches to the study of contemporary Punjab
  • Digest and synthesise the content of lectures, films, texts, and seminars and use them to produce reaction papers and essays to a high standard.

Scope and syllabus

This course will provide students with an introduction to the study of contemporary Punjab (East Punjab and West Punjab in India and Pakistan respectively, as well as the diaspora). By approaching the study of the region across the national demarcations of India and Pakistan, the course forefronts an approach which problematizes how national boundaries have been grafted upon the region in limiting the lens through which the region can be explored writ large.

The course is organised around a number of themes which explore social, material, and cultural formations which highlight areas of contestation, conflict, negotiation, and expression pointing to a rich historical past and vibrant contemporary contexts. Further, the inclusion of the diaspora in the course’s focus highlights the global dimensions and significance of the region through a number of different processes and flows.

Module 1   Imaginaries of Punjab
  • Week 1 Punjab, Punjabi, Punjabiyat
  • Week 2 Domination, collaboration, and resistance
  • Week 3 Beyond the lens of religion
  • Week 4 Nationalising the region: Borderland Punjab post-1947
  • Week 5 Gender and kinship
  • Week 6 Reading Week
Module 2  Margins and Mainstreams
  • Week 7 Zaat, biraderi and the pillars of feudal society
  • Weeks 8 Dalits and the limits to religious escape
  • Week 9 Khalistan, Sikh Separatism and State Repression
  • Week 10 Rituals and devotion across religious boundaries
  • Week 11 Essay preparation seminar 1
Module 3 Contesting culture
  • Week 1 The language question
  • Week 2 The breadbasket thesis revisited: Land, property and social relations
  • Week 3 Social worlds of gender
  • Week 4 Folklore of the Punjab: Love, tragedy and social critique
  • Week 5 Music: Rhythms of identity and social text
  • Week 6 Reading week
Module 4 Diasporas
  • Week 7 Labour, movement, and colonial/postcolonial migrations
  • Weeks 8/9 Global Punjab
  • Week 10 Cultural production and Punjabi diasporic spaces
  • Week 11 Essay preparation seminar 2

Method of assessment

  • Essay 1 (4,000 words, 30%)
  • Essay 2 (4,000 words, 30%)
  • Presentation (20%)
  • Reaction papers - the best 5 count towards final mark (20%)

Suggested reading

  • Anshu Malhotra and Farina Mir (eds.) (2012) Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture and Practice, Oxford University Press.
  • David Gilmartin (1988) Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan.
  • Alyssa Ayres (2012) Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.
  • Mark Juergensmeyer (1988) Religious Rebels in the Punjab: The Social Vision of Untouchables. University of California: Berkeley.
  • Anjali G. Roy (2010) Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and Beyond. Aldershot: Ashgate.
    Urvashi Butalia (2000) The Other Side of Silence.
  • Virinder Kalra (2014) Sacred and Secular Musics: A Postcolonial Approach, London: Bloomsbury.
  • Farina Mir (2010) The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab, University of California Press.
  • Tony Ballantyne, (2006) Between Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World. Durham: Duke University Press.
    Radhika Chopra (2011) Migrant and Militant: The Politics and Social History of Punjab.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules