Is British academia finally taking Asian cultural studies seriously?


British academia seems to have a growing interest in studying different parts of Asian cultures, particularly language and religion. Recently, the University of Wolverhampton opened its Centre for Sikh and Panjabi Studies. The centre is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK and will offer PhD and masters level courses, as well as continued learning courses for managers in government agencies, teachers, and other professionals. Fittingly, 10% of Wolverhampton’s population is Sikh (the second largest concentration of Sikhs in the UK), and the Panjabi language is the second most common in the city.

The centre is an interdisciplinary effort, with plans to collaborate with the University’s politics, law, sociology, and business departments. The centre will also place focus on studying and analyzing biblical texts, and will be the first academically-backed training facility for Granthis (priests) and Gianis (scholars of scripture). According to the centre’s director Dr. Opinderjit Kaur Thakhar, “There’s a particular issue here in the UK with youngsters as well as their parents’ generation to some extent, that they just can’t really relate to the Bani (Sikh scriptures) due to lack of language and understanding.”

In addition to this exploration of Sikhism and Panjabi, there also seems to be a growing interest in Hindi. Portsmouth College recently concluded its first offering of courses in “Hinglish,” a fusion language of Hindu and English. The language has been in use since the 1700s, but like other fusion languages including “Spanglish” (popular in the United States), has become more and more popular as the world continues to grow more and more connected. Today, Hinglish is featured in Bollywood films, and is widely used by India’s huge business community.

The course, also believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, was offered to a small group of students in November 2017, and has drawn so much interest that the college plans to expand its Hinglish offerings in the future.

Some say these growing interests, especially in Hinglish, have been sparked by Brits preparing for a post-Brexit world. Hostility towards a more racially and culturally diverse Britain has fuelled much of the debate around Brexit, and there is clearly motivation for those who belong to these diverse cultures, and those who are interested in learning about them, to build cross-cultural connections as the UK exits the EU.

It is puzzling, and certainly shameful, that these developments have taken so many years to materialise, but hopefully more diverse courses of study will continue to spread and academic communities in the UK will become more seriously interested in studying and analyzing diverse cultures.

Dominque Brodie