Harleen Kaur

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My research conceptualizes diasporic identity formation through entangled narratives of racism, nationalism, empire, religion, memory, and trauma – all while centering a liberation theology and praxis.

My dissertation analyzes the shifting subjectivity of the Sikh Punjabi diaspora across empire, specifically the diaspora’s role in constructing borders of whiteness across the colonial map whilst navigating racial precarity. Through semi-structured interviews, archival excavation, discourse analysis, and ethnography, I examine Sikh political projects and claims for the human as they emerge through “the fascism of despair” (Du Bois 1938:12). In particular, I study Sikh community attempts to mobilize the Sikh turban and beard for the benefit of formal and informal modes of inclusion.

This project falls within my larger scholarly commitment to develop sociological histories of colonization that recognize the colonial present in both projects of statecraft and activism. To do so, I engage with Achille Mbembe’s framing of the decolonial question – “through what types of conflicts and negotiations and compromises do we define the all…to whom the earth belongs?” (2020). Rather than rectifying the decolonial question through belonging, however, I grapple with Sikh onto-epistemes in an attempt to push past belonging, or even recognition, as the final frontier. I venture into a new dimension of always-already belonging while forever yearning for liberation through infinite Truth.


  • M.A. in Sociology, UCLA, 2019
  • B.A. in English, University of Michigan, 2015

Fields of Study

Race, Nationalism, Trauma, Collective Memory, Belonging, Identity Formation, Sikh Punjabis


Peer-reviewed Manuscripts

Kaur, Harleen and prabhdeep singh kehal*. (2020). Sikhs as Implicated Subjects in the United States: A Reflective Essay (ਵਿਚਾਰ) on Gurmat-Based Interventions in the Movement for Black Lives. Sikh Research Journal 5(2):68-86.                                                          *equal authorship

Kaur, Harleen. (2020). Making Citizenship, Becoming Citizens: How Sikh Punjabis Shaped the Exclusionary Politics of Belonging. Amerasia Journal 46(1): 107-122. New York: Routledge.

Additional publications

Kaur, Harleen. (Forthcoming). Radical Narrative Traditions: Communal Storytelling as a Praxis for Liberation. In Nesha Z. Haniff (Ed.), The Pedagogy of Action: Disrupting the Pedagogy of Race,Gender and HIV Engagement in the Diaspora. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kaur, Harleen. (2020). The Potency of Sikh Memory: Time Travel and Memory Construction in the Wake of Disappearance. Review of Faith, Gender, and Activism in the Punjab Conflict: The Wheat Fields Still Whisper by Mallika Kaur. Sikh Research Journal 5(2):96-100.

Kaur, Harleen and Simran Jeet Singh. (2016). Guru Nanak and the Foundation of Sikhi. In Florin Curta and Andrew Holt (Eds.), Great Events in Religion: An Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History, 3 Vols. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio.

Kaur, Harleen. Moving On Forward. (2014). In Meeta Kaur and Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh (Eds.), Her Name Is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write about Love, Courage, and Faith. Tempe: She Writes Press.

Manuscripts under preparation

Kaur, Harleen. Legacies of a Martial Race: Sikh Punjabi Investment and Implication in the Police State. (Revise & resubmit at Memory Studies)

Kaur, Harleen. The Im/material, the Intimate, and the Ethnographer: Considering Practices of Ethnography for Racialized Religious Communities. (Under review at Ethnography)

Kaur, Harleen and Victoria Tran. Extinguishing Asian Insurgency: The Limits of State-Asian Diaspora Relationality in Contemporary Sociology. (Under review at Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies)

Awards & Grants

  • 2021                International Institute Dissertation Fieldwork Fellowship, UCLA ($1,550)
  • 2020-2021      Sanctuary Spaces Sawyer Seminar Writing Group, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy ($1,500)
  • 2020                Graduate Council Diversity Summer Fellowship, UCLA ($8,000)
  • 2020                Institute of American Cultures Research Grant, Asian American Studies Center, UCLA ($6,250)
  • 2019-2020        Graduate Research Mentorship Program, Graduate Division, UCLA ($25,000)
  • 2019                Summer Funding, Sociology Department, UCLA ($2,000)
  • 2019                Research Travel Grant, Canadian Studies, UCLA ($1,000)
  • 2018                Graduate Summer Research Mentorship Program, Graduate Division, UCLA ($6,000)
  • 2017-2022        Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellowship, Graduate Division, UCLA ($25,000)

Conference Presentations


  • “Intellectual Wounded Attachments: Discursive Repair or Colonial Civilizing?” with prabhdeep singh kehal. Manuscript to be presented at American Association of Religion Annual Conference, November 2021. [virtual]
  • “Statecraft and Borderwork: Emerging Frontiers of Political and Social Representation in Colonial Punjab.” Manuscript to be workshopped at New Directions in Law and Society: A Graduate Student and Junior Scholar Workshop; Center for Justice, Law, and Societies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, October 2021. [virtual]
  • “Intellectual Wounded Attachments: Discursive Repair or Colonial Persistence?” with prabhdeep singh kehal. Manuscript to be presented at Thinking at the border: Post- and decolonial theory and epistemic injustice at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, September 2021. [virtual]
  • “Committing to Abolition: A Decolonial, Anti-Imperial Framework for Asian Diaspora Studies” with Victoria Tran. Manuscript presented at American Sociological Association Annual Conference, August 2021. [virtual]


  • “Shifting Embodiments of Whiteness: How Sikh Punjabis Solidified the Color Line.” Manuscript presented at Boston University, Junior Scholars Symposium on Race & Ethnicity in Global Perspectives, April 2020. [cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic]


  • “The Specter of Khalistan: Hauntings of Nation-State Belonging.” Manuscript presented at Mnemonics Summer School: Memory and Activism, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, September 2019.
  • “Erasures of Identity Formation: How US Sikhs Use Whiteness for Visibility.” Manuscript presented at Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights: Transnational Re-Imaginings, Junior Scholars Workshop, UCLA Law School, March 2019.


  • “‘Sikh Values are American Values’— How Identity-Based Violence Shapes the Sikh Diaspora.” Manuscript presented at:
    • Going Global Conference, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, April 2018
    • Sikholars Conference, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, February 2018


  • Karida Brown
  • Marcus Anthony Hunter
  • Cecilia Menjívar
  • Thu-Huong Nguyen-Vo (UCLA Asian American Studies)
  • Rupa Marya (UCSF Medicine)