In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sikhism and Hinduism

  • Introduction
  • General Comparison
  • Key Journals
  • Historical Overviews
  • Colonial and Postcolonial Period
  • Contemporary Interactions
  • Sikhs and M. K. Gandhi
  • Diaspora

Hinduism Sikhism and Hinduism
Michael Hawley, Susan Prill, Pashaura Singh
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0199


Historically, the Sikh tradition originated in the Punjab region of northwest India about five centuries ago in a religious atmosphere that was pluralistic in nature. Early Sikhism was thus rooted in the particular religious experience, piety, and culture of that period and informed by the unique inner revelation of its founder, Guru Nanak (b. 1469–d. 1539), who declared his independence from the other thought forms of his day, including the Brahmanical, the ascetical, and Islamic traditions. He kindled the fire of autonomy and courage in those who claimed to be his disciples (Sikhs). Notwithstanding the influences he absorbed from his contemporary religious environment, suffused with the thought and ideals of the medieval poet-saints (sants) of North India with whom he shared certain similarities as well as differences, Guru Nanak laid down the foundation of a new religious tradition from the standpoint of his own ideals. These ideals ultimately engendered the first of the three main elements on which the evolution of Sikhism depended, namely the religious and cultural innovations of Guru Nanak and those of his nine successors. The second was the rural base of Punjabi society. The third significant element was that period of Punjab history during which Sikhism evolved in tension with Mughals and Afghans in the 17th and 18th centuries. All three elements combined to produce the mutual interaction between ideology and environment in the historical development of Sikhism. Throughout their history, Sikhs have occupied a frontier zone of Punjab where the interaction between different segments of society was commonplace. It is no wonder that some of Sikhism’s affinities with Islam and the Hindu tradition may be used as a template for the larger study of religion. Every emergent religion relies on prior religious traditions as points of reference for a new vision of spiritual reality. This is not only true of Sikhism, but also of other major religious traditions of the world. What follows is a necessarily partial bibliography aimed at accessible scholarship for nonspecialists, undergraduates, and general readers.

General Comparison

Nesbitt 2012 offers a broad yet considered comparative assessment of various points of intersection between Sikhism and Hinduism. Nesbitt highlights several models by which scholars have sought to interpret the relationship between the two traditions, as well as their historical, theological, and cultural congruence and divergence. This article is must reading for anyone interested in understanding the centrifugal and centripetal nature of this shared history. Ballantyne 2002 offers a typology of historiographical approaches and sub-approaches to writing Sikh history: internalist (normative, textual, political, and cultural), Khalsacentric, regionalist, externalist, diasporic. In each of these types and subtypes, Ballantyne summaries the key scholarly contributions and points of scholarly contention. Importantly, several of these types place Sikh history within the larger religious and cultural context of Punjab and within the maneuverings of British colonialism and imperialism.

  • Ballantyne, Tony. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: The Historiography of Sikhism.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 4.1 (June 2002): 5–29.

    Offers a fivefold typology and historiographical assessment of key works in the field of Sikh Studies.

  • Nesbitt, Eleanor. “Hinduism and Sikhism.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 4. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayan, 573–587. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    A cogent and nuanced examination of the complex theological, liturgical, and philosophical intersections of Hinduism and Sikhism across history, with careful consideration given to ubiquitous though often elidible social and cultural structures such as caste. Available online by subscription.

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