Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religious Studies

Reader 1

Gastón Espinosa

Rights Information

© 2014 Hannah Goldberg-Morse


1984’s Operation Blue Star, an Indian Army maneuver to rid the Sikh Golden Temple of militants, shocked the world. Bullet holes riddled the temple’s façade in the operation’s aftermath, and the global Sikh community was outraged at the desecration of the site. How did the political conflict in Punjab escalate to this point? What were the factors behind the Sikh militant movement, and how did the militants rationalize their activities, considered by some as rampant terrorism? This thesis examines the circumstances surrounding the rise to arms of the Punjabi Sikh militants and the religious influences of their movement. Identifying how themes of the Sikh past, particularly those of communal identity, martyrdom, and martial tradition, were repurposed and employed by militant Sikhs to ground their violence in Sikh tradition and practice, the thesis finds that leaders of the movement, like Sant Bhindranwale, created rhetorical bridges to the Sikh past and embedded in the community a sense of participating in a greater, cosmic war. There exists a tendency among scholars to overlook the religious elements of the movement in order to assign political, economic or sociological roots to the conflict, but religion was a primary factor in the conflict, as demonstrated through the words and actions of the militants themselves. This research adopts a sociotheological approach to religious studies, drawing upon framework by Mark Juergensmeyer, Émile Durkheim and Pierre Bourdieu, among others, to frame the influence of the Sikh past on the militants’ own plane of reference.


  • Best Senior Thesis in Religious Studies

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.