Inderjit N Kaur is an ethnomusicologist and Sikh Studies scholar who specializes in South Asian musical cultures with a focus on Sikh musical worship, and the analytical lenses of phenomenology, and sound, sensory, and affect studies. In addition to her PhD in ethnomusicology (from UC Berkeley), Kaur also holds a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics (from UC Berkeley as well), and taught economics for several years before switching her career to music. She has received extensive training in vocal khyāl (North Indian classical music), and Bharat Nātyam (South Indian classical dance).
Kaur’s work is motivated by an urge to illuminate native epistemologies and forge decolonized research, pedagogy, and institutional development. Her research pursues ever-deeper understandings of musically engendered experience and meaning making, and the relationship between embodied aesthetics and ethics. An important aspect of her research methodology is its grounding in sensory ethnography. She has worked for two decades with Sikhs from diverse backgrounds and from around the globe, in India and the diaspora. Equally significant is the fact that she builds on her lifetime of participation in Sikh musical worship, including many years as an amateur singer of Sikh sabad kīrtan (sung scriptural verse), and her native understanding of and deep engagement with sacred texts.
Kaur has made several critical interventions in the study of Sikh musical culture, on: the meaning of the term ghar (literally, house) in the musical designations of the Sikh primary scripture (2008); the circulation of the modern term gurmat sangīt amongst scholars, musicians, and congregations (2011); authenticity debates about the musical styles of Sikh sabad kīrtan (sung scriptural verse) among various stakeholders (2016); the ethical significance of the term anhad (literally, boundless) in Sikh scriptural verses (2021); and the meaning of the term ras (literally, juice) in Sikh scriptural verses and its relevance in musical worship (2022).
Kaur’s essays appear in journals such as the Yearbook of Traditional Music, and MusiCultures, and edited volumes such as the Oxford Handbook of the Phenomenology of Music Cultures. Her monograph (forthcoming with the Oxford University Press) uncovers the intersensorial processes of musical worship and their effectiveness in the affective transmission of Sikh philosophy and ethics.
Kaur’s teaching includes undergraduate courses on North Indian classical music, and Bollywood song, and graduate seminars on understanding musical cultures through the lenses of phenomenology, and affect, sensory, and sound studies. She welcomes students in all areas of South Asian expressive culture as well as in analytical areas of her research.
Between music and economics, Kaur has taught previously at the University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Santa Cruz; Santa Clara University, and the University of San Francisco.
Fields of Study
- Religious transnationalism
- Sensory ethnography
- Sikh Sabad Kīrtan
- Sikh philosophy and ethics
- Social justice
- South Asian musical cultures