Student Spotlight with Kiran Sunar: Unlocking the Wisdom of the Past

How can we study the past in order to inform the present? Kiran Sunar brings contemporary questions to literature of the early modern period (16th to the 18th century).

Kiran Sunar, a PhD student in the Department of Asian Studies, investigates questions of gender and sexuality in Punjabi literature.

Her research responds to contemporary questions around islamophobia, homophobia, and gender-based violence by drawing on a past that had different parameters.

She examines the relationship between gender, sexuality, and the fantastical in texts that had Hindu, Muslim and Sikh sentiments woven together.


She is inspired by her parents who moved from Punjab at an early age to Britain, and then from Britain to Canada. Through this process, they lost a part of their cultural heritage and as a result, Sunar entered university with many questions about her own identity. It was “hard to find answers to these questions that embodied a wide range of religious, cultural and social dimensions,” she says. She was also interested in how we remember and think about the past, particularly in the present moment where there are so many factions. Sunar decided to answer these questions through her research.

Support from a Community

Sunar thanks the Asian Studies department for their support. “The generosity of the Asian Studies department has been extraordinary. They give their time, their energy and their knowledge willingly, and I’m really lucky to work in a department that has this kind of support.” Specifically, she is very grateful to be working with Dr. Anne Murphy, a leading scholar in Punjab Studies.

Sunar has been aided by over a dozen awards and scholarships throughout the last four years. This support has enabled her to focus on her research, relieving stress about things big and small, right down to not having to worry about photocopying or purchasing any necessary books. In addition, the support has given her confidence in the importance of her work.

“When donors from the community support my work, it gives me the sense that I am doing something greater. I hope in the future, I can also do the same for other students.”

When she first started to apply for scholarships and received rejections, she was disheartened. Her supervisor, who had been through similar experiences, encouraged Sunar to continue applying, poignantly reminding her that they could not reject her forever. From that, she developed the practice of applying to everything she could and continually refining her applications.

Sunar’s goal is to attain a professorship at a research institution in North America in South Asian Studies, Religions or Literature in order to share these texts, cultural traditions and histories with students.

Article written by Katie Hoang, Arts Development and Alumni Engagement.

To learn more about student awards or supporting initiatives at the Department of Asian Studies, please visit our support page.