Criminology Oxford DPhil Candidate, Dancer, Educator, Model, Writer, Speaker, Queen Machine 

Serene Singh Awarded FPI Prestigious 2024-2025 John Roberts Lewis Fellowship
Serene Singh, Graduate President of the Sikh Society at Oxford University, where she is pursuing her Dphil (PhD) in Criminology at Christ Church has been accepted as a 2024-2025, Cohort 4, John Roberts Lewis Fellow. The Faith and Politics Institute (FPI) based in Washington, DC in a non-profit organization with a mission to “cultivate mutual respect, moral reflection, increased understanding, and honest conversation among political leaders to advance productive discourse and constructive collaboration.” On January, 20 students from 17 Universities in 15 states, and two nations, were selected to participate as fellows in an immersive program that cultivates and instills ideals while engaging in legislation and even activism based on the non- violent and non-partisan principles of the late civil rights leader John Lewis who believed it to be necessary to engage in "good trouble, necessary trouble" in order to bring about change. Cohort 4 Fellows will be focusing on connecting with “community leaders, law makers, and activists” to discuss topic such as the “dignity of work, housing inequities, rural and urban divides, mass incarceration, and health disparities.”

Author, Cohort, Dancer, Educator, Model, Writer, Speaker, Student, Queen Machine 

Serene Singh has been a go getter since childhood, with an unrelenting spirit. Her drive, enthusiasm, and focus are like the many gems on a jeweled crown, which reflect a vast diversity of achievements and accomplishments. Serene is equally at home on the stage being crowned winner of a beauty pageant, humbly dishing up langar for a student body, founding The Interfaith Alliance at Rhodes House, or lecturing Oxford professors about the inaccuracies of Sikh history being taught.

Scholastic Achievements

Pageantry & Projects

Sikh Sewa

Facing and Overcoming Challenges as a Sikh- An Interview

Sikhnet asked Serene about what it meant to her personally to become a John Robers Lewis Fellow, about kind of challenges she faces as a Sikh, and about pursuit of her future goals.

Sikhnet: What does it mean to you to be A John Roberts Lewis Fellow? How does this empower your goals?

Serene Singh: I was a little girl the first time I learned about John Robert Lewis and his civil rights activism, including his work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From that early moment, I recognized the profound challenge, as well as the importance, of transforming individual consciousness into broader societal awareness. To be selected for this fellowship means a lot to this adult version of myself but perhaps even more to that little girl who committed to following the footsteps of the empathetic and courageous leaders who came long before.”

“To be a John Roberts Lewis Fellow means to be honored with carrying forward the legacy of civil rights, human rights, and non-violence. John Lewis was someone who truly embodied a value-centric way of life, including in his public service career. As a Sikh American, I am passionate about using his way of leadership and the bravery through which he served the United States as a blueprint for my endeavors. I am particularly focused on uplifting marginalized communities, promoting gender equity, and contributing to the liberation of oppressed communities.”

Sikhnet:  Have ever had conflicts with projects you wished to pursue and your Sikh values? If so, how do you handle it so as not to compromise your Sikhi while pursuing your dreams and attaining your goals?

Serene Singh: “One of the aspects of Sikhi I admire most is how my relationship with my Guru is unique to anyone else’s. While there will also be Sikhs who disagree with decisions I make in my life or actions I choose to be right for my path, that does not necessarily mean my Sikh values are conflicted. Pursuing pageantry, working on death row in prisons, serving multiple religious community efforts through fellowship - these are all decisions Sikhs around me might have disagreed with. But I know they are rooted in intentions focused on my Sikh values, so it does not impact me.  I often reflect on the Sikh gurus and the bold Sikh women at the time of our Sikh gurus. Many fellow Sikhs, locals, and family members disagreed with their decisions, but that did not make them wrong decisions. In my own life, I try to hold tightly and firmly onto the Sikh values I have continued to cultivate and grow throughout my life. Those all center around Ek Onkar - or shared Oneness and humanity. My faith reflects a generational tapestry of justice and empathy, where challenging biases and fostering curiosity are intrinsic threads woven into the fabric of my identity. The way that cultivation of those values that make up how I understand Ek Onkar may be different from how others choose to and I think that is important for the Sikh paanth. Not all Sikhs should be acting in the same way, having the same interests, working in the same community, etc. - we have a sovereign force that unites us, and that sovereignty is there to embolden us to be willing to be/think/act differently - even from one another.” 


Sikhnet: What is your plan to implement “transforming individual consciousness into broader societal awareness” in the US justice system?

Serene Singh: “When I learn more about our Sikh history, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Sikhs have always seen the divine light in every single being - no matter how hated, shunned, or discarded that person or that group of people was in society. Whether it be in challenging the caste system, healing ill animals, or even working with criminality, Sikhs have always chosen to see past the differences and into the shared Oneness. In my PhD office in Oxford, there is a portrait of Bhai Kanaya Ji hung up - illustrating a time when amidst battle, he was seen giving water to everyone who had been injured including those who were on the opposing side in the battle. When asked what he was doing, he responded recognizing that they were all humans in his eyes; there was no enemy. This very concept remains in practice in Sikhi through Langars even in a world as divided and violent as the one we live in. I step back in amazement and watch sewadaars (volunteers) graciously and lovingly serve hot food to every person who comes to a Langar - not seeing the person in front of them as having a different race, religion, gender, age, etc., and also not asking for anything in return. This ability to see beyond reasons to vilify or to segregate is the unique gift Sikhs have in this world that is strangled by differences and reasons to discriminate and terrorize. It is a unique gift that has been passed down to me too as a Sikh woman.”

“I do not know exactly what my “plan” is to transform consciousness into broader societal awareness when it comes to our justice system. But I do know that my Sikh ancestors have equipped me with an Ek Onkar mindset as I approach this difficult topic and have also inspired me to act on that mindset in sustainable, systemic, and compassion-driven ways.  I believe in providing everyone with equitable opportunities to succeed in society, rather than perpetuating a system that sets them up for failure. As someone who has studied policy, I am very interested in finding ways to make better policies. I aim to shift the focus away from it being the sole "safety net" and ensure that other social policy systems, such as healthcare, education, and welfare, play a more proactive role in supporting individuals.  Additionally, I advocate for greater awareness among Americans about the implications and disparities within our justice system. By empowering individuals with knowledge and resources, I believe we can foster a fairer and more just society.  I believe all of us truly share this Divine Light that is Ek Onkar and because of that, I believe that when we give them tools and resources to know better, they can have a fair chance to do better. So, I’m not sure what it will look like, but I know that I have the perfect set of leaders in my faith to look to and a community in John Lewis Fellows that I can lean on.”

Looking Forward

It feels safe to say this won’t be the last we hear of Serene Singh. Her “aim to share and educate about Ek Onkar, shared Oneness and humanity, reflects a generational tapestry of justice and empathy, where challenging biases and fostering curiosity are intrinsic threads woven into the fabric of my identity,” could well take her where no Sikh woman has gone before.

Sukhmandir Kaur Khalsa

Sukhmandir Kaur Khalsa

Sukhmandir has written hundreds of articles on topics related to Sikhism and has co-written and and edited several books on the Gurmat teachings and Naam Simran meditation. 

More Articles by This Author

Add a Comment