Dr Sheetal Sharma is a faculty member at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Her research interests include social and cultural issues in contemporary Europe and India and their historical roots, Multiculturalism and Diversity, Methodology of Social Sciences, Gender and empowerment of women. She has received JNU Research Excellence Award for outstanding contribution and excellence in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities in the Young Scholars Category for the year 2018- 19. Dr Sharma has been awarded a number of EU funded projects under the framework of Erasmus+ and has been part of a number of international projects as project investigator.
She is Course Coordinator for MOOCs Courses titled as Sociology-I, and Sociology-III, and Subject Matter Expert the subject of Sociology, for School Education offered by NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training), offered through SWAYAM platform of MoE, Government of India. She has completed Video Lecture Series in Sociology for CIET, NCERT, for school education. Dr Sharma writes regularly on socially relevant issues in India and Europe for journals and magazines of national and international repute. She has been invited as a discussant on number of programs on TV and has presented papers in national and international seminars and conferences.
You work as professor of European Studies at the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. What induced you to become a professor?
I am fortunate to have been mentored by some of the best professors in India and abroad. I am hugely inspired by their ability to qualitatively and substantially influence and guide students to realise their potential. Their impression upon me is the reason why I chose to become a professor.
What do you focus on in your research?
As a sociologist I tend to focus upon culture and society in Europe with a comparative perspective. My area of interests are Social and Cultural Institutions, Methodology of Social Sciences, Gender, and Diaspora studies. I analyse these areas with a keen sociological perspective to identify operating social constructivism, and how the structures and processes are a reflection of social settings and vice a versa.
In 2020 you were awarded a Jean Monnet Project with the title Art and Culture in Everyday Life: An Interface of European and Indian Values. Could you briefly elaborate on the purpose of this project and, if possible, first findings from it?
Art and culture occupy an important place in our everyday life despite the digital takeover of societies. Art and culture are both a process and product of traditions, practices, economy, education, and society at large. Apart from enriching individual lives and society, art and culture bring communities together. In contemporary times, cultural exchange and cooperation can help to eliminate bias and stereotypes and may also help to prevent conflicts.
There is a convergence of values espoused by both the EU and India, such as freedom of expression, peace, the rule of law, democracy, biodiversity, energy, climate change, child rights, diversity management and so on. The broader aim of the project is to highlight how art is used as a medium for expression of cultural practices and value systems. The project intends to involve artists, academia, scholars, civil society and a range of stakeholders from the EU and India. The project plans to exchange and enhance understanding of art and culture through the organisation of creative events and programmes and establish collaboration between cultural networks in the EU and India.
Although at a very preliminary stage, we are working towards the development of the idea of cultural diplomacy and people-to-people contact.
You additionally received recently a Jean Monnet Module titled Institutions, Diversity and Change in the European Union. What are your main tasks and activities in this Module?
This Module aims to establish deeper understanding about institutions, society and change in Europe from a sociological perspective. Mainly intended for students studying European Union Studies, or Area Studies, or engaged in research in interdisciplinary subjects such as sociology, political science, history, and economics at JNU. The module introduces students to institutions, structures and processes that have shaped the nature and structure of contemporary European Union through cases and studies that focus primarily on issues related to Europe. The Module will serve to generate and stimulate deeper interest in the EU, add value to the existing capacity, and will contribute to the future growth of European studies. Along with regular classroom teaching, the Module will involve organisation of various academic events and activities such as Conferences, Seminars, Workshops, Roundtables, and Special Lectures. I am looking forward to collaborating with institutions and organizations working in the broad field of area studies/international relations with a focus on European studies, and areas related to the theme of the Module.
For readers that would like to dive deeper into your research, what other EU projects that you have been working on would you like to highlight?
A Module titled 'Society, Culture and Social Change in Europe' was awarded in 2017. It focused on understanding culture and society in Europe. Along with teaching, a large number of academic activities and events were organised on themes such as religion and secularization, changing demography, migration, immigrants, issues of marginalization, social integration and contemporary challenges in Europe. A comparative perspective with India was also incorporated on a few occasions. The details about the Module, activities and events carried out are available on the website of the Module.
What inspires and motivates you about/in your job and what would you like to achieve with your work?
A desire to learn and continuously remain updated keeps me motivated. For me teaching is not just a profession, it is a ‘calling’. Through teaching I wish to qualitatively contribute towards development of individuals, society, nations and communities. I wish to inspire students and instil values, sense of confidence, and accountability among them so that they become better and responsible citizens.
And what do you enjoy most about your work?
Teaching gives me the opportunity to interact with youth, and always remain engaged in the process of learning. In fact, teachers keep on learning throughout their life because first, it is their professional and functional need; and second, while interacting with scores of students they directly and indirectly learn perspectives of the new generation and their world view (at times what may not be written in the books). Therefore, in a way I enjoy being a student.
What career advice do you give young professionals that like to work in the research sector?
Research and academics require a high degree of commitment towards work. Don’t treat these career options as means of earning but there has to be a sense of dedication in pursuing research, so take up research with a complete sense of dedication. If pursued seriously, research also helps in developing an objective, multidimensional and unbiased worldview, which literally helps in developing a broad perspective and widen our horizons. I would say, a good researcher is always a good human being and a good human being will always be a good researcher.
In 2020 you participated in the prestigious EU Visitors Programme. Could you describe your experience?
The EUVP had a very positive influence upon my professional and personal life. I was extremely happy to receive nomination for EUVP. First, it was encouraging that my efforts and work is recognised and appreciated. Second, I got opportunity to interact with experts and specialists in the areas of my research and interest. It also offers a platform to develop substantive contacts to pursue significant programs and projects. In sum, it is a good and gainful experience. In my association with the EU in various capacities, I have been hugely impressed by the nature of institutional procedures, standards and practices. It has been an enriching experience.
How has the participation in the EUVP influenced your career?
EUVP has positively influenced my career so far. I have been able to get connected with people in my areas of interest, and other resources. Since it is only a year so far, that too we have been restrained by the pandemic, so I am looking forward to greater engagement and better outcomes in future.
What is your vision for the EU in 20 years?
The EU has exceptional capacities to be a model in some areas. If it focuses upon the areas where it can cooperate, assist and help the developing countries across the world, the EU will emerge as a significant and effective normative actor. The developing countries need collaboration in areas such as climate, energy, digital platforms, institutional frameworks and procedures, and many more. The EU in order to remain relevant should reach out to the developing countries and help them address their challenges and fulfil goals of development.