Sikhs At Large (Religion Culture and Politics In Global Perspective)

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Item Code: IDK568
Author: Verne A. Dusenbery
Publisher: Oxford
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9780195685985
Pages: 347
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.7" X 5.6"
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Book Description
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Contemporary dynamics processes of globalization have facilitated the spatial movement of communities such as the Sikhs that are no larger territorially limited to a certain area. This has given rise to an urgent need to revise both conventional notions and theoretical understandings to accommodate the new deterritorialized concept of culture.

Sikhs at large brings together different perspectives on the cultural and political dimensions of Shish subject making as a typical transnational community and of Sikhism as a global religion. It explores Sikh ethnosociology or the ways in which Sikh understand and engage with their social worlds. How they respond to the political settings in which they live their lives and the cultural assertion and political stratagems they employ in the process of reterritorializing themselves across the globe has also been discussed.

Based on ethnographic and textual research this volume provides a comprehensive framework for looking at Sikh discourse and practices. It reflects upon issues of Sikh identity and self-representation analyzing the ways and contexts in which Sikh religion cultural and politics are actively produced and reproduced in multiple sites around the world. It also examines the intersection of multiculturalism and transnationalism, highlighting the ways in which diasporan Sikhs have experienced and dealt with nation-state ideologies policies and practices of religious and ethnic management as well as the shared perceptions of themselves by others in their counties of residence.

Questioning the unreflective use of the term diaspora this volume invites consideration of the multiple sources and alternative narratives of Sikh identity. Scholars and students of Sikh and diaspora studies, south Asian studies history anthropology politics and sociology as well as general readers interested in religious and cultural studies will finds this book and enlightening and engaging read.

Verne A. Dusenbery is Professor of Anthropology and chair; Global studies program Hamline University, St Paul Minnesota.

Back of The Book

'…an excellent contribution …the reveals with much insight the problem which they have adopted in coming to terms with their new situation. The collection highly recommended. W. H. McLeod, Emeritus professor of History.

Well-theorized relevant to cotemporary social religious and political issues and beautifully written… this masterful set of incisive essays captures the ongoing transformation of Sikh identities communities and institutions as Sikhism goes global, Karen Isaksen Leonard, professor of Anthropology, University of California lrvine.

No other scholar has… analyse [d] such a varied range of issues confronting overseas Sikh communities. These essays should be essential reading for students of south Asian studies religion sociology and social anthropology.


The essays collected in his volume constitute a selection of articles and book chapters addressing two related topics that have engaged my interest as a socio-cultural anthropologist during more than three decades of research with Sikhs in the United States Canada Indonesia Singapore Malaysia Australia and India. The first is what followings the work of Mckim Marriott, I have termed Sikh ethnosociology that is Sikh understanding of their social world and their place in it as reflected in what Sikhs and with non-Sikhs do as they lives, interacting with other Sikhs and with non-Sikh. The second is how Sikhs have responded to the fact that in every country of residence they constitute a minority living under political conditions not of their own making. Of course the two topics are not unconnected. How Sikhs understand their world affects how they respond to the political settings in which they live their lives and vice verse. Thus the book is really about emerging cultural understandings and political stratagems of a paradigmatic transnational religious group the Sikhs as I have observed them and engaged with them multiple global sites over a span of more then three decades.

The past forty years have included many historically important events affecting Sikhs: the Green Revolution in Indian's Punjab state and its social economic and environmental consequences the accelerated transnational migration of Sikhs talking place in the context of global political concerns over multiclturalism an unprecedented conversion of non-Punjabis in Western countries to Sikhism the rise and all fall of the Khalistan movement for Sikh sovereignty and of the accompanying state versus militant political violence that engulfed Punjab; the liberalization of the Indian economy and an attempted Government of india rapprochement with the Indian diaspora. Gives these developments one must read these essays aware of their placement within this evolving historical context. To that end I have made every attempt to indicate the original date of publication of each essay and the time evolving historical context. To that end I have made every attempt to indicate the original date of publication of each and the time period in which the fields works on which it is based was conducted.

My own involvement with Sikhs began either my research subjects or I knew much of anything about Sikhs and Sikhism. To wit, I began my research as a budding anthropologist by spending a summer living in an ashram run by the Healthy Happy Holy Organization (3HO) a tax exempt educational foundation founded in 1969 by a Punjab Sikh immigrant to United States, Harbhajan Singh (aka Yogi Bhajan aka Siri Singh Sahib Harbhjan Singh Khalsa Yogiji) in 1972 most of the young North Americans who had become 3HO members did not consider themselves Sikhs or even know that Yogi Bhajan was a Sikh. My undergraduate thesis, 'Why would anybody join? A study of Recruitment and the Healthy, happy Holy Organization (Dusenbery 1973), notes Sikh influences on the group's ideology only in passing.

By 1974 when I spent a follow up summer attending 3HO 's summer solstice gathering in New Mexico and visiting 3HO ashrams in the western United States and Canada the healthy happy holy way of life was being a much more explicit Sikh gloss. In fact 3HO members were being encouraged by Yogi Bhajan to become members of the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood a registered religious organization and to participate in conversion and baptism and minister ordination ceremonies to become upholders of orthodox Sikhism in North America. The title of my subsequent master thesis Straight Freak Yogi Sikh: A Search for Meaning in American Culture (Dusenbery1975) sums up the shared personal journey that 3HO/Sikh Dharma members saw themselves as having undertaken.

During this research in 1974 I become aware of increasing interactions and emerging between the new gora (white) Sikhs of 3HO/Sikh Dharma and the longstanding Punjabi Sikh immigrant communities especially in California and British Columbia. In fact I was present in British Columbia when a fight broke out between the two groups in the Khalsa Diwan Society's Ross Street gurdwara in Vancouner. My curiosity as to the source of this tension piqued, I resolved to return to Vancouver to conduct dissertation fieldwork on the interaction Punjab Sikh and Gora Sikhs in North America.

My dissertation research in Vancouver British Columbia in 1978-9 introduced me in a more significant manner to Punjabi Sikhs both new immigrant arriving as a result of the liberalization of Canadian immigration polices and second and third-generation Sikh Canadians of Punjab ancestry. My dissertation project was initially conceived as a study if how the Punjab Sikh immigrants were assimilating into Canadian culture and how the Gora Sikh coverts were being incorporated into Sikh Panth. However the analytic framework that I subsequently employed in my PhD dissertation Sikh persons ad Practices: A Comparative Ethnosociology (Dusenbery 1989a) was largely informed by the South Asian ethnosociology project of Mckim Marriot and his students and colleagues at the University of Chicago (see for example, Marriot 1990) an approach seeking to understand alternative notices of persons and their social relationship. Most of the articles in part 1 of this volumes reflect this frameworks which seems not only to provide insight into the cultural misunderstandings arising between the Gora Sikhs and Punjab Sikhs as a consequence of conflicting ethnosociological assumptions but also to provides a productive way of looking at Sikh discourse and practices more generally.

It was also during my 1978-9 fieldwork that I began to become more familiar with the social and political challenges facing Sikhs as a visible minority in Canada. This led me to explore the effects of changing Canadian ideologies and polices upon Sikh institutions and their political agendas (see Chapter 7) My growing awareness of the different experiences that Sikh have had in different countries of settlement motivated me to collaborate with Jerry Barrier in inviting other scholars working on overseas Sikh communities to a conference held at the University of Michigan in 1986. This resulted in our co-edited conference volume the Sikh Diaspora: Migration and the Experience Beyond Punjab (Barrier and Dusenbery 1989)

My own brief exposure in 1981 to very different political environments faced by Sikhs in Southeast Asian countries subsequently led me to return to Southeast Asia in 1992-3 to conduct research with Sikh communities in Indonesia (Medan and Jakarta) Singapore and Malaysia (Kula Lumpur). This research resulted in case studies and comparative accounts of Sikhs experiences under different multiculturalist regime (see Chapters 8-10). Subsequent fieldwork in Australia (Sydney and Woolgoolga) in 1999 has expanded my comparative base (see Chapter 11). It also led me to collaborate on a social history cum-ethnography of the Sikh community in Woolgoolga, New South Wales undertaken in collaboration with a local Australian Sikh and incorporating the voices of local Sikhs and of other Sikh scholars (Bhatti and Dusenbery 2001).

During all of this fieldwork with Sikhs living outside india I have been well aware of the ties that link Sikhs globally both to Punjab and across nodes of the diaspora. Such links are both material and ideational what makes Sikhs such a good example of a contemporary transnational community is that Sikh persons goods capital ideas and images readily flow across nation state borders reflecting what Arjun Appadurai has called the Sikh construction of a new postnational cartography (Appadurai 1996b, p50). Sikh individuals and ideas come from India of North America and swan Gora Sikhs. Remittances from Sikh NRIs help fund the Green Revolution. Circulating images of violated Sikh persons spur the Khalistan movement among Sikhs in the diaspora. Bhangra form Punjab gets reworked in the UK and sent back the Punjab and elsewhere in the diaspora as part of world music. Sikh Marriage network literally span the globe.

From the beginning of my research (see Dusenbery 1979) it was clear to me that Sikhs in the diaspora were remitting funds to Punjab for various causes-to build a pakka family house to fund marriage of relatives to buy agricultural land and inputs, to support various social political and religious causes. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Government of India was of course concerned that some of these remittances were funding Khalistani militancy. But I was aware of humanitarian and philanthropic projects as well that were being funded by Sikhs living in the diaspora. To further explore this aspect of remittances Darshan S. Tatla Director of the Punjab Center for Migration Studies and I undertook a collaborative project in 2005-6 on diasporan Sikh philanthropy in Punjab (see Chapter 6) this Ultimately led us to organize an international workshop on the topic and to co-edit a volume growing out of the worship.

In sum I have pursed an evolving set of projects involving Sikhs over a relatively long period of time. One motivation for the publication of this collection is that the resulting articles although thematically related, have been published in a wide variety of books and journals. Some have been published in Sikh studies volume. Some have been published in area studies journals. As a result unless one has been diligent in searching them out potential readers are unlikely to have encountered them all and thus to have seen the ways in which they are in fact related and built upon one another.


Acknowledgment ix
Introduction 1
Part I Sikh Ethnosociology
1Punjab Sikhs and Gora Sikhs Conflicting Assertions of Sikh Identity in North America 15
2On the Moral Sensitivities of Sikhs in North America 46
3The Word as Guru Sikh Scripture and the translation Controversy72
4A Sikh Diaspora? Contested Identities and Constructed realities 92
5Nation or World realities? Master Narratives of Sikh Identity 118
6Through Wisdom Dispense Charity Religious and Cultural Underpinnings of Diaspora Sikh philanthropy in Punjab 136
Part II Sikhs and the State
7Canadian Ideology and Public Policy The Impact on Vancouver Sikh Ethnic and Religious Adaptation 165
8Socializing Sikh in Singapore soliciting the state's Support 191
9The Poetics and polities Of Recognition Diasporan Sikh in Pluralist Polities 225
10Diasporic Images and the Conditions of Possibility Sikh and the state in Southeast Asia 267
11Sikh Positionings in Australia and the Diaspora Concept 299
12Who Speaks for Sikh in the Diaspora> Collective Representation in Multicultural States 313
Appendix 327
Index 329
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