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.
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
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
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
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.
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