Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2019) | Viewed by 77841

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Guest Editor
Department of Religious Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada
Interests: gender construction in Sikh traditions; women in Sikhism; religion in Canada and North America; Sikhs and identity construction

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special issue will publish articles on "Exploring Gender and Sikh traditions.”  It begins with the premise that gender is a construct, thus, fluid and constantly in flux. So too is the Sikh tradition, which, while often presented as homogenous, is practiced and thus also constructed in a variety of ways, both historically and today.

While this issue focuses on Sikh religious traditions, a variety of approaches, including education, literature and media studies, sociology, political science, anthropology, musicology, history, gender and women’s studies, among others, will be utilized to seek an answer to the question:  How has gender been constructed within Sikh traditions, or, how is gender being constructed within contemporary Sikhisms. 

In this special issue we offer the opportunity to move beyond traditional, and, historically primary foci of the study of Sikhism, namely, textual/scriptural study, philosophy and theology, and turn instead to what is vastly understudied and often misunderstood – that which is often identified as ‘lived religion’.  This includes the everyday practices, narratives, activities and performances of ‘being’ Sikh, particularly as these pertain to gender construction.   As Hall has suggested, while traditional approaches to the study of religion continue to be vital modes of inquiry “we owe a questioning of boundaries, a sympathy for the extra-ecclesial, and a recognition of the laity as actors in their own right.”  Alongside a more fluid understanding of that which is religious, “tensions, the ongoing struggle of definition” come to the fore. Practice, in its varied manifestations, “always bears the marks of both regulation and what, for want of a better word, we may term resistance. It is not wholly one or the other” (Hall, 1997, pp. viii-ix).    With the expansion of religious boundaries, as they have traditionally been defined, we highlight innovation in the study of Sikhism – but here – with an additional focus on gender construction.    

This issue invites novel, fresh approaches from emerging scholars, but also includes those who have already made significant contributions to the study of Sikh traditions, women and gender studies.

Prof. Dr. Doris R. Jakobsh
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • gender
  • Sikhism and Sikhs
  • gender construction
  • femininities
  • masculinities
  • religious boundaries

Published Papers (14 papers)

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Editorial

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5 pages, 183 KiB  
Editorial
Introduction to the Special Issue: Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions
by Doris R. Jakobsh
Religions 2021, 12(3), 161; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030161 - 2 Mar 2021
Viewed by 1712
Abstract
Gender analysis has not received a great deal of attention within Sikh Studies (Jakobsh 2003) [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)

Research

Jump to: Editorial

14 pages, 269 KiB  
Article
Vulnerable Masculinities? Gender Identity Construction among Young Undocumented Sikh Migrants in Paris
by Christine Moliner
Religions 2020, 11(12), 680; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11120680 - 19 Dec 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2525
Abstract
This paper discusses the impact of immigration policies on the ways young undocumented Sikh migrants in Paris negotiate their masculinity. The current criminalization of labor migration from the global South in Europe is disrupting long established patterns of upward mobility through international migration, [...] Read more.
This paper discusses the impact of immigration policies on the ways young undocumented Sikh migrants in Paris negotiate their masculinity. The current criminalization of labor migration from the global South in Europe is disrupting long established patterns of upward mobility through international migration, that entailed remitting money home, getting married and reuniting with one’s family in the host country and moving up the socio-professional ladder from low-paid jobs to self employment. Instead, the life of an increasing number of Sikh migrants in France and elsewhere is marked by irregular status and socio-economic vulnerability. In this context, undocumented Sikh migrants try to assert their gender identity in multiple ways, characterized by homosociality, the importance of manual labor, specific forms of male sociability marked by the cultivation of their body, while remaining firmly grounded in a Sikh/Panjabi religious universe through seva (voluntary service) and gurdwara attendance. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
16 pages, 262 KiB  
Article
The Legacies of Bindy Johal: The Contemporary Folk Devil or Sympathetic Hero
by Manjit Pabla
Religions 2020, 11(5), 228; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11050228 - 5 May 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 16231
Abstract
A folk devil has the ability to elicit a community’s fear over crime. Notorious late gangster, Bindy Johal, occupies this position as his legacy stirs the social anxieties over gang violence by some in the Punjabi-Sikh community in Western Canada. A competing narrative [...] Read more.
A folk devil has the ability to elicit a community’s fear over crime. Notorious late gangster, Bindy Johal, occupies this position as his legacy stirs the social anxieties over gang violence by some in the Punjabi-Sikh community in Western Canada. A competing narrative of Johal’s legacy has emerged, which frames him in a more sympathetic light, and as an individual who overcame systemic racial barriers that subordinated the masculinity of South Asian men in British Columbia. Based on interviews with 34 authorities in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and drawing attention to his status as both a folk devil and hero, the discussion reveals two dueling narratives framing his legacy. The overall effect of these contradictory narratives is the overshadowing of racism, class oppression and a regional history within Sikh extremist movements that illustrate why gang involvement may appeal to some disenfranchised boys and men in the Indo-Canadian community. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
18 pages, 269 KiB  
Article
Gendering Dance
by Anjali Gera Roy
Religions 2020, 11(4), 202; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040202 - 18 Apr 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 4440
Abstract
Originating as a Punjabi male dance, bhangra, reinvented as a genre of music in the 1980s, reiterated religious, gender, and caste hierarchies at the discursive as well as the performative level. Although the strong feminine presence of trailblazing female DJs like Rani Kaur [...] Read more.
Originating as a Punjabi male dance, bhangra, reinvented as a genre of music in the 1980s, reiterated religious, gender, and caste hierarchies at the discursive as well as the performative level. Although the strong feminine presence of trailblazing female DJs like Rani Kaur alias Radical Sista in bhangra parties in the 1990s challenged the gender division in Punjabi cultural production, it was the appearance of Taran Kaur Dhillon alias Hard Kaur on the bhangra rap scene nearly a decade and a half later that constituted the first serious questioning of male monopolist control over the production of Punjabi music. Although a number of talented female Punjabi musicians have made a mark on the bhangra and popular music sphere in the last decade or so, Punjabi sonic production continues to be dominated by male, Jat, Sikh singers and music producers. This paper will examine female bhangra producers’ invasion of the hegemonic male, Sikh, Jat space of bhangra music to argue that these female musicians interrogate bhangra’s generic sexism as well as the gendered segregation of Punjabi dance to appropriate dance as a means of female empowerment by focusing on the music videos of bhangra rapper Hard Kaur. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
22 pages, 335 KiB  
Article
The Sikh Gender Construction and Use of Agency in Spain: Negotiations and Identity (Re)Constructions in the Diaspora
by Sandra Santos-Fraile
Religions 2020, 11(4), 179; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040179 - 9 Apr 2020
Viewed by 2911
Abstract
For decades, Sikhs have made the choice to migrate to the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA), or Canada, as these countries are held in high esteem by Sikh communities and appear to afford prestige in socio-cultural terms to those [...] Read more.
For decades, Sikhs have made the choice to migrate to the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA), or Canada, as these countries are held in high esteem by Sikh communities and appear to afford prestige in socio-cultural terms to those who settle in them. However, changes in border policies (among other considerations such as the greater difficulty of establishing themselves in other countries, the opening of borders by regularization processes in Spain, commercial business purposes, or political reasons) have compelled Sikh migrants to diversify their destinations, which now include many European countries, Spain among them. The first generation of Sikhs arrived in Spain as part of this search for new migratory routes, and there are now sizable Sikh communities settled in different parts of this country. All migrants need to follow a process of adaptation to their new living environment. Moreover, a novel living context may offer new possibilities for migrants to (re)negotiate old identities and create new ones, both at individual and collective levels. This article will explore a case study of a Sikh community in Barcelona to reflect on the forms in which Sikh men and women perceive, question, and manage their identity and their lives in this new migratory context in Spain. The present paper argues that adaptation to the new place implies identity negotiations that include the redefinition of gender roles, changes in the management of body and appearance, and, most particularly, the emergence of new forms of agency among young Sikh women. In addition, we argue that new forms of female agency are made possible not only by the opportunities offered by the new context, but also emerge as a reaction against the many pressures experienced by the young women and exerted by their male counterparts in Sikh communities, as the latter push against the loss of traditional values. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
13 pages, 211 KiB  
Article
Disruptive Garb: Gender Production and Millennial Sikh Fashion Enterprises in Canada
by Zabeen Khamisa
Religions 2020, 11(4), 160; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040160 - 31 Mar 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3059
Abstract
Several North American Sikh millennials are creating online values-based fashion enterprises that seek to encourage creative expression, self-determined representation, gender equality, and ethical purchasing, while steeped in the free market economy. Exploring the innovative ways young Sikhs of the diaspora express their values [...] Read more.
Several North American Sikh millennials are creating online values-based fashion enterprises that seek to encourage creative expression, self-determined representation, gender equality, and ethical purchasing, while steeped in the free market economy. Exploring the innovative ways young Sikhs of the diaspora express their values and moral positions in the socio-economic sphere, one finds many fashionistas, artists, and activists who are committed to making Sikh dress accessible and acceptable in the fashion industry. Referred to as “Sikh chic”, the five outwards signs of the Khalsa Sikh—the “5 ks”—are frequently used as central motifs for these businesses (Reddy 2016). At the same time, many young Sikh fashion entrepreneurs are designing these items referencing contemporary style and social trends, from zero-waste bamboo kangas to hipster stylized turbans. Young Sikh women are challenging mainstream representations of a masculine Sikh identity by creating designs dedicated to celebrating Khalsa Sikh females. Drawing on data collected through digital and in-person ethnographic research including one-on-one interviews, participant observation, and social media, as well as fashion magazines and newsprint, I explore the complexities of this phenomenon as demonstrated by two Canadian-based Sikh fashion brands, Kundan Paaras and TrendySingh, and one Canadian-based Sikh female artist, Jasmin Kaur. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
17 pages, 268 KiB  
Article
“I Get Peace:” Gender and Religious Life in a Delhi Gurdwara
by Kamal Arora
Religions 2020, 11(3), 135; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11030135 - 18 Mar 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 5063
Abstract
In October and November of 1984, after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, approximately 3500 Sikh men were killed in Delhi, India. Many of the survivors—Sikh widows and their kin—were relocated thereafter to the “Widow Colony”, also known [...] Read more.
In October and November of 1984, after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, approximately 3500 Sikh men were killed in Delhi, India. Many of the survivors—Sikh widows and their kin—were relocated thereafter to the “Widow Colony”, also known as Tilak Vihar, within the boundary of Tilak Nagar in West Delhi, as a means of rehabilitation and compensation. Within this colony lies the Shaheedganj Gurdwara, frequented by widows and their families. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, I explore the intersections between violence, widowhood, and gendered religious practice in this place of worship. Memories of violence and experiences of widowhood inform and intersect with embodied religious practices in this place. I argue that the gurdwara is primarily a female place; although male-administered, it is a place that, through women’s practices, becomes a gendered counterpublic, allowing women a place to socialize and heal in an area where there is little public space for women to gather. The gurdwara has been re-appropriated away from formal religious practice by these widows, functioning as a place that enables the subversive exchange of local knowledges and viewpoints and a repository of shared experiences that reifies and reclaims gendered loss. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
21 pages, 348 KiB  
Article
‘In Our Whole Society, There Is No Equality’: Sikh Householding and the Intersection of Gender and Caste
by Nicola Mooney
Religions 2020, 11(2), 95; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11020095 - 19 Feb 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 10339
Abstract
Sikhism is widely understood and celebrated as san egalitarian religion. This follows from its interpretation as a challenge to the caste schema of Hinduism as well as readings which suggest its gender equality. This paper explores the intersection of caste and gender in [...] Read more.
Sikhism is widely understood and celebrated as san egalitarian religion. This follows from its interpretation as a challenge to the caste schema of Hinduism as well as readings which suggest its gender equality. This paper explores the intersection of caste and gender in Sikh society in relation to Guru Nanak’s tenet that Sikhs be householders. Nanak’s view that householding is the basis of religious life and spiritual liberation—as opposed to the caste Hindu framework in which householding relates only to the specific stage of life in which one is married and concerned with domestic affairs—was one of the most important social and ritual reforms he introduced. By eliminating the need for an asceticism supported by householders, or in other words the binary framework of lay and renunciant persons, Nanak envisioned the possibility that the rewards of ascetism could accrue to householders. For Sikhs living at Kartarpur, the first intentional Sikh community, established by Guru Nanak as a place of gathering and meditation, Nanak’s egalitarian ideals were practiced so that women and members of all castes were equal participants. Guru Nanak’s model for social and ritual life presents a radical challenge to the hierarchies and exclusions of Hinduism, and yet, contains within it the basis for ongoing caste and gender disparity for Sikhs, since most Sikhs continue to arrange their householding around caste endogamous marriages and social and domestic arrangements which privilege men. Taking the position shared by a number of Sikh ethnographic informants, and supported by a number of feminist scholars, that the realization of an equal Sikh society remains incomplete, I juxtapose the continued acquiescence to caste and gender with the vision of an ideal and socially just society put forward by the Gurus. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
22 pages, 287 KiB  
Article
Women and Sikhism in Theory and Practice: Normative Discourses, Seva Performances, and Agency in the Case Study of Some Young Sikh Women in Northern Italy
by Barbara Bertolani
Religions 2020, 11(2), 91; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11020091 - 17 Feb 2020
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 6548
Abstract
The paper reflects on the role of women in Sikhism in theory and social practice, starting from a case study in northern Italy. Although the normative discourse widely shared in mainstream Sikhism affirms the equality between man and woman and the same possibility [...] Read more.
The paper reflects on the role of women in Sikhism in theory and social practice, starting from a case study in northern Italy. Although the normative discourse widely shared in mainstream Sikhism affirms the equality between man and woman and the same possibility to manifest devotion through every kind of seva (social service within gurdwaras), empirical observation in some Italian gurdwaras has shown a different picture, as there is a clear division of tasks that implicitly subtends a gender-based hierarchy. This relational structure is challenged by intergenerational tensions, especially by young women born or raised in Italy, who may want to develop a different Sikh identity, considered compatible also with the Italian social and cultural context. In this initial process of collective identity definition and of agency, the female participation in the religious seva within gurdwaras is identified as the tool for change of power relations that cross genders and generations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
17 pages, 490 KiB  
Article
Masculinity in the Sikh Community in Italy and Spain: Expectations and Challenges
by Nachatter Singh Garha
Religions 2020, 11(2), 76; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11020076 - 7 Feb 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 7550
Abstract
Since the 1990s, the Sikh community in India has entered a phase of considerable socioeconomic and demographic transformation that is caused by the large-scale practice of female feticide, the spread of higher education among women, and the mass emigration of unskilled men to [...] Read more.
Since the 1990s, the Sikh community in India has entered a phase of considerable socioeconomic and demographic transformation that is caused by the large-scale practice of female feticide, the spread of higher education among women, and the mass emigration of unskilled men to the Western countries. These changes have a great impact on the traditional configuration of gender roles and disrupt the construction of masculinity in the Sikh community in India and in the diaspora. Based on ethnographic observations and 64 in-depth interviews with Sikh immigrants in Spain (26) and Italy (22) and their relatives in India (16), this paper first explores the expectations of masculinity in the Sikh community in Italy and Spain; and second, analyses the challenges that are imposed by the socioeconomic and demographic transformation in the Indian Sikh community and the social environment in the host countries on the construction of masculinity in the Sikh community in both countries. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
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14 pages, 208 KiB  
Article
Interrogating Gender in Sikh Tradition and Practice
by Satwinder Kaur Bains
Religions 2020, 11(1), 34; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11010034 - 8 Jan 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 5064
Abstract
In contemporary Sikh society, what we consider religious is constantly being challenged, but for Sikhs, what remain constant are Sikhi’s sacred texts—they continue to be the paramount teacher and guide. Within this consistency, I ask the question: how can Sikh feminist ideas of [...] Read more.
In contemporary Sikh society, what we consider religious is constantly being challenged, but for Sikhs, what remain constant are Sikhi’s sacred texts—they continue to be the paramount teacher and guide. Within this consistency, I ask the question: how can Sikh feminist ideas of representation and identity find expression in response to our understanding/practice of our faith, our institutions, and of the everyday Sikh symbols? This paper critically examines the gendered nature of the Guru Granth, practices within the gurdwaras, and focuses on a part of the Rahit Maryada (Code of Conduct) as an area of exploration in the understanding of the everyday ascribed five symbols of Sikhi (punj kakar) through a feminist lens. I undertake this in order to gain a gendered appreciation of how the scriptures, religious institutions, and the articles of faith resonate with the feminine. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
15 pages, 230 KiB  
Article
Presence and Absence: Constructions of Gender in Dasam Granth Exegesis
by Robin Rinehart
Religions 2019, 10(11), 639; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110639 - 19 Nov 2019
Viewed by 3357
Abstract
Controversy has swirled round the writings attributed to Guru Gobind Singh in the Dasam Granth, for not all Sikhs agree that he composed the entire text. Disputes about the Dasam Granth and its status have addressed the fact that many of the text’s [...] Read more.
Controversy has swirled round the writings attributed to Guru Gobind Singh in the Dasam Granth, for not all Sikhs agree that he composed the entire text. Disputes about the Dasam Granth and its status have addressed the fact that many of the text’s compositions are concerned with gender with respect to the nature of both divinity and humans, thus playing a key role in the ongoing construction of notions of gender in Sikhism. Female voices, however, have been largely absent from this discourse despite the presence of two key gender-related themes—the figure of the goddess/sword [bhagautī], a topic throughout the text, and the nature of women [triyā caritra], the subject of the longest composition in the Dasam Granth. Through analysis of the intersection of the presence of goddesses and women but the relative absence of female voices in Dasam Granth exegesis, this paper demonstrates that the ongoing reception of the Dasam Granth has been a site for both proclaiming idealized constructions of gender equality, but also instantiating constructions of femininity that run counter to this ideal. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
16 pages, 281 KiB  
Article
Negotiating Ambivalent Gender Spaces for Collective and Individual Empowerment: Sikh Women’s Life Writing in the Diaspora
by Jaspal Kaur Singh
Religions 2019, 10(11), 598; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10110598 - 28 Oct 2019
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2946
Abstract
In order to examine gender and identity within Sikh literature and culture and to understand the construction of gender and the practice of Sikhi within the contemporary Sikh diaspora in the US, I analyze a selection from creative non-fiction pieces, variously termed essays, [...] Read more.
In order to examine gender and identity within Sikh literature and culture and to understand the construction of gender and the practice of Sikhi within the contemporary Sikh diaspora in the US, I analyze a selection from creative non-fiction pieces, variously termed essays, personal narrative, or life writing, in Meeta Kaur’s edited collection, Her Name is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write About Love, Courage, and Faith. Gender, understood as a social construct (Butler, among others), is almost always inconsistent and is related to religion, which, too, is a construct and is also almost always inconsistent in many ways. Therefore, my reading critically engages with the following questions regarding life writing through a postcolonial feminist and intersectional lens: What are lived religions and how are the practices, narratives, activities and performances of ‘being’ Sikh imagined differently in the diaspora as represent in my chosen essays? What are some of the tenets of Sikhism, viewed predominantly as patriarchal within dominant cultural spaces, and how do women resist or appropriate some of them to reconstruct their own ideas of being a Sikh? In Kaur’s collection of essays, there are elements of traditional autobiography, such as the construction of the individual self, along with the formation of communal identity, in the postcolonial life writing. I will critique four narrative in Kaur’s anthology as testimonies to bear witness and to uncover Sikh women’s hybrid cultural and religious practices as reimagined and practiced by the female Sikh writers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
14 pages, 247 KiB  
Article
‘Woman Seems to Be Given Her Proper Place’: Western Women’s Encounter with Sikh Women 1809–2012
by Eleanor Nesbitt
Religions 2019, 10(9), 534; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090534 - 18 Sep 2019
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 4187
Abstract
Over a period of two centuries, western women—travellers, army wives, administrators’ wives, missionaries, teachers, artists and novelists—have been portraying their Sikh counterparts. Commentary by over eighty European and north American ‘lay’ women on Sikh religion and society complements—and in most cases predates—publications on [...] Read more.
Over a period of two centuries, western women—travellers, army wives, administrators’ wives, missionaries, teachers, artists and novelists—have been portraying their Sikh counterparts. Commentary by over eighty European and north American ‘lay’ women on Sikh religion and society complements—and in most cases predates—publications on Sikhs by twentieth and twenty-first century academics, but this literature has not been discussed in the field of Sikh studies. This article looks at the women’s ‘wide spectrum of gazes’ encompassing Sikh women’s appearance, their status and, in a few cases, their character, and including their reactions to the ‘social evils’ of suttee and female infanticide. Key questions are, firstly, whether race outweighs gender in the western women’s account of their Sikh counterparts and, secondly, whether 1947 is a pivotal date in their changing attitudes. The women’s words illustrate their curious gaze as well as their varying judgements on the status of Sikh women and some women’s exercise of sympathetic imagination. They characterise Sikh women as, variously, helpless, deferential, courageous, resourceful and adaptive, as well as (in one case) ‘ambitious’ and ‘unprincipled’. Their commentary entails both implicit and explicit comparisons. In their range of social relationships with Sikh women, it appears that social class, Christian commitment, political stance and national origin tend to outweigh gender. At the same time, however, it is women’s gender that allows access to Sikh women and makes befriending—and ultimately friendship—possible. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions)
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