American religious tradition’s effect on Sikhi

What is American religious tradition and how does it influence the practice of Sikhi in the US?

Recently, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed nearly 36,000 people of various religions (including no affiliation/atheists) with questions about their religious beliefs. Questions addressed whether individuals believed in a literal interpretation of scripture, the strength of adherents’ belief in God or universal spirit, views of one’s religion as the one true faith, as well as social and political beliefs. More information and results of the survey can be found here.

Some think the findings expose a superficiality in the practice of faiths in the US.

“Religion in America is 3,000 miles wide, but it’s only 3 inches deep,” said Professor D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist and religion demographer at Rice University. “The issue is not that Americans don’t believe in anything. It’s that they believe in practically everything. It’s possible for Americans to hold together contradictory beliefs at the same time.” The survey found that there are Catholics who meditate, while Lindsay said other surveys have found Protestants who pray to the Virgin Mary. [link]

beliefs.pngOne might question this conclusion that because a person holds contradictory beliefs, it means they only superficially understand/practice their religion. It may just mean that people are trying to reconcile science, their experiences, or contradictory moral beliefs with specific tenets of their own religion. The fact that they continue to hold the belief that religion proposes despite contradictory experience or scientific finding shows faith, and in my opinion, commitment.

57% of evangelical Christians say that multiple religions can lead to salvation, though nary an evangelical theologian or minister would be likely to say that.58% of Catholics believe society should accept homosexuality, a view that is greatly at odds with U.S. Catholic bishops…

12% of Eastern Orthodox Christians say they speak in tongues once a week, though it is largely a Pentecostal practice that is not in Orthodox liturgy.

21% of self-defined atheists believe in God – leading scholars to think that these atheists see how they identify themselves as a position against organized religion, not divinity. [link]

At least in my experience and conversations with others, people who have a very deep knowledge and commitment to the practice of Sikhi are rare. My own knowledge of and commitment to Sikhi have definitely increased with age, and most of my friends (like myself) are still relatively young. I think more important is our interest to continue learning and practicing. If we do have a superficial understanding, I consider it partly a factor of our age. The Pew Center suggests 2 other reasons.

Religion scholars say America’s religious diversity is in part the result of not having an official state religion, as England and Iran do with the Church of England and Islam, respectively. [link]

The other interesting reason that is suggested is broad exposure to other, varying religions.

It’s also the result, in part, of 1965 laws that broadened the pool of immigrants. And those trends have a particularly pronounced effect in the Bay Area. The Bay Area now has numerous Sikh gurdwaras, Hindu temples and Muslim mosques. The region has an unusually high concentration of Buddhist centers, representing various ethnic traditions as well as more American hybrid practices. And there are always new religious traditions emerging here. Those beliefs blend into a region that has an array of Jewish synagogues as well as a slew of churches that span the American religious diaspora, from evangelicals to mainline Protestants to Catholics, who account for 30 percent of Californians. [link]

The San Francisco article naturally cited the Bay Area as an example (which may be less convincing in other American regions) where contact with different religions and different peoples leads to greater knowledge of other’ religions and beliefs, but less about their own.

It’s the norm, particularly in the Bay Area, for Americans to work with or study with those of different faiths. But several scholars who read the study – or were involved in it – said the often counterintuitive results revealed another ongoing theme in American religion: Many believers may know little about the true practices of their own faith, much less others. [link]

Scholars commenting on the survey acknowledge that it could mean either ignorance, tolerance, or more likely a combination of both.

“If it’s ignorance, it’s not very encouraging,” said Johnson, the director for Center for the Study of Global Christianity. “But if people are becoming more informed and appreciating other religions and Christian traditions, then I think it’s positive. In the end, it’s probably a combination of both.” [link]

How do you think the American religious landscape affects the practice of Sikhi in the US (or what do you think the effects of other national/regional religious landscapes are on the practice of Sikhi there)?


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20 Responses to “American religious tradition’s effect on Sikhi”

  1. I agree with "ItsMe" they hit the nail on the head regarding most Sikhs in the US. Incidentally at my hometown Gurdwara we have a daily sadhana beginning at 3:40 AM which has a short Gurdwara program at the end. We also have a daytime Gurdwara program on Sundays, and occasional evening programs.

    My experience shows me that most Americans are definitely ignorant of their own religion and even worse about others religions. I've had too many people begin preaching their religion to me, and when I ask the tough questions and pinpoint loopholes in their locked-tight fanatic beliefs, they generally have no answer. Sometimes they say "I'll have to ask my preacher," sometimes they say "you have to have faith," which is really a puny excuse when you're trying to sell your product that I already have little faith in.

    For the most part America's religious tradition is the almighty dollar and that is the value that a majority of "Sikh" parents pass on to their children. Cutting your hair is okay so long as you become a doctor or engineer and get a good job etc.

  2. ItsMe says:

    We tend to have our Gurdwara programs on Sunday's (Christian Sabbath). This has changed slightly to add a Wednesday or Friday program. The big and heavily Sikh populated cities have regular daily programs, but otherwise I personally haven't observed regular daily services.

    We tend to treat our Granthi's like the end all be all for Sikh knowledge. We tend to treat them like priests which kinda gives them a power over us that they may not always deserve (especially when their only qualification is that they can recite Gurbani pleasantly).

    It seems that peopel tend to treat Gurdwara like Church don't drink on Sundays, don't eat meat on Sundays we are going to Gurdwara. Go on Sunday's sit through the program and all you sins are washed away.

    Could be way off just some thoughts.

  3. ItsMe says:

    We tend to have our Gurdwara programs on Sunday’s (Christian Sabbath). This has changed slightly to add a Wednesday or Friday program. The big and heavily Sikh populated cities have regular daily programs, but otherwise I personally haven’t observed regular daily services.

    We tend to treat our Granthi’s like the end all be all for Sikh knowledge. We tend to treat them like priests which kinda gives them a power over us that they may not always deserve (especially when their only qualification is that they can recite Gurbani pleasantly).

    It seems that peopel tend to treat Gurdwara like Church don’t drink on Sundays, don’t eat meat on Sundays we are going to Gurdwara. Go on Sunday’s sit through the program and all you sins are washed away.

    Could be way off just some thoughts.

  4. I agree with “ItsMe” they hit the nail on the head regarding most Sikhs in the US. Incidentally at my hometown Gurdwara we have a daily sadhana beginning at 3:40 AM which has a short Gurdwara program at the end. We also have a daytime Gurdwara program on Sundays, and occasional evening programs.
    My experience shows me that most Americans are definitely ignorant of their own religion and even worse about others religions. I’ve had too many people begin preaching their religion to me, and when I ask the tough questions and pinpoint loopholes in their locked-tight fanatic beliefs, they generally have no answer. Sometimes they say “I’ll have to ask my preacher,” sometimes they say “you have to have faith,” which is really a puny excuse when you’re trying to sell your product that I already have little faith in.

    For the most part America’s religious tradition is the almighty dollar and that is the value that a majority of “Sikh” parents pass on to their children. Cutting your hair is okay so long as you become a doctor or engineer and get a good job etc.

  5. bdb says:

    The (not so) almighty dollar is not just an american tradition-its a world tradition.

    Sikhs, like everyone else have locked tight fanatical beliefs. The outward appearance of a Sikh, to the point of fetishism, being the foremost of those beliefs. The spirit of Sikhism which in my mind is equality of humankind, tolerance, courage in the face of indomitable odds, upbeat attitude at all times and non-materialism is rarely talked about or practiced.

    ITSME hit the nail on the head when he/she talks about our Granthis-they for most part have attended the Sikh equivalent of a madrassa and (for many, maybe most) their world view is limited to Sikh scripture.

  6. "Sikhs, like everyone else have locked tight fanatical beliefs. The outward appearance of a Sikh, to the point of fetishism, being the foremost of those beliefs."

    What the hell is this supposed to mean?

    Guru Gobind Singh's own sons preferred death over cutting their hair and loosing their freedom to practice their religion. Do you consider them fanatics as well? What about Bhai Taru Singh was he into fetishism?

    Sikhs actually do not have "locked tight fanatical beliefs" "like everyone else." Sikhs are egalitarian and honor the form that God made humans in. Living as God made you is suddenly fanatical to the point of fetishism? Give me a break.

    "upbeat attitude at all times and non-materialism is rarely talked about or practiced."

    How can you know about Chardi Kala if you can't even accept the way God made you? With every hair to the last breath, that is what we talk about in our ardaas, and that is not rare. Everyday Sikhs do an ardaas praying for ever-rising spirits (chardi kala) and the welfare of all (sarbat da bhalla). The Guru's Dharma is a formula for living "the spirit of Sikhism" that you mention above. Please don't insult the "outward appearance" of Sikhs without understanding it's importance. It is part of the formula for living in chardi kala. Honoring yourself as God made you and sharing that with the world via your presence. Is that a fetish or service/duty of the Khalsa?

  7. bdb says:

    The (not so) almighty dollar is not just an american tradition-its a world tradition.
    Sikhs, like everyone else have locked tight fanatical beliefs. The outward appearance of a Sikh, to the point of fetishism, being the foremost of those beliefs. The spirit of Sikhism which in my mind is equality of humankind, tolerance, courage in the face of indomitable odds, upbeat attitude at all times and non-materialism is rarely talked about or practiced.
    ITSME hit the nail on the head when he/she talks about our Granthis-they for most part have attended the Sikh equivalent of a madrassa and (for many, maybe most) their world view is limited to Sikh scripture.

  8. “Sikhs, like everyone else have locked tight fanatical beliefs. The outward appearance of a Sikh, to the point of fetishism, being the foremost of those beliefs.”
    What the hell is this supposed to mean?
    Guru Gobind Singh’s own sons preferred death over cutting their hair and loosing their freedom to practice their religion. Do you consider them fanatics as well? What about Bhai Taru Singh was he into fetishism?
    Sikhs actually do not have “locked tight fanatical beliefs” “like everyone else.” Sikhs are egalitarian and honor the form that God made humans in. Living as God made you is suddenly fanatical to the point of fetishism? Give me a break.
    “upbeat attitude at all times and non-materialism is rarely talked about or practiced.”
    How can you know about Chardi Kala if you can’t even accept the way God made you? With every hair to the last breath, that is what we talk about in our ardaas, and that is not rare. Everyday Sikhs do an ardaas praying for ever-rising spirits (chardi kala) and the welfare of all (sarbat da bhalla). The Guru’s Dharma is a formula for living “the spirit of Sikhism” that you mention above. Please don’t insult the “outward appearance” of Sikhs without understanding it’s importance. It is part of the formula for living in chardi kala. Honoring yourself as God made you and sharing that with the world via your presence. Is that a fetish or service/duty of the Khalsa?

  9. baingandabhartha says:

    I understand the concept behind the outside appearance of Sikhs Prabhu. Read my comments carefully-maybe I should have made it more clear. I am talking about current times. Where did I mention anything about Sikh heroes like Bhai Taru Singh. I am talking about Sikhs 'style over substance' that I have seen so prevalent. Not once in my post have I implied that Sikhs should forego their external appearance. I am just saying that that way too many Sikhs practice the 'outward appearance' part without letting that interefere with the Charhdi Kala and Sarbat Da Bhala particularly Sarbat da bhala part. There are certainly who practice the faith in spirit and outward manifestation-they are pooran Gursikhs-they, however are rare.

    'The form that God made you' is open to interpretation-nobody-repeat nobody has a direct line to God to say that God specifically directed anyone to maintain a certain appearance. The Sikhs were directed by Sri Guru Gobind Singh to maintain a certain appearance, not God-ever wonder why the nine before him never thought those things necessary? It was a time of crisis for the Sikhs, it was a stroke of genius, a brilliant strategy that helped cement the Sikhs together, ensured their survival in the face of mughal oppression.

    Fanatics are people who get extremely angry when someone tries to question any aspect of their faith-are unwilling to accept that theirs is not the only way-some will resort to violence others to yelling matches over the internet. Tolerance! brother. Tolerance.

  10. baingandabhartha says:

    I understand the concept behind the outside appearance of Sikhs Prabhu. Read my comments carefully-maybe I should have made it more clear. I am talking about current times. Where did I mention anything about Sikh heroes like Bhai Taru Singh. I am talking about Sikhs ‘style over substance’ that I have seen so prevalent. Not once in my post have I implied that Sikhs should forego their external appearance. I am just saying that that way too many Sikhs practice the ‘outward appearance’ part without letting that interefere with the Charhdi Kala and Sarbat Da Bhala particularly Sarbat da bhala part. There are certainly who practice the faith in spirit and outward manifestation-they are pooran Gursikhs-they, however are rare.

    ‘The form that God made you’ is open to interpretation-nobody-repeat nobody has a direct line to God to say that God specifically directed anyone to maintain a certain appearance. The Sikhs were directed by Sri Guru Gobind Singh to maintain a certain appearance, not God-ever wonder why the nine before him never thought those things necessary? It was a time of crisis for the Sikhs, it was a stroke of genius, a brilliant strategy that helped cement the Sikhs together, ensured their survival in the face of mughal oppression.
    Fanatics are people who get extremely angry when someone tries to question any aspect of their faith-are unwilling to accept that theirs is not the only way-some will resort to violence others to yelling matches over the internet. Tolerance! brother. Tolerance.

  11. Camille says:

    bdb, if I understand, you're commenting on the disconnect between valuing or prioritizing the outward appearance of a Sikh (5 K's), but not valuing/prioritizing the teachings of Sikhi (e.g., chardi kala, kirit karo, naam japo, vand kay shako, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that attempts to integrate Sikhi into how we live our lives) — is that a fair synopsis?

    I do think ItsMe hit on a few key elements of how being in the U.S. impacts the practice of Sikhi. I also think that the lack of a (large) Sikh presence also pressures folks (both ABSs and PBSs) to "assimilate" into a mainstream image — whether this means attempting to make Sikhi more "Christian," or shedding the uniform of Sikhi to "blend in." That said, there is plenty of apostasy in Punjab, also, and I meet a relatively robust number of Sikhs from areas of the U.S. with next to no sangat, so I don't think it's as simple as a numbers game. Perhaps the difference in practice comes from knowledge and communication of the faith from parents/elders to their children (i.e., easier to "stand up" for your faith if you know the history/logic why, but harder if you think of it as a "Sikh version of" X religion).

  12. Camille says:

    bdb, if I understand, you’re commenting on the disconnect between valuing or prioritizing the outward appearance of a Sikh (5 K’s), but not valuing/prioritizing the teachings of Sikhi (e.g., chardi kala, kirit karo, naam japo, vand kay shako, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that attempts to integrate Sikhi into how we live our lives) — is that a fair synopsis?

    I do think ItsMe hit on a few key elements of how being in the U.S. impacts the practice of Sikhi. I also think that the lack of a (large) Sikh presence also pressures folks (both ABSs and PBSs) to “assimilate” into a mainstream image — whether this means attempting to make Sikhi more “Christian,” or shedding the uniform of Sikhi to “blend in.” That said, there is plenty of apostasy in Punjab, also, and I meet a relatively robust number of Sikhs from areas of the U.S. with next to no sangat, so I don’t think it’s as simple as a numbers game. Perhaps the difference in practice comes from knowledge and communication of the faith from parents/elders to their children (i.e., easier to “stand up” for your faith if you know the history/logic why, but harder if you think of it as a “Sikh version of” X religion).

  13. baingandabhartha says:

    — is that a fair synopsis?

    Yes.

  14. baingandabhartha says:

    — is that a fair synopsis?

    Yes.

  15. "God-ever wonder why the nine before him never thought those things necessary? It was a time of crisis for the Sikhs, it was a stroke of genius, a brilliant strategy that helped cement the Sikhs together, ensured their survival in the face of mughal oppression."

    First of all Ji, all the Gurus maintained the same form, there are even sakhis of Guru Nanak that mention his kirpan. Guru Nanak says in the Mool Mantra "Akaal Moorat" this is the image of the undying God. You may interpret that the undying image of God is an image that involves alterations, but the Guru instructed us that God's image is the image God made us in. "God made man with a beard." What can be debated on that is whether God exists, not whether our image includes the beard.

    It is really lowly and pathetic to think that the roop of Khalsa is some kind of strategy to defeat mughals. Akaal is timeless, Akaal Moorat is the image of the undying, timeless God. Man has always had hair and a beard and will always have hair and a beard. This is the timeless image mentioned in Japji Sahib. This is the immortal form that Guru Ji prescribed for the us, it had nothing to do with strategy and political rulers in a certain region of the world at a certain time. The Khalsa stands in the very image of God, Akaal Moorat, that is why we honor our form so strongly.

    I definitely believe in tolerance, but I don't believe in excuses and narrow-mindedness. If your narrow view can't accommodate the infinite wisdom of the Guru, then don't question the Guru's wisdom from a small place, just realize that you don't understand the true expanse of it all. Honestly to summarize something from the timeless image of God into some kind of political strategy is extremely limited. I pray that if you are a Sikh you will bow your head in reverence and acceptance of the Guru's wisdom, and if not then please respect the Khalsa's divine form.

  16. “God-ever wonder why the nine before him never thought those things necessary? It was a time of crisis for the Sikhs, it was a stroke of genius, a brilliant strategy that helped cement the Sikhs together, ensured their survival in the face of mughal oppression.”

    First of all Ji, all the Gurus maintained the same form, there are even sakhis of Guru Nanak that mention his kirpan. Guru Nanak says in the Mool Mantra “Akaal Moorat” this is the image of the undying God. You may interpret that the undying image of God is an image that involves alterations, but the Guru instructed us that God’s image is the image God made us in. “God made man with a beard.” What can be debated on that is whether God exists, not whether our image includes the beard.
    It is really lowly and pathetic to think that the roop of Khalsa is some kind of strategy to defeat mughals. Akaal is timeless, Akaal Moorat is the image of the undying, timeless God. Man has always had hair and a beard and will always have hair and a beard. This is the timeless image mentioned in Japji Sahib. This is the immortal form that Guru Ji prescribed for the us, it had nothing to do with strategy and political rulers in a certain region of the world at a certain time. The Khalsa stands in the very image of God, Akaal Moorat, that is why we honor our form so strongly.
    I definitely believe in tolerance, but I don’t believe in excuses and narrow-mindedness. If your narrow view can’t accommodate the infinite wisdom of the Guru, then don’t question the Guru’s wisdom from a small place, just realize that you don’t understand the true expanse of it all. Honestly to summarize something from the timeless image of God into some kind of political strategy is extremely limited. I pray that if you are a Sikh you will bow your head in reverence and acceptance of the Guru’s wisdom, and if not then please respect the Khalsa’s divine form.

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  18. Kirpal Singh says:

    Our major problem is we are not using English language as medium of Gurmat instructions for our children & cheating them of oppurtunity to learn about Sikhism.

  19. Kirpal Singh says:

    Our major problem is we are not using English language as medium of Gurmat instructions for our children & cheating them of oppurtunity to learn about Sikhism.

  20. Quality education should be given to the people of the society. Education should be same for all the people in the society whether a person is rich or poor the education must be same for all the people of the country.