Sikh Persons and Practices: A Comparative Ethnosociology

Dusenbery, Verne Andrew

     This work is an attempt to come to terms with polyphony. The polyphony it deals with is that generated by Western and Western-educated scholars of the Sikhs, by North American Sikh converts, and by Punjabi Sikhs (including those living in North America) in their discourse about what it means to be a Sikh and what constitute authentic Sikh practices. It grows out of a profound disquiet I have experienced over the past sixteen years in trying to reconcile certain 'truths' about Sikhs and Sikh practices, truths as I found them presented in the scholarly literature about Sikhs and Sikhism; truths as I heard them articulated by North American Sikh converts of 3HO/Sikh Dharma in their ashrams, at their collective gatherings, and through their publications and truths as I discovered them to be professed by Punjabi Sikhs in their homes, at their places of worship . . . and in other public forums."
     In the second chapter, "I provide some background to Sikh emigration from Punjab, to the development of Punjabi Sikh communities in North America, and to the rise of 3HO/Sikh Dharma as the organization of North American Sikh converts. The chapter concludes by recounting some of the recent tension between Punjabi Sikhs and Gora Sikhs in North America." Next, "I analyze a number of issues which I believe to be centrally informed by contrasting ethnosociologies, especially as implicate din the mutual misunderstandings arising between Western scholars and Punjabi Sikhs and the active estrangement of Gora Sikhs and Punjabi Sikhs. Thus . . . I analyze different understandings of the person of the Guru, the Sant, and the 'spiritual guide'. . . . I analyze a dispute over the translatability of the Adi Granth (the 'sacred text'), co-successor -- along with the Panth itself -- to the personhood of the Guru in the absence of a living human Sikh Guru. . . . I analyze a dispute over the relationship of the so-called 'Sikh symbols' to Sikh 'identity' and 'orthopraxy.' And . . . I contrast the ways in which izzat ('personal honor') is -- or is not, as the case may be -- implicated in the moral sensitivities of my informants. The comparative ethnosociology I undertake in these chapters highlights the contrasting understandings of persons and practices held by different informants and suggests the need for greater sensitivities on the part of Western scholars to these alternative constructions of personhood and social action.
     The chapters of the next section "serve to bring the argument together. Chapter 7 focuses explicitly on ways in which, following two very different and contrasting ethnosociologies, Gora Sikhs and Punjabi Sikhs have attempted to come to terms with (i.e., make sense of) one another. I argue that most Punjabi Sikhs in North America consider the Gora Sikhs to constitute either a deviant sect or a new Sikh 'caste'; while the Gora Sikhs consider most Punjabi Sikhs in North America to be apostates or to practice a retrograde version of Sikhism. As long as they remain insensitive to one anothers' ethnosociologies, I argue, these Punjabi Sikhs and Gora Sikhs are doomed to active estrangement and continued frustration in their interactions." Then "I return to the Sikhs and the scholars. I suggest again that there are parallels between Gora Sikhs and Western scholars in their insensitivity to South Asian ethnosociologies. And I suggest that so long as Western academic discourse remains insensitive to these different ethnosociologies, Western scholars will continue to be perplexed by certain 'problematic issues' of Sikh identity and will continue to be subject to attack from Punjabi Sikhs for their 'insensitivity.' . . . Finally, in keeping with the insights of . . . [the] first chapter, I conclude by attempting to anticipate the ways in which my work may enter into Sikh discourse, and I offer an Afterword which reflects my evolving understanding of the relationship of my work to the interests of my informants.