Practicing Minority Religion: Interrogating the Role of Race, National Belonging, and Gender Among Sikhs in the US and England
Ecklund, Elaine H
Doctor of Philosophy
Defying the expectations of scholarship predicting that religion will continue to decline, religion remains an influential force that shapes the lives of everyday people. Religious beliefs and communities provide people with cultural tools to understand the world around them, shape their views and beliefs about other aspects of the social world, and provide community members access to resources. We have little understanding, however, of how status as a religious minority shapes the lives of practitioners and their interactions with people outside of their faith tradition. I turn my attention to this subject by asking how having a minority religious identity is linked to race, national belonging, and constructions of gender. I examine these questions through the Sikh case in the US and England. Sikhs are a religious minority in every nation in which they are present, making them an excellent case to examine these questions. Further, in the US and England they are a particularly visible and distinctive religious minority, and both countries have distinct state relationships to religion, distinct relationships to India, and shared but unique experiences with radical terrorism claiming affiliation with Islam. I draw on 11 months of participant observation with two communities in two national contexts, analyzing data from 79 qualitative interviews to better understand the experience of practicing a minority religion. I find that boundary work is central to the experience of practicing Sikhism for my respondents, shaping their religious practice, the way they go about their lives, and their interactions with non-Sikhs. Further, I find that race, national belonging, and constructions of gender are tightly bound up with the way Sikhs understand their own identity, how they situate themselves in relation to other groups, and how they are perceived by non-Sikhs. Taken together, this research contributes necessary information to understand the experiences of practitioners of minority religions in contexts that are becoming increasingly religiously diverse.
Minority identity; Sikhism; Racialization; Gender; National Belonging