Sikh Education in the 21st Century

Hosted by The Sikh Foundation, International at Stanford, this was a particularly relevant conference for us attend. Speakers included our project contacts and advisors Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, founder of The Sikh Foundation; Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, founding member of the Punjabi American Heritage Society; anthropologist Professor Sangeeta Luthra; and creative writer Meeta Kaur; among many other notable members of the community interested in progressing Sikh Education.

To start, musician Shivpreet Singh sang this beautiful song:


Dr. Kapany then opened the conference by explaining the need for Sikh education, that is, the education of Sikhs and the education of non-Sikhs about the Sikhs. He listed the many channels of education, including a need for a documentary or series of documentaries – that’s us!

Of particular interest was the panel that examined the establishment of Sikh studies programs and chairs at colleges, particularly the UCs. The UCSB chair Gurinder Singh Mann spoke of their successful Sikh and Punjabi studies program created by Dr. N.S. Kapany together with Mark Juergensmeyer, an expert in religious conflict resolution. Professor Mann closed by happily announcing his retirement into grand-fatherhood – “what is under your turban, grandpa?” “what is under my turban?” “A ponytail!”

Professor Pashaura Singh, chair at UCR’s Sikh and Punjabi Studies, then stressed the importance of Sikh education in progressing the Sikh’s global influence. He compared the Sikhs with the Jewish, another religious minority victim to pogroms in recent history. However, the Jews have since gained much more global interest and power. Compared to the 25 million Sikhs worldwide, there are just 15 million Jews, 40% of which are in America where they make up 6% of the House, 12% of the 2010 Senate, and 3 of 9 Supreme Court Justices. While Jews pursue largely urbanized interests, most Sikhs work in agriculture, thus Professor Singh attributed the Sikh’s comparative lack of self-determination and cultural power to their efforts in education.

He acknowledged that Sikh education has made great progress in the past decades. Where the Sikh tradition was once dismissed as a derivative or combination of Hinduism and Islam, or ignored all together as a regional and modern phenomenon, it is now recognized as a distinct religion in academia and its study institutionalized in many universities.