Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Hinduism and Sikhism in the British Society

September 7th, 2009 · 2 Comments

What I have gathered from visiting both the Hindu temple and the Sikh gudwara is that Sikhism is all about the equality of people from all classes, races, genders, and backgrounds, while Hinduism is founded on the idea of the jati, or caste system. Also, in the practice of the Sikh faith there are very little rituals and very few gaudy symbols, while Hindus use numerous rituals and symbols in their worshiping practices.

In most ways it is more difficult for Sikhs to adjust into British culture than it is for Hindus. With their five Ks, or the five physical symbols that Sikhs have to symbolize their faith, the Sikhs stand out a lot more than the Hindus. Since 9/11 and 7/7 there has been a lot of hostility toward South Asian individuals who wear turbans and have long beards, since then ignorant individuals have tormented Sikhs because they associate them with terrorist activities. Also, some work places do not permit their employees to have unshaven faces and uncut hair. Living in England also forces the Sikhs into a unequal class society that is not compatible with the Sikh’s belief in equality.

Hindus have an easier time adjusting to the British culture because they do not have any spacific visual keys to thier religion that could create a social backlash or hostility. They also have a strong understanding of the British class devisions because of their understanding of their own caste system. However, the fact that Hinduism is a polythisit religion might create some agressive actions from the primarily Christian British society.

Tags: Rebecca

Love and Marriage

September 7th, 2009 · No Comments

The BBC recently featured an interesting article discussing Internet matchmaking in the UK Sikh community. In the past, meeting people and dating over the web was shrouded in taboo and its legitimacy has always been in question. Throngs of success stories from major sites like eHarmony.com and Match.com have changed the public perception in recent years, however.

The UK is the home of the world’s second largest Sikh population (after India, of course). Many Sikhs are second-generation Indians torn between the completely different cultures of India and the West. Marriage is a particularly difficult and confusing subject. In India and elsewhere, most Sikh marriages are arranged by the parents. Occasionally, the bachelor or bachelorette will have some say in the matter. Such a practice is unheard of in Western culture. Here lies the essential difference: while Western marriages are based upon love, passion, compatibility, and chemistry between the two parties, modern Sikh matrimony is based upon pragmatism and stability. Sikh parents have marriage experience under their belts, possessing invaluable expertise about how to love your partner for life. Young people in Western society who fall helplessly in love one day are actually more likely to end up divorcing each other than remaining together. Alarmingly, divorce rates in many Western nations have breached the 50% mark. India has found its niche at the bottom of the list.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/living/matchmaking.shtml shares the story of Jazz, a young Sikh man living in the UK who met his wife Nonie, who still lived in India, over the Internet. He and his friends were skeptical at first, but after Jazz and Nonie became happily married, the skeptics started logging on to sikhnet.com by the droves. While Internet courtship has only recently moved into the mainstream here in the UK, it has been socially acceptable for years over in India.

What I find most interesting about this particular union is that Nonie did not have any pictures uploaded. And Jazz didn’t care. From the BBC: “I didn’t see a picture of her. There was no chemical interaction. Instead got to know her character.” He believes that marriage is less about “chemistry and emotion” and emphasizes “the unification of two characters.” Sikh marriages seem to held together by a societal bond. Through happiness and hardship, the husband and wife remain resilient and adapt to each other. This holds in stark contrast to Western couples, who tend to split when the going gets tough.

The Internet dating option bypasses the the idea that Westerns cringe at, that the parents are in control. While her parents were out searching for a suitor, Nonie elected to set up a profile on Sikhnet that she could customize according to her individual character. Through email, the two got to know each other and felt a definite connection. The lack of physical contact removed the passion aspect that drives so many Westerners to unwise matrimony and subsequent divorce.

How many Americans who use dating websites would even bother contacting someone without a picture? Nonie writes, “For me being a Sikh is about continuing what my parents gave to me. It’s part of my identity. I wanted to marry someone who could share this with me so I didn’t lose my identity.” The institution of arranged marriage or emotionally detached courtship could only work for people whose religion is the most important aspect of life. Someone once asked me if I was a Jewish American or an American Jew. Fitting into the category of Western secularized, I consider my American identity to be more important than my Jewish heritage (much to the chagrin of most of my extended family and their oh so delicious matzo ball soup). This is purely speculation, but I would think that most of the Western world probably thinks along the same lines. I would never let my parents pick a woman for me. I plan on meeting a mate based upon what I wrote earlier: love, passion, compatibility, and chemistry. I can only hope I end up on the undivorced side of the fence.

Tags: Andrew B

“The Construction of Identity,” or “The Most Difficult Topic”

September 7th, 2009 · No Comments

The notion of ‘identity’ cannot be pinned down as having one definition. For the purpose of this post, I define identity as a socially and personally created label one can embody, shed, defend, create, and mold (not necessarily used at all–or at least not in this order). When used in terms of immigration, the presence of identity can move in one of many ways:

1. Relying on the Traditional and Comfortable

Mrs. Suri, one of the minor characters in Tarquin Hall’s Salaam Brick Lane resides in London, yet she remains solidly committed to the Indian views and traditions regarding marriage. She lives in a city among millions of people from all backgrounds. She does not adapt; she surrounds herself with the familiar. Some would confuse this with stubbornness. Committing to the comfortable is a choice you make when you reflect on your own identity. You can let outside perceptions to mold how you carry yourself, or you can resist. The latter results in a situation similar to that of Mrs. Suri. You stick to your identity you created for yourself long before immigrating to a new place defined by very different identifying features.

2. Voluntary Adaptation

The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London has in many ways voluntarily adapted itself as a modern place of worship set several thousand miles away from India and, more importantly, the Ganges River (one of, if not the most important site in Hinduism). They expect non-Hindu visitors to the mandir, as indicated by an extensive exhibit tracing the main tenets of the religion. Certainly, places like St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey have taken on a revised role as a tourist attraction, but you will not find there a museum describing the history or practices of Christianity; that’s left for the history books. The massive Hindu temple stands out in its relatively modest surroundings (except for a slight view of Wembley Stadium in the distance), so naturally it will garner some attention. The mandir, however modern, does not seem to lose much of its traditional identity. Hinduism thrives there; thousands are said to pray in the building during the day and more so during holy days.

The BBC has a link to some of the other ways Hindus have had to adapt to a new identity in 21st century, but I am unable to access it on my computer. I suggest taking a look, for it looks informative and will certainly give a much more comprehensive understanding than I can.

3. Hesitatant Adaptation

While the Hindus have voluntarily adapted themselves to modern London, the Sikh community – as understood after a visit to the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sahaba in Southall – has taken some hesitant steps as enforced by British law. For example, one of the five tenets of Sikhism calls for the carrying of a sword for the defense of the weak, justice, and as a representation of God. British law forbids this, so this tenet cannot be fulfilled in 21st century Britain. A second tenet of Sikhism calls for uncut hair, as to symbolize, in part, one’s comfort with how he/she was physically created by God. For many jobs in Britain, one’s hair must be cut and trimmed, and some Sikhs decide to cut their hair accordingly. They lose part of their identifying features as a Sikh when faced with the new identity demanded of them by surrounding British culture. The gentleman who showed us around the gurdwara expressed his desire for all Sikh men to be allowed to carry their ceremonial swords, for, on that day, the two conflicting identities can coexist without having to forego one or the other.

Post-colonial literature points to this hesitant adaptation, but from a different perspective. Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen traces the difficulties several Nigerians face when trying to willingly adopt the British culture. Racism, prejudice, and misconceptions form a glass ceiling that essentially blocks the immigrants from moving away from their status as a ‘second-class citizen’. The hesitation can be drawn from the communities themselves or from a host identity defined by prejudice; one party cannot take full blame for the contrast between different peoples.


The construction of identity in the London of 2009 immediately appears like a forever mixed jumble of different practices, rites, and customs fighting for its own place of comfort. I see it as being in a state of disequilibrium, where the role of prejudice and anti-immigration compete with the openness and accommodating nature of some Londoners. Some want to enjoy their own separate community and their own traditions; others are willing to adapt and let their surroundings mold their identity. Neither is wrong, neither will prevent one from having a fulfilling life.


I still question my views on this topic, for it is a dense subject to write about. I look forward to the day I come to some brilliant understanding of identity construction and its adaptation/resistance when facing a new identity. Until then, I remain confused, frustrated, and exhausted.

Tags: Brandon

Sense of Community

September 6th, 2009 · No Comments

There will never be complete peace and unity with a community.  Unfortunately, the same is true for a religious group.  There will always be arguments between the more orthodox members of the society and how they interpret scripture, rules, or messages, and the younger generation that was raised in a very different world from their predecessors.  In some cases, these arguments lead to forward progress for the religion as a whole, for example with more equality for women or more opportunities for all members of the congregation.  However, just as often if not more so, this can lead to divides and people leaving the faith altogether. 

In many ways Sikhism and Hinduism are very similar.  Both religions believe that shoes should be removed before entering the inner sanctum of the temple, that peace is a necessary force in life, that donations and charity will hold you in higher stead with the god(s), and that life is a journey to learn from.  However, when observing the people at the Sikh and Hindu temples I discovered another thing that both religions prize – children.  There was a definite sense that the children were learning to respect their religions from a very early age.  In the Gurdwara I saw a little girl of about 4 tying a headscarf onto her squirming little brother.  Obviously this girl had learned that in her faith, covering your head is necessary inside of the temple.  In the Hindu temple, many young children went up to their parents to get change to offer to a particular deity in prayer. 

The other thing that struck me as interesting was how the Sikhs and Hindus have adapted to being in the United Kingdom.  Some changes are quite obvious, the Sikh men cannot carry their defensive swords due to British law.  However, it is interesting to consider that some Sikhs have been forced to remove their head-covering or trim their facial hair due to the parameters of their jobs.  The changes for the Hindus are not as obvious.  It is, of course, possible that some Hindus have rejected the idea of obstaining from meat and fish since entering the UK, but that doesn’t seem to have the same direct correlation as with the Sikhs and their changes. 

Although this blog post is supposed to focus mainly on the Sikh and Hindu religions, I would find it amiss if I did not mention problems and arguments within my own faith.  I stated at the beginning of the post that all religions have problems, but sometimes the butting-of-heads between the younger generations and those who are more set in their ways can end in forward progress.  I’m a practicing Roman Catholic and I know that my religion is not perfect.  However, I think that the stubbornness of those people who are high up in the Catholic hierarchy on the issues of married priests, female priests, homosexuality, etc. are going to cause the faith I believe in to crash and burn in the future.  (Can you tell I’m liberal?) 

In many ways, this links directly to the Sikhs and the Hindus.  Both are being forced to adapt to their surroundings, both religiously and culturally, in Britain; some as second-generation immigrants who believe in their religion to a degree and others as die-hard orthodox followers.  In order for their religion continue to have forward progress, these people need to sort out their differences long enough to come to a consensus.  I hope my Church will do that too.

Tags: Kelley

VERY Mixed Feelings

September 6th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I have not had much experience with other religions besides various denominations of Christianity, so the recent visits to the Sikh and Hindu temples were eye-opening experiences for me.  My lingering feelings and perceptions of the two are strikingly different, even though I associate the two closely in my mind.  Because I don’t know much about Sikhism or Hinduism, their doctrines seem similar: live peacefully, teach future generations in a moral and religious way, and maintain a relationship with God.  The services, though, spurred entirely different reactions for me.

I found the Sikh temple to be comfortable and enjoyable.  I didn’t feel as though a lot was expected of members of their particular congregation (or me).  So many religions spend so much time outlining and detailing every aspect of how to be a “successful” follower of that particular sect, but this one felt much more relaxed.  More of a focus seemed to be put on finding a personal feeling of fulfillment rather than following specific doctrine or dogma.  For example, even though I am not Catholic I do attend mass frequently and help lead a Catholic youth group.  I know that part of being Catholic (for most parishes) involves carefully following a certain timeline: baptism as an infant, a CCD program during elementary/middle school, communion as a child, and so on.  In contrast, our guide said that there is no specific time to be welcomed into the Sikh family; rather, a child may join the congregation when he feels that it is appropriate, whether as a child, teenager, or adult. I enjoyed the personal emotion and experience that our guide shared in the talk, and I think it was wonderful that his job is not specifically that of a tour guide because it made him that much more believable.  Instead of a series of memorized facts, it felt much more individual and real.

That said, I felt a bit strange as a visitor in the temple.  I completely support going for the sake of learning and reflecting, but if I was a member of the congregation, I think I would look at our group almost as if we were mocking them.  Since they don’t normally do tours, I think having such a large group dressed in regular street clothes with scarves tossed on haphazardly outside the temple to cover our hair was borderline disrespectful.  I feel that smaller groups would have been more effective, since we would not be making such a spectacle of ourselves.

Again, the following is simply my personal reaction and is not meant to offend: I found the Hindu temple creepy and bewildering.  The most striking aspect, to me, was the ornate dolls (is there another term for them?) scattered throughout the temple. Given the nature of my religious upbringing, I looked at them as a form of idolatry.  I don’t understand the significance of them, nor do I understand how anyone has the authority to “put the spirit of God” into them.  I felt that the concept of one main guru to govern the entire Hindu population was strange and didn’t make sense.  How does he objectively know who the next authority should be?  If it is subjective, how can he be chosen by God?  What if a detrimental ruler is chosen?  How can people blindly trust one man when they do not know the logic behind his decisions?  I’m sure his followers find reasons to unquestioningly follow his choices, but I’m not sure that I would be able to.  Even a matter as small as the cost of the temple, shrouded as a secret, makes me uneasy.

Overall, I learned a lot but I think that my experience was certainly affected by my own religions upbringing and spiritual opinions.  I hope to learn more about the aspects of each temple that I did not understand, and am glad I had the opportunity to glimpse the way that such a large portion of the world’s population worships God.

Tags: Amy

Welcome to the Space Jam

September 5th, 2009 · 1 Comment

A great perk about studying abroad in England is that you’re doing just that: studying. Everything we do is a learning opportunity. We constantly are taking note of the interactions between people, what groups of people are present in what area, and conversely what groups of people are absent from what areas. As much as I love this constant state of observation, I can’t help but wonder if sometimes I’m reading too much into situations. About three minutes ago when I started this blog, I planned to write on how different groups of people are treated differently throughout London. I still believe this is true. But in those three minutes, a wonderful thing happened. Space Jam came on! If you don’t remember, the movie involves Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny saving the world from evil aliens. Talk about quality entertainment! Two children from London picked out the flick to watch before their bedtime and, being the mature people that we are, four of my fellow students and I are kindly decided to keep them company (while reciting our favorite lines right along with them). The children can’t be more than nine years old. We are all a little more than double their ages. Yet here we are all sitting around a television enjoying a Saturday night together. As this happens, I’m wondering: just how differently are separate groups of people in London? In its first couple scenes, Space Jam has told us that forced control over others is wrong, that stealing talents and goods from others is wrong, that everyone has something to learn from others, and that everyone has something to teach others- not too shabby for a movie that stars a basketball player and an animated rabbit.  On our visit to a gurdwara, we were told that those who followed  Sikhism believed in lifelong communal learning as well. I in no way mean to belittle Sikhism to the level of Space Jam. I do believe though that the people sitting in the lounge with me are listening to similar messages as those that are delivered in gurdwaras. With such similarities being apparent in mainstream culture and arguably a minority religious belief in London, the separation between these groups is sadly easy to recognize. This may seem paradoxical but I believe it makes sense. Clearly, the mainstream culture and minority cultures claim to believe in similar ideals: communal learning. Yet the London community is separated (making such learning difficult) based off of ethnicity, race, and class. How frustrating! I could understand if these groups’ core values or ideals were so conflicting that problems arose and, therefore, separation made a bit more sense.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Some sort of disconnect is present. A misunderstanding between cultures? A hypocrisy in one or both? What accounts for this separation?

There doesn’t seem to be easy answer. Our class discussions have tended to point the finger at the majority culture and for the most point I’ve supported that sentiment. But I don’t know if the answer is really that simple; that is, I don’t think that the mainstream culture holds 100% of the responsibility for the separation that exists between cultures. But Space Jam reminds us that we can all get along in the end if we just communicate with one another instead of ignoring how much we have in common and highlighting our differences. That’s not to say that our differences should be completely erased. The Sikhs have a beautifully unique lifestyle that, in my opinion, shouldn’t be ‘mainstreamed’. But to have a gurdwara all the way in Southall rather than have a felt presence in London, to have Brick Lane be a predominantly Bengali community with few other places in the city where such communities exist, basically to have a separated society is, to me, exactly opposite of what all of these communities teach. Maybe Michael and Bugs need to make another movie for this lesson to be learned. I know I would gladly spend another Saturday night learning from them. But my hope is that the lesson isn’t just taught. Clearly, that is already happening. The hope is that the lesson starts being learned and applied. Maybe I’m reading too much into Space Jam’s influence on London culture. But as a student who is always observing and studying what’s going on in my surroundings, I don’t entirely think that’s the case.

Tags: Audrey

The East End, Sikhism and Post Colonial Literature

September 5th, 2009 · 2 Comments

On Wednesday our entire class went on a walk of London’s East End. After reading a few books this Summer dealing with this part of the city I had a very narrow view of what to expect before going on the tour.  The East End is typically home to the most recent immigrant population of London which today is the large Bangladeshi community that has immigrated within the past 30 years. Most of the post colonial literature we read portrayed the east end and specifically Brick Lane as a dingy place where its inhabitants are trapped between their home culture and the culture of Great Britain. Often this leads to conflict and not the best living situation. 

After hearing all of this negative portrayal of the East End I was surprised once we got away from Liverpool Street Station to see a quiet, unobtrusive Brick Lane. Part of this could have been attributed to Ramadan taking place which nearly all of the East End Bangladeshis observe. That being said it was evident a lot had changed in Brick Lane over the past few years. It was noticable that the city had been putting in a strong effort to change the dynamic of the area.  As we concluded our walk and moved into a more well-off area near the Tower of London I realized that the image I had of the East End going into the tour was not close to what I had found. In fact the only thing that reminded me of the East End I read about was when I was riding west on the Central Line later that afternoon from Mile End to Bank and I noticed an incredible difference in the overall quality of  the  two Underground Stations. When hearing about Brick Lane I  had expected something more akin to East St. Louis but instead found something closer to East Dublin or East Carlisle. Sarah made a great point in class today that the Brick Lane area seemed to have a bit of a “hipster” feel to it. To go along with this  you’ll notice one of my hyperlinks above is connected to a series of restaurants on Brick Lane. Ten and maybe even five years ago this would never have happened.  Although there were signs of immigrant communities in Brick Lane they did not become extremely noticeable until we got to the Whitechapel area.  If Brick Lane is indeed becoming an area where the London mainstream is beginning to spend a good amount of time and money then where are the first generation immigrants being pushed to?  

On Thursday we got to observe another area of London where immigration was prevalent as we headed to Southall, home to a large Indian community. Unlike the East End my first impression of Southall was just what I expected it to be. Walking through the area I noticed a very diverse Indian community consisting of people dressed both in western attire and in traditional south Asian clothing. Along the walk I noticed a few Churches which told me that the community has assimilated into the greater British culture a little bit. After a few more minutes of exploration we arrived outside the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, put scarves over our heads and prepared to head inside. Upon entering the first thing I noticed were the separate areas for men and women to hand over their shoes and cleanse themselves before prayer. The only experience I had to compare this to was when I visited a mosque many years ago and the same process took place.  As we entered the main hall and waited  to begin our tour I took in my surroundings. There was a man writing Punjabi on a whiteboard and a collection of men women and children wandering throughout, praying and meditating but most of all staring at the group of 28 Americans standing in the middle of the Gurdwara. Eventually our guide Mr. Singh showed up and began to tell us all about the Gurdwara and about Sikhism. The main things that I gained and understood from his quiet, pensive voice is that Sikhism is a religion of love and a religion in which learning takes place throughout one’s entire life. No Sikh has all of the knowledge in the world and each member of the community has the ability to learn from each other and from God.  Mr. Singh was a very humble man and spent a lot of time continually apologizing to us that he was not a worthy guide. I sensed that humbleness is a quality found often within the Sikh religion. Although I felt slightly uncomfortable walking into the prayer room, bowing to the guru and heading back out I enjoyed my experience at the Gurdwara overall. The visit was capped off by a wonderful meal that was simple but nourishing, a metaphor of the Sikh religion as a whole.

On Friday as our class discussed the post-colonial literature we read I tried to find connections between our experience at the Gurdwara and the stories we read about.  None of the books we read featured a major Sikh character so it was hard to make a direct comparison. However, one thing that I noticed that seems to apply to all immigrant groups is that there are stark differences in how the first generation and second generation handle themselves in the community. In just about every immigrant population we’ve read about/observed here in London the first generation immigrants tend to want to hold on to their home culture/religion whereas the children of first generation immigrants try to fit in with the greater British culture a bit more. This only makes sense considering the majority of them are attending public schools with other children from different backgrounds and have no experience living in the place where their parents are from. I noticed in the Gurdwara that many of the children were dressed in more western garb and wore a dew-rag type of head covering instead of a traditional scarf. Also I did not see anyone at the Gurdwara that was a teenager. It seems to me that England is very similar to the U.S. in that religion is lost on a lot of young people. I’m curious to find out if this is true throughout the world.

Overall my readings of Post-Colonial literature and my visit to the Gurdwara taught me a number of things. The first is that it is impossible to predict exactly how an immigrant group will assimilate or whether they will at all. It is also difficult to predict how each generation will handle being in a new situation. Despite these unanswered questions I learned a lot from the books we read and through our visit to the Gurdwara. I know that this learning will continue as I spend more and more time in London and as I move on throughout life. Much like the Sikh religion, learning about immigration is a lifelong task.

Tags: Henry

Long-standing Practice

September 5th, 2009 · No Comments

We were asked in class yesterday to think about the relationships between the literature we read and the Sikh gurdwara we visited.  Although this was discussed heavily in class yesterday, I think that the sense of being ‘with your own’ is greatly prevalent.

Arranged marriage is common in many religions throughout the world, whether or not you believe in the long-standing practice.  Personally, I think that it depends on the individual and the upbringing of that individual to determine if arrange marriage is a good idea.  To me, arranged marriage is very class-based, much like what we have seen around London in architecture and behaviors.  However, it is important to consider that up until the last few hundred years, Western society was as good as arranging marriages for its members.  For those who have read 19th Century literature, there was a large emphasis on class and upward mobility through marriage.  You did not marry someone who was deemed to be socially unacceptable by your class, and most certainly did not marry down (unless in the unlikely circumstance of love).  I guess that I see this class-based relationship as a type of arranged marriage, or certainly as a limiter for people who are acceptable.  However, I think that it is important to draw attention to the fact that this still happens today.  I know that many parents would like nothing more than to see their son or daughter marry someone of their faith, race, social class, and cultural background.  This same idea, that people shouldstick with their own kind, resonates in Mr Ali in Salaam Brick Lane and the marriage of Archie and Clara in White Teeth

It was the Sikh gurdwara that really brought the message home for me.  Yes, they were very accepting of us.  Yes, they fed us.  Yes, they treated us very well.  Yes, I felt slightly uncomfortable at times in the gurdwara whilst being engulfed in chants in unknown languages, unfamiliar architecture, and, to me, unusual customs.  The Sikhs believe in equality, so it seems slightly strange to my Western-raised mind that they would wish to participate in an arranged marriage.  I know that I’ve only had a very brief education into the ways that Sikhism works, but despite being so welcoming to peoples of all faiths, races, and cultures, it strikes me as odd that the Sikhs would be so intent on only marrying one of their own kind.  I guess it just goes back to the idea of keeping ‘with your own’.

Tags: Kelley

The Difference Between Identifiers and Identity

September 4th, 2009 · No Comments

I don’t consider identity to be one’s race, religion, gender, colour, sexual preference, or class. These are all things that other people use to identify and classify other people. For example, I would define my identity by who I am rather than what I am. I may be a white middle-class female but that is only what I am defined as, not who I am as a person. It is often hard for people to distinguish who people are from what they are, because the who is a lot harder to define than the what.

I believe that a lot of problems arise from people confusing the ‘what’ with the ‘who’. Racism results from people judging others by ‘what’ they are rather than ‘who’ they are. A second generation Bangladeshi like Magid, from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, is unable to be fully accepted into British culture because of his skin color, despite the fact that he was raised in England and has lost most of his ties with his Bangladeshi culture. He and others like him are discriminated against because the dominant culture make assumptions about who he is based on how he looks. For this reason Magid turns to an Islamic Radical group for support and acceptance.

Stereotypes are vehicles that people use when confusing what someone is with who they are. Yesterday when we all went to visit the Gurdwara I had some preconcived notions about what I thought Sikhs would be like; I thought they would be sexist, conservative, closed minded, and discriminating. Once I began to listen to our guide speak I realized that I could not be more wrong. By getting to know him, even just for a short time, I was able to see past what his is (Sikh) and past all the stereotypes that I associated with his religion, and learn who he is. I feel that in order for there to be more tolerance in this world more people need to step out of their comfort zone and realize that what a person is is not who they are, and furthermore it is not their identity.

Tags: Rebecca


September 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

I believe that ours has become a culture of fear. Not only, but especially since 9/11, we have begun to fear those of different cultures and those of different appearances, more than I think we ever have before. While many of you may find this a very controversial statement, I think it has become a truth that we all live with everyday. As students in a foreign country, we spend our time fighting this growing reality. We study other cultures, we learn about the unknown so that we will not fear it. But ultimately, Americans live in a society that is suspicious of the unknown.

So when we entered the Sikh Gurdwara in Southall, I’ll admit I was uneasy. However, it is not about that uneasy feeling, the uncomfortable awareness of difference, that I mean to write about tonight, but rather something that our generous guide earnestly said to us. After covering our heads, removing our shoes, washing our hands, touring the Gurdwara, and hearing about the Sikh faith, Professor Qualls asked our guide about the traditional kirpan sword that practicing Sikhs would normally wear at their side at all times. The guide did explain –to my understanding—that they are allowed to wear them on the street etc, because it part of their faith and is not considered a weapon. However, he did note that they are still not allowed to travel with them on airplanes. He stated that, “[Sikhs] sometimes stand out because of what we wear. People may see us with a kirpan and think we are going to try to take over the plane. But it would be better if we could take them because if someone were to try to take the plane, we would be able to stand up and say ‘no! do not do that!’ I know that someday we will be able to take them with us when we travel. People will see us with it and say, ‘No, he is a Sikh, he will not hurt us. Let him have it.” Perhaps I am more of a jaded American city girl than I ever thought, because hearing this man honestly tell us this belief for the future moved me more than anything else said that morning.

Part of the Sikh tradition is to protect the innocent. They carry this sword with them at all times because it is their duty to protect themselves and those who cannot protect themselves. This man had such faith in the British people, in the American people, in the growing cultural world, that someday he saw people not only accepting his faith, but understanding and allowing him to practice all the aspects of it, even if it involved carrying weapons.

It was a deeply powerful moment, to feel someone else’s hopes, however naïve you may think them, and to know, that are not in any future you foresee. As much as this experience in another culture, which despite similar languages is very different from my own, has opened my eyes to many wonderful differences and helped me to be even more accepting, I do not know that I can believe the same openness is possible on a worldwide scale. After all, we are a people who are afraid of differences. And while that can change one person at a time, we still have a long way to go.

Note: No photographs were allowed in the temple so I did not bring my camera along on this trip. However, if you would like to see images of the area, check out Google Images of Southall.

Tags: Megan