A new book from our own Dr. Doris Jakobsh

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Exploring Gender and Sikh Traditions

Gender analysis has not received a great deal of attention within Sikh Studies (Jakobsh 2003). On the other hand, a small number of scholars have spent years, sometimes decades, exploring issues under the rubric of “women and/in Sikhism”. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh’s ground-breaking work immediately comes to mind in terms of flinging open wide the doors to feminist approaches in Sikh Studies. Sikhism and Women. History, Text, Experience (Jakobsh 2010) was an important milestone in bringing together varied voices to address the paucity of scholarship in this area. The primary task at that point in time was locating scholars who were sufficiently engaged in the study of women and Sikhism to contribute to the project. Over the past decade, research on women and the feminine within Sikh Studies has grown. As an important part of these developments, scholarly inquiry has increasingly come to recognize that the category “woman” is problematic. “Woman” is not unitary, differences clearly exist in terms of inequalities. Moreover, as many of the chapters in this volume demonstrate, Sikh feminisms are also emerging. This is evident in the deepening and increasing rigorous of theoretical and methodological approaches in scholarship. Paradigm shifts are coming to the fore, as in, for example, feminist-inspired Sikh activism.

However, similar to transitions within academia at large that have seen the need to replace Women’s Studies departments with Gender Studies, it has seemed appropriate, even necessary, to move from a somewhat singular ‘women’s focus’ to one of gender vis-à-vis the study of Sikhism. The transition from women’s studies to gender studies also reflects changes in the ways in which issues of gender and sexuality have been woven into interdisciplinary studies. Gender studies invite a broader, more inclusive range of identities beyond the traditional binary of ‘male’ and ‘female’. In other words, an understanding of gender as socially constructed invites analysis of a spectrum of gender identities. This volume includes an examination of masculinity and male bodies, for they too are built and constructed on social systems, cultural and religious beliefs, and myths. Gender studies, in line with women’s, masculine and feminist studies, generally begin with a deconstruction of patriarchy, identifying subordinate-dominant relations and structures between individuals. It does so within an understanding that there are numerous forms of discrimination and power structures that concurrently create a multiplicity of oppression. The feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza identifies this complexity of inegalitarian structures as ‘historical interstructuring’. Kimberle Crenshaw delineates a similar, but even wider-ranging notion of ‘intersectionality’ to address the many layers and often simultaneous forms of oppression, alongside the pervasive power structures that create these forms of subjugation. Intersectionality has become the basis of an increasingly systematized production of contemporary discourses on feminism and gender analysis, as shall be seen in varied contributions in this volume. Further and indicative of the raison d’être of this volume, the intersectional spaces of gender and religion are also in need of examination, based on an understanding that religions too are socially constructed. Far from being sui generis, static and homogeneous entities, as far too often portrayed in world religions textbooks, religious traditions instead

are constantly and consistently changing in response to historical, cultural, and social contexts. Religion itself is best understood as “mediated, administered, lived, contested and adapted by socially situated agents, just like other forms of culture—and in relation to them” (Bailey and Redden 2011, p. 3). From this perspective, when “the” Sikh religious tradition is examined in terms of practices, ideologies, rituals, notions of identity—both historically and within the contemporary milieu—we can only conclude that “a” Sikh tradition does not exist. Instead, there are numerous forms thereof as this contestation and process of adaptation takes place. For this reason, Sikhism in this volume is presented as “Sikh traditions” or “Sikhisms”.

In the original call for papers for the Special Issue of Religions, each contributor was asked to consider the following questions: How has gender been constructed within Sikh traditions? How is gender being constructed within historical or contemporary Sikhisms? Over the next year, a diverse group of scholars from across the globe answered these queries with a wide range of intellectually stimulating, challenging and sometimes deeply personal responses. Some of the scholars in this issue have already made significant contributions to the study of Sikhisms, women and gender studies. However, a good number of contributors are emerging scholars within Sikh Studies. Overall, there is a significant diversity in terms of disciplinary and theoretical approaches, alongside geographical locales.

As will be shown throughout this volume, with the expansion of the boundaries defining “what is religion” and “what counts” as important aspects of rich Sikh traditions, alongside diverse approaches to constructions of gender, this volume is a significant, perhaps even ground breaking contribution to Sikh Studies.

      - Bailey, Michael, and Guy Redden, eds. 2011. Religion as a Living Culture. In Mediating Faiths: Religion and Socio-Cultural Change in the Twenty- First Century. Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 1–24.

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