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Religion Library: Sikhism

Community Organization

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Today, membership in the Panth is based on family relationship to the Panth, making the Sikh tradition a very ethnically-based religion. The spread of the Sikh community across family lines has not been a robust source of communal growth, although conversions have happened. These conversions usually involve rituals like the khande di pahul, and adherence to the Rahit Maryada, a code of conduct and belief.

In the past, the Sikh community has not always been united along the ideals of the Guru's teachings. From the community's early days, divisions seem to have existed between Sikhs from rural, agrarian segments of Punjabi society (who made up over 90 percent of the community) and urban, mercantile communities that lived in important cities and had access to trade-based wealth. Even within these groups, adherence to ancient endogamous customs prevented Sikhs from marrying other Sikhs. For example, Sikhs living in cities preferred to marry their daughters to Hindus of similar trade backgrounds than rural Sikhs. Rural Jats would not have typically married into families of ancillary or artisan workers, though they shared both religion and agrarian ethic.

As the community becomes increasingly global, many Sikh scholars believe that these old fault lines cannot hold. As Sikhs and their descendants meet one another as members of extremely small religious minorities in non-Sikh majority regions, the similarities among Sikhs will increasingly trump social differences that were important to their ancestors. Moreover, Sikh interaction with non-Sikh majority populations will also effect changes in consciousness. This will provide those Sikhs who are interested in maintaining relationships with other Sikhs an opportunity to fulfill the egalitarian ideals of their founders.

In the future, the community will inevitably be organized according to new lines. If Sikhs choose to live outside of the Punjab, will they take up local cultures in a wholesale fashion? Or will they try hard to retain some cultural elements of their ancestors? In Punjab, will Sikhs continue to live agrarian lifestyles if the global food production scheme changes? Will cities in the Punjab continue to see influxes of former farmers and villagers? And finally, will outsiders be actively encouraged by Sikhs to investigate, and possibly join, the Sikh Panth? These questions will be answered by the actions of Sikhs in the remaining decades of the 21st century.

Study Questions:
1.     From where do Sikhs get their ideas of equality?
2.     Why would Sikhs get increasingly more egalitarian as they become an increasingly global community?
3.     What issues remain to be determined about Sikh community organization?