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U of C announces new Sikh studies program

By Alina Mansuri, June 10 2021—

The University of Calgary recently announced a new Sikh Studies program for students. U of C is the first among many universities to implement a one-of-a-kind program that encourages diversity, compassion, pluralism and an in-depth understanding of the peaceful nature of the religion.

This program gives students the opportunity to gain a comprehensive study of Sikh traditions, practices and philosophy. The program will not only enable students to declare a minor focus in Sikh studies, but those with a renewed interest will be permitted to carry out graduate studies at a masters level. Sometime in the future, the program is hoping to add further courses to the collection in order to provide the option to major in Sikh Studies.

Gurbir Parmar, undergraduate student and a member of the Sikh Students’ Association at U of C, was quick to pick up that a variety of different studies exist at the university but not much could be found for Sikhism. Parmar was excited for the launch of this program where they are represented and have their voices heard.

“Religion should not be seen as something rigid, as something that cannot progress,” said Parmar. “Being able to talk about interpretations of different text and literature would enable the community to discern how to progress and address religion with current society.”

Parmar added that her friends at other institutions were very excited at the initiatives taken by U of C by taking input from the community and offering courses which can not be found in other institutions.

Dr. Harjeet Singh Grewal, a professor in the department of classics and religion, currently teaches courses in Asian Religions with research focused on Sikh tradition. Grewal pointed out that there is a continuing interest between religion and society.

“The University of Calgary wants a more robust understanding of South Asian Religions as well as the intersections between various diversity protocols with various chairs in place such as Christianity, Buddhism amongst many others,” he said. “This will not only teach students various important practices that can be integrated and weaved into one’s lives, but also collaborates understanding amongst its peers and colleagues.”

Grewal hopes that the introduction of this program will help students to navigate difficult conversations in an intellectual setting letting the community know that diversity should be celebrated. 

“Diversity is not something you talk about theoretically, it is something you do,” said Grewal on the importance of representation. “This makes the University of Calgary unique and an innovator in ensuring the representation of various faces and gender at the faculty level — not just amongst students and its colleagues — but also an implementation and integration of its practices into society that will change the outlook of the issues that face minority groups in concrete ways,” he said.

Drawing on the courses that would be offered to students, Grewal discussed and gave a glimpse of what future courses would give to students. 

“Sikhs are always integrating and in dialogue and also holding events across different communities — instead of looking at central Sikh texts, Sikhs have been seminal in creating literature not just from early to modern contemporary in Punjabi but also to English literature, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, South American languages, in the nation that Sikhs were present in which is pivotal in understanding Sikh advances and their contributions to society,” he explained. “This would be crucial for developing and comprehending the impacts of minority groups such as Sikhism, serving as a precious asset for our ever-changing, dynamic society.”

Grewal continued, “Through the variety of courses that will be soon available, students will be encouraged to think that what we learn as minorities and if we bring the fullness of tradition into this, how does the integration of this become a two-way mainstream so that we are sharing and benefiting one another, potentially building multiculturalism even further? Every individual has something to contribute and the introduction of Sikhism as a discipline, and every aspect of society, will illustrate that differences can be embraced and embellished.”

Reflecting upon the Sikhism classes she had taken during the winter semester, Parmar also noted that disentangling the values that Sikhs have subscribed to and how the Sikh community use their values to integrate into their respective fields would be an interesting aspect of Sikhism courses and be able to apply to students’ own lives. It is pertinent to note that Sikhs are not just immigrants of the country — but are actual members of society.

On the establishment of a Sikh chair, Grewal believes that it would allow students to explore smaller aspects of the community and apply them in a multidisciplinary way. 

“Diversity in terms of initiatives will provide a greater sense of pride and connections for minority communities and will become increasingly important as we think and act globally,” said Grewal.  

”This would enable the university to communicate easily with various and diverse groups of the issues that they are facing without any fear and backlash which would be a difficult conversation to have with a majority group,” said Parmar. “Opening up these difficult conversations would enable communities to move together and heal as a community.”

You can learn more about the growth and progress of the Sikh Studies Program at the University of Calgary by visiting their Facebook page or @sikhstudies on Instagram. To learn more about the program in general and how it came about, visit the UCalgary website.

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