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Issues in Writing ‘Introductions’ to ‘Sikhism’

Issue: Vol 1 No. 1 (2007) June 2007

Journal: Religions of South Asia

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.v1i1.47


The paper sets the author’s introductions – in particular Sikhism A Very Short Introduction (2005a) – in the context of earlier introductions to (and more substantial treatments of) Sikhism. After noting challenges intrinsic to representing faith traditions, and the particular task of the writer of introductions, my focus rests on reflexivity and the fact that context and conversation – both recent events and particular collaborations – shape agendas. Likewise, I suggest, critical attention needs to take account of the writer’s disciplinary formation, as historian, linguist or, in my case, ethnographer.

The eruption, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, of hostility against Professor Hew McLeod and other scholars trained in critical methods receives comment, as this affects the decisions made in designing and drafting scholarly introductions. It is also a part of Sikh history, and as such receives a place in my own Introduction. The article refers to some particularly sensitive aspects of Sikh history and to the balance of criteria in selecting visual images as well as in creating text. The ‘world religions’ paradigm of much religious studies and religious education comes in for scrutiny, as does the western matrix in which ‘Sikhism’ and other ‘isms’ have been named and conceptualized as discrete systems rather than unbounded traditions.

A range of decisions that I made as author are revisited such, for example, as the emphasis on the Punjab and on the international spread of the Panth, and the selection of exemplars. The elusiveness of spirituality, the dearth of Sikh material available on ethical issues and the possibility of engaging as author with recent, ‘postmodern’ approaches are considered. Finally the writer’s responsibility is outlined – a responsibility which comprises introducing diaspora Sikhs to their heritage as well as introducing the faith to outsiders. Introductions, it is argued, have a contribution to make to interfaith dialogue.

Author: Eleanor Nesbitt

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