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An Analysis of Christian Privilege through the Exploration of Sikhism DISCOVERING DIVERSITY PROJECT JENNIFER TUGLE EDUC
An Analysis of Christian Privilege through the Exploration of Sikhism
An Analysis of
Christian Privilege
through the
Exploration of
Sikhism

DISCOVERING DIVERSITY PROJECT

JENNIFER TUGLE EDUC 450 S09 MARCH 10 TH , 2017

Christian privilege was something I did not realize existed until taking this course. Being raised Catholic and going through the Catholic school system, I never thought much about my faith and its implications on my life in the sense of being privileged. In

fact, had someone pointed out to me that I was privileged in this regard, I’m not so sure

I would have agreed with them. To me, privilege was associated with luck or fortune (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012, p.58) and, in that context, I would have questioned why

being a Catholic makes me lucky or fortunate.

However, Sensoy and DiAngelo’s

(2012) definition of privilege, from a social justice perspective, as something we do not have to think about when we have it(p. 64) has now led me to the conclusion that I have, indeed, been experiencing a privileged life as a Catholic. To examine this in more depth, I opted to explore Sikhism, a religion that is vastly different from Catholicism, in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the impact Christian privilege has had on the lives of non-Christians as well as my own. Assisting me with this project is Aman Saini, a first generation Canadian and practicing Sikh, who not only guided me through a Sunday prayer service at a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) but has also provided her insights and experiences growing up and living in a predominantly Christian society. To my recollection, I have never been questioned or criticized for my beliefs, nor have I ever experienced any kind of fear for expressing my faith overtly. My experience coincides accurately with Schlosser’s (2003) statement that “I can, if I wish to identify

myself, safely identify as Christian without fear of repercussions or prejudice because of my religious identity” (p. 49). Considine (2016) expands on this sentiment further, stating that “Christianity can be a tiny part of my identity without it being the defining feature. I’ll never been perceived as the ‘Christian’ guy at a party or at work. I’ll never

be the ‘exception’ to those practicing my faith. I’ll never be asked to speak for other Christians(p. 1). In contrast, Aman recalls that while her religion was never considered an issue during her school days, the stereotypes and misconceptions about her faith became more apparent as an adult working in the corporate world and she has endured several ignorant comments or questions such as whether her faith is considered the “bad” one or the “good” one. This is indicative of a common misconception of Sikhism being a religion of violence. Aman explains that while Sikhism does have a violent history due to the persecution of Sikhs by people of Islamic and Hindu faith, their beliefs are very much rooted in recognizing and remembering God in everything, the importance of community, and the equality of all, regardless of race, sex, religion, etc. Our differing experiences are clear examples of Christian privilege and how the lack of education (or perhaps the unwillingness to be educated) can impact those of non- Christian faith and perpetuate misconceptions. Nevertheless, Aman also noted that her negative experiences are few and she attributes this largely to growing up in Canada. While she acknowledges that our country is certainly not without its blemishes, she feels that her religious faith would have had a far greater impact on her life had she been born and raised in the U.S. The celebration and wide consideration of Christian holidays is also an example of Christian privilege. My beliefs are “accepted as common sense, as ‘normal’, as universal” (Blumenfeld & Jaekel, 2012, p. 129). I don’t have to worry about taking time off work during Christmas and Easter and the ability to access music and TV specials during those special holidays, for instance, is very easy. I have never stopped to consider how this could affect someone who is not Christian. When addressing this

aspect of Christian hegemony, Aman does not feel particularly resentful. In fact, as Sikhism promotes acceptance for all, she looks at the expression of different religions (not just Christianity) as opportunities to be educated, not as something to be offended by. This is also something she feels is important regardless of what your spiritual beliefs are. Despite this optimistic view, I did feel the need to question whether she would appreciate or want more consideration for Sikh celebrations like Diwali, for instance. However, Aman expressed that these special events are often celebrated

with family and since co-workers can be seen as family, going to work and bringing treats, for example, is in itself a form of celebration. She also noted it is not common practice in India to take time off work for significant events like Diwali. As Blumenfeld and Jaekel (2012) suggest, “for education to be truly transformational, it must be student centered grounded on the shared experiences of the learners and composed of at least two essential elements or domains: the ‘affective’ (feelings) and the ‘cognitive’ (informational)” (p. 142) and Aman’s viewpoint

would align with this statement.

To bring these two elements together for myself, I took

the opportunity to visit Aman’s Gurdwara for a typical Sunday prayer service and a firsthand look at Sikhism in practice. To partake in the service, I wore a Punjabi suit that was later gifted to me by Aman. While not a requirement, I felt the cultural dress contributed to the authenticity of the experience. The scarf, perhaps the most important component of the suit, had to cover my head as Sikhs consider hair to be a sacred part of the human body. Covering your head is not a custom in the Catholic faith and while I did not feel necessarily uncomfortable, it took some effort to remember to keep it on as I found myself wanting to remove it out of habit. During my time in the Gurdwara, I found

the core beliefs of Sikhism readily demonstrated, most particularly when Aman led me to the “Langar,” a kitchen that is open 24/7 to serve anyone who is looking for a hot meal. Everyone eats traditional Indian meals together on the floor and converse amongst each other. Meanwhile, volunteers are constantly serving more food and drinks to those who want more, though it is important to note that you must take only what you feel you will eat as wasting food is frowned upon. There is a sense of community that is felt in the atmosphere and in this regard, I took a lot of comfort in this and in Aman’s company. Where I felt discomfort most acutely was in my attempts to follow the required procedures prior to the beginning of the service and during the service itself. I had to watch Aman quite closely to be able to mimic her gestures; how she bowed in front of the altar, where her hands were placed when receiving the “karah” (the equivalent of communion in the Catholic religion), etc. During the service, the language spoken was Punjabi and although Aman did translate for me, I still felt like I was missing the deeper meaning of the messages received. All of these components combined served to remind me of the things I take for granted when it comes to my own faith. I walk into mass and I know how I should be dressed, I can recite the prayers, I know the customs. In short, I do not need someone to guide me through anything. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the Sikh faith, what they believe in and why they believe it. For instance, I never knew the reasoning behind the use of the turban and why so many Sikh men and women do not shave. While this can be seen negatively in the context of hygiene, understanding the sanctity of the body (as mentioned previously) in the context of their religion really changes perspective. I am certain that I would not have this rich understanding had I not partaken in the service.

I grew up unaware of how privileged I have been to be able to explicitly express my beliefs and have them regularly supported not just in my family, but in society as a whole. The experience I had with Aman, in conjunction with the diversity course, has made me cognizant that being unaware of my privilege has perpetuated Christian hegemony. But this awakening has also brought about more questions than answers. While I have always considered myself to be an open minded and tolerant person, I’m realizing now just how easy it would be for me to inadvertently impose my beliefs on others who are non-Christian, most especially in a teaching role. This imposition can certainly extend to other social justice issues as well. Kelly and Minnes Brandes (2010) are correct to assert that “teachers are non-neutral agents for social change” (p. 392). Thus, I am challenged to ask myself: How can I teach without imposing my beliefs and opinions on my students so that they can form their own? What can I do when a student challenges my beliefs and core values? What can I do to perpetuate a positive attitude toward diversity (Schlosser, 2003) and not make things worse? While I may not have all the answers, I am certain that I can at least begin by educating myself on social justice issues, like I have been through this course, and analyze from all angles, not just from one particular lens. Being aware of the impact of socialization and the implications on my life and the lives of others is another way I can approach teaching. From a religious perspective, which was my focus in this particular case, I can take the time to acknowledge and value what other religions have to offer by partaking in experiences like the one I had with Aman and encourage my students to do the same. Schlosser (2003) concludes that “it is not enough to be tolerant towards individuals from minority religious groups; rather, people from both Christian and non-Christian religious groups

need to appreciate and value all religious diversity” (p. 50). Recognizing this, it is my hope that a positive approach to diversity will, in turn, inspire my future students to embrace it more so than tolerate it.

References Blumenfeld, W.J. & Jaekel, K. (2012). Exploring levels of Christian privilege awareness among preservice teachers. Journal of Social Issues, 68, 128-144. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/doi/10.1111/j.1540-

4560.2011.01740.x/full

Considine, C. (2016, June 6). Dear America Check your Christian privilege. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-

considine/dear-america-check-your-c_b_10319850.html

Kelly, D.M. & Minnes Brandes, G. (2010). Social justice needs to be everywhere”:

Imagining the future of anti-oppression education in teacher preparation. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 56(4), 388-402. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?di

rect=true&db=ehh&AN=58080582&site=ehost-live

Schlosser, L.Z. (2003). Christian privilege: Breaking a sacred taboo. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 31(1), 44-51. Retrieved from

http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2003.tb00530.x

Sensoy, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2012). Is everyone really equal? An introduction to key concepts in social justice education. New York: Teachers College Press.

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EDUC 450 (S09): Planning For the Discovering Diversity Project

My proposed plan for this project is to explore the Sikh religion by partaking in a Sunday service (specific date is yet to be determined) at the Dashmesh Cultural Centre,

followed by “langar” which has been explained to me as a 24/7 community kitchen run

by volunteers who serve hot meals to all people, regardless of race, religion, etc. My experience will then conclude with a tour of the temple. The facilitator of this activity will be Aman Saini who I was referred to by a friend and is of Sikh faith. She has accepted

volunteering her time to guide me through the service, langar and temple tour and answering any questions I will have. She prefers to be contacted by email if necessary:

aksaini@email.com. I have chosen this activity because, being of Catholic faith, I would like exposure to something vastly different to what I have been accustomed to all my life and truthfully, I know very little about the Sikh community and their core beliefs. While I will do some research prior to the activity, some of the questions I intend to ask include what they believe and why, if they have special holidays/events they celebrate, how they differ from the Hindu faith as I understand people often confuse the two, and her view on Christian Privilege as I am interested to know how this may have affected her life. Also, the readings I will be drawing from are the articles discussed in class by Scholosser and Blumefeld/Jaekel as well as Chapter 5 of the course textbook. Finally, to show my appreciation for attending this activity, I intend to be very respectful of the Sikh faith and temple by following the protocols required of me (covering my head for instance) as though I were Sikh, and being mindful of the phrasing of my questions so that I do not offend the facilitator or anyone else I may

interact with. There may be also be an opportunity to donate to the temple, which I feel would be a nice way to thank Aman for her time.