Sikh studies program being expanded at University of Calgary

Along with a full schedule of fourth-year business studies at the University of Calgary, Gurbir Parmar is enrolled in another, more personal class — Sikh studies.

“There is a lot of history I didn’t know myself,” said Parmar. “The biggest thing is A, just looking at Sikhism from an academic perspective … not just looking at it from that religious lens.”

Parmar says there is a large South Asian community at the post secondary institution. But she’s happy to see students from a variety of backgrounds taking the course to learn more about Sikhism. 

“We are a community that has contributed to Canadian society a lot and I think it’s a great way to make our own narrative of who we are,” said Parmar. 

The university is planning to offer more courses in Sikh studies and is collaborating with members of Alberta’s Sikh community.

“We’re trying to expand Sikh studies beyond the religious studies component of it, to look at the history, culture, even the literature, the social and cultural aspects of Sikhism,” said Richard Sigurdson, dean of the faculty of arts at U of C.

The pilot program would create a full-time teaching position, expand the current course selection, offer graduate research opportunities to masters students and facilitate community engagement.

Sigurdson said the goal will be to attract students from different programs. He said the university is committed to connecting to the community locally and globally. 

“The University of Calgary has really committed to pluralism, to global citizenship, to equity, diversity and inclusion. We are looking to expand the option for our students who don’t want to take say a whole major in religious studies, but they have a particular interest and would like to learn more about these really important world traditions,” said Sigurdson. 

Sessional instructor Harjeet Grewal, who teaches Sikh studies at the U of C said expanding the program is a long time coming.

“University of Calgary is taking the lead in trying to increase a representative diversity in the way it presents its courses and how that reflects the student body as well as the community at large," said Grewal.

“We can kind of learn about the Sikh tradition but also think about how Sikhs contribute to society and how the Sikh tradition can benefit our multicultural fabric in a more integrated and engage way."

Sikhism is the fifth-largest world religion. Grewal said its difficult to determine for sure but there are estimates 800,000 Sikhs live in Canada. 

“If you look at the university landscape across the board, there’s not a lot of course offerings, and there’s not a lot of places where a specifically Sikh representative or focus exists in the university framework,” said Grewal. 

The faculty of arts is contributing funding, but community support is also needed to launch the program. 

The fundraising goal is $250,000. Donations up to $2,500 made until April 22 — which is Calgary’s Giving Day — will be matched dollar-for-dollar, but matching funds are limited. 

The university plans to launch Sikh studies in September 2022.