Accepted Paper:

Identity construction, negotiation and strategies: the transnational religious community of Sikh migrants in Reggio Emilia (Italy)  


Silvia Maria Sai

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on identity negotiations within the Sikh migrant community through the promotion of specific religious practices. A public religious performance and a summer youth school are case studies of events occurring within the temple but related to the global diaspora and to Italian society.

Paper long abstract:

In 2000, one of the biggest sikh temple (gurdvara) of Europe was inaugurated in a small town (Novellara) in the district of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy. Indian sikh migration in this area started in the late '70s and thanks to an intense kinship based migration process, it developed into a well-established community. In the town of Novellara there are different places of worship: a sikh temple, a mosque, a hindu temple and catholic churches. Unlike other religious communities, sikhs succeeded in building a self-financed worship place that gives visibility to the whole community. Gurdvara is not only a religious space but also a social and identity space, linked with the local and transnational community through media, travelling authorities, kinship networks. In this paper I will focus on the temple as an identity space, arguing that it represents a space both of "internal" negotiation (within the religious community) and of "external" mediation and self-representation (with the "dominant" Italian society and with other minorities). With "internal" negotiation I refer to the gradual predominance of a specific orthodox identity (khalsa) through the promotion of baptism (initiation), religious discourses and education of young generations. A special attention will be paid to the consequences on gender identity. Even if there's a strong pressure on baptism carried on also on a transnational level, sikh community is not homogeneous and non-khalsa sikh are a predominant part of the community. On the other side, external negotiation passes through strategies of self representation, for instance in occasion of public religious performances. I will conclude exploring the elaboration of diasporic narratives elaborated by the local and transnational community, relating them to the process of identity construction in migration.

Panel W067
Transnational religious networks and their European emplacement