American Turban

The ironic invisibility of Sikhs

Pew Forum Global Religious Landscape cover image (source: Pew forum)

In a recent CBS News documentary entitled “Working for Religious Freedom“, Rajdeep Singh, the Director of Law and Policy at the Sikh Coalition, commented on how little Sikhs are known in the United States (at 19:45 in the video):

Sikhs have been in the United States for more than 100 years, and ironically, despite being one of the most visible people in this country, in some respects, we’re invisible.

I was reminded of this quote — and of our ironic invisibility — when perusing through the Global Religious Landscape, an analysis released by the Pew Forum that attempts to report the size and distribution of the world’s major religions in 2010.

Unfortunately, as is usually the case with the reports from the Pew Forum (such as the Faith on the Move report on migration by religious group, Rise of Asian Americans, Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths, and a recent white paper on the Sikh American population), the enumeration of followers of the Sikh faith was left wanting due to the lack of specific census data available about Sikhs. In the Global Religious Landscape report, Sikhism was assigned to the “Other Religions” category, a catch-all group of supposed smaller faith groups spread widely around the globe:

Worldwide, there are an estimated 58 million members of other religions, accounting for nearly 1% of the global population. The “other religions” category is diverse and comprises groups not classified elsewhere. This category includes followers of religions that are not specifically measured in surveys and censuses in most countries: the Baha’i faith, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism and many others. Because of the paucity of census and survey data, the Pew Forum has not estimated the size of individual religions within this category…

About the Sikh faith, the Pew Forum states:

Sikhism was founded at the turn of the 16th century by Guru Nanak in the Punjab, a region now split between India and Pakistan. More than nine-in-ten Sikhs are in India, but there are also sizable Sikh communities in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. The World Religion Database estimates there are a total of about 25 million Sikhs worldwide.

The lack of statistics about the Sikh population in the US and around the world is an issue that is mentioned frequently on this blog. A national census completed in India in 2001 showed over 19 million Sikhs in that country (about 1.9% of the population), and so the 25 million statistic cited by the Pew Forum may not be unreasonable. The Government of India also completed a census in 2011 as well, however, reports that show population by religion in India has not yet been made available.

As such, in terms of demographic analysis, Sikhs continue to remain invisible despite our unique physical appearance. While the “Other Faiths” are explicitly identified and briefly discussed, for those interested in these faiths, the Pew Forum’s Global Religious Landscape study is not particularly useful.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Pew Forum discusses lack of available census data on Sikhs « American Turban

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