New York Times categorizes Sikhs as “Sect”

While I was writing my previous post, I discovered that the New York Times, on its website, categorizes Sikhs as “Sikhs (Sect)”.  The following is a screen capture:

New York Times categorizes Sikhs as "Sikhs (Sect)"

As Sikhism is its own distinct faith, and one of the largest faiths (by adherent population) in the world, this is clearly a misnomer by the New York Times.  The obvious question, then, is: of what other religion does the New York Times think the Sikhs are a sect?

A quick look at how other religions are labeled (namely, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity) reveals that only the Sikh category is described using the word “Sect”. Accordingly I have sent the New York Times an e-mail requesting that they remove “Sect” from the category name.  The website’s editorial staff can be reached at


  1. AS

    A sect is defined as:

    a body of persons adhering to a particular religious faith; a religious denomination.

    So NYTimes’ characterization seems to be fine.

    • The full definition of the word “sect”, as on is:

      1. a body of persons adhering to a particular religious faith; a religious denomination.
      2. a group regarded as heretical or as deviating from a generally accepted religious tradition.
      3. (in the sociology of religion) a Christian denomination characterized by insistence on strict qualifications for membership, as distinguished from the more inclusive groups called churches.

      Thus, the context of the word in its various interpretations does not appropriately describe Sikhism.

      Second, the word “sect” is not applied to the categories of the other religions. So, why the distinction in how Sikhs are characterized on the NYT website?

  2. AS

    You are right about the context, but a careful look at the page suggests that the screenshot above is for “Sikhs” and not “Sikhism”. So in that interpretation, Sikhs are a distinct sect and adhere to a particular distinct faith. I don’t see a problem with that. I did not see an entry for “Hindus”, “Muslims” or “Christians”, neither did “Sikhism” find a place in the topics and hence I cannot comment on NY Times being unfair to “Sikhism”. Perhaps you should write about including “Sikhism” in the Times Topics.

    • Please see the following on the NYT’s website subject index:

      Muslim/Islam subject headings: Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Islam, Muslim-Americans, Muslim Veiling



      Jews and Judaism

      Christians and Christianity

      Mormons and Mormonism

      The NYT does not appear to have a consistent categorizing policy, and thus it’s likely the labels they use were created randomly. However, unlike the other religions above, only Sikh topics are categorized using the word “Sect”, which then begs the question as to why. The word “sect” is not used for any other religious group.

      It’s probably not any kind of intentional statement that the NYT is making about Sikhism, but Sikhism/Sikhs shouldn’t be distinguished with the “Sect” label when other faiths and faith groups are not.

      In my message to the NYT, I did suggest the use of “Sikhs” or “Sikhs and Sikhism” as the subject label.


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