Sikhs show the world their spiritual commitment to service through “langar” at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Rice served in a langar service, courtesy of Dall-e AI.

By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism founder of Bias Busters book series

CHICAGO—Sikh people have a wonderful, welcoming tradition that embodies the Sikhi religious value of selfless service. It is called langar and is a combination free kitchen, community meal and act of service.When the Michigan State University Bias Busters class compiled 100 Questions and Answers About Sikh Americans, we did not get to experience a langar because of COVID-19 isolation.

Sikhs entertained langar guests with music and chants. Photo by Joe Grimm used with his permission.

I got my chance during the Parliament of the World’s Religions Aug. 14-18, 2023, in Chicago. Each day of the parliament, there was a mid-day langar. The parliament attracted people from scores of religions and countries. All were welcome to experience a langar meal.

From the class’ work on the Sikh guide, I knew to expect lacto-vegetarian fare. Sikhs may choose to eat meat, but the langar is meatless. This means that Sikhs’ traditional neighbors whose religions forbid or discourage meat may join the langar. Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, embrace vegetarianism in keeping with their belief in nonviolence. The tradition was started 550 years ago by Sikh’s first leader, Guru Nanak. The meal is served for free to all regardless of religion, caste or gender.

A langar is traditionally prepared and served at a Sikh place of worship, called a Gurdwara. This gives members a regular chance to serve. The parliament’s langar was held in a tent set up just outside the McCormick Place convention center.

As at a gurdwara, participants removed their shoes and were fitted with white head scarves. Servers wore white turbans, although Sikh turbans can be of any color or pattern.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Guests could either sit on the covered ground or at a table. The meal included green salad, chapati (flatbread), dal (split peas or beans) and a refreshing cucumber dish. It was good, and servers kept plates full. There was also a sweet mango beverage.

One thing I was unprepared for was the large number of servers. Although Sikhi has about 30 million members worldwide, there are fewer than 1 million in the United States and they tend to live on the East and West coasts.

So, I asked my hosts where they live. The first man I asked said in a British accent he had come from the United Kingdom. The next person was also from the U.K. and said 105 had come on this mission the Midwest.

As I left the tent, I thanked one of the people for coming to Chicago to teach us.

A practitioner of selfless service, he said, “Thank you for letting us serve you.” Then he handed me a bottle of water.

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Care to Learn More?

Joe Grimm, the founder of the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters project, attended the 2023 Parliament and has provided us two stories and colorful photos as well.

FOCUSING ON UKRAINE is a story headlined: 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions shows the peaceful potential of our diverse faith traditions.

FOR MORE ABOUT LANGAR, the Parliament staff posted an overview of this traditional service from the Sikh community.

Click on this image to visit the Amazon page for the Bias Busters series.

Joe Grimm is nationally known for his tireless commitment to diversity through journalism, both in the training and hiring of journalists and in the kinds of stories covered by newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and online publications. When asked to describe the Bias Busters project that Joe founded through the Michigan State University School of Journalism, he writes:

This series springs from the idea that good journalism should increase cross-cultural competence and understanding. Most of our guides are created by Michigan State University journalism students. We use journalistic interviews to surface the simple, everyday questions that people have about each other but might be afraid to ask. We use research and reporting to get the answers and then put them where people can find them, read them and learn about each other.

These cultural competence guides are meant to be conversation starters. We want people to use these guides to get some base-line understanding and to feel more comfortable asking more questions. We put a guide to resources in every guide we make, we arrange community conversations and we are working on a facilitation guide. While the guides can answer questions in private, they are meant to spark discussions.

2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions shows the peaceful potential of our diverse faith traditions

This 3-minute YouTube video is a quick visual tour of the 2023 Parliament.


Within the Parliament’s Peaceful Mission Is Spiritual Support for Embattled Ukraine

By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism founder of Bias Busters book series

CHICAGO—The first Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, was billed as a national dialogue about faith. Now, the event is known as the birth of the worldwide interfaith movement. Its 2023 edition, held Aug. 14-18 in Chicago, sustains that vision in new ways.

Religious leaders flanked Christian Orthodox Archbishop Germanos of Chernivtsi, a city in southwestern Ukraine, to show the global spiritual support that has flowed through the interfaith parliament since its founding more than a century ago. Photos with these stories from the 2023 Parliament are by Joe Grimm and used with his permission.

One innovation this year: Before hundreds of people near the parliament’s conclusion, representatives from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism rallied behind Ukraine.

Sharing the stage with Christian Orthodox Archbishop Germanos of Chernivtsi, a city in southwestern Ukraine, the religious leaders pledged solidarity and support.

Symbolically, this last-day event showed how the interfaith message has survived 130 years, as well as how it has changed and faces new challenges. In 1893, Sikhs were not included in the parliament. This year, Sikhs were at center stage, supporting Ukraine. Another group absent the first time out, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had a large presence in the parliament’s marketplace.

Weaving prepared statements, music, poetry and prayer, religious leaders and performers comprised blanket support for Ukraine. The war, however, is threatening to tear apart Germanos’ Eastern Orthodox Church. With major Orthodox capitals in Moscow and Kiev, the church has been weaponized by both sides in this conflict.

Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill has said, “Any war must have guns and ideas. In this war, the Kremlin has provided the guns, and I believe the Russian Orthodox Church is providing the ideas.” A Russian strike in July badly damaged Ukraine’s landmark Transfiguration Cathedral.

On the other side of the conflict, the Ukrainian government has ordered 1,000 Orthodox monks suspected of being loyal to Russia out of their state-owned monastery in the capital of Kiev. And, to further distance itself from Moscow, Ukraine recently changed its official date for Orthodox Christmas from the Russian date of Jan. 7 to the western date of Dec. 25.

In his brief, warm response to the parliament’s expressions of solidarity, the archbishop thanked world religions for the friendship that he said he hopes leads to unity. He also acknowledged the Ukrainian diaspora which has brought his country’s people to Chicago.

The Chicago Bandura Ensemble, built around Ukrainian instruments, gives musical testimony to the diaspora that meant the Ukrainian archbishop found familiar strains far from home.

Music for this special program was provided by the Chicago Bandura Ensemble.

The bandura is a Ukrainian instrument with as many as 65 strings. It is tuned like a piano and plays like a cross between a guitar and a harp.

On the day after Germanos acknowledged support, a Russian missile attack on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv struck a central square, a university and a theater. At least seven were killed and almost 130 injured.

CNN reported that Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, said the strike occurred as people were leaving church with “baskets of blessed apples.” The day is a major holiday on the Orthodox calendar, as apples and honey were being consecrated for The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

A surprising ending for the Ukrainian event spoke to the interfaith nature of the parliament. A shofar ram’s horn was blown, recognizing that the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana is coming soon.

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Care to Learn More?

Joe Grimm, the founder of the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters project, attended the 2023 Parliament and has provided us two stories and colorful photos as well. In addition to this story, he also sent us:

A REPORT HIGHLIGHTING one of the most important religious groups participating in the Parliament is this second story: Sikhs show the world their spiritual commitment to service at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Click on this image to visit the Amazon page for the Bias Busters series.

Joe Grimm is nationally known for his tireless commitment to diversity through journalism, both in the training and hiring of journalists and in the kinds of stories covered by newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and online publications. When asked to describe the Bias Busters project that Joe founded through the Michigan State University School of Journalism, he writes:

This series springs from the idea that good journalism should increase cross-cultural competence and understanding. Most of our guides are created by Michigan State University journalism students. We use journalistic interviews to surface the simple, everyday questions that people have about each other but might be afraid to ask. We use research and reporting to get the answers and then put them where people can find them, read them and learn about each other.

These cultural competence guides are meant to be conversation starters. We want people to use these guides to get some base-line understanding and to feel more comfortable asking more questions. We put a guide to resources in every guide we make, we arrange community conversations and we are working on a facilitation guide. While the guides can answer questions in private, they are meant to spark discussions.

Let’s help stop anti-Sikh treatment in the United States

By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism Professor of the Bias Busters program

Shortly after we published our new Bias Buster’s guide 100 Questions and Answers about Sikh Americans, suddenly Americans were reading about abusive treatment of Sikhs as some asylum seekers were forced to take off their turbans by border agents.

The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff reported on August 3, Border officials investigating claims Sikh turbans were confiscated. Miroff reported:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sent a letter Monday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus saying the organization since June has documented almost 50 cases in which agents confiscated turbans, denouncing the seizures as “ongoing, serious religious-freedom violations.”U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investigating a new chapter in the complicated story that is immigration on the United States’ southern border.

This now has become an international news story as The Independent’s Josh Marcus followed up on January 6 and reported for his audience in the UK, and around the world: Border Patrol threw away ‘hundreds’ of Sikh migrants’ turbans and told them they could ‘starve’. Marcus reported:

The mistreatment of Sikh migrants at the US-Mexico border is reportedly much more widespread than previously thought. US Customs and Border Patrol agents in multiple sectors have allegedly thrown hundreds of sacred turbans belonging to Sikh border-crossers in the trash, and denied migrants religiously mandated vegetarian meals.

These incidents involve persecution of Sikhs, whose religion, Sikhi, originated in Punjab, India. These experiences of mistreatment at border centers involve both the turbans Sikh men wear and dietary restrictions in their tradition. The turbans signify their religious affiliation and keep their hair, which must be uncut, neat.

Tragically, now, questions are being asked that should have been asked and answered long ago. Who did these border agents think they were detaining? What did they know about Sikhs?

Questions are what we anticipated when a journalism class at Michigan State University created 100 Questions and Answers About Sikh Americans: The Beliefs Behind the Articles of Faith. This guide, published in July 2022, is one in a series of Bias Busters guides intended to increase cultural competence by answering basic questions.

First, a little background. Sikhi is the world’s fifth largest religion with about 25 million people worldwide. It is a newer religion than the larger ones: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Sikhi, as it is officially known, or Sikhism, was founded in South Asian by a series of gurus.

This is how this Bias Busters guide begins to describe their beliefs:

“’Sikh’ means a disciple, student or learner. Sikhs pursue salvation through the message of God as revealed by the gurus, which promotes prayer and selfless service. Sikhs believe in one God who created the universe. All beings are equal and a part of this entity. Sikhism rejects discrimination based on gender, creed or social standing.”

So, it is cruelly ironic that when some Sikhs reach the United States, fleeing religious discrimination in India, they are greeted with more humiliation.

On Aug. 9, the Sikh Coalition, the faith’s largest American civil rights organization, wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The letter said:

“Sikhs wear an external uniform to unify and bind themselves to the religion’s beliefs and to remind them of their commitment to Sikh teachings at all times. All Sikhs are required to wear external articles of faith, such as a steel bracelet (kara), uncut hair and beards (kesh), and a turban (dastaar) to cover their hair. These articles of faith distinguish a Sikh, have deep spiritual significance, and are mandated by Sikhs’ religious traditions and should not be forcibly removed or discarded.

“… The removal of the turban—which Sikhs view as an extension of their body—is highly personal and sensitive and is akin to a strip search. It is considered a great dishonor for anyone to violate another’s turban by removing it, and it is highly disrespectful to touch it with unwashed hands or by anyone who does not adhere to the tenets of the faith. Forcibly removing or targeting a Sikh’s turban or hair has symbolized denying that person the right to belong to the Sikh faith and is perceived by many as the most humiliating and hurtful physical and spiritual injury that can be inflicted upon a Sikh.”

People at the Sikh Coalition were allies on the 100 Questions and Answers About Sikh Americans guide, advising even before the class began. Then, they and others read it for accuracy. Once again in this border case, the more than 500,000 Sikh people in the United States are viewed through a lens of what is done to them rather than who they are and what they believe.

100 Questions and Answers About Sikh Americans frames Sikhs in their beliefs, ideals, history and practices, rather than in a defensive posture reacting to the most recent discrimination that has long been part of their reality.

To understand what is happening to Sikhs in Arizona and in the United States, we must first understand them. Please consider ordering your own copy of this new guidebook about Sikh Americans and, better yet, share this news and a guide with friends and colleagues.

 

Who wrote the famous song ‘We Shall Overcome’? Turns out, ‘we’ did.

How can our world move from ‘I’ to ‘We’?

By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism Professor of the Bias Busters program

This summer, our MSU Bias Busters team is launching some of the most widely celebrated books in its series of books to combat bigotry and build healthy communities. In August, for example, we all took part in a marvelous session at a conference of journalism educators in Detroit to launch 100 Questions and Answers about the Black Church.

The most inspiring and educational moments in that program was the Rev. Robert Jones talking about the origins of the famous protest song We Shall Overcome.

Please enjoy the video, above, share it with friends—and visit our Bias Busters channel on YouTube to enjoy more videos.

Want to go right to Amazon to learn more about this new book? Check out our Bias Busters page on Amazon that shows all 20 volumes in this series.

MSU journalists publish To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching

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By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism

What would college students tell their professors if they could?

In To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching, a journalism class uses more than 100 such comments to get things started.

They include:

“What type of professor gives you a bad grade on a paper and the only comments written were ‘incorrect use of a semicolon’ and ‘good’?”

“I spend a lot of money to go to school here. It would be nice if a professor knew my name.”

Comments like these were selected as starting points for more than 50 chapters in this new book.

This level of confusion and frustration is not surprising to anyone connected with higher education, these days. College campuses have become complicated places. The college population is more diverse than ever, tighter budgets and expanding technology are changing the role of professors, and students are more willing than they have been in 50 years to ban uncomfortable speech. Often, a professor, whether adjunct or a tenured PhD, becomes the fulcrum where all of this change seems to turn on campus.

MSU School of Journalism students now are veterans of identifying and producing helpful books on a wide range of issues concerning America’s changing culture.

This new project, To My Professor, was born when some ugly classroom incidents prompted a committee in the Michigan State College of Communication Arts and Sciences to ask for a teaching guide written from the student’s point of view. The request went to a class called Bias Busters because its students had published earlier 100-question guides to greater cultural competence. To My Professor, became a much bigger project, however, and grew to become a 230-page book written by 18 students over a 15-week semester.

Among the major sections of this book are:

  • Engaging everyone
  • Out of bounds
  • Technology
  • Life stages and circumstances
  • Health and wellness
  • Racial inclusion
  • International community
  • Gender and inclusion

The subjects include communication, grading, the needs of commuters, financial stresses, parent-student issues, challenges faced by first-in-the family students, international students and a growing blend of race, culture and gender identification.

FRICTION OVER DIVERSITY

Among the comments collected as starting points in the research, many focused on diversity, including:

There was frustration “when profs do not learn a Black student’s name because it’s ‘too hard’ but they can learn scientific names for plants+animals.”

“My professor just asked if I speak Arabic and then told me I look like a terrorist.”

“I felt like I had to choose between my grades and my religion, but what’s worse, I don’t know which my parents will be more upset about.”

In researching their chapters, the MSU journalists interviewed students and educators—and they also turned to nationally known master teachers and experts on crucial issues. For example, in sorting out the many potential points of misunderstanding over religious practices and observances, the students turned to the nation’s leading journalist covering religious holidays and observances: Stephanie Fenton, who has reported for ReadTheSpirit magazine over the past decade.

WHAT THEY LEARNED

 

So, with the book now out and getting into the hands of educators through Amazon and other booksellers, let’s turn the lens on the student-authors. What do they think now? Here is what some wrote:

“Interviewing professors and students for this book was eye-opening. Some were apathetic to our project, and that alarmed me. From the start we knew that the professors who didn’t want to learn or adapt their teaching styles wouldn’t be our readers—though they likely need our book the most. Others were inspired, and that fueled me to produce better work.”

“I learned that professors don’t suck on purpose. They really are trying their best and they do mean well. Hopefully our book can help them be even better! “

“I learned that there are some AMAZING professors, but there is always going to be some not-so-amazing professors, too. It’s important to realize, though, that these professors, just like us, have a life outside the classroom.”

“As a student you sometimes feel alone in the way you are treated by professors, but you’re not. There is a whole nation full of students just like me.”

CARE TO READ MORE?

Joe Grimm is visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He was the teacher and editor for To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching. He is also the editor of the Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence. And here is a link to the MSU journalism students’ author page.

MSU Bias Busters publish timely guide to American Jews

By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism

American Jews are on the front page this spring for many reasons.

This week (March 20-22, 2016), U.S. presidential candidates are vying for attention at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Coming up is the convergence of Easter (March 27 for Western Christians and May 1 for Eastern Orthodox Christians) and Passover (starting at sundown on April 22, 2016). Those holidays always generate headlines, sometimes referring to the calendar convergence as “crossover holidays.”

In a 2015 poll for The Economist and YouGov, 22 percent of a sample of 1,000 Americans said they acknowledge the holiday commemorating the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt. That means about 10 times as many non-Jews say they note the occasion as the 2-3 percent of the country that is Jewish.

Within the Judaism, it’s a Passover tradition for seder hosts to spark discussion of contemporary issues that connect with Jewish tradition and values. Seder hosts often look for thoughtful material to share with participants in addition to the Haggadah booklets that contain the readings and songs seder guests use during the ritual meal.

This new book is written for non-Jews to answer commonly asked questions about Jews and Judaism—but the book was edited with the help of a nationwide panel of Jewish readers. Even though the ideal readers for all of the Bias Busters books are not members of the minority groups featured in these volumes—many Jews are likely to want to read this new book and discuss the answers we have assembled.

Consider the Easter/Passover “crossover,” a phrase that describes the convergence of these ancient holidays. What’s the connection? That question is in keeping with our main goals in producing these guides: We’re helping people to learn about each other. We’re answering the questions that are most commonly asked among friends and colleagues, but that are rarely answered in standard reference books.

We answer the basic, everyday questions people have about each other but might not ask because they are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or embarrassing themselves. We believe that curiosity should be rewarded, not discouraged. These guides are meant to take the sting out of asking questions and to open up conversations. We write these books like real people talk. We hope that when you finish one of these guides, you will have more questions than when you started, as well as more confidence to ask them.

We’re fueling a well-informed national conversation that, in the end, builds healthier communities.

100 Questions and Answers About American Jews is the longest guide in the Bias Busters series, so far. Besides 100 questions and answers, it has new special sections including a guide to holidays by ReadTheSpirit’s Stephanie Fenton, graphics to explain things and a glossary. There are also videos that show you about the Passover seder. Other videos let you see and hear the ram’s horn blown for Rosh Hashanah and show how Torahs are kept and handled.

The questions in this new book include:

  • What is the significance of the small, circular cap some Jewish men wear?
  • Are Jews a race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, culture or a people?
  • How are Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews different?
  • How is Zionism different from Judaism?
  • How many Jewish Holocaust survivors are alive today?
  • Why does it seem like there are so many Jewish holidays?

The guide has sections on identity, religious practices, history, customs, food and stereotypes. Some of the answers might surprise you, but the guide will never scold anyone for asking the question.

And that is key. Journalism students at Michigan State create these guides with the idea that it is important and fun to learn about each other and that a clear, simple guide that answers our most basic questions is a good place to start.

This guide was vetted by 20 people, including five rabbis, to reflect practices among the major streams of Judaism. There is great diversity in Jewish thinking. That is explained in an opening essay by Rabbi Bob Alper, author of the books Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This and Thanks I Needed That. Michigan State Associate Professor Kirsten Fermaglich recounts the social and political history of Jews in America. Her first book was American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares. She is working on another tentatively entitled A Rosenberg by Any Other Name, an exploration of name changing in the United States in the 20th century.

Whether you are already doing the Passover crossover and want to know more or are someone who wants to get in on this interfaith experience, this guide can help you in plenty of time for the holiday.

Joe Grimm is editor of the series and visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

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Care to learn more?

Visit our bookstore for more on this book.

Here is one of the videos produced by the Bias Busters team …

Celebrate Black History Month by confronting racism with … information

By JOE GRIMM
Michigan State University School of Journalism

The absence of diversity in #OscarsSoWhite is a symptom. A new guide, out for Black History Month, looks at the wider, longer story.

It is 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

As Oscars, street demonstrations, campus protests and studies show, we have a long way to go on race relations. Many people just have a hard time understanding where others are coming from.

Part of the problem could be that we just don’t know each other very well.

The Public Religion Research Institute asked people about their closest networks in 2013. About 75 percent of White Americans said all their closest confidants were White. About 65 percent of Black respondents said all their confidants were African American. Among Hispanics, the number was 46 percent.

In the Michigan State University School of Journalism, classes of students have been trying to take make cross-cultural conversations less awkward. Here is the class that produced this new book …

Students start this process by asking people what questions they get about themselves, or wish others knew the answers to. Then, the guides answer those common questions. The students hope that these guides answer baseline questions people are curious about, but might be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or offend others.

100 Questions and Answers About African Americans answers potentially awkward questions:

• Should I say Black or African American?
• Why is slavery still an issue for some people?
• Why is it that White people can’t say the n-word, but some Black people do?
• What is the Black National Anthem?
• Do Black people get sunburns?

The guide answers some common misperceptions:
• Is it true there are more Black men in prison than in college?
• Are African Americans the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action?
• Does most federal food assistance go to African Americans?
• Did Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

And the guide explains achievement in rising educational and health levels, high voter turnout and accomplishments in science, technology and the arts.

This guide, the ninth in the MSU series, includes videos to answer questions about Black hair and African American fraternities. This is the first guide to use a motion graphic to explain the complicated story of wealth disparities. You can watch it here:

This guide, available in print or digital editions, was one of the most challenging to make in this long series our students have been producing at Michigan State. It was difficult because race issues run deep and because, like many campuses, Michigan State had demonstrations about racial inequity while the students were creating the guide. That was the backdrop for their work. As the professor, I think this made the guide sharper and I was impressed with the way the students treated each other.

Come on … take action …

Order your copy of this new book today.

Joe Grimm is editor of the series and visiting editor in residence in the MSU school of Journalism.

The authors of this guide are Michigan State University students Michelle Armstead, Brian Batayeh, Kelsey Block, Victoria Bowles, Paige Boyd, Stacy Cornwell, Kiana Elkins, Lilliana Forti, Brittany Holmes, Rachel Linnemann, Stephanie Hernandez McGavin, Veronica Muñoz, Cayden Royce, Danielle Schwartz, Caitlin Taylor and Rashad Timmons.