With Canada being home to the largest population of Sikhs outside of India — and with a significant portion of them in Alberta — it’s no surprise to find Sikh Studies courses at the University of Calgary in demand among Sikh students. What supporters hadn’t counted on was such a strong interest among those outside of the Sikh community.
“I get students coming from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of reasons for entering the program,” says sessional instructor Dr. Harjeet Grewal, PhD. “Usually, they’re curious, having heard about Sikhs in the news or had previous contact with Sikhs through childhood friendships or colleagues. That’s led many of them to want to learn about Sikhism from an academic perspective.”
Recently, much of that news coverage has been around the outpouring of humanitarian support from the Sikh community during the COVID-19 pandemic — from providing free food to thousands of people each day here in Calgary, to setting up hospitals and providing oxygen and ambulances in India.
Those efforts, notes Grewal, have sparked new interest in Sikhism among students from a variety of backgrounds, eager to explore Sikh history, literature, philosophy and religion. Similarly, the parallels between Sikhism and Canadian values have attracted Sikhs from around the world to this country.
“Here we have a large minority community whose values align very strongly with Canada’s aims as a nation,” he says. Diversity, inclusion, pluralism, multiculturalism — all are ideals held highly by Sikhs and Canadians alike.
That community-mindedness is a driving force behind the development of UCalgary’s Sikh Studies program, and its highly anticipated expansion. This past April, the Faculty of Arts launched a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $250,000 to grow the program. In just three weeks, more than twice that was raised, with gifts coming in from alumni, students, staff, faculty and supporters of all backgrounds and from across Canada.
The fundraiser was part of UCalgary’s record-breaking Giving Day. Since its inception in 2017, the university’s annual fundraising blitz has typically raised around $1 million each year. Giving Day 2021, however, blew past that goal, raising more than $1.67 million to create lasting, positive change — at UCalgary and in the community — by enriching student experiences, advancing critical research and accelerating innovation.