Serving Others: Individual and Societal Transformation through Seva in a Sikh Community
Drawing on 19 months of ethnographic research among Sikh communities in Delhi, India, this dissertation explores the contemporary practice of Sikh seva. In a context marked by histories of ethnoreligious violence, rising Hindu nationalism, and widespread inequality, some Sikhs draw upon seva to navigate and grapple with their own precarious citizenship, others’ suffering, and their aspirations for a good life. I argue that seva, as an act of care, is transformative and provides a strategy for survival and a way to live ethically. I utilize an on-the-ground approach to understand how communities draw upon religious care to foster ethical ways of being, heal after collective trauma, and survive precarious political contexts. This dissertation furthers understandings of the ways in which religious care can create societal good in light of societal problems, and how these practices can contribute to survival and the potential for wellbeing and flourishing. This research is relevant not only for understanding how Sikh communities can live ethically in majority Hindu India, but it provides insights applicable to other multicultural societies in our world.