Sacred Distinctions: Legal Ontologies of Religion in the Sikh Diaspora of British Columbia

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:45
Oral Presentation
Bonar BUFFAM, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Canada
Over the last thirty years, courts across British Columbia, the western most province in Canada, have rendered more than 70 judgments in cases related to the disputed political leadership of local Sikh Gurdwaras. Although the disputes are connected to ongoing disagreements between putatively 'moderate' and 'traditional' Sikh groups, the legal issues addressed in these cases concern the proper administration of religious organizations that have been incorporated as not-for-profit 'societies': the proper compilation of voter lists; election procedures for the society's executive committees; and the notice necessary to hold an annual general meeting. This paper explicates the specific secular logics that courts have invoked to intervene in the internal affairs of Gurdwaras, even as they profess a reluctance to decide matters of religion. The paper pays specific attention to the secular ontologies that are utilized to differentiate matters of religion, which are positioned beyond the pale of legal authority, from matters of political procedure, which figure as objects of legal jurisdiction. Utilizing critical theories of secularism, the paper explains how the agentive status afforded to bureaucratic media blurs and redraws these distinctions to enact unique modes of 'post-racial' governance. By situating these cases in broader changes to the racial state, this paper explains how law has become a mechanism for redrawing the religious, cultural and political boundaries of Sikhism.