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Understanding the Sikh Message in America: a Quantitative Analysis of the Janam-sakhis

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Understanding the Sikh Message in America: a Quantitative Analysis of the Janam-sakhis
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  Toby Braden Johnson Accepted for Presentation at: The Architecture of Minds and Cultures: Prospects and problems of cognitive approaches in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (Brown University, March 26-27, 2010) 2010 American Academy of Religion Western Region Conference Presentation Title: Understanding the Sikh Message in America: a Quantitative Analysis of the Janam-sakhis Abstract: This paper will examine the Sikh  janam ‐ sakhis (birth narratives of Guru Nanak) in an attempt to discern how they engage American audiences. I test whether the janam ‐ sakhis, which strive to convey Sikh teachings (moral, social and emotive), can successfully transmit these teachings across cultural boundaries through the use of a text coding exercise to quantify the universal cognitive appeal of these texts or suggest their rootedness in Sikh tradition. In order to account for the specific ways in which a text can be instilled in and further conveyed by a reader, this study will employ a combination of narrative and relevance theories. I will focus on Sikh principles within these janam ‐ sakhis, but consideration will also extend to the social definitions and emotional qualities presented. The combination of these will provide sufficient data to draw a conclusion about the janam ‐ sakhis' success in transmission and effectiveness. A sample of university students will engage in a text coding exercise, which specifically addresses the social, emotive and moral modalities of these narratives. The results of the coding exercise will be compared to details of the distribution and promotion (or success) of the specific stories. Should the coding results indicate a significant covariance with the narrative’s historical promotion and use, then these narratives are successful in conveying their lessons about Sikhism. If not, then consideration will be given to which steps may be necessary in order to posit how these texts may work beyond the boundaries of their cultural srcin.  
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