One of my favorite topics to discuss in both my world religions and religion in America classrooms is Sikhs. There are a few ways that I bring this topic into the classroom: as a matter of classification ("What/Who is a "world religion"/"American religion"?); as an example of minority/majority religions (Sikhs live as a religious minority wherever they are in the world); and, most often, as a poignant example of how the "map is not territory": the Pew Research Center's demographics reflect the social, political, and cultural context of the world/America. There are around 24 million Sikhs in the world (by the numbers alone, the fifth largest religion in the world); yet most Americans are unaware of Sikhs.
In addition to these avenues for bringing Sikhs into the conversation about who and what is "American" or "religious" in American religion, another way to introduce Sikhs to our classrooms is through Sikh Captain America. Far more than a comedic stunt, Sikh Captain America provides an important moment of reflection on American identity in the 21st century.
In his red, white, and blue, Sikh Captain America stands at the intersection of pop culture and American identity in a global context. This is not without historical precedent. At mid-century, the original comic book figure of Captain America entered the scene before America entered World War II. At a time when Americans were trying to discern the proper role of America in global affairs, Captain America helped Americans re-imagine their place in the world. Following the war, sales declined; it wasn't until the mid-1960s that Captain America would re-emerge to offer a reflection on a real and imagined American identity. In this way, Justin Dittmer argued "Captain America cannot be understood as a mere reflection of American identity or foreign policy; the character is, rather, a creative intervention in those fields" (177). Sikh Captain America builds on the legacy of the comic book figure in each of its iterations by intervening once again in American life.
Unlike previous versions of Captain America, however, Sikh Captain America is explicitly confronting controversial issues and figures (namely, President Trump and racism) rather than fictional symbols for present-day concerns. How and why might make for productive conversations in the classroom, encouraging students to think historically by making connections across time periods and thinking comparatively about their own context and the historic contexts of 1940s and 1960s America.This photo of Sikh Captain America between two hopeful young girls outside the US Capitol perfectly captures the spirit of the #WomensMarch pic.twitter.com/IinMkeSEPh— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) January 22, 2017
On comic books, religion, and Captain America:
- Emily Suzanne Clark. “Of Catholics, Commies, and the Anti-Christ: Mapping American Social Borders Through Cold War Comic Books.”The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture Vol. 21, Issue 3 (Fall), 2009
More Resources about Sikh Captain America:
- "Sikh Captain America, "Red, White, and Beard"
- Hari Kondabolu "Sikh Captain America"
- Antonia Blumberg,"How ‘Sikh Captain America’ Is Responding To President-Elect Trump"
- Michael Cavna, "‘Sikh Captain America’ wears the superhero’s costume to fight intolerance — and Trump"