While Bahá'ís acknowledge that divine inspiration is accessible to any soul and has guided sages and philosophers in the past, Bahá'ís generally restrict the word revelation to refer to the process that informs, directs, and inspires the Manifestations and the lesser prophets. See the Manifestation section for bibliographic references.
Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 245 (Tablet of Wisdom, where Bahá'u'lláh describes how he receives revelation, also in Tablets 137-152); 424-25 (Gleanings, XXXVII-XL).
Hatcher and Martin, 81-2, 119, 122, 127
Udo Schaefer offers a fairly extended discussion of progressive revelation in Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm, 117-50. Julio Savi discusses the nature of revelation and progressive revelation in The Eternal Quest for God, and Juan Cole examines some of the theological functions of revelation in "The Concept of the Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings," Bahá'í Studies monograph no. 9 (1982). B. Hoff Conow briefly discusses some aspects of revelation in chapter three of The Bahá'í Teachings: A Resurgent Model of the Universe. See¶56. Sacred History for progressive revelation.
¶55. Ritual Practices and Ceremonies
The Bahá'í religion eschews ritual as a practice that potentially can degenerate into meaningless form. As well, the importance of preserving the "diversity" half of "unity in diversity"--of ensuring that the process of unifying the world community does not inadvertently impose cultural homogeneity--makes Bahá'ís careful not to ritualize praxis. The only official Bahá'í rituals are: (1) recitation of the prayer for the dead at a funeral, read by one Bahá'í on behalf of those assembled; (2) obligatory prayer, which each Bahá'í is to perform daily, generally in private; and 3) a minimal Bahá'í marriage rite which consists of repeating the phrase "We will all, verily abide by the will of God" in front of two witnesses.
Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 681-86 (obligatory prayers, also in Bahá'í Prayers 4-16); 576-80 (Prayers and Meditations, LVI, fasting prayer). Shoghi Effendi explained that Bahá'u'lláh reduced all forms of ritual to a minimum (Lights of Guidance, 464 and Compilation of Compilations volume I, 10). See also Lights of Guidance, 138-40.
Esslemont, 131 Momen, 83-4
While the Bahá'í Faith has very little ritual, it does have ceremonies: Bahá'ís celebrate marriages with marriage ceremonies and commemorate deaths with funerals. They observe major events in Bahá'í history as Bahá'í holy days, and the observances can be ceremonial. The monthly Bahá'í feast is a kind of ceremony as well, though it is devoid of ritual practices. The Bahá'í community also observes customs: for example, when certain prominent Bahá'ís enter a room, everyone stands.
Because of the paucity of Bahá'í ritual, very little has been written about it. The only major work, which is actually quite detailed and thorough, is Denis MacEoin's Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism. MacEoin examines ritualistic practices such as pilgrimage, prayer, and festivals. However, as Christopher Buck responds in his "Review of Denis MacEoin's Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism," in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, 28.3 (1996), MacEoin's emphasis on ritual strongly distorts how Bahá'ís themselves view their religion and its practices. Linda Walbridge's brief "Rituals: An American Bahá'í Dilemma," in Bahá'í Studies Review, 5:1 (1995), argues that Bahá'ís took Shoghi Effendi's prohibition against rigid ritual and focused more on the "ritual" than on the "rigid," thereby depriving the community of a much-needed form of religious expression. A Bahá'í theological defense is given in Miracles and Metaphors, pages 25-38, where Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl discusses whether ritualistic behaviors such as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage "have any real benefits and useful effect."
¶56. Sacred History: Progressive Revelation
A sacred history is a theological interpretation of the significance of history. All religions offer a sacred history. Traditional Christianity's sacred history, for example, starts with the beginning of sin in the Garden of Eden and the expulsion of Adam and Eve as a result; continues through the spread of sin and the necessity to destroy humanity with a great flood; is elaborated on through the Old Testament period and such events as the exile of the Jews for their violation of the laws of God; reaches a critical climax in the coming of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion, which is seen as an atonement for sin; continues during the era of the church, a time to bring sinful humanity to the recognition of its Lord; and foresees the return of Christ and the establishment of God's kingdom. For the Bahá'í Faith, sacred history is the story of God's promise to educate humanity and foster its ever-advancing development through the sending of a series of Manifestations, each of whom builds on the teachings of his predecessors; the story culminates with the coming of Bahá'u'lláh, the end of human adolescence, and the entrance into adulthood of the human race.
Esslemont, 122-28 Huddleston, 37-44 Ferraby, 38-49 Momen, 101-3 Hatcher and Martin, 81-84, 96-98, 127 Smith 1987, 73, 76, 199
Save for brief discussions of progressive revelation in Julio Savi's The Eternal Quest for God: An Introduction to the Divine Philosophy of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, no in-depth presentations of the topic have yet been written.
¶57. Sacred Story (Mythology)
The Bahá'í Faith does not contain a creation story, such as Genesis, and generally eschews myth, except as a source of symbolism to explain abstract concepts such as the spiritual journey of the soul. It interprets the sacred stories of the previous religions in considerable detail, however. It redefines and reinterprets the symbols in the previous holy books.
Some of Bahá'u'lláh's classic explanations of religions symbolism are in Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 423 (Gleanings, XXXVI); 73-77 (interpretation of the symbols "sun," "moon," and "stars," also in Kitáb-i-Íqán 33-42). 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Some Answered Questions contains many sections that interpret various biblical and Christian symbols. A particularly useful example is his interpretation of the story of the Garden of Eden on 122-26.The one article solely on the subject of myth is William Collins' "Sacred Mythology and the Bahá'í Faith," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.4. Myth and symbolism are also discussed in Ross Woodman's two commentaries, A Bahá'í Academy Course on the Gleanings and A Bahá'í Academy Course on the Kitáb-i-Íqán. William S. Hatcher presents some aspects of "myth-making" in "Myths, Models, and Mysticism," in Logic and Logos: Essays on Science, Religion, and Philosophy. Christopher Buck addresses symbology in many places in his Symbol and Secret: Qur'an Commentary in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán: Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions.
¶58. Scholarship and the Academy
The writings of the Bahá'í Faith strongly emphasize the need for and importance of scholarship; the second of Bahá'u'lláh's Hidden Words says that one is to "know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor." Nor is there any of the Islamic culture's common suspicion of Western forms of scholarship, as indicated by the fact that Shoghi Effendi, with 'Abdu'l-Bahá's full approval, attended Oxford University. However, not all forms of scholarship are encouraged, for, as Bahá'u'lláh repeatedly cautioned, some merely "begin with words and end with words" (e.g. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 19 and 26, and Tablets, 52.)
Among the places in which Bahá'u'lláh discusses the import of knowledge and describes which types of scholarship are the most useful are Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 316 (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 26-7) and 195 (Tablets, 51-2). 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasizes the need for scholarship in Secret of Divine Civilization, 37-40 and Promulgation of Universal Peace 295-6, and discusses the types that are beneficial in ibid., 20-2, 360-1. Two useful collections of primary texts are Scholarship: A Compilation and the shorter Bahá'í Scholarship. The latter is from the Bahá'í Studies Review 3.2 (1994), an entire issue devoted to discussions of scholarship which includes six different selections of extracts from the sacred texts on scholarship arranged by topic; these topics include quotations encouraging scholarship, on ethics and methodology, and on review. Lights of Guidance, 210-14, has relevant comments on education and universities.Rick Harmsen's "The Holy Grail of Objectivity," in Deepen, 3.3 (Fall 1995), is a useful if not academic discussion of some ways in which Bahá'í studies might differ from the traditional Western scholarship. Susan B. Brill has made similar observations in her response to Iraj Ayman's commentary on Craig Loehle's "On Human Origins: A Bahá'í Perspective," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 4:2 (Sept.-Dec. 1991). Her subsequent "Conversive Relationality in Bahá'í Scholarship: Centering the Sacred and Decentering the Self," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 7:4 (June-September 1995) provides further suggestions--though written in an obfuscated style--for revised academic approaches to create a uniquely "Bahá'í," consultative, non-confrontational type of scholarship. Moojan Momen presents some initial considerations of Bahá'í scholarship, such as its place in the Bahá'í community and the unique approaches to scholarship offered by the Bahá'í teachings, in "Scholarship and the Bahá'í Community," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 1.1 (1988-1989). William S. Hatcher examines the same subjects in "Scholarship: A Bahá'í Perspective," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 1.2 (1988-1989). The Bahá'í Studies Review, issue 3.2 is devoted to the subject of Bahá'í scholarship. Besides the selections of primary text quotations listed above, it includes Moojan Momen's "Bahá'í Scholarship -- Definitions and Perspectives," Stephen Lambden's "Doing Bahá'í Scholarship in the 1990s: A Religious Studies Perspective," and Seena Fazel's research note "The Bahá'í Faith and Academic Journals." Denis MacEoin has published a few articles asserting that there are aspects of the Bahá'í Faith that make it an unpropitious atmosphere for scholarship; Bahá'ís have responded to each of these articles. The most informative of these exchanges is MacEoin's "Problems of Scholarship in a Bahá'í Context," in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 1.3 (1982), followed by Stephen Lambden's response in the same issue. Moojan Momen and MacEoin offered further comments in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 1.4 (1983). Anthony A. Lee discusses ethics and methodologies of scholarship, especially of the scholar's interpretations of Bahá'í history, in "Bahá'í Values and Historical Inquiry: Musings on the continuing Discussion of Ethics and Methodology," in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 3.3 (Sept. 1985). Stephen Lambden, in the same issue, offers "Some Thoughts on the Establishment of a Permanent Bahá'í Studies Centre and Research Institute," complete with possible course outlines, and includes a selection of quotations on the topic of encouraging Bahá'í scholarship. This piece has also been reprinted in dialogue, 2:2&3 (1988).
¶59. Science and Religion
The Bahá'í Faith sees reality as one, and therefore argues that science and religion cannot be in disagreement, since they both investigate the same reality. This assertion of the Bahá'í Faith should not be understood as a statement that the two have never conflicted as much as a statement of faith that ultimately they cannot be in conflict, and a statement of principle that Bahá'ís must seek to resolve tensions between the two in a spirit of open-minded investigation, recognizing that truth is relative and that human interpretations of both nature and revelation will be imperfect.
Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 183 (eleventh Glad-Tidings in Tablets 26); 189 (sixth Taráz in Tablets 39-40); 195 (third Tajallí in Tablets 51-52); 254 (part of tablet of Maqsúd in Tablets 168).
Esslemont, 197-202 Hatcher and Martin, 85-89 Faizi, 80-1 Huddleston, 50-1 Ferraby, 124-29 Momen, 40-2, 139
The most prolific writer on the subject of science and religion is unquestionably William Hatcher. His writings on the subject include "The Science of Religion," in Bahá'í Studies, no. 2, which consists of three papers on the relationship between science and religion; Logic and Logos, which contains five essays on the connection between logic and the study of the revelation; and "A Scientific Proof of the Existence of God," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 5.4 (Dec. 1993-Mar. 1994). Anjam Khursheed has written several essays on the relationship of science and religion that have been published as a book called Science and Religion: Towards the Restoration of an Ancient Harmony, as well as the article "The Spiritual Foundations of Science," in Jack McLean, ed., Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá'í Theology: Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 8. A very useful paper is Brian Aull's "The Faith of Science and the Method of Religion," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 1.2, (1988-1989), followed by G. A. Bartholomew's study of the same, "Harmony of Science and Religion: A Complementarity Perspective," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 1.3 (1989).
An important scientific issue about which the Bahá'í authoritative texts contain enigmatic comments is evolution. The first scholarly exploration of these comments is by Craig Loehle, "On Human Origins: A Bahá'í Perspective," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.4 (1989-1990), which he further explored in On the Shoulders of Giants, 92-115. The article occasioned a good deal of commentaries and author's responses in subsequent volumes of the Journal of Bahá'í Studies; the most useful of these is probably Arash Abizadeh's "Commentary on 'On Human Origins: A Bahá'í Perspective,'" in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 3.1 (1990-1991). Two other articles examine notions of societal evolution from the standpoint of systems theory, though they only discuss the Faith in passing: Ervin Laszlo's intriguing "Humankind's Path to Peace in a Global Society," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.2 (1989-1990), 19-36, and George Land's "The Evolution of Reality," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 3.1 (1990-1991, 19-30.
The Bahá'í Faith regards the writings and the written record of the oral teachings of all previous Manifestations as sacred scripture. This includes the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible (the Old and the New Testaments), the Qur'án, and all the writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, and could also include core texts of other traditions, such as the Zoroastrian Gáthás, the Hindu Vedas, and the Buddhist Tripitaka. The writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, though not regarded as "revelation," are, by virtue of their infallibility, also considered to be scripture.
Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas 73-74, and note 165.
The writings, or tablets, of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh,
'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi are stored at various places at the
Bahá'í World Center in Haifa, Israel. Soon they will be moved to
a building named "The Center for the Study of the Sacred Texts," which is under
construction as of this writing. Microfiche copies of the tablets are also
preserved for safekeeping at a variety of places around the world. Many texts
were lost, stolen, or destroyed, and many others are still held in private
hands. The estimated figures for the total number of individual tablets are as
follows: Bahá'u'lláh, 7,160 tablets archived, 15,000 total
estimated to have been written; 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 15,549 tablets archived,
30,800 total estimated to have been written; Shoghi Effendi, 16,370 letters
archived, 30,100 total estimated to have been written ("Bahá'í
Archives: Preserving and Safeguarding the Sacred Texts," in
'Andalíb magazine, 12.48 (Fall 1993): insert). William Collins
has described the structure of the International Bahá'í Archives
and other considerations relevant to preserving the sacred texts in "Library
and Archival Resources at the Bahá'í World Centre," in
Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 3.4 (Dec. 1985).
Note: the above figures were updated in 2002; see bahai-library.org/uhj/collection.texts.html.
Scholarship on scripture, Bahá'í or other, is just beginning to develop. The development is occurring along several lines. The study of literary symbolism is still the most common form of analysis found. Hermeneutics and commentary is relatively little developed, and historical-critical work on Bahá'í and other scripture from a Bahá'í perspective is even rarer. Published to date have been are Michael Sours, "Immanence and Transcendence in Divine Scripture," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 5.2; Stephen Lambden, "The Word Bahá: Quintessence of the Greatest Name," in The Bahá'í Studies Review, 3.1 (1993): 19-42; Udo Schaefer, "The Balance hath been Appointed": Some Thoughts on the Publication of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas," in The Bahá'í Studies Review, 3.1 (1993): 43-54; and Khazeh Fananapazir and Seena Fazel, "The Station of the Kitáb-i-Íqán," in The Bahá'í Studies Review, 3.1 (1993): 55-66. The Ocean of His Words: A Reader's Guide to the Art of Bahá'u'lláh, by John Hatcher, provides an academic analysis of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh to evoke an awareness of their artistry. Dann May's "A Preliminary Survey of Hermeneutical Principles Found within the Bahá'í Writings," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 1.3 (1989) and Juan Cole's "Interpretation in the Bahá'í Faith," in Bahá'í Studies Review, 5:1 (1995) each describe analytical interpretion of scripture. The international Haj Mehdi Arjmand memorial conferences on scripture, held annually in Europe and North America, have produced a body of soon-to-be-published papers on scripture.
¶61. Shoghi Effendi
Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957) became the head of the Bahá'í Faith, or Guardian, on the death of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921. He built his ministry on two documents by 'Abdu'l-Bahá: the Tablets of the Divine Plan, which give the American Bahá'ís the task of taking the Bahá'í religion to the entire world, and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, which established the Guardianship, appointed Shoghi Effendi the head of the Faith, and described the system of local, national, and international governing bodies that the Bahá'í religion is to have. Shoghi Effendi first established the organizational system, which he titled the Bahá'í Administrative Order, and then turned the administrative machinery to the task of systematically taking the Bahá'í religion to the entire globe. He also translated many of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh into English, setting a standard of quality for Bahá'í translations that was much higher than the Bahá'ís had previously had; and he wrote extensively about basic Bahá'í teachings, defining many doctrines in clear terms for the first time.
Esslemont, 257-63 Huddleston, 214-21 Faizi, 23-26 Momen, 127-8 Ferraby, 256-57, 261-62 Smith 1987, 115-20, 136-8 Hatcher and Martin, 61-70 Smith 1996, 101-7
The most complete study of the life and thought of Shoghi Effendi is The Vision of Shoghi Effendi: Proceedings of the Association for Bahá'í Studies Ninth Annual Conference. This collection contains good articles on his writing and translation style, his world outlook and personality, and personal reminiscences of him. The best biography of Shoghi Effendi was written by his wife, Rúhíyyih Rabbání, and is titled The Priceless Pearl. She has also written a second book of reminiscences titled The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. There is also a volume of memoirs by Ugo Giachery titled Shoghi Effendi. Marcus Bach, a non-Bahá'í professor of religion, has left a memoir of his meeting with Shoghi Effendi titled simply A Meeting with Shoghi Effendi. A transcript of a talk by Leroy Ioas, "In the Days of the Guardian: A talk by the Hand of the Cause Leroy Ioas," in Deepen, 7.3 (Summer 1995), offers some insights into and anecdotes about the personality of Shoghi Effendi. The essays in Richard Hollinger, ed., Community Histories: Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 6, contain many passing references to the Guardian. Two short summaries of the life and person of Shoghi Effendi are David Hofman's "Shoghi Effendi, Expounder of the Word of God," and Helen, John, and Amelia Danesh's "The Life of Shoghi Effendi," both of which are in Morten Bergsmo, ed., Studying the Writings of Shoghi Effendi.
For a list of the principal works from Shoghi Effendi's pen--almost all of them compilations of his letters--see "Writings of Shoghi Effendi," in the Bibliographies section, below. An analytical essay on Shoghi Effendi's interpretation of the Bahá'í writings has been written by Glenford Mitchell titled "The Literature of Interpretation: Notes on the English Writings of Shoghi Effendi," in World Order, 7.2 (Winter 1972-73). There is one good commentary on a work of Shoghi Effendi, Ross Woodman's A Bahá'í Academy Course on Promised Day is Come.