This introductory lecture on the Bahá'í religion is only one approach that can be taken to explaining the Bahá'í Faith. Depending on the course, one could emphasize the Bahá'í teachings more strongly, or the Bahá'í community, or other aspects of the religion. For another general approach, see the article on the Bahá'í Faith in the most recent Encyclopedia Britannica. For those interested in reading about the Bahá'í Faith from a perspective informed by Islamic Studies or Middle Eastern Studies, the articles on the Bahá'í Faith in the new Encyclopedia of Islam or in the Encyclopedia Iranica are highly recommended.
Books to start with -- Numerous introductory books on the Bahá'í religion have been written; the goal has been to include as many of them as possible in the subject modules, to allow the instructor complete freedom of choice.
J.E. Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era is a classic introduction to the Bahá'í Faith, first published in 1923, and still popular; it is periodically updated to keep its contents current. John Ferraby's All Things Made New was composed in the late 1950s as an outline of basic Bahá'í teachings. It strongly emphasizes traditional Bahá'í categories like God, Manifestations, and prayer, and focuses little on the Bahá'í community or Bahá'í family life. John Huddleston's The Earth is But One Country was first published in 1976 and has a more secular, social-oriented and political focus than the previous introductory works. All of these works were prepared before the development of "Bahá'í Studies," which gradually is making an impact on the contents and quality of introductory works.
William Hatcher and Douglas Martin's The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion was the first effort to write a college-level textbook on the Bahá'í Faith. Peter Smith's Bábí and Bahá'í Religions offers an innovative sociological approach to the Bahá'í religion, and his A Short History of the Bahá'í Faith is an excellent summary of the religion's history. The two non-Bahá'í journalists Colette Gouvion and Philippe Jouvion's The Gardeners of God: An Encounter with Five Million Bahá'ís is another very useful book: it would not work well for an introduction to the Faith, for the content is non-scholarly and is not always presented as clearly as a Bahá'í author would present it, but because of its external but sympathetic standpoint it often has a fresh viewpoint on Bahá'í matters. Moojan Momen's introductory textbook, A Short Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith, is a good but brief summary of Bahá'í teachings and history. Two short booklet-length summaries of the Faith are Mary Perkins and Philip Hainsworth's The Bahá'í Faith (96 small pages), and Gloria Faizi's The Bahá'í Faith (130 small pages).
Basic information on the Bahá'í Faith's historic figures, significant places, important scriptural works, and salient teachings may also be found in Wendi Momen's A Basic Bahá'í Dictionary, and dates in Glenn Cameron and Wendi Momen's A Basic Bahá'í Chronology, both useful and rapid desk-top references. William Collins' A Bibliography of English-Language Works on the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths, 1844-1985 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1990) is the most exhaustive bibliographic work published in English (others are available on the internet--see "Description of Bahá'í Internet Resources," below) and is very useful for finding additional sources if one already knows the names of authors or titles for which to search.
Introduction -- The Bahá'í Faith is the religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92), whose name means "Glory (Bahá>) of God (Alláh)." In 1863 Bahá'u'lláh announced that he was the messenger sent by God to bring a new revelation to humanity for this day. Bahá'u'lláh recorded his revelation in the form of books, essays, and especially letters; the Bahá'í World Centre possesses over 15,000 authenticated documents by Him. These constitute the core of the Bahá'í religion's sacred scriptures. Like most great religious teachers, Bahá'u'lláh suffered decades of persecution for his beliefs; he was tortured, imprisoned, and exiled.
In his extensive writings Bahá'u'lláh addressed nearly every conceivable question, from the nature of spirituality to the setting of interest rates, from the importance of music, art, and science to child rearing. Many of these teachings can be classified into four categories; (1) teachings about God; (2) teachings about the individual's relationship to God; (3) teachings about how human beings should relate to each other and restructure human society; (4) teachings about the establishment of a Bahá'í community.
Teachings about God -- Bahá'u'lláh describes God as an unknowable essence; that is, God is so great that no matter how much we can know about our Creator, there will always be something that transcends the grasp of our finite minds. To help human beings learn about God's nature and about truth, this Essence sends Manifestations of God, individuals who manifest God's perfections and virtues to humanity and expound God's teachings. These Manifestations are very rare; they usually suffer for the teachings they bring; and their teachings become the basis of a new world religion. Bahá'ís believe God has always sent Manifestations to educate humanity. The legends and folklore of many tribes and peoples preserve stories of ancient personalities who may have been Manifestations of God. The Bahá'í writings specifically recognize Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb (the forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh), and Bahá'u'lláh as Manifestations. Thus Bahá'ís believe that all the major religions in the world constitute chapters in the Religion of God. The Bahá'í Faith is the most recent chapter in the story.
Teachings about the individual -- Bahá'ís believe that God created the world and that everything within it reflects a sign or attribute of God. The Bahá'í scriptures describe the human soul as immortal and as containing all God's attributes, or qualities, but these qualities exist only potentially until they are developed. Developing them constitutes one of the principal purposes of life on this physical plane of existence. Development of these qualities and virtues, and of our knowledge and love of God, leads to a spiritual happiness that constitutes a kind of heaven, in this world or the next; failure to develop them constitutes a kind of hell. Bahá'ís believe that human beings have the volition to develop themselves; Bahá'ís reject, on the one hand, belief in a devil who manipulates and controls human beings, and, on the other hand, belief in a completely passive spiritual life where the individual waits for God to bring about all of his or her spiritual transformation.
Rather, Bahá'u'lláh stresses an active spiritual life. Central to it is daily reading from and meditating on scripture, so that one internalizes divine teachings and spiritual qualities. Prayer is strongly emphasized, not because God needs the prayers of humans, but because prayer is a form of listening to God and because one needs to learn to speak to God. Bahá'u'lláh has revealed three obligatory prayers, one of which each Bahá'í is supposed to say each day; Bahá'u'lláh has also revealed hundreds of prayers for specific purposes such as illness, forgiveness, spiritual tests, and death, and prayers to say for one's spouse, children, parents, or for those who have died. Bahá'u'lláh urges Bahá'ís to bring themselves to account each day before God, so that they can review their actions, thank God for their successes, ask God to forgive them for their failures, and consider ways of doing better the next day. The Bahá'í religion also has an annual period of fasting; by choosing not to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, Bahá'ís remember their dependence on God, express their severance from the material world, and strengthen the bonds between them and their fellow believers.
Bahá'u'lláh describes two purposes of human existence; one is "to know and to worship God" and the other is "to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization." Bahá'ís accomplish the latter goal by teaching others about the spiritual and social teachings of their religion by word and by deed.
Social Teachings -- Bahá'u'lláh wrote extensively about the urgent need to reform human society. His plan revolves around a single principle: the oneness of humanity. This principle rejects all efforts to subordinate any race, religion, nation, ethnic group, or social class to any other. As a result, from the beginning there has been a strenuous effort to diversify the Bahá'í community so that it includes individuals from all races, religions, ethnic groups, and social classes, and to integrate them into diverse and vibrant local Bahá'í communities. The oneness of humanity also includes the principle of the equality of men and women; the Bahá'í scriptures describe humanity as being like a bird with two wings, which must be of equal strength for the bird to fly. The oneness of humanity implies the importance of loyalty, first, to the human race, and second to one's own nation. The resources of the planet Earth must be allocated and distributed for the advantage of the whole. For this reason the Bahá'í Faith advocates a world federal system, to maintain world peace and regulate the world economy. It urges selection of a world language, which all would learn in addition to their native tongues. It supports universal compulsory education, so that everyone can have access to divine revelation and to the accumulated wisdom of humanity.
But Bahá'ís do not believe that social reform can be accomplished only through world government; a change of basic attitudes toward others, toward money, toward work, toward knowledge, toward the family, and toward institutions is necessary. To exemplify these changes, Bahá'ís have formed a religious community.
Teachings about Religious Community -- Bahá'u'lláh envisioned a diverse religious community that would function through the principles of consultation, that is, the principle that the opinions and ideas of every member are important; that they must be respected; and that in the Bahá'í community decisions are made and actions taken after discussion and consensus. Rather than having a clergy, the Bahá'í Faith has an elected, collective leadership. Each local Bahá'í community (which consists of all the Bahá'ís who live in a particular place) elects each year a nine-member local spiritual assembly, which owns the community property, plans the community meetings, disciplines members, oversees Bahá'í marriages, divorces, and funerals, counsels individuals, and often runs schools or other projects for the betterment of everyone in that locality. An effort is made to involve all members in the religion's decisions, activities, and functions; spiritual assemblies delegate much authority to representatives and committees, which tap the talents of many Bahá'ís.
A nine-member national spiritual assembly, elected annually, coordinates national Bahá'í affairs such as publishing, educating the Bahá'í community, working with governments and non-governmental organizations, and creating long-term plans for expansion and consolidation. The Universal House of Justice, also having nine members, is elected every five years by all the members of the national spiritual assemblies and coordinates the Bahá'í religion at the world level. The Universal House of Justice also appoints individuals called Counselors, who in turn appoint local Auxiliary Board members, who in turn appoint assistants. The Auxiliary Board members and their assistants consult with and advise the local spiritual assemblies; the Counselors do the same with national assemblies and the Universal House of Justice and inform them about local conditions around the world. These individuals have no authority, but represent a tangible institution to maintain consultation between all regions and all levels of the Bahá'í world community.
Bahá'í community life involves a minimum of ritual. Nine holy days throughout the year, which usually commemorate events in the lives of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, represent times for Bahá'í communities to meet and for families to share their Bahá'í commitment together. Once every Bahá'í month (which has nineteen days) the Bahá'í community meets in what is called a feast. It consists of a worship portion, where Bahá'í scriptures and prayers are recited; a business portion, where the community and its spiritual assembly consult together; and a social portion, where fellowship is shared. Prayer meetings, deepenings (where the Bahá'í scriptures or teachings are studied) and firesides (where the Bahá'í teachings are discussed at an introductory level) are sponsored by many individuals and local spiritual assemblies in homes on a weekly or monthly basis, and constitute the most common social events in a local Bahá'í community.
The Bahá'í Community consists of those persons who have accepted Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God for this day. Bahá'í communities are found in virtually every nation and territory on the planet. Initially drawing its members from the Shí'í Muslims of Iran, in Bahá'u'lláh's own lifetime the community expanded to include converts from Sunni Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Christians. From Iran it spread to Central Asia, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Palestine, and Egypt. In the 1870s it reached India and in the 1880s, Burma; there Buddhists became Bahá'ís. Bahá'í teachers traveled throughout southeast Asia, to China, and to Sudan.
Bahá'u'lláh appointed his son 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921), whose name means "Servant ('Abd) of Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá>)," as his successor and head of the Bahá'í Faith and to be the exemplar and interpreter of its teachings. 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote over 27,000 documents, mostly letters, which are also a part of Bahá'í scripture. Under 'Abdu'l-Bahá's guidance, the Bahá'í Faith spread to Europe, North America, the Pacific islands, and Australia. Bahá'í teaching was conducted in Japan, China, Korea, and southern Africa. 'Abdu'l-Bahá began to establish local and national Bahá'í governing bodies and laid the foundation for systematic plans for the spreading of the Bahá'í religion to the entire world. Under his successor, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 to 1957, local and national spiritual assemblies were established all over the world and systematic plans for carrying the Bahá'í Faith to Latin America, Africa, and other places where it had not penetrated were undertaken. Shoghi Effendi laid the foundation for the election of the Universal House of Justice, a body whose functions were described by Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá in great detail. The Universal House of Justice was first elected in 1963 and is the head institution of the Bahá'í Faith today.
As of April 1991 the Bahá'í world community had over five million members and was growing at 4.4 percent each year. In at least 34 nations and significant territories the Bahá'í membership had exceeded one percent of the population; in Tuvalu, Tonga, Guyana, and Belize it had exceeded five percent of the population; in Kiribati (a small nation in the mid-Pacific) seventeen percent of the population was Bahá'í. As of April 1996, the Bahá'í international community had 174 national spiritual assemblies and almost 20,000 local spiritual assemblies. Over 2,100 ethnic groups can be found within it, and Bahá'í literature has been translated into 802 languages. The Bahá'í community operates over 1,300 social and economic development projects worldwide, including approximately 650 schools and seven radio stations. The United States has about 120,000 Bahá'ís, residing in approximately 7,200 localities, and 1,350 local spiritual assemblies. Its national headquarters is near the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois; the American Bahá'ís operate a publishing trust, five permanent schools and institutes, and a radio station.
Occasionally instructors want not one hour, but several hours of material on a particular topic. This is particularly true if a course meets in the evening; such class sessions usually last two and a half to four hours. This part of the Resource Guide provides a section of three one-hour classes on the Bahá'í Faith, suitable for use in one evening or in three one-hour classes during the day. The material could also be rearranged and shortened so that it is suitable for a two hour or two and a half-hour class.
A three-hour section is best prepared by using the information on various Bahá'í subjects provided in Section Two, "Annotated Bibliography of Scholarship on the Bahá'í Faith." One way a three-hour unit could be created would be to expand "The Bahá'í Faith: A Short Introduction" above by adding material from the various subjects in Section Two. An instructor could also assemble three hours of material by combining the introductory lecture with any two subjects chosen from the bibliography. This approach might be characterized as basic information plus "selected studies" on aspects of the Bahá'í religion. Two hours of introductory material plus a third, specialized hour of selected study could also be designed.
However, for those who prefer three hours of material that is planned to be comprehensive and continuous, the following division is offered. The numbers in square brackets represent the various aspects of the Bahá'í Faith outlined in Section Two, the Annotated Bibliography.
1. Bahá'í Origins. Islamic and Iranian Background [¶7]. The Báb and Babism [¶6]. The life of Bahá'u'lláh [¶11].
2. Bahá'í Teachings. The Bahá'í Concepts of God [¶28], Revelation [¶54], Manifestation [¶37], Creation [¶16], and Humanity [¶34]. Prayer and the Spiritual Life [¶38, ¶64]. Social Teachings [¶63].
3. Bahá'í Community [¶12]. The Ministries of 'Abdu'l-Bahá [¶1] and Shoghi Effendi [¶61]. Creation of the Administrative Order [¶2] and Expansion of the Bahá'í Faith Globally, 1892-1996 [¶8, ¶10]. The Future [¶39, ¶48].
4. Other subjects that could be included: community life [¶12]; consultation [¶13]; education [¶18]; family life [¶22]; holy places [¶32]; Houses of Worship [¶33]; oneness of humanity [¶34, ¶67]; pilgrimage [¶43]; prayer and fasting [¶46]; religious dialogue and pluralism [¶53]; race relations [¶51]; ritual [¶55]; progressive revelation [¶54]; science and religion [¶59]; spiritual life [¶64]; women [¶27]; work [¶68]; peace [¶40].
The following course outlines were developed to give examples of different ways the Bahá'í religion could be taught in one semester. Undoubtedly other arrangements of the basic material could also be made; these outlines are not exhaustive of the possibilities. Two outlines were drawn up assuming that thirty-six one-hour class meetings were available for lecture and discussion (the remaining meetings being devoted to examinations, videos, etc.). One was drawn up for twenty 90-minute class meetings, as is typical in a school on a quarter system. The other outline divides the class into thirteen one-week segments. The four outlines below approach the Bahá'í Faith from the following perspectives:
1. A "comparative religion" perspective, typical of Religious Studies departments, that would examine the Bahá'í religion in terms of its concept of the holy; its view of God, Manifestations, other religions, humanity, and creation; its myths, narratives, and ritual practices; and its community organization and life.
2. A "sociological" perspective, typical of sociology departments, that emphasizes routinization of charisma, ideology, community structure and maintenance, recruitment, involvement in society, and case studies.
3. An outline that mixes both of the above approaches, with more emphasis on history.
4. A "traditional" Bahá'í approach, which emphasizes the lives of the central figures of the Bahá'í religion, Bahá'í history, and Bahá'í teachings.
The numbers following the paragraph sign (¶) at the end of each line in the curriculum guides give the units in Section Two where one will find a detailed description and bibliography of each relevant topic. Because the four courses sometimes contain the same, or very similar, topics, it seemed best to place the descriptions and bibliographies of the topics covered by each course in a single section. This approach also makes it easier for instructors to prepare their own course by mixing units from different outlines.
Textbooks: James C. Livingston, Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion or some other comparative-religion textbook that describes the various aspects of religion; Bahá'u'lláh, Writings of Bahá'u'lláh; Peter Smith, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions. For a more introductory class, Moojan Momen's A Short Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith could be substituted for Smith.
The purpose of this course is to introduce the student to the academic study of religion, using the Bahá'í Faith as an example. It uses Livingston's textbook, which covers the different aspects of religion such as the sacred and holy, ritual, community, the world, the origin of things, and the purpose of human existence. Livingston's text does not mention the Bahá'í Faith; that material comes from original texts and from Peter Smith's text.
1. What is Religion? Livingston, ch. 1; Bahá'u'lláh, 481-82 (Gleanings CX); 420, bottom (Gleanings, XXXIV, near end); 233 (First Ishráq) [¶52].
2. What is the Bahá'í Faith? A summary. Encyclopedia Britannica article reprint, "The Bahá'í Faith"; Shoghi Effendi, Call to the Nations, xi-xviii [¶9].
3. How is Religion Studied? How has the Bahá'í religion been studied? Livingston, ch. 2 [¶9].
4. The Sacred and the Holy. Livingston, 47-54 (ch. 3); prayers of the greatness and mystery of God, Bahá'u'lláh, 387-88 (Gleanings I); 412-16 (Gleanings XXVI, XXVII); 596-601 (Prayers and Meditations LXXV-LXXX) [¶28].
5. Concepts of God. Livingston, ch. 7 (163-94); Bahá'u'lláh, 406-7 (Gleanings XIX XX) [¶28].
6. Manifestations of God. Bahá'u'lláh, 407-423 (Gleanings, XXI-XXXV); 462-63 (Gleanings LXXXVII) [¶37].
7. The Life of Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh, 426 (Gleanings, XLI-XLII); 429-34 (Gleanings XLV-LIV); 437-44 (Gleanings, LIX-LXVII); 446-48 (Gleanings, LXXXI-LXXXII) [¶11].
8. Religious Symbol and Myth. Livingston, ch. 4 (68-93); Bahá'u'lláh, 423 (Gleanings, XXXVI); 73-77 (Íqán, interpretation of the symbols "sun," "moon," and "stars"); 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 122-26 (interpretation of the Garden of Eden) [¶57].
9. Revelation. Bahá'u'lláh, 245 (Tablet of Wisdom, where Bahá'u'lláh describes how he receives revelation); 424-25 (Gleanings, XXXVII-XL) [¶54].
10. Religious Dialogue and Pluralism. Livingston, ch. 13 (351-68); Bahá'u'lláh 175-80 (Tablet to the Christians); 181-82 (first, second, and eighth Glad-Tidings); 187 (second Taráz); 235 (ninth Ishráq) [¶53].
11. Nature: Its Origin and Purpose. Livingston, ch. 8 (198-224). Bahá'u'lláh, 452-53 (Gleanings, LXXVIII-LXIX); 459 (Gleanings LXXXIV); 464 (Gleanings XC) [¶19].
12. Investigation of Nature: Science. Bahá'u'lláh, 183 (eleventh Glad-Tidings); 189 (sixth Taráz); p. 195 (third Tajallí); 254 (part of tablet of Maqsúd) [¶59].
13. Humanity: Its Nature and Purpose. Livingston, ch. 9 (228-51); Bahá'u'lláh, 456-59 (Gleanings, LXXXII-LXXXIII); 481 (Gleanings, CIX); 532-34 (Gleanings, CLV); 501 (Gleanings, CXXII) [¶34].
14. The Spiritual Quest. Livingston, ch. 11 (p. 285-316); Bahá'u'lláh, 3-29 (Seven Valleys); 501-05 (Gleanings, CXXIV-CXXV) [¶38, ¶64].
15. Sin, Tests, and Growth. Bahá'u'lláh, 183 (ninth Glad-Tidings); 188-89 (third and fourth Taráz); 248-49 (Words of Wisdom) [¶64, ¶65].
16. Life and Afterlife. Livingston, ch. 12, 33-7; Bahá'u'lláh, 35-59 (Hidden Words); 453-56 (Gleanings, LXXIX-LXXXI) [¶3, ¶53.12].
17. Family Life and Work. Bahá'u'lláh, 162-63 (Synopsis and Codification extracts 8 and 12 / Aqdas paragraphs 48 and 63); 47 (Persian Hidden Words, 80-82); 234-35 (seventh Ishráq); prayers for marriage, children, and family [¶22, ¶68].
18. Divine Justice. Livingston, ch. 10 (254-82); Bahá'u'lláh, 51 (Arabic Hidden Words 2); 424 (Gleanings, XXXVII); 576 (Prayers and Meditations LV); 580 (Prayers and Meditations, LVII); 584 (Prayers and Meditations, LX) [¶35].
19. Religious Community. Livingston, ch. 6, 130-41; Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 160 (Synopsis and Codification extract 5 / Aqdas paragraph 30); 162 (Synopsis and Codification extract 9 / Aqdas paragraph 52); 169 (Synopsis and Codification extract 20 / Aqdas paragraph 173); 182 (fifth Glad-Tidings, in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (henceforth "Tablets") 22-23); 184 (thirteenth Glad-Tidings, in Tablets 26-27); 185 (fifteenth Glad-Tidings, in Tablets p. 28); 203-4 (eighth and ninth leaves of Paradise, in Tablets 68-71); 234-35 (sixth, seventh, and eighth Ishráq, in Tablets 127-129); Prayer for the Hands of the Cause, in Malaysian Prayer Book, page 37) [¶12].
20. The Bahá'í community in the Middle East, 1863-92 [¶7, ¶8].
21. 'Abdu'l-Bahá: Interpreter, Mystery of God, Center of the Covenant. Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 278-81 (Book of the Covenant, Tablet to the Land of Bá, also in Tablets 219-223 and 227-228); Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 131-39 ('Abdu'l-Bahá section of Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh) [¶1].
22. The Bahá'í world community, 1892-1921 [¶8].
23. Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Faith. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá [¶61].
24. The Bahá'í Administrative Order. Shoghi Effendi, Call to the Nations, 36-44 [¶2].
25. The Bahá'í world community, 1921-63 [¶10.2, ¶10.3].
26. The Bahá'í world community, 1963-96 [¶10.4, ¶10.5].
27. Consultation and Covenant. Livingston, ch. 6, 141-50 ("Protest and Change"); Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 278-81 (Book of the Covenant, also in Tablets 219-223); 539 (Gleanings, CLXVI); Bahá'u'lláh, in Consultation: A Compilation [¶12, ¶15].
28. Sacred Space (Bahá'í World Centre, Houses of Worship, places of pilgrimage). Livingston, 54-65. Bahá'u'lláh, 173-74 (Tablet of Carmel); 435-37 (Gleanings, LVII-LVIII); 677-81 (Tablet of Visitation) [¶32, ¶33, ¶43].
29. Sacred Time: The Bahá'í Calendar and Holy Days. Livingston, 116-20; Bahá'í Calendar handout (from Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, 178-79) [¶24].
30. Ritual. Livingston, ch. 5 (p. 97-126); Bahá'u'lláh, 681-86 (obligatory prayers); 576-80 (Prayers and Meditations, LVI, fasting prayer) [¶55].
31. Social Order. Livingston, ch. 6, 150-58); Bahá'u'lláh, 181-238 (Bishárát, Tarázát, Tajallíyát, Tablet of the World, Ishráqát) [¶63].
32. The Oneness of Humanity. Bahá'u'lláh, 58 (Arabic Hidden Words, 68); 203 (sixth and seventh leaves of Paradise); 234 (sixth Ishráq) [¶67].
33. World Peace. The Promise of World Peace; Bahá'u'lláh, 496-99 (Gleanings, CXVII-CXX) [¶40].
34. A New World Order. Livingston, ch. 12, 320-34; Bahá'u'lláh, 233 (second Ishráq); 478-79 (Gleanings, CIV); 480-81 (Gleanings, CVI-CVIII); 482-83 (Gleanings, CXI-CXII); Shoghi Effendi, Call to the Nations, 45-66 [¶39].
by Will C. van den Hoonaard
University of New Brunswick
The following syllabus is designed to introduce the Bahá'í Faith to sociology students. It relates developments within the Bahá'í community to particular sociological concerns and tools. Since university and college teachers have individual interests and techniques in mind, the syllabus is simply one of many approaches to the sociological study of the Bahá'í community.
While this outline covers the sociological aspects of the Bahá'í community, teachers could consider a follow-up course that outlines the Bahá'í perspective on society. In such a course, one would consider Bahá'í hermeneutics, Bahá'í political and social thought, the Bahá'í conception of historical and social processes, etc.
The present syllabus covers thirteen weeks of instruction.
Scholarly attention to study of the Bahá'í Religion: a review of the literature and field.
Discussion of sources.
II. Theoretical Issues in Sociology
a. Typologies in the literature of new religions and social movements.
b. The generation of data through the symbolic interactionist, functionalist, and conflict perspectives, and frame analysis.
c. The debate of class versus ethnicity.
III. Methodological Questions
a. Obstacles and prospects of studying the Bahá'í community.
b. What constitutes valid sources of information for studying the Bahá'í community?
c. Various research strategies
Islam, Shí'ism, Shaykhism
b. The Báb
Life and Teachings
Sources and Social Context
Rise and Growth of Bábism
Persecution and Fragmentation of the Bábí community
Life and Teachings
Sources and Social Context
V. Routinization of Charisma
a. Bahá'u'lláh's Death and Succession of 'Abdu'l-Bahá
General Principles underlying the Covenant
Opposition during 'Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry, 1892-1921
Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá
c. Establishment of the Guardianship
d. The Period of the Hands of the Cause of God, 1957-63
e. The Establishment of the Universal House of Justice, 1963
VI. Doctrine and Ideology
a. Islamic sources
b. Primary versus Secondary Sources
c. The Question of Westernization
d. Revealed Text, Interpretation, and Infallibility
e. Bahá'í Political and Social Thought
VII. Growth and Development of the Bahá'í World Community
a. The early spread, 1844-92
b. Early spread from East to West, 1892-1921
c. The period from 1921 to 1937
d. Developments, 1937-53
e. Developments since 1953
VIII. Organizational Structures
a. Bahá'í theory
Bahá'í organizational structure
Theory and nature of the institutions of the "rulers" and the "learned"
b. Overview and nature of institutions of the "rulers" and the "learned"
c. The local structure
The Nineteen-Day Feast
Local Spiritual Assembly
d. The national structure
The national convention
e. The international structure
The Universal House of Justice
The International Teaching Centre
Other institutions: The Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, World Centre Library, International Bahá'í Archives
IX. Recruitment and Socialization
a. Explaining the growth of the Bahá'í community
The deviant model, Simmel's "stranger"
Conflict of ideology/reality
b. Conversion process of acquiring Bahá'í common stock of knowledge
c. Teaching the Bahá'í Faith in various cultural contexts
d. The sociological question of recruitment and participation of women in new religious movements
a. Member Commitment and mobilization
b. Boundary maintenance
c. Authority and power
d. Principles of consultation
XI. Direct Involvement in Society
a. Bahá'ís and the United Nations
b. Social and economic development projects
c. Peace-related activities
d. Racial equality
e. Women's rights
f. Contact with other religious communities
g. The emergence from obscurity
XII. Case Studies of Selected Bahá'í Communities
A national Bahá'í community in an industrial society
A Third-World Bahá'í community
An emerging national Bahá'í community in Eastern Europe
XIII. Some Contemporary Issues
a. Non-partisan involvement in politics
b. Impact of the persecution of the Iranian Bahá'ís
c. Minorities and indigenous peoples
d. Integration of Eastern and Western Bahá'ís
This course is designed to introduce the student to the Bahá'í religion in its basic aspects: its history, the lives of its founders, its teachings, its practices, and its international community. It will follow a framework typical of courses in "comparative" religions. In addition, it will examine the Bahá'í religion from the point of view of questions of importance to scholars of religion today, such as: how does a new religion arise? How does it attract members, and why? How does it survive the death of its founder? How does it balance central authority and individual freedom? When its teachings inevitably evolve, how are the resulting changes justified, and what role does outside cultural, social, and religious influence play?
Peter Smith's The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions: From Messianic Shí'ism to a World Religion is the best work to use as a basic textbook, but it will require considerable supplementation from historical and sociological works and from primary sources. Important supplementation comes from Abbas Amanat's Resurrection and Renewal.
1. Preliminaries. What is the Bahá'í Faith? A Summary of the Religion.
2. The Problem of Summarizing a Religion, and an Examination of Various Summaries of the Bahá'í Faith that have been produced. One quickly notices the summaries vary enormously in content; why is this? Is one summary "valid" or "better"? What is the history of producing summaries of the Bahá'í Faith?
3, 4. The Rise of the Bábí Movement in Iran, 1844-50. What was the Shí'ite Muslim culture of nineteenth-century Iran like, and what social and cultural stresses did it face? What were the cultural and social precursors to the rise of Babism? To whom did it appeal, and why? What caused Shí'ite Muslims to become Bábís? Abbas Amanat's book Resurrection and Renewal will be the chief source.
5, 6. The Figure of 'Alí-Muhammad the Báb. Who did he claim to be, and did his claim change? Examination of the Báb's life experience, the question of its influence on his teachings, and the controversy surrounding his claims. Amanat's book will be used here as well.
7. The Bábí Movement. Marxist, polemical Islamic, sociological, and other examinations of it.
8. Husayn-'Alí Bahá'u'lláh. His claims and writings. Juan R. Cole on the sources of his ideas (articles by Cole in World Order magazine and in The International Journal of Middle East Studies).
9. The Bahá'í Community in Iran, 1863-92. Growth and organization. Several published and unpublished articles will provide the information and reading.
10. Conversion of Iranian Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians to the Bahá'í Faith; Cultural and Social Factors that Brought Non-Shí'ite Minorities into the Community (Master's degree thesis and articles by Susan Stiles Maneck). Maneck sees minority conversion as being prompted by modernization of the country, the relatively modern Bahá'í teachings, and the ability of the Bahá'ís to portray their religion as the fulfillment of traditional religious expectations.
11. Midterm Examination. Or: if there is no exam, a time to discuss and review the first half of the quarter.
12. Bahá'u'lláh's Death and 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Succession, 1892. Development of the Bahá'í concept of the Covenant. Ideas of routinization of charisma in the Bahá'í community. (Readings from two sociological Ph.D. dissertations on the Bahá'í Faith, one by Vernon Elwin Johnson, the other by Peter L. Berger.)
13. Sources of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Ideas. Did 'Abdu'l-Bahá "westernize" or "modernize" the Bahá'í Faith? Arguments by western missionaries.
14. Introduction of the Bahá'í Faith to the United States, 1894-1899. Inadequate access to the Bahá'í scriptures leads to uniquely American interpretations of the Bahá'í religion, and considerable chaos when more Bahá'í scriptures become available in English. Readings from articles and manuscript works by Peter Smith and Robert Stockman.
15. The American Bahá'í Community, 1900-12. What sort of Americans became Bahá'ís, and why? Did the community have a "mainstream" and a "fringe"? Nature and cause of controversies in the American Bahá'í community.
16. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Visit to the United States and Canada, 1912. What was its purpose, and what impact did it have? The visit is a case study in the difficulty the Bahá'í Faith has in influencing outside culture. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had less impact on American society and culture than Swami Vivekananda and other "oriental" religious teachers, but he was able to consolidate the American Bahá'í community to a considerable degree.
17. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Death and the Succession of Shoghi Effendi, 1921. How and why did Shoghi Effendi immediately establish the Bahá'í organizational system? What impact did it have on the Bahá'í community? Brief readings from works by Peter Smith, Robert Stockman, Loni Bramson-Lerche, Vernon Johnson, and Protestant missionary critics of the Bahá'í Faith.
18. Creation of an International Community, 1937-57. Spread of the Bahá'í Faith in Latin America, Africa, East and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. Readings from Peter Smith on the role of organization and the development of a Bahá'í community in the Third World.
19. Developments in the 60s and 70s. Election of the Universal House of Justice, 1963. Explosive growth of the American Bahá'í community, 1967-73, through reaching the youth counterculture, involvement in the civil rights movement, and controversial new teaching techniques that bring thousands of rural blacks into the Bahá'í Faith. Contemporary readings.
20. Developments in the 80s and 90s. The Iranian Revolution and persecution of the Iranian Bahá'í community; the new interest in Bahá'í scholarship; a new emphasis on social and economic development and literacy in the Bahá'í community; rapid growth and maturity of the Third World Bahá'í communities; explosive growth of the Bahá'í Faith in the former Soviet bloc.
A course on the Bahá'í Faith that follows a fairly "traditional" Bahá'í approach may not be appropriate as a credit-course at a college or university, but might be useful as a non-credit course or as a course at a Bahá'í summer school.
Various introductory textbooks could be used: Esslemont, Momen, Smith, or Hatcher and Martin are probably the best choices. The appropriate page numbers may be found in the modules in Section Two of this Resource Guide, "Annotated Bibliography of Scholarship on the Bahá'í Faith." For the study of the Bahá'í scriptures, the works of Bahá'u'lláh have been published together as a single volume titled Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, but no comparable work yet exists for 'Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi; thus the teacher cannot avoid assigning reading from a large number of books.
1. Introduction: Course Philosophy and Structure. Summary of the Bahá'í religion
2. Background: Islam and Shí'ism
3. Background: Nineteenth Century Iran and Shaykhism
4. The Báb: Early Life and Prophetic Career
5. The Báb's Teachings: Sources and Historical Context
6. The Bábí Movement
7. Bahá'u'lláh: Early Life and Prophetic Career
8. The Early Writings of Bahá'u'lláh: The Hidden Words, Seven Valleys, Four Valleys, and The Kitáb-i-Íqán.
9. Later Writings of Bahá'u'lláh: Proclamation to the Kings, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
10. Creation of a Bahá'í Community, 1863-92
11. 'Abdu'l-Bahá: His Ministry and Works
12. Bahá'í Communities in Southwest and South Asia, 1892-1921
13. The Bahá'í Faith in the Occident, 1892-21
14. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Journeys in America and Europe: Impact on the Bahá'í Community and on Bahá'í Doctrine
15. Major Works of 'Abdu'l-Bahá: Tablets of the Divine Plan and The Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá
16. Shoghi Effendi: Life and Works, Summary
17. Establishment of the Bahá'í Administrative Order, 1921-37
18. Codification of Bahá'í Belief: World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, and Promised Day is Come.
19. The Bahá'í Faith Worldwide: Growth, Persecution, and The First and Second Seven Year Plans (1921-53)
20. Globalization and Completion of the Administration: The Ten Year Crusade (1953-63) and the Death of the Guardian
21. The Interregnum and Election of the House of Justice (1957-63)
22. The Bahá'í Community, 1963-79: Emergence of a Third World Bahá'í Community
23. The Bahá'í World Community, 1979 present: Iranian Persecution, Globalization
24. Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1963 present
25. Bahá'í Theology: God, Revelation, Manifestation, Humanity, and Creation
26. Bahá'í Epistemology: Science and Investigation of Reality
27. Bahá'í Sacred History: Progressive Revelation and the Bahá'í Theology of Religions
28. Bahá'í Piety: The Spiritual Path and Journey of the Soul
29. Bahá'í Pilgrimage; The Bahá'í World Centre
30. Marriage and Family; The Roles of Men and Women
31. The Community Experience: Bahá'í Community and Ritual Life
32. Bahá'í Houses of Worship: Architecture and Social Theory
33. The Experience of Diversity: Racial Integration in the Bahá'í Community
34. Peace, War, and the "Lesser Peace"
35. The "Most Great Peace": A Bahá'í Utopia?
1 See section ¶60. Scripture for a discussion of these numbers.
2 The term "Manifestation" will be consistently capitalized to distinguish the person of the Manifestation from the philosophical concept of manifestation (see 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 205-207), which is wholly unrelated.
3 These statistics are as of April, 1996. Many are estimates.