The Bahá'í Faith in America 1900-1912 vol 2
Author: Robert Stockman
Publisher: George Ronald, Oxford, 1995
Review by: Derek Cockshut
This book is a veritable cornucopia, a tightly-woven description of those fascinating and sometimes bewildering times, the early days of the Faith in the USA. Robert Stockman carefully outlines how spiritual allegiance led to acceptance of the social implications of this new religion.
As the actual Scriptures became available, so the form and nature of belief changed. The style is not hagiographical and the result will no doubt cause some critical questioning. The open frankness, however, is the strength of this work, of which the bizarre Thompson incident is a good example.
Harry Clayton Thompson, chairman of the Chicago House of Spirituality, announced at the second National 'Convention' in 1910 that he was the next prophet after Bahá'u'lláh -- the sort of thing which makes our present Annual Conventions seem rather tame. Thompson believed that his divine instruction came from 'Zom Zhoum', via one Estelle M. Hamsley.
Another story of a different nature concerns Pauline Hannen in Washington D.C. On the street at Thanksgiving she met a black woman whose arms were laden with bundles and whose shoe-laces were untied. Pauline, inspired by The Hidden Words, knelt at the woman's feet and tied her laces, much to the latter's astonishment. Teaching work among the African-American community of that city was to start from then.
The Bahá'ís are shown as normal people striving to make sense of what they had found, overcoming ego and doctrinal differences to grow as a viable community. The book has excellent footnotes explaining Bahá'í terms and making it, in general, an easy research source.
The past 15 years have seen several books on the background of communities in N.America. The excellent Kalimat series started in 1982 and provided us with much valuable information. The book which really opened one's eyes to the wealth of information available was Moojan Momen's Bábí and Bahá'í Religions 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts. It is regrettable that there are currently no plans to reprint this. In Stockman's book it is Thornton Chase who stands out as a spiritual force and we look forward with anticipation to the promised biography.
In a work this size -- some 537 pages, including the index -- errors are bound to occur. Tudor Pole, for example, was not the recipient of a knighthood: he is Major Wellsley Tudor-Pole, OBE -- but the book is a masterful example of painstaking and tenacious research, as well as being presented in a well-written, readable style. Stockman deserves every credit for bringing together all this historical data in a single volume.