The Bahá'í World Faith, originating in Persia in 1844 and now extending around the world, has undergone extraordinary changes in its evolution to its present stage of development. Bahá'ís freely acknowledge the evolutionary character of their religion, which results in periodic outdating of previous teachings and practice. Edward G. Browne, Cambridge University, wrote in 1910 that "few religions have undergone so rapid an evolution..." No less spectacular have been the developments in the religion since Browne made this statement.
The dissertation focuses on the major transformations which have occurred in the religion during the faith's 130-year history [as of 1974 (-J.W.)] with a view toward ascertaining the religion's character and its present state of development, giving particular attention to the opposition each transformation aroused, the tensions in the faith it produced, and the adjustments it necessitated. These transformations were effected by the successive leaders in the faith, and each transformation was of a critical nature, producing a majority who accepted and a minority who rejected each transformation. The study has particular relevance concerning the religion's claim that, unlike other religions, it is protected from schism.
Briefly defined, the transformations dealt with are the following: (1) Bahá'u'lláh's transformation of the Babi religion into the Bahá'í faith; (2) `Abdu'l-Bahá's transformation of the faith into a more Western and socially oriented religion with Christian overtones; (3) Shoghi Effendi's transformation of the religion from its loosely organized, inclusive, and universal character into a tightly organized, exclusive, and narrowly defined religion; and (4) a final transformation from a religion under the guardianship of an appointed, living descendant of Bahá'u'lláh to a religion directed by a body of nine elected officials whose term of office is temporary.
The study is divided into three parts. Part I deals with introductory matters, a general introduction (Chapter 1), and a review of previously written histories on the Babi-Bahá'í movement to which references are made in later sections of the dissertation, giving attention to the different perspectives from which they are written and their relative values in providing accurate information about the faith's history (Chapter 2). Part II on the birth and early history of the Babi-Bahá'í movement covers the ministries of the Bab (Chapter 3), Bahá'u'lláh (Chapter 4), and `Abdu'l-Bahá (Chapter 5) and the transformation of the faith effected within their ministries. Part III deals with "modern Bahá'í," the faith as an institutionalized religion, treating the ministries of Shoghi Effendi (Chapter 6) and the Universal House of Justice (Chapter 7) and their transformation.
Appended to the dissertation are two letters discovered in the course of the research, both dated March 31, 1901, from Muhammad `Ali and Badi'u'llah to the recently formed "Society of Behaists" and to the "president of the House of Justice."