Marginality and Apostasy in the Bahá'í Community
by Moojan Momenpublished in Religion, 37:3, pages 187-209
1. Article: Marginality and Apostasy in the Bahá'í Community
During most of Bahá'í history, there have been marginal and apostate Bahá'ís. This paper is however about a particular type of articulate and well-educated marginal and apostate which first appeared in the West about 25 years ago and reached the peak of their activity in the last decade. Following a terminological, methodological, and ethical discussion, this paper examines the phenomenon and notes the following patterns: (1) The activity of the majority of the apostates can be read as an attempt to reverse the negotiated position of the Bahá'í Faith and move it from being an "allegiant organisation" to a "subversive" one; (2) The experiences of the apostates form a dark mirror image of those of the core members; (3) The Internet has been used extensively by these apostates to create a community, assisting the passage of many of them from marginality to apostasy; (4) This community has developed its own mythology, creed and salvation stories becoming what could perhaps be called an anti-religion; (5) In furtherance of their aims, several apostates have written papers and books which have been accepted by academic journals and presses. The group's preoccupation with their campaign against the Bahá'í community brings to mind Max Scheler's description of the apostate as "engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past".
In the last two decades, there has been a great deal of literature on the subject of apostasy and somewhat less on marginality.1 In this paper it is proposed to examine these two phenomena in relation to the Bahá'í community since this presents a number of interesting and unusual features. Following a brief theoretical, methodological and ethical discussion, this paper will analyze a collection of 66 exit narratives. From this, twelve apostate careers will then be described in detail followed by a discussion of the apostate narratives, mythology and issues that emerge from this description. Finally the special features of apostasy and marginality in the Bahá'í community that have emerged from this account will be outlined.
Some confusion has arisen out of different uses being made of the word "apostasy". Some earlier work from the 1980s used the word to apply to anyone who left a religion, particularly the religion of their birth.2 By the late 1990s, however, the word "leavetaker" or "defector" was being applied to those who just left a religion while the word "apostate" was now referring "not to ordinary religious leavetakers . . . but to that subset of leavetakers who are involved in contested exits and affiliate with an oppositional coalition" (Bromley, 1998b, p. 5). It is this latter definition that is the meaning of the word in this paper.
Marginality is a concept that has been much less studied than apostasy. Again the word has undergone some change in usage. In the literature of the 1980s, it was being used for those who had become inactive in their religious community (Albrecht et al., 1988). By the 1990s, however, those who were merely inactive members were now said to be "peripheral members" while "marginal members" became reserved for those who are still members but who are expressing dissatisfaction, attacking either the doctrines or the practices of the group or rallying disaffected individuals (Barker, 1998, pp. 76-83).
Most of the studies in recent times have been on apostates from New Religious Movements (NRMs), and in particular from communal NRMs. Thanks to the levelling effect of the Internet, however, the phenomenon of apostasy has moved from being the concern of scholars of NRMs into the arena of concern of all scholars of religious studies. Apostate sites are rapidly springing up for every religion, church or religious movement (Muslim apostates, Christian apostates, Catholic apostates, etc.). Thus it is no longer a phenomenon confined to NRMs.
While apostasy and marginality in the Bahá'í community share many features with the same phenomena in other religious movements, there are a few aspects of it that are not found elsewhere or have been little studied in the accounts of other movements and are here described. The degree to which Bahá'í apostates have used academic media to further their aims, for example, is unprecedented among apostates from other religious movements. The manner in which Bahá'í apostates have deliberately sought to position the Bahá'í community as a cult-like group, a "subversive group" in the terminology of Bromley (1998b), at exactly the time that the Bahá'ís themselves are trying to position the community as a main-line religion, an "allegiant group" in Bromley's terminology, is a phenomenon that, although commented upon in other papers regarding other groups (see for example Johnson, 1988; Richardson, 1988), has not been studied in any detail. The creation of an apostate mythology and the use of the Internet to create a virtual community of marginal and apostate Bahá'ís, thereby strengthening their identity and leading to a certain degree of convergence of narratives, are also interesting features which will be commented upon in this paper.
The Bahá'í Faith was founded in 1863 by Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892) and was preceded by the Babi movement which was founded in 1844 by the Bab (1819-1850) in Iran. Throughout its history, this religious movement has experienced a number of significant episodes of marginality and apostasy in various forms. Although it would be instructive to review the early episodes of apostasy in Iran in detail, they differ significantly from the episodes in the West in that the Bahá'í Faith in Iran has always been in a state of high tension with society (thus falling into Bromley's Type III category, a "subversive organisation", Bromley, 1998c, pp. 23-25) and the pattern there has broadly followed Bromley's description. In the West, on the other hand, although small in numbers, the Bahá'í community has been established in Europe and North America since the closing years of the nineteenth century and has over the decades been gradually and consciously trying to negotiate a position for itself as a main-line religion (or in Bromley's terminology as an allegiant organisation). It has been more successful at this in some places than others. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Bahá'ís are one of the religious communities routinely invited by the British government to formal state occasions and government consultations, but the situation in Germany has been different (see below). On account of its traditional approach to morality, its encouragement of converts to keep their ties with their families, the fact that it does not keep converts in any long-term communal establishments and the ease with which those wishing to may depart, the Bahá'í community mostly avoided the criticism to which other religious groups were subjected at the height of the anti-cult hysteria of the 1970s and 1980s. In Bromley's typology, the Bahá'í Faith would therefore be regarded in the West as an allegiant organisation or, at most, a contestant organisation.
All groups create their collective identity by creating meanings that are shared within the group and are different to those outside - they create a distinctive cosmos or culture. Mircea Eliade (1959, esp. pp. 10-11, 54-6) has pointed out that all forms of collective human existence depend to some extent upon on tacit or overt cosmologies, inasmuch as collective existence is about making cosmos out of chaos, a way of ordering the world and thereby making it intelligible and, therefore, safe. Thus religions impose a particular order upon the world and to be a member of a religion means to share that system of meanings, that hierarchy of values, that ordering of realities; in short to live in that particular cosmos. For Bahá'ís, the meaning that is imposed upon the world consists of a belief that the present world order is "lamentably defective" and that the "signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned" (Bahá'u'lláh, 1983, p. 216). The only salvation for humanity is to move on to the next stage of its social development, the emergence of a single global order: "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens" (Bahá'u'lláh, 1983, p. 250). For this to occur, the individual's source of identity has to be changed from being based on a national, racial, religious and ethic focus to a global identity. The collective identity of the Bahá'í community is based upon the idea of being the only group in society in possession of the answers to the problems of society; these answers include a number of prerequisites to the establishment of a global society and world peace (the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty, the elimination of prejudices mainly through education, the promotion of the social role of women, etc.) as well as a community structure that they consider is a model for the creation of such a global society. From this, the strong impulse that exists in the Bahá'í community towards unity, and the consequent negative reaction to dissidence and disunity, can be appreciated.
Part of this process of creating a group identity is the creation of group boundaries. Schöpflin (2001) states ". . . identity excludes and includes, otherwise it would not be an identity that could sustain itself. Exclusion, then, is a necessary and unavoidable aspect of human existence and it is not the fact of exclusion as such that is problematical, but the particular forms of it in particular situations." In general, the stronger is the sense of group identity, the stronger and sharper the boundary delimiting the group from society. In some "New Age" movements, for example, these group boundaries may be very porous and allow individuals to enter and leave the group with little effort. Such groups will, however, have a nebulous group identity. On the other hand, the Bahá'í community has, in the recent past, at any rate, had a strong collective identity and consequently strong boundaries.
A number of features of the Bahá'í Faith lead to the situation of strong boundary delimiters. The first is the existence of a set of laws that Bahá'ís are obliged to obey. These laws are not nearly as all-pervasive as the Islamic Shari`ah or Judaic Halachah but they do include such injunctions as daily prayers, fasting and abstaining from alcohol. Such laws have an effect in both creating a boundary and increasing group identity. The laws relating to the individual are not communally enforced; no-one will enforce the fast or daily prayer upon an individual. There are, however, a small number of laws with social implications that are enforced and breaking these does entail a sanction. These include the marriage and divorce laws. Coming up against the enforcement of these laws can lead people to leave the Bahá'í Faith but such people do not, in general, become apostates. They usually take the role of what Bromley calls a "defector", expressing regret for a failure to live according to the high moral standards of the group.3
The second element of the Bahá'í Faith that ensures strong boundaries is the concept of the Covenant. There is little in the way of dogma in the Bahá'í community and all Bahá'ís are encouraged to read their scriptures for themselves and come to their own understandings of it. What prevents the religion from fragmenting into a large number of schisms is the loyalty that each Bahá'í is expected to have to the head of the religion. At the present time this is the internationally elected council called the Universal House of Justice. While all Bahá'ís can have their own understanding of their scriptures, no-one is allowed to claim that their understanding is authoritative. The Universal House of Justice itself, in general, refrains from making theological statements. It is mainly concerned with making strategic and organisational decisions in matters that concern the running of the Bahá'í community globally. It may however make rulings in cases where there are disputes among the Bahá'ís especially if it thinks that there is a danger of disunity and schism. This loyalty to the centre of the religion is the doctrine of the Covenant and, for Bahá'ís, the greatest spiritual crime is "covenant-breaking" - attacking the head of the Faith or seeking to create schism.
The third element ensuring strong boundaries is a social structural one. In the Bahá'í community, there are mechanisms to guard against individuals attacking the central institutions of the Bahá'í Faith or creating schisms. The mechanisms involve a number of individuals appointed in each community as "Counsellors" and their "Auxiliary Boards" and assistants. These individuals are mainly concerned with encouraging the community to propagate the Bahá'í Faith and to carry out the plans of action inaugurated from time to time by the Universal House of Justice. They have a side-function, however, of keeping an eye out for individuals who may be acting in a manner to create disunity or schism in the community. Such people are advised and warned on several occasions, but if they persist, they may be subjected to sanctions which may involve removing their name from membership lists or in extreme cases declaring them "covenant-breakers" - a status of excommunication (Bahá'ís are prohibited from being in contact with these latter individuals). Such measures may be considered justified in that a religion that claims to be trying to unite the world cannot be effective or credible if it itself is not united. It should be emphasised, however, that the sanction of declaring someone a covenant-breaker is rarely used and is only applied after prolonged negotiations fail to resolve the situation. To the best knowledge of the present author it has been used against no more than a handful of individuals in over two decades and to only the first of the apostates described below more than twenty-five years ago - although it is regularly mentioned in the literature produced by the apostates as though it were a frequent occurrence.
It should also be noted that the present situation of having strong group boundaries has not always been the case. Under the second leader of the Bahá'í Faith, Abdu'l-Bahá (head of the Faith from 1892 to 1921), group boundaries were fairly porous and, for example, dual affiliations were regarded as permissible. It was in the 1920s and 1930s, as the administrative order of the Bahá'í Faith was set up and it became necessary to create membership criteria in order to draw up electoral rolls, that the boundaries became sharper and stronger (Smith, 1987, pp. 111, 122, 145-6). In recent years, there have been indications that the Universal House of Justice wants to move the Bahá'í community back towards being more open and inclusive community (see below).
The Bahá'í Faith has a number of features that militate against its being categorised as a subversive group. As noted above, converts are not isolated in separate communities; continued contact with one's family is encouraged; those who are not "us" are not considered necessarily bad and those who are "us" are not necessarily good; those who wish to leave can do so freely by indicating their desire to the relevant Bahá'í institution. There is a strong leadership but it is vested in elected councils rather than charismatic leaders. Individuals are free to hold their own theological opinions as long as they do not press them to the extent of forming schisms. Furthermore, since the 1920s, the Bahá'í community has been striving to achieve allegiant status by seeking where possible the official status of a recognized religion (by seeking for example official recognition of Bahá'í marriages and having Bahá'í holy days recognized by being exempt from attendance at work or school); making legal incorporations of its local elected councils; and obtaining charitable status.4
A Methodological and Ethical Note
For this paper, a collection was made of 66 exit narratives from three web-sites.5 From this, 12 individuals were identified as apostates in that they have gone beyond merely an exit statement recording why they left to a prolonged campaign of attacks upon the Bahá'í community. Nine of these apostates had an identifiable career as marginal Bahá'ís prior to their exit. This paper builds from this base to examine in more detail marginality and apostasy in the Bahá'í Faith.
One of the problems encountered in producing this paper is the question of identifying apostates by name. Some who have researched in this field have felt it necessary for ethical reasons to hide the identity of these individuals (see for example the study of 44 individuals in Jacobs, 1989). The individuals in this study are all highly articulate and most of the material for this study has been gathered from their statements either in published work or on Internet e-mail lists and sites. It would of course be difficult to quote from the published work of individuals without revealing their identity. Since, by publishing work either in printed form or on their own Internet websites with their name attached, these individuals are effectively waiving their right to anonymity, it was decided, in this paper, to name those whose published work is being cited (and who have thus named themselves publically) and to hide the identity of those individuals where only their e-mail correspondence is being used, where they are named on another person's website or where they have used pseudonyms. This ethical approach has been used by other researchers (see for example Carter, 1998, pp. 221-37; Johnson, 1998).
During most of Bahá'í history, there have been marginal and apostate Bahá'ís. This paper is however about a particular type of marginal and apostate which first appeared in the West about 25 years ago and reached the peak of their activity in the last decade. This group is very articulate and well-educated; several hold (or have held) academic posts and/or have written papers attacking the Bahá'í Faith which have been accepted by academic journals and presses.
The first such person was a Swiss ex-Bahá'í named Francesco Ficicchia (b. 1946). He had been a Bahá'í from 1971 to 1974 and had left stating his determination that "you will from now on have me as an embittered enemy who will fight you with all possible means at every opportunity" (Schaefer et al., 2000, pp. 32-3). He then vacillated for some years, appearing at times to be about to rejoin the community. Eventually, in 1981, the Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, the central office of the Protestant Church in Germany for questions of ideology, published Ficicchia's attack on the Bahá'í Faith, Der Bahā'ismus-Religion der Zukunft? Geschichte, Lehreund Organisation in kritischer Anfrage. They tried to position the book as a academic text-book on the Bahá'í Faith. In a foreword to the book, Michael Midlenberger describes the book, as the "first authentic and at the same time critical presentation" and called it a "comprehensive critical presentation" that could "scarcely be surpassed" (p. 13). Despite the fact that Bahá'ís considered the work as a "distorting mirror" of their religion with "almost everything" being "twisted and disfigured beyond recognition" (Schaefer et al., 2000, p.1), the work was warmly welcomed in the German academic world, reviewed approvingly by scholars such as Joseph Henninger (1983), Hans-Joachim Klimkeit (1984) and Olaf Schumann (1985). Ficicchia came to be regard as the "proven expert" (Schaefer et al., 2000, p. 3 n.7) and the book as a "standard work in the field of religious studies" (Henniger, 1983). Ficicchia's work was soon finding its way into encyclopaedias (Lexikon der Religionen, 1987) and general academic works (Jäggi, 1987). Ficicchia himself launched on an apostate career that continues to the present day and has seen him publish several more papers and his own website (2001; see bibliography on that site).
Ficicchia's book had a markedly deleterious effect on the standing of the Bahá'í community in Germany. The 1980s was of course the period when anti-cult hysteria was at its peak and Ficicchia, in his book, had accused the Bahá'í administration of being overbearingly authoritarian and had painted a picture of the community as a typical "cult". In Germany, as elsewhere, the Bahá'ís had been attempting to build for themselves a standing as an allegiant community. At first they decided to ignore Ficicchia's book, thinking that to publish rebuttals would only draw attention the book. After a time, however, the Bahá'ís began to see its effect particularly in their interactions with German officials (Schaefer et al., 2000, pp. 7-8, n.27). The atmosphere created by this book was largely responsible for an adverse decision in the German courts regarding the registration of the byelaws of a local Bahá'í council because it was deemed to contravene German law. It was only in 1991, that the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany overturned this decision and declared the right of the Bahá'í community to gain legal capacity in the shape ordained in the scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith and stated that its nature as a recognized religion was unquestionably confirmed by its inherent character, by public knowledge, and by the testimony of scholars of comparative religion (Bahá'í World, 1993, pp. 160-61). Somewhat belatedly in 1995, three Bahá'ís published a detailed rebuttal of Ficicchia's work (Schaefer et al., 2000), accusing him of numerous instances of plagiarism, disinformation and distortion.
At the same time as Ficicchia in Germany, a British apostate, Denis MacEoin, who had been a Bahá'í from about 1966 to about 1980, lecturing at Bahá'í conferences and summer schools and writing in support of his religion, and had departed after clashes with the Bahá'í administration, began to write academic papers attacking the Bahá'í Faith. The first of these was published in 1982 in Religion ("The Babi Concept of Holy War"). At this time, MacEoin was a lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England. This paper was rebutted by two Bahá'í scholars, Muhammad Afnan and William Hatcher (1985). MacEoin's reply to that, "Bahá'í Fundamentalism and the Academic Study of the Babi Movement" (1986) prompted a further round of exchanges (Afnan and Hatcher 1986 and MacEoin 1986b). This was followed by a paper by MacEoin (1990) claiming that there was a "crisis in Babi and Bahá'í studies" published in the Bulletin of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Interestingly, this last paper was occasioned by a critical review of one of MacEoin's papers written by Juan Cole, who was at this time a Bahá'í but later took much the same position that MacEoin took (see below). This paper also led to a further interchange (Cole, 1991, and MacEoin, 1991). Using academic media, MacEoin's main focus of attack, like Ficicchia, is on the Bahá'í administration and he has also attempted to paint the Bahá'í Faith as a group whose "cult-like" tendencies have not thus far been sufficiently appreciated. Indeed, in one work, having presented the persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran as being similar to the anti-cult movement in the West, he states that "anti-cult agitation serves as a device to define, quarantine and possibly eliminate deviance that threatens to disrupt social order" and opines that when the West wakes up to the reality of the Bahá'í Faith, it will treat the Bahá'í community similarly (1989, pp. 24-7). His attacks continue up to the present (2005).
The Move from Core to Marginality
While both Ficichia and MacEoin had careers as marginal Bahá'ís before they became apostates, they were not part of a marginal group. Barker has commented that marginal members find it difficult to contact and network with other marginals (Barker, 1998, p. 85). This has been particularly true of the Bahá'í community which has, until recent years, tended to have a deliberate policy of dispersing itself widely in order to spread the religion and therefore the community has been thinly spread. This has made it difficult for marginal individuals to meet each other and form networks of information exchange and mutual support. This situation changed with the advent of the Internet - in particular the growth in popularity of e-mail lists and Usenet discussion groups.
It was the creation in October 1994 of a university-based Internet list called Talisman, created by a Bahá'í university professor "AA", that initiated a change. The list was set up as a forum for academic debate but soon became precisely the network of "core members, peripheral members, ex-members and non-members" that Barker describes as being necessary to formulate and reinforce the position of the marginals with respect to the beliefs of the core members (1998, pp. 85-6). Through this medium, the marginals were able to create a community of dissent, to build a plausibility structure that supported their dissident positions, and engage in debates that gradually moved many of them to more extreme positions.
The discussions on Talisman were sometimes heated with core members opposing positions put forward by marginals and ex-Bahá'ís on the list. There is some evidence that the extreme positions being put forward by some of the list participants was causing disquiet to the Counsellors and their Auxiliary Boards, who are charged with guarding against schism and faction formation in the Bahá'í community, and that they privately contacted Cole and possibly some other list members in the autumn of 1995.6 The discussions on Talisman might however have gone on indefinitely but for an episode that occurred on 7 February 1996. Unknown to the majority of the participants on Talisman, a group of marginal Bahá'ís had set up a separate secret e-mail list called Majnun. On that date, "AA" accidentally posted onto the Talisman list, a posting intended for the Majnun list. What made the posting particularly significant was that its content revealed that the discussion on Majnun was centred on finding a "winning strategy" for the marginal Bahá'ís.7 In most religious groups, this would probably not have been significant, but the functioning of the Bahá'í community involves, as indicated above, strict provisions against the formation of parties and sects, especially those with a political aim.
The revelation of the existence of a secret dissident group with political aims initiated action by the Counsellors and their Auxiliary Boards. This was probably an unprecedented situation for them and no doubt they were uncertain how to proceed. They appear to have decided to ask one of their members, who had himself participated on Talisman, to meet face-to-face with a number of the marginal Bahá'ís whose comments on Talisman had caused most concern and to indicate to them that they were causing disunity in the Bahá'í community and were in breach of the spirit of the Bahá'í doctrine of the Covenant. One of the marginal Bahá'ís approached in this manner regarded the statements made to him as a threat of declaring him a "covenant-breaker" and decided to tender his resignation from the Bahá'í Faith in May 1996. This individual was Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who had been a core Bahá'í for 25 years, during which time he travelled to the Middle East and West Africa to propagate the religion and written in support of his religion. In the fall-out from the Talisman episode and Cole's resignation, there was a small number of further resignations of marginal Bahá'ís over the next few years.
The Apostates 1996-2006
The trajectory of those exiting the Bahá'í community varies greatly. As found with numerous other religious groups, the majority of those leaving become what Bromley calls leavetakers, exiting the religion with mixed feelings and soon going off in a new direction completely detaching themselves from their former religion.8 Of the 66 individuals who were identified in the above-mentioned survey as ex-Bahá'ís, 38 gave the year of their departure. Of these 26 (68%) were in the period 1996-2002 which was the peak of the post-Talisman upheaval (11 were before and 1 after). It should not be surmised however that all of these 26 left because of the Talisman episode. In reading their accounts, many seem to have been unaware of the episode. Rather it would seem that a more general phenomenon was occurring, whereby, through the medium of the Internet in general starting from the early 1990s, marginal Bahá'ís were realising that there were others who held their opinions and thus building for themselves plausibility structures that sustained them for a time. However, the same medium also caused them to come into contact with ex-Bahá'ís and cultural opponents of the Bahá'í Faith and eventually led some of them to leave the religion.
Most of the above 66 individuals would be described as leavetakers and went on to other religious affiliations and activities. Twelve individuals can be identified as apostates (in that they are former Bahá'ís who have engaged in a sustained campaign against the main Bahá'í community) who have been active since 1996. Four of these had already left the Bahá'í community before 1996. These include Ficicchia and MacEoin, whose exits have been described above, and two others, K Paul Johnson and William Garlington, who are Americans. The former, a librarian, had been a Bahá'í for 5 years (1969-1974) and could be called a serial apostate since he then became a theosophist and subsequently wrote a book (1994) "debunking" Blavatsky and has now moved on to Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment. He was active on the Talisman list as an ex-Bahá'í, attacking core Bahá'í beliefs and goading core members on the list. He published an article "Bahá'í Leaders Vexed by On-Line Critics" about the Talisman episode in Gnosis magazine (1997). Garlington, a schoolteacher, had been a Bahá'í from the 1960s to the 1980s, during which time he completed a PhD thesis on the Bahá'í Faith in India and taught at schools in Australia and USA. He was only occasionally active on the Talisman list. At this time he appeared to be more of a leavetaker but has moved over to an apostate role with his recent book, The Bahá'í Faith in America (2005), brought out by an academic publisher, Praeger. Of the 113 pages in the book devoted to American Bahá'í history, one chapter of 16 pages (i.e. 14%) claims to be the "priorities and issues" affecting the American Bahá'í community but instead details the major points that have been discussed by marginals and apostates on the Internet (and which are entirely different from the priorities and issues of the core members). By contrast, the building of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette near Chicago, a project that was a central concern of the American Bahá'í community for some 50 years, receives less than two pages of attention. None of these four consider themselves Bahá'ís any longer.
Of the eight who have become apostates after the Talisman episode of 1996, three have moved away from the Bahá'í Faith completely. One, Eric Stetson, an American, was a Bahá'í for four years (1998-2002). By 2001, he had become a marginal Bahá'í (he states he had doubts about the authoritarian nature of the Bahá'í administration and about the issue of the leadership). By the end of that year, he was claiming prophethood for himself and setting up a website (www.bahai-faith.com) where in early 2002, he published "The Book of Restoration" with nineteen points for the reformation of the Bahá'í Faith. He also announced the setting up of the Alliance for the Reform of the Bahá'í Faith, a group that appears never to have come into existence. Later in the same year, he became a Christian, founding his own sect, Christian Universalism. He then altered his website dedicating it to discrediting the Bahá'í Faith and converting Bahá'ís to Christianity (Stetson, 2006; Stetson, 2001). Another apostate, "BB", was born into an Iranian Bahá'í family resident in Australia and had a marginal career on Talisman before resigning membership of the Bahá'í community in 1996 stating he still believed in Bahá'u'lláh but did not accept the leadership of the Universal House of Justice. He then became involved in Sufism before announcing a messianic claim for himself and finally becoming a Babi - the religion that preceded the Bahá'í Faith in Iran. There are still a few people who regard themselves as Babis and followers of Azal (1832-1912), who claimed to be the true successor of the Bab and opposed Bahá'u'lláh. These Azalis would however probably be somewhat bemused by BB's idiosyncratic mix of Neo-Platonism, Kabbala and Sufism. His main occupation now, however, seems to be inhabiting various marginal Bahá'í e-mail lists and Usenet groups and issuing vitriolic denunciations of the Bahá'í Faith as an evil "cult". At present, he seems to be against almost everyone, Bahá'í core members, marginals and apostates. He posts 10-20 e-mails on most days. The third, "CC", an American, had pursued Islamic studies at university to MA level and was active on Talisman as a marginal Bahá'í. Following his resignation from the Bahá'í Faith in 1996 after 25 years of membership, he has followed his interest in Sufism which he had even while being a Bahá'í and has set up a publishing company that brings out Sufi, New Age and other books. His posts to the H-Bahai e-mail list (see below) contain negative statements and recriminations against the Bahá'í Faith.
The remaining five apostates are in many ways the most interesting in that they have held on to some form of Bahá'í identity outside the Bahá'í community. The first of these was the above-mentioned Juan Cole, who, upon his resignation from the Bahá'í Faith in 1996, declared that he was a Universalist-Unitarian. When AA closed down the Talisman list in 1996, Cole immediately set up a substitute list on his university's server. In 1998, he included a number of apostate issues in the text of a book on Bahá'u'lláh (1998, pp. 183-4, 196-7) that he had written. In 1999, however, he stated that he did after all believe in Bahá'u'lláh but would not re-enroll in the Bahá'í community. He thus became the first of a number of people taking this position, who often call themselves "unenrolled Bahá'ís". He has gone on to an apostate career including the setting up of a website in which there is much material attacking the Bahá'í community and the publication of three papers in academic journals expanding on his views. In all three of these papers, Cole's prime aim seems to be to find ways of portraying the Bahá'í community as the sort of "cult" demonised in the 1970-80s. Although the Bahá'í Faith practises no social isolation of new converts, in the first of these papers, "The Bahá'í Faith in America as Panopticon (1963-1997)", Cole (1998) portrays membership of the Bahá'í community as socially isolating and his description of the Bahá'í administration as dictatorial in its attitudes and socially controlling is similar to the standard accusations made against subversive religious movements. In his second academic paper, "Race, Immorality and Money in the American Bahá'í Community: Impeaching the Los Angeles Spiritual Assembly", Cole (2000) turns his attention to the other favoured accusations made against "cults", that of financial irregularities (it also touches on a third favoured accusation that of sexual misdemeanours). This paper again deals with the theme of authoritarian control by the elected Bahá'í institutions as does the third paper (2002), which seeks to demonstrate a fundamentalist take-over of the American Bahá'í community in the 1990s. Cole here uses Weberian categories to argue that the Bahá'í community has moved away from "church-like" tendencies towards "sect-like" tendencies. Cole has also set up an e-mail list, H-Bahai (as part of the H-Net network of academic lists), which is represented as an academic, moderated e-mail list. However, by using marginal and apostate moderators and expelling or censoring the posts of core members, this list has become effectively a medium for marginals and apostates (although the H-Bahai web-site does contain documents of academic value as well as dissident material). The traffic on the e-mail list has, however, dwindled to a trickle, with most apostates and marginals preferring the freer, less academic environment of other lists.
A second of these five was Frederick Glaysher, an American who was a Bahá'í for some 25 years (during which time he wrote for Bahá'í magazines and was actively involved in his community) and had taught at community colleges for some years up to 1994. He gradually moved to marginality after personal clashes with Iranian Bahá'ís in his community. He does not appear to have participated on the Talisman list but came into prominence as a marginal Bahá'í when, after some of his postings to the moderated Usenet group soc.religion.bahai were rejected, he started alt.religion.bahai and in 1997 launched a campaign to set up another unmoderated group talk.religion.bahai. Having succeeded in setting up this Usenet group, however, he has withdrawn from active participation in it and merely "spams" the group with repeated formula e-mails decrying Bahá'í "censorship" and attacking the Bahá'í institutions. He appears to have been dropped from Bahá'í membership lists in 1996 when he sent an acerbic letter demanding to be removed from the mailing list for the American Bahá'í, the main news organ of the American Bahá'í community, and all other mailing lists and threatening to sue if contacted. He himself continued to insist that he was a full member of the Bahá'í community until October 2004 when he set up his own Bahá'í group, the Reform Bahai Faith. There do not seem to have been many members of this group (none have openly identified themselves at any rate) and Glaysher himself announced he was withdrawing "from being central to its development, looking to a Convocation in 2006 to resolve this and other issues". Since the Convocation itself was cancelled, it seems as though this group may now be non-functional if it ever functioned.9 Glaysher runs a website that accumulates much marginal and apostate material.10 Several researchers have noted the tendency among apostates to move from fact to fantasy, reworking the facts about the group that they have left so as to confirm their own vision of it (see for example Johnson, 1998). Glaysher is a good example of this phenomenon, coming out from time to time with what can only be called blitzkriegs of e-mails making claims that range from the unlikely to the bizarre. Examples include his assertion in 1998 that the Universal House of Justice ordered the assassination of a leading US Bahá'í (who had in fact been a victim of street crime in 1982), or his claim that the Bahá'í community had conspired with British Bahá'í scientist Dr David Kelly to get the British and American governments to go to war with Iraq in 2003 in order to regain access to Bahá'í holy places.11
"DD" is a Northern Ireland Bahá'í who resigned his membership in 2002 after 13 years as a Bahá'í and several years as a marginal Bahá'í on talk.religion.bahai. Since his resignation, he has continued his participation on that Usenet group, now being more extreme in his attacks on the Bahá'í institutions.
Alison Marshall was a member of the New Zealand Bahá'í community for 20 years (1980-2000). In 1994, she and her husband Steve joined the Talisman discussions. Alison herself developed a special interest in the question of women on the Universal House of Justice. It appears to have been her persistent pursuit of this question and her challenging the authority of the Universal House of Justice, that led the latter institution to decide that "on the basis of an established pattern of statements by you and behaviour and attitude on your part over the past two or three years, you cannot properly be considered as meeting the requirements of membership in the Bahá'í community." As Richarson, van der Lans and Derks (1986, p. 105) have observed, expelling a member from a non-communal group is difficult to achieve if the member does not co-operate and can result in negative publicity. Alison Marshall launched into a "whistle-blower" role (Bromley 1998c, pp. 31-35) initiating unsuccessful actions against the Bahá'í community through the New Zealand Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the New Zealand High Court. Since then she has become a cause celebre among apostate Bahá'ís and her expulsion is regularly cited on their web-sites as an example of the authoritarian attitude of the Bahá'í institutions. She herself has done a great deal to publicize her grievances and has set up a web-site that appears to be a site introducing Bahá'u'lláh but also contains a large quantity of apostate material (www.whoisbahaullah.com, viewed 23 June 2005). Her husband Steven Marshall remains a marginal Bahá'í although in many ways, his attacks on the Bahá'í institutions have been more bitter than those of his wife. He runs his own web-site which is also a portal to marginal and apostate material (bahaisonline.net, viewed 24 June 2006).
The last person to be considered in detail is Karen Bacquet who was a Bahá'í for 14 years until 1999 when she resigned. She is somewhat atypical in that there appears to have been no period in which she was a marginal Bahá'í prior to her exit. Although she states that she had had doubts mainly over the functioning of the Bahá'í institutions, the exclusion of women from the Universal House of Justice and the poor quality of community life in the small town where she lived, she had been a active core Bahá'í. Since exiting, she has run a web discussion list for apostates on beliefnet.com called "Unenrolled Bahá'ís" as well as a website containing material written by her advancing apostate positions (www.angelfire.com/ca3/bigquestions/Bacquet.html). She has also written two papers, one with the title "Enemies Within: Conflict and Control in the Bahá'í Community" for Cultic Studies Journal, a publication of the American Family Foundation (later the International Cultic Studies Association), an anti-cult group (2001). Recently, she has published another paper (2006) on an apostate issue "When Principle and Authority Collide: Bahá'í Responses to the Exclusion of Women from the Universal House of Justice" in Nova Religio, an academic journal devoted to "alternative and emergent religions".
The apostates described above, despite the different attitudes they have towards the Bahá'í Faith, all share an obsessive hatred of the institutions of their former religious community. Indeed they share a certain preoccupation with their campaign against the Bahá'í community that brings to mind Max Scheler work on ressentiment - "a form of envious rage that seeks either to discredit or to emulate the object of its affect, and sometimes, to do both" (Hall, 1988, p. 237) and these individuals closely conform to Scheler definition of an apostate:
An "apostate" is not a man who once in his life radically changes his deepest religious, political, legal, or philosophical convictions—even when this change is not continuous, but involves a sudden rupture. Even after his conversion, the true "apostate" is not primarily committed to the positive contents of his new belief and to the realization of its aims. He is motivated by the struggle against the old belief and lives only for its negation. The apostate does not affirm his new convictions for their own sake, he is engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past. In reality he remains a captive of this past, and the new faith is merely a handy frame of reference for negating and rejecting the old. As a religious type, the apostate is therefore at the opposite pole from the "resurrected," whose life is transformed by a new faith which is full of intrinsic meaning and value . . . (Scheler, 1961, pp. 66-7; see alternative translation in Coser, 1954, p. 250)
Indeed, although these apostate groups and the very similar "covenant-breaker" groups (as they are known by core Bahá'ís) of the past are often referred to as sects or splinter groups of the Bahá'í Faith, this is, in a sense, an incorrect description. These groups are not developing their own distinctive patterns and characteristics of community life and beliefs alongside the main Bahá'í group. They have no independent existence but only exist to oppose the main Bahá'í community. In Scheler's terms, they are not living in their new faith community but only in a series of acts against their former community; their new community only exists as a "point of reference" from which to attack the former community. Having no life of their own and existing only as a group of people united in their negativity towards the core Bahá'í Faith, the previous generations of sectarian groups splitting from the Bahá'í Faith, the "covenant-breakers", have barely survived the death of their founder members.
Deciding who should or should not be classified as an apostate is, of course, rather subjective and there are a number of other individuals that some may have added to the above list. One Australian women "EE" who was born into a Bahá'í family and then converted to Islam has set up a website that, like Alison Marshall's website, appears at first to be a neutral or supportive account of the Bahá'í Faith but as the reader goes deeper into the site, the typical apostate issues start to appear (www.bahai-religion.org, viewed 26 June 2006). Such websites appear to be intended by their creators both to alert anyone who may be investigating the Bahá'í Faith to what the website's creator regards as the hidden dark side of the Bahá'í Faith and also perhaps to lure some core members of the Bahá'í community to marginality. There are also two individuals, one a Canadian Bahá'í and one a New Zealand Bahá'í living in the Netherlands, who have both, like Alison Marshall, been declared not to be Bahá'ís because of their persistent challenges to the Universal House of Justice. But these individuals do not share the vengeful and obsessive characteristics, the ressentiment described by Scheler, and so have not been included in the list above. One person from Northern Ireland "FF" who left the Bahá'í Faith in the 1990s and who attacks the Bahá'ís on Usenet groups should probably be included among the apostates listed above but was not on the three websites from which the individuals in this survey are drawn and it has proved difficult to obtain any information about him.
Although he is also not listed in the three websites surveyed, mention should also be made of another German apostate since he has also used the academic route to attack the Bahá'í Faith. Kai Borrman, was a Bahá'í for a few months in 1997-8. In 2005, he published a German translation of the Kitab Aqdas, the most important work of Bahá'u'lláh (Borrman, 2005). A preliminary survey of this work shows that the author has a poor grasp of Arabic, is lacking in a knowledge of Bahá'í terminology, and has consulted almost none of the relevant secondary literature (including the German translation of the Kitab Aqdas brought out by the German Bahá'í community in 2000). The chapter titles are flippant and intended to be derisive of the Bahá'ís ("Animal Farm", "Abracadabra", etc.). One is therefore surprised to find that this book is the publication of a doctoral thesis gained from the University of Freiburg and is being published in an academic series.
Bromley's description (1998b, pp. 36-8) of apostates gives a large role to oppositional coalitions (i.e. anti-cult groups) who assist apostates to leave, help them construct their captivity narratives and usually also help them create their subsequent apostate careers. In the case of the Bahá'í apostates, it can be seen that, thanks to the Internet, they have formed their own oppositional group to give each other mutual support, create plausibility structures and encourage others to leave.
In some ways, Talisman and its successor e-mail groups acted as a "re-evaluation" medium and a place where people leaving the Bahá'í community could compile "justificatory and excusatory accounts" to justify their initial joining of, their remaining in and eventually leaving the Bahá'í community (see Richardson, van der Lans and Derks, 1986, pp. 106, 110). This was achieved mainly by "labelling" the Bahá'í community as authoritarian and inquisitorial.
As has been observed by researchers, most apostate narratives follow a certain structural framework which has been called a "captivity narrative". As has also been found, the facts are often reworked so as to keep them in line with the expected narrative (see for example Johnson, 1998). As Bahá'ís move to the margins in the Internet age, they come increasingly into the circle of the marginal, apostate and ex-Bahá'í community. In this process they have to negotiate an exit narrative that meets the expectations of this community (cf. Bromley 1998c, p. 37). Therefore it is not surprising that one finds these narratives looking increasingly similar to each other as the marginal/apostate network became more established and individuals stating that they have now realised that the real reason they were unhappy with the Bahá'í community is XXX (an apostate issue) rather than ZZZ (the reason they originally gave for exiting). One of the main factors that the captivity narrative has to explain is the question of why, if the Bahá'í community is as terrible as the apostates are now saying it is, they remained in it for any length of time. In the narratives of those joining communal NRMs, physical and psychological isolation and restraint are the reasons often given. Since this will clearly not be plausible in the case of the Bahá'í community, one reason that is often offered is that the convert was kept in ignorance of the true teachings or workings of the Bahá'í community - what may be called a deception narrative (or a captivity through deception). For those who are educated, well-informed and apostatised after decades of membership, however, a plea of ignorance would be implausible and embarrassing, therefore, their accounts tend to claim that the Bahá'í community changed into the terrible picture they are painting after they joined it (Cole 2002) - this can perhaps be called a betrayal narrative. There is not space in this paper to fully unfold this theme and in any case it parallels what has previously been described for other religious groups (Bromley, 1998c, pp. 41-2; Johnson, 1998).
Reading the Internet postings and websites, one finds that through the telling and retelling of stories, some factual and some exaggerated or reworked, an apostate mythology has developed. Events from before the Talisman episode are pulled in and individuals from these past events made into heroes and thus a spiritual past is created to strengthen the plausibility structure of the apostate's present.
Some of this apostate mythology goes back as long ago as the 1920s and 1930s and tells stories of people like Ruth White and Ahmad Sohrab who clashed with the Bahá'í leadership and were expelled from the Bahá'í community. These episodes are largely factual but as an example of a non-factual myth that has developed one can look to the story of Fazel Mazandarani. He was an Iranian Bahá'í scholar who wrote a history of the Bahá'í Faith the first part of which was published in the early 1940s. As Juan Cole reworks the story, Mazandarani was reprimanded for contradicting official Bahá'í history, he was made to sign a prepared confession, the book was withdrawn from circulation, the publication of further volumes of the history were prohibited and he was silenced for the rest of his life (Cole, 1998b). In fact, none of these five things happened12 but they do support Cole's personal plausibility structure as an academic who is in conflict with the Bahá'í authorities. Just as heroes have to be created to populate apostate mythology, so too do anti-heroes. In the above Mazandarani myth from Cole, the role of anti-hero is given to Mr Furutan who was the secretary of the elected national council of the Bahá'ís of Iran at that time and who is portrayed as tyrannical and called an "Inquisitor" and a "bigot" (Cole, 1998b). Most core Bahá'ís remember him as a kindly man who was always very humorous. Iranian Muslims remember him as the person who in the 1940s gave talks on Iranian national radio about raising children, in which he introduced the idea to Iranians that it was wrong to beat their children (Rafati, 2005).
Apart from these events that some apostates invoke from the more distant past, a series of episodes from the more recent American Bahá'í past have become an almost universal part of every apostate's recounting of their spiritual world. A Bahá'í study class which ran in the 1970s in Los Angeles and, according to the apostate account, was suppressed by the national Bahá'í institutions (although in fact it continued for years after the institutional intervention), the suppression of Dialogue, a Bahá'í magazine published in Los Angeles, which was prevented in 1988 from publishing an article that was deemed to be trying to influence voting, and MacEoin's encounters with the Bahá'í institutions in England are among the episodes that are told and retold in apostate e-mails and on apostate websites and indeed have now become so firmly a part of the apostate mythology that they no longer need to be recounted in full, a single word or phrase is sufficient to invoke their mythological presence.
As with apostate narratives, the issues raised by the apostates have tended to converge. Despite the different trajectories of the apostates from the time they left the Bahá'í Faith, the issues raised on the various apostate websites are very similar, indeed much of the material appears to be copied from one site to the other (except where noted otherwise, the data for this section is taken from the three websites listed in note 5 as well as the individual sites noted previously).
1. The Authority of the Bahá'í Institutions and Individual Freedom. Many of the apostates left the religion or were expelled after a clash with the institutions of the Bahá'í Faith and so it is not surprising that they make frequent accusations that the Bahá'í institutions are 'authoritarian' and 'dictatorial'. The interesting aspect of this is that the experience described by the marginals and apostates occurs precisely because of their marginality. As they approach the margins in their public statements, marginal Bahá'ís increasingly come up against the elected institutions of the Bahá'í Faith and more particularly the appointed institutions, the Counsellors and members of their Auxiliary Boards, who are charged with keeping an eye out for potential schism. The more people become marginal the more they will be confronted by these institutions in their guardian role and will have negative experiences of them. For the majority of Bahá'ís, however, their experience of the elected institutions of the Bahá'í Faith is as a mechanism for facilitating the activity of the Bahá'ís, for turning to for guidance over personal and community matters and as a mechanism for intercommunication among the global Bahá'í community. They experience the Counsellors and their Auxiliary Boards and assistants as people who are inspirational in the talks they give and who are there to be consulted over individual problems they may be having.
By the time that the marginal Bahá'ís have moved to apostate status, the accounts become even darker. A religion that for the core members has peace as a central teaching and engages in consultative decision-making for its administrative procedures becomes in the apostate accounts a fiercely aggressive religion where petty dictators rule and a global theocracy is the ultimate aim. Thus the experience of the marginals and apostates is the exact opposite, a dark mirror, of that of the core members.
Other issues that regularly appear in apostate accounts are the Bahá'í doctrine of the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice, which is ridiculed, and also the assertion that free enquiry and, in particular scholarship are discouraged and even suppressed in the Bahá'í community. Since many of the apostates are also engaged in writing about the Bahá'í Faith, the requirement to submit writings to pre-publication review is an issue that is frequently brought up. The exclusion of women from the Universal House of Justice regularly appears as a central issue in apostate accounts and is indeed the subject of one of the apostate academic papers (Bacquet, 2006).
2. Bahá'í Community Life. Many of the apostates record their negative experiences of Bahá'í community life. They record clashes with Bahá'ís of different cultural backgrounds, in particular Iranians; they state that they felt pressure to take part in Bahá'í propagation activities; they feel that Bahá'í community life is of poor quality. Leavetakers who went on to become Christians comment that they felt that the lack of a priesthood in the Bahá'í community meant that there was not sufficient pastoral care given when an individual was going through a personal crisis.
3. Bahá'í Teachings. A number of Bahá'í teachings are frequently attacked by the apostate websites. One of these is the negative attitude towards homosexuality expressed in the authoritative Bahá'í texts. Most of the apostates feel that this is an outdated attitude which should be changed. The other major area that is criticised, especially by those apostates who have gone on to other religions, is the Bahá'í teaching that all religion has come to humanity from one Divine source and therefore is one in its essential aspects (the spiritual and ethical aspects). Any differences that occur are either due to the social teachings being adapted to the different circumstances in which each religion appeared or to an accretion of rituals and dogmas added after the time of the founder. This teaching is attacked as being contradicted by the evidence of the wide disparities in the doctrines of the different religions.
The Effects of Apostasy
These ongoing apostate attacks on the Bahá'í Faith have begun to have an effect on the way that the Bahá'í Faith is viewed. A textbook on the Bahá'í Faith by an academic, Margit Warburg, professor of the sociology of religion in Copenhagen, describes the apostate issues (2001, pp. 66-8). Some neutral websites, such as www.religioustolerance.org, which is run by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, have adopted the apostate positions on many issues. What occurred in Germany is described above.
One question that has been investigated with respect to other groups is that of the effect that apostate groups have on the religion which they leave. In general, since conflict and contention are viewed negatively in the Bahá'í teachings and community, the pathway of contention chosen by the apostates is unlikely to be effective. One could, however, argue that the changes that have been occurring in the Bahá'í world are in the direction suggested by some of the apostates. In the last decade, the Universal House of Justice has encouraged Bahá'ís to reach out and become more open in inviting others to their meetings, particularly to a set of "core activities" (study circles, devotionals, and children's classes); it has encouraged the development of a "community of interest", people who are not fully committed members (who agree to obey the laws and be subject to the constraints of the Covenant) but are nevertheless interested in collaborating with Bahá'ís in taking forward the various initiatives of the community (Universal House of Justice, 2005, p. 51). This coincides with a move to decrease hierarchical power structures in the Bahá'í community by moving the locus for most decision-making to groups of Bahá'ís consulting together at the local level.13 It does not seem however that these changes are in reaction to the campaign of the apostates. The general outline of the changes that have been made are inherent within the Bahá'í teachings. Moreover the preliminary work on these changes was carried out in South America in the 1970s and was rolled out in stages to the rest of the world from the early 1990s onwards, before the Talisman episode occurred.
In the last three decades, there have been a number of individuals who although they had no great status within the Bahá'í community before they left, have, partly by reason of being articulate and intellectual and partly by virtue of the Internet, been able to be create a lot of "noise" in their opposition to the Bahá'í Faith. This paper has been a study of these individuals as they move from being core members or peripheral members to marginality and eventually to apostasy. A number of interesting points arise from this study:
1. The activity of the majority of the apostates can be read as an attempt to reverse the negotiated position of the Bahá'í Faith and move it from being an "allegiant organisation" to a "subversive" one. The issues that they raise and the reworking of their exit narratives mirror the accusations often made against "cults" by anti-cult groups and by the media at the height of the anti-cult hysteria in the 1970s and 1980s. In some countries such as Germany, they have been partly successful in their attempts to influence the public perception of the Bahá'í community.
2. The experience of the person moving from the centre to a state of marginality (liminality) and on to apostasy is entirely different from, and can indeed be a mirror image of, that of those who remain within the core of the movement. It is thus important to recognise that when Bahá'í apostates give descriptions of tyranny and authoritarianism, they are referring to exactly the same institutions and individuals that core members experience as providing encouragement and guidance.
3. The use of the Internet by these apostates has been extensive and crucial to their development. It had enabled them to communicate with each other that would otherwise have been slow and difficult because of their wide geographical dispersion. Through enabling contact with ex-Bahá'ís and cultural enemies of the Bahá'í Faith, it has assisted the passage of many of them from marginality to apostasy. It has assisted them to build up plausibility structures and to rework their experience within the Bahá'í community. It has also enabled them to have the sort of contact with other Bahá'ís that would not previously have been possible and thus try to influence others to join their cause. Some of them have set up web-sites which appear at first glance to be the sort of website established by core Bahá'ís but in fact gradually expose the reader to apostate material. Some have tried unsuccessfully to use the Internet to set up organised splinter groups of the Bahá'í Faith.
4. Some aspects of this phenomenon of Bahá'í apostasy themselves resemble the formation of a religion. By drawing on figures from Bahá'í history, some factual and some considerably reworked, the apostates have created an apostate mythology with its heroes and anti-heroes, which can be thought of as a sacred history. This, taken together with the apostate issues (which form something of a creed that is regularly recited), captivity or delusion narratives (which are the equivalent of salvation or conversion stories), and the medium of the Internet, whereby to create and maintain a community, could be considered elements of the creation of a religion. One could call it an implicit religion (Bailey, 1983), but, since this religion, confirming Scheler's definition of apostasy, has no independent life and development of its own and only exists to oppose another religion, it would perhaps be more accurate to call it an anti-religion.
5. Although in fact only one of the apostates holds a current academic post, they have been very successful in their use of the academic media with several of them publishing papers in academic journals and books by academic publishers, in which they present their case and further their aim of positioning the Bahá'í community as a subversive group.
When one bears in mind Scheler's description of the apostate as one who "is engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past" and who "remains a captive of this past, and the new faith is merely a handy frame of reference for negating and rejecting the old", one is reminded of a rancourous divorce. For most people, there are some accusations and recriminations in a divorce and it can take people up to five years to get over it, but then they rebuild their lives and set off in a new direction. There are, however, some individuals who cannot let go. They cannot get over the rage, depression and desire to retaliate and are still in this state of mind ten or more years later. Two groups tend to fall into this latter category, those with personal psychopathology and those who have become deeply distressed during the process of separation (Schwartz and Kaslow, 1997, pp. 80-81, 229-230). Building on this analogy, it is noticeable that many of the individuals who go on to become apostates have had a considerable career as marginal Bahá'ís first, which does not tend to be the case with the Bahá'í leavetakers. It may therefore be that the period of time spent as a marginal Bahá'í, with the attendant problems encountered with the Bahá'í institutions, creates the conditions of distress that then means that the separation becomes rancorous and the apostate cannot let go.
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1. I am grateful to Dr Michael Stausberg for his comments and advice on this paper. I have also received useful comments from Dr Christopher Buck, Dr Will van den Hoonaard, Dr Susan Maneck, Dr Peter Smith, Dr Robert Stockman and Peter Terry.
2. See for example, its use in Hadaway and Roof 1988; indeed throughout the whole of that volume (Bromley, 1988), apostasy is used in this way (see also Bromley, 1988b, pp. 12, 23). Only the last paper in the book (Hall, 1988) uses "apostasy" in its later meaning and here the author feels constrained to apply an adjective to clarify his meaning "conflictual apostasy".
3. Bromley 1998c, pp. 27-29. For an example of this in the Bahá'í community, see the individual whose narrative is given in Jacobs 1989, pp. 45-6. In this case, the individual was in a relationship with a woman whose husband was away. When the husband returned, the relationship was brought before the local elected council of the Bahá'ís and they instructed the woman to go back to her husband. As a result this individual left the Bahá'í community but comments: "I think that they have something very important. I still believe in the faith . . . It took me about six months to leave, but I just couldn't live the way they wanted me to."
4. See the section "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh" in successive volumes of the Bahá'í World 1980
5. These were http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/Ex.htm; http://meltingpot.fortunecity.com/andorra/514/; and http://www.bahai-faith.com (viewed between 18 and 25 June 2006)
6. Robert Stockman, personal correspondence, 26 September 2006
7. http://www.angelfire.com/space/talisman/T96feb2.htm (viewed 28 July 2006)
8. I am here including as leavetakers those who post a single exit statement on the Internet giving the reason for their departure, since they are not involved in a sustained campaign of recrimination (indeed some exit statements evince warm feelings for the religion they have left).
9. See http://www.fglaysher.com/reformbahai and http://reformbahaifaith.blogspot.com
11. http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/hate11.htm and http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/Kelly.htm; it is not clear what accusation Glaysher is making but in any case he seems to have overlooked the fact that Kelly's actions were against a reading of the intelligence data that would lead to war.
12. Momen 1999 and 2002; and personal e-mail correspondence with Dr Iraj Ayman who was a student of Fazel Mazandarani, 27 June 2006
13. Where previously the concerted plans of action were drawn up at the religion's world headquarters and mandated to the national and local institutions, now the plans of action are drawn up at the local level, in cycles of action, learning and consultation at the local level, which are loosely based on models suggested by the world headquarters. See for example, International Teaching Centre 2005, section 4.1, p. 17.
2. Follow-up commentary: Four heroes and an anti-hero
Although some response to my article (Momen 2007, all references not otherwise attributed are to this article) was to be anticipated, the extent of the Internet campaign that has been waged against it on webpages, blogs and e-mail lists has been greater than I anticipated. Not all of the comments on the Internet have, however, been negative. One ex-Bahá'í who has gone on to become a Catholic records his own experience of participating in various apostate e-mail lists and states: 'They act exactly the way Momen describes them' (Jonah 2007 [note from webmaster: this is a different Jonah from the Jonah Winters who runs bahai-library.com]). I have had similar private e-mails.
Because of restrictions of space, it is impossible to respond to all of the points raised in the four published replies and I have been forced to pick a selection of them. Some of the points made in these replies seem to be the result of these individuals forgetting what they themselves have written and done. Eric Stetson denies that my description of apostasy applies to him and implies that he is rarely involved with the Bahá'í Faith now. Yet he is constantly updating his webpage, where he writes on some apostate issues, tries to place the Bahá'í Faith as a 'cult' and includes links to material written by other apostates such as Frederick Glaysher and Juan Cole as well as 'testimonials' from former Bahá'ís with titles such as 'Bahá'í Faith is a cause of dislike, hatred and division.'1 Although Stetson may not have written this latter material himself, his inclusion with evident approval of it on his website suggests his agreement with it. The website also includes the statement that he has founded (and still runs) the 'Ex-Bahai' e-mail list. He therefore fits the definition given by David Bromley and used in my article.2 Similarly, Frederick Glaysher demands to know who it is that has accused him of personal clashes with Iranian Bahá'ís. What I wrote was in fact based on his own statements in a file which is on his website and records his early experiences of disaffection with the Bahá'í community (Glaysher 2008, see references to 'Persians' on pp. 50, 60, 61-2, 74-5, 80-81, 84, 109). Glaysher insists that his Reform Bahá'í Faith has many members worldwide. He has been asked on several occasions on Internet lists to produce evidence for this and has failed to do so. With the exception of someone from India who for a short time identified himself with it and then withdrew, no one else has ever identified themselves or been identified as a member.
With regard to Sen McGlinn's response, he was not included in the list of apostates in my article because his writings do not parallel those of the others on my list. They do not deal with the usual apostate issues; they do not contribute to the apostate mythology; they do not take the form of an apostate narrative; and they do not contain the persistent and bitter attacks on the Bahá'í institutions that characterize those who are on the list. Space did not, however, permit me to detail all of these considerations for every individual discussed and, in the case of McGlinn, I referred only to the last point by saying that he and another person 'do not share the ressentiment described by Scheler' (p. 200). This may have abbreviated matters too much and caused readers to think that ressentiment was the sole determining factor. Several of the other objections raised by McGlinn are in fact already explained in my article: for example that apostate attacks are no longer confined to New Religious Movements (p. 189); and that the Bahá'í apostates can be said to have formed their own Internet oppositional coalition (p. 201). My statement that Sen McGlinn's disenrollment was due to "persistent challenges" to the Universal House of Justice is an inference that I have drawn from letters of the Universal House of Justice going back to 1995. The letter of the Universal House of Justice to which he refers, and which he chides me for having ignored, relates to something he had written but does not say this was the cause of his expulsion.
In the next part of his response, McGlinn goes on to propound a 'different theory' or 'model' for the phenomenon that I have described. But what he is proposing is a study of people exiting the Bahá'í Faith (people who have left, i.e. 'leavetakers', or been expelled). He is of course welcome to write a paper on that subject and use any theory he feels is suitable, but my article is about Bahá'í apostates (people who have exited the Bahá'í community and then carry on a campaign against it) and in my article I have demonstrated a correspondence with other examples of this phenomenon described by other scholars. So the theoretical basis I have chosen for my article is suitable.
Denis MacEoin has quoted Abbas Amanat's egregious comments on my analysis of the socio-political dynamics of the Babi movement. I am quite happy for readers of Religion to look at my article on this subject (Momen 1983; see also Smith and Momen 1986) and judge Amanat's comments for themselves. It is strange however that MacEoin has raised this as part of his disparagements of me, given that he has frequently cited this article in his own works (including his two books on Babism, two of his papers cited in my article, and elsewhere) without ever voicing any criticism of it. His criticism of my book Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne is also wide of the mark. In that book I have given in full Browne's article 'The Babis of Persia' in which there are copious references to Azal and his claims and writings - I have 'censored' nothing. Then MacEoin has quoted selectively from Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice to make the Bahá'í Faith appear intolerant and anti-intellectual. If I had the space, I could equally present a range of quotations that would make them appear the acme of liberalism and modernity.3 The fact is that the Bahá'í Faith is a much more varied landscape than the stark picture MacEoin draws. With respect to 'the intolerant world', to which MacEoin states I belong, I would invite those who wish to judge for themselves whether academic Bahá'í studies is as shackled, distorted and unacademic as MacEoin makes out to look at the last few issues of Bahá'í Studies Review.4 The names of those on the editorial board of the journal are published and can be judged as to whether they conform to MacEoin's 'panels of laypersons' description. It is they who review the articles in the journal (except occasionally when their expertise does not cover the subject of a paper and another person is invited to review an article). In other words, there is no more 'censorship' involved in this process than with any other academic journal.
One of the main points that MacEoin seems to want to make is that there is no community or network of apostates and no campaign. I can understand that he may think so since he has never participated on Internet groups for more than a short time (as far as I know), but such groups do exist, as described in my article and as McGlinn's response and the responses I describe in the first paragraph above confirm. Of the ten post-1996 apostates described in this article, five had participated in Talisman before 1996 and all have participated since that date on either alt.religion.bahai or the main apostate lists. Also in my article I have described these Internet groups as primarily providing support and plausibility structures - not as being the platform for campaigns (although some of that does go on as well, as the Majnun posting that I describe, p. 195, showed). In the main, the campaigns have been carried out on an individual basis, as in MacEoin's own case. The fact that within a couple of weeks of my article being published, there were already a dozen or more responses to it on apostate webpages and blogs is evidence of a well-established and active network, especially since the overwhelming majority of those responding were not academics and had probably never even heard of this journal before.
Would I change anything in my article as a result of these replies? Yes, I would - no paper is beyond revision. First, as I discussed in my article (p. 200), deciding who does and does not fit into the category of 'apostate' is a difficult business. I now think that it would be better to remove William Garlington from the list. Although his latest book is clearly favouring apostate issues over those of core Bahá'ís (as I have described on p. 196), I do not, on reflection, think he can be said to have carried on a sustained campaign over a period of time. Second, at the suggestion of the former editor of Religion, I moved Max Scheler's definition of apostates from much nearer the end of the paper, where it originally was, to the beginning and consequently added to the article further references to it. In retrospect, I regret agreeing to this move (although the responsibility is, of course, entirely mine) as some have thought that it implies that I am using Scheler as my definition of apostates. I am in fact using David Bromley's definition in picking out the 12 apostates whom I describe (and I state this on p. 188). Scheler's definition was introduced because I think it sheds light on the phenomenon. Much of the offence seems, however, to have been caused by Scheler's definition and the original structure of the paper would probably have caused less offence. Thirdly (as pointed out to me in a private e-mail), I regret my failure to mention an important article by David Piff (2005) that covers the Talisman episode in some detail and presages some of the points made in my article.
Finally, I must thank the editors of Religion for publishing what I assume readers will have noted are four further documents of evidence that support several of the main points that I make in my article in describing this episode of apostasy in relation to the Bahá'í community:
I will leave it for readers of Religion to judge for themselves whether or not they detect a trace of ressentiment in one or two of these responses. It appears that the Internet apostate Bahá'í community regards my article as a further episode in their mythology of persecution and harassment (see p. 202) and will no doubt see these four respondents as heroes in this mythology, while presumably I am to be added to the list of anti-heroes.
Glaysher, F., 2008. Letters from the American Desert. Earthrise Press, Rochester, MI. This file was on Glaysher's site when I did my research for this paper, http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/archives/Letters%20from%20the%20American%20Desert.pdf (accessed on 6 January 2007). It has since been taken off the site and published.
Jonah, 2007. Moojan Momen is Right. Http://bahaicatholic.wordpress.com/2007/12/17/moojan-momen-is-right (accessed 4 February 2008). [note from webmaster: this is a different Jonah from the Jonah Winters who runs bahai-library.com]
Momen, M., 1983. The Social Basis of the Babi Upheavals in Iran (1848-53): a preliminary analysis. International Journal of Middle East Studies 15, 157-183.
Momen, M. 2007. Marginality and Apostasy in the Bahá'í Community. Religion 37, 187-209
Piff, D., 2005. The Globalization of Information: Bahá'í Constructions of the Internet. In: Warburg, M., Hvithamar, A., Warmind, M. (eds.), Bahá'í and Globalisation. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, pp. 195-219.
Shoghi Effend, 1968. Bahá'í Administation. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust
Smith, P., Momen, M., 1986. The Babi Movement: a resource mobilisation perspective. In: P. Smith (ed.), In Iran. Studies in Babi and Bahá'í History, vol. 3. Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, pp. 33-93.
Universal House of Justice, 1989. Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust
1 http://www.bahai-faith.com, which was most recently updated on 16 December 2007 (accessed 14 February 2008). See sections 'Behind the Facade: Cult-like Tendencies in the Bahá'í Faith' and 'Former Bahá'ís and Ex-Bahá'í Christians: Selected Testimonials' on the opening page of this website.
2 Stetson now states on the opening page of his website (see previous note) that he 'has been named in an academic journal of religion as one of the 12 most significant ex-Bahá'ís of the modern era.' This is of course a gross misrepresentation of what I have said in my article.
3 Regarding Shoghi Effendi, see for example 1968, p. 63; regarding the Universal House of Justice, see for example 1989, p. 7.
4 Volume 13 can be viewed at http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals.php?issn=13548697.