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Discussion of sociologist Peter Berger and themes from his dissertation "From Sect to Church: A Sociological Interpretation of the Baha'i Movement."
Unrevised reprint of a paper presented at the Baha'i Studies Seminar, Lancaster, U.K., April 1977.

An abridged version of this paper appeared as "Motif Research: Peter Berger and the Baha'i Faith," Religion 8 (1978): 210-34.

Mirrored with permission from

The Routinization of Charisma?:
Some Comments on “Motif Messianique et Processus Social dans le Bahaisme”

by Peter Smith

published in Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies, 2:6
The purpose of this paper is to discuss certain aspects of Peter Berger's "Motif messianique et processus social dans le Bahaism" (1957), in the broader context of his early work in the field of the sociology of religion, and on the basis of this discussion to suggest various conclusions for the study of the Bahá'í Faith and for the sociological study of sectarianism. Specifically, this paper is not concerned with offering a comprehensive discussion of Berger's work qua history (1).

'Motif messianique..." represents a considerably shortened version of Peter Berger's Ph.D. Thesis, "From Sect to Church: A Sociological Interpretation of the Bahá'í Movement" (1954a), the more theoretical conclusions of the thesis being reproduced in his article, "The Sociological study of Sectarianism" (1954b), these three items together constituting Berger's work on Bahá'í.

In "Motif Messianique" Berger seeks to describe two fundamental transformations which the Bahá'í Faith (2) has undergone in its relatively short history, namely: a process of the routinization of charisma; and the transplantation of a religious movement from east to west. As an aid in this description he identifies two underlying 'motifs': messianic and gnostic themes whose development in the course of Babi-Bahá'í history is outlined.

The concept of 'motif' is derived from the 'Lund School' of Swedish theology, especially the work of Anders Nygren (1953) and Gustav Aulen (1948), and '"refers to a specific pattern or gestalt of religious experience that can be traced in a historical development" (Berger, 1954b:478) (3). The motif is an abstraction from reality, based on religious content, rather than theological analysis; theology itself being seen as the attempt to articulate the motif intellectually. As used by Berger the concept is no longer confined to the Christian tradition but is seen as useful in the analysis of any historical process. Historical study of a religion enables the researcher to identify the dominant motif or motifs, and once this fundamental pattern is understood, he is able to understand the totality of the religious experience under study and to distinguish between its central and ephemeral aspects. Furthermore, changes in motifs over time, can be used in the attempt to relate changes in religious content with changes in the social structure of a religious movement (Berger, 1954a:156-9; 1954b:477-9; 1957:93; 1958:44)

The concept of the routinization of charisma is of course derived from Max Weber. This is not the place to discuss Weber's concept of charisma but it is useful to outline its main characteristics. For Weber, legitimate authority could be based on one, or more likely a combination of several, of three "ideal types" of authority: rational-legal; traditional, and charismatic. Charismatic authority is that authority based on devotion to the 'charismatic individual,' who is treated by his followers as being endowed with exceptional, superhuman, or supernatural powers and qualities. legitimacy is derived from spiritual endowment rather than tradition or legally established rules and procedures. Charismatic authority provides a more radical warrant for innovation than either of the other two ideal types. However, by the very fact of its origination as something "out of the everyday" and by its association with the charismatic individual, charismatic authority is precarious and "in its pure form .... may be said to .exist only in the process of origination" (Weber, 1947:364.) Therefore, particularly with the death of the charismatic individual, there occurs a process of transformation by which the followers return to a more everyday existence - charisma becomes routinized (Verwalltäglichung des Charisma) and traditional and/or rational-legal types of legitimation become important (Weber, 1947:358-373).

The general argument of "Motif Messianique .... " becomes clearer when set within the context of the more theoretical concluding chapter of From Sect to Church (1954a; 1954b) (4), in which Berger argues that the Weberian distinction between the church, as a compulsory hierocratic association with continuous organisation," whose "administrative staff claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of hierocratic coercion," and of which one becomes a member by birth; and the sect, as a voluntary association," which "admits only persons with specific religious qualifications" (Weber, 1947: 154-157) has been treated as a decisive typification, whereas, whilst widespread (especially in Europe), it is "logically accidental to the phenomena as such" (Berger 1954a:147-149; 1954b:468-470). Instead he proposes definitions based on specifically religious criteria, "the inner meaning of the religious phenomena concerned, not certain historical accidents of their social structure." (152/474). The "sect" is a form of religious association based on the belief that "the spirit is immediately present," requiring no mediation and setting the sect off from the outside world as an 'island formation' (5); whilst the "church" is "a religious grouping based on the belief that "the spirit is remote," and therefore requires to be mediated by the church (151-2/473-4). These two forms of religious association are neither mutually exclusive structures nor static types, for not only is the sect liable to assume the characteristics of the church with the passing of time, but the "church" itself may well include sectarian forms, ecclesiola in ecclesia, which it may channel and contain (e.g. Roman Catholic monasticism) or which may break out, setting in motion "the explosive dynamic of sectarianism" (154-5/475-7; see also Berger, 1958). The process of routinization of charisma, by which the sect becomes a church, is a transformation from the situation in which "the religious motif largely determines the inner social structure of the sect" and religious pressures predominate over social, to one in which "as the spirit recedes into remoteness and the sect hardens, as it were, into ecclesiastical forms, the pressures predominate in the other direction, from the social to the religious; the church makes its peace with the world and is invaded by the latter's social realities, norms, (and) institutions" (157/480). The institutionally unformalized sect, whose members in the face of the immediate presence of the spirit...form a compact, unified group," becomes a formalized group united by legalistic rather than religious bonds (168/480). In the sect, strong organization, when it does occur, is "usually motivated by the sect's mission in the world," whereas in the church it becomes a necessary means of group cohesion, in Weber's terms, "the charismatic authority, which was based on its inherent power alone, is replaced by a legal authority that brings to bear upon its followers em organized system of law and force" (168/480-1). For Berger, it is the retreat of the spirit, rather than mere change in organizational forms which is the crucial characteristic of the routinization of charisma. The history of the Bahá'í Faith "which began in the early half of the nineteenth century as a group filled with an overwhelming sense of the immediacy of a new divine revelation, and subsequently, through a number of steps that can be historically demonstrated, developed into a carefully organized ecclesiastical structure that would take no nonsense from the spirit," providing a "clear and instructive" example (1954b:476)


In Berger's analysis the Babi Faith drew its particular content from two deeply .rooted Islamic motifs present in Persian Shi`ism, these being "the underlying motifs of expectation and secret, the awesome wonder of what is to come and the mystery of what is present but hidden" (1954a:6; 1957:95). The rest of Babi-Bahá'í history is to be seen as the interaction between these two motifs and the twin processes of eventual routinization and change in social milieu.

Shi`ism itself, in its belief in the Hidden Imam who would eventually return as Imam Mahdi, subtly combined chiliastic and gnostic motifs: the belief that the Imam would eventually come produced "the urgent expectation of imminent eschatological events," whilst the belief that he was somehow already present in the world, but hidden, imbued the present with eschatological import. Of these two, it was messianic expectation which gave. to the Babi Faith its particular driving power. Sayyid Ali Muhammad, the Bab (1819-1850), was at first understood (1844) to be claiming o be the Bab (Gate), the direct intermediary of the Hidden Imam. For the mass of his followers this was a messianic proclamation signifying the near advent of the Imam Mahdi himself. After the conference of Badasht (1848) when some of the Bab's chief disciples proclaimed both the abolition of the Islamic shari'ah and the start of a new divine dispensation, and communicated to the mass of their fellow believers the Bab's higher claim to be the Mahdi, eschatological expectation reached fever pitch, the motif 'The Lord is nigh" became 'The Lord has come." Politically, the claim of Mahdihood was a statement of theocratic authority and there followed (1848-1850) an armed struggle to establish a theocratic state ending with the execution of the Bab (1850) and the quelling of the centres of disturbance: Shaykh Tabarsi, Nayriz and Zanjan (7). The gnostic motif linked Babi doctrine to that of previous heresies such as the Isma`ilis and the Hurufis, as well as to Shi`ism itself. From this gnostic corpus was derived the concept of revelation by which each prophet mirrored the light emanating from the Primal Will (logos) of God and each prophet in progression established a fuller reflection of the macrocosm of the Primal Will in the microcosm of the world; and the belief that the structure of the universe was to be understood according to the science of numerology. The Bab's final claim to be the Nuqtih, the Point of revelation was also drawn from this corpus. Berger suggests (1954a:161-2) that, in this connection, .there existed what he terms a "charismatic field," the centre (nuqtih) of which might shift from one person to another. He supports this suggestion by citing the claims to 'Nuqtih-hood' made by Quddus and Tahirih (8), and the plethora of charismatic claims made after the Bab's martyrdom.

The Babi doctrine of primary importance for subsequent events was that of Man Yuzhiruhu'llah (He Whom God will manifest) which enabled the messianic motif to be projected into the future "with all of its chiliastic fervour.' Thus Mirza Husayn All, Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892) by claiming to be Man Yuzhiruhu'llah represented the motif with all its force and was able to win the allegiance of most of the surviving Babis, to whom he appeared as the second messiah in a messianic age. By contrast, his half-brother Mirza Yahya, Subh-i-Azal, the Bab's designated successor, because he lacked charismatic appeal and represented a weakening of the motif, was only able to retain the allegiance of a minority of the Babis. The combination of a doctrine emphasising the messianic motif and a new charismatic leader resulted in the process of routinization of charisma being postponed, Subh-i-Azal representing a "premature" routinization. Whilst retaining the Babi concept of revelation, albeit in less mystical form, Babi doctrine underwent major transformations under Bahá'u'lláh's leadership: with the prohibition of violence the project to establish a new theocracy by force of arms was abandoned, and in its place the peaceful establishment of a worldwide earthly kingdom of God with democratic elements became the focus of action; Western ideas of liberalism and internationalism became absorbed as the more esoteric of the gnostic elements were eliminated in a secularization of goals - this while the gnostic motif was weakened, the messianic motif. was brought under control "in an ethico-religious programme of peace and world well-being" (1957: 100).

The situation following Bahá'u'lláh's death (1892) was remarkably similar to the leadership situation which developed after the Bab's martyrdom, in that, of the two claimants for the leadership of the movement, it was the one who represented. the messianic motif more strongly who gained the support of the majority of the Bahá'ís. That Bahá'u'lláh's eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas (1844-1921) had been designated his successor in his will was in effect secondary in importance to the fact that sociologically, `Abdu'l-Bahá was a charismatic leader who continued the messianic motif more strongly than did his half-brother Mirza Muhammad `Ali, who, as with Subh-i-Azal before him, represented a premature routinization for which the Bahá'ís were not ready. A new aspect of the messianic motif developed amongst the early Western Bahá'ís (1894 onwards) who came to regard `Abdu'l-Bahá as Christ returned and related Bahá'í teachings to the Christian messianic tradition. Daring `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership the messianic motif became further secularized as greater stress was put on Western ideas of progress and legalistic social humanism and reform teachings which, incidentally, made fresh appeal amongst young Persians with Western aspirations as well as amongst Americans and Europeans. The gnostic motif survived as a general aura of sanctity surrounding `Abdu'l-Bahá's person.

The death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921 left the way open for the final routinization and its apparently inevitable result of the institution of legal-rational forms of ecclesiastical organization. `Abdu'l-Bahá appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957), Guardian of the Faith, a function which was associated with charisma of office rather than personal charisma, as emphasized Shoghi Effendi's own relative 'distance' from the Bahá'ís as compared with `Abdu'l-Bahá and by his own statements differentiating his role from that of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. Nevertheless, `Abdu'l-Bahá's aura of saintliness came to rest on the Guardian as he became the focus of the religious aspirations of the Bahá'ís. Berger described the institution of the Guardianship and its secondary bodies as being clearly conceived as an ecclesiastical form of safeguard for the future of the movement for the post-revelational period (1957:105). The Bahá'í ecclesiastical forms combined elements of democracy .and authoritarianism which led to stresses within the movement. Thus, before the provisions of .`Abdu'l-Bahá's Will became known it was expected that democratically elected Universal House of Justice would succeed him, the institution of Guardianship therefore came as a surprise to many and a shock to some. As it became clear that Shoghi Effendi intended to exercise his authority over both the locally and nationally elected Spiritual Assemblies (formed at his encouragement) and the body of believers as a whole, disquiet began to grow, with the resultant formation of the New History Society by Ahmad Sohrab one of `Abdu'l-Bahá's former secretaries. The authoritarian character of Shoghi Effendi's leadership was further demonstrated by a series of excommunications including that of Ahmad Sohrab. This challenge to Shoghi Effendi's leadership never reached the level of a true movement of revolt, the unity of the movement was never threatened and the majority of the Bahá'ís accepted Shoghi Effendi's authority albeit in some cases with misgivings. The traditional theocratic ideal might be combined with Western democratic aspirations but it was certainly not subordinate to them. The transition, whereby "legalism replaced chiliasm at the religious heart of the movement" (1954a:166) which had started during `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership and reached its full development under Shoghi Effendi, was also demonstrated by the activities of the "pioneers," whose missionary activities wore responsible for a great increase in the geographical spread of the. Faith during this period. Their missionary enthusiasm was directed to the establishment of the Bahá'í new world order; their activities controlled by the Spiritual Assemblies and the new centres quickly integrated into the organisational structure. Thus whilst expansion was interpreted in terms of the messianic motif, it was in vastly different form from the chiliastic frenzy of the Babis in their attempts to establish a theocracy.

This summary of Berger's argument although necessarily abbreviated has indicated its salient points. The main line of argument is that the process of the routinization of charisma has eventually produced a transformation of the dominant messianic motif into a legalistic form concerned with the establishment of a future world order rather than the immediacy of a divine revelation. The great strength of this motif however has delayed the process of routinization by enabling two successive charismatic leaders to continue the messianic motif in something of its original strength. Specifically the lack of success experienced by the two rivals to Bahá'u'lláh's and `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership is to be attributed to their weaker presentation of the messianic motif and the Babis/Bahá'ís opposition to moves towards 'premature routinization.' Only when the messianic motif had become weaker and the emergence of 'ecclesiastical forms' developed did routinization finally take place and the 'sect' develop into a 'church.' As a subsidiary process the gnostic motif originally so strong in Babi doctrine and experience, became progressively weaker, finally only remaining as an aura of sanctity surrounding the leaders. In part this development was a result of the changes in the messianic motif with which the gnostic motif was strongly linked in the context of Persian Shi'ism, but more generally it was the result of the progressive "Westernization" of Bahá'í belief as not only the leaders and their Persian followers became more aware of Western ideas, but also the need arose to present the Faith to a Western audience (9).


Whilst Berger's work provides the first sociological analysis of Bahá'í (10), its importance does not lie only in its seminal quality. From the point of view of Bahá'í studies his interpretation of Babi Bahá'í history offers an explanation of what are possibly its three most important historical questions, namely the genesis of the Bahá'í Faith; its transformation from what in many respects might be thought of an a Persian Shi'i sect to a world-wide independent religion; and the critical transitions of leadership. From the standpoint of the sociology of religion Berger's work on Bahá'í, as well as presenting an example of the working out of the routinization process, and a basis for a discussion (1954a, 1954b) of the sociology of conversion and of subjective religious realities, is used by him as a means of illustrating the relevance of the concept of 'motif' and of his reinterpretation of the church-sect typology, both of which have been largely neglected by later writers (11).

Unless this present paper were to assume excessive dimensions it is not possible to make an adequate review of all these themes and I have therefore chosen to limit its scope to a discussion of the concepts of motif and routinization of charisma as they relate to Babi-Bahá'í history. Accordingly, the remainder of this paper is divided into three sections dealing with respectively, the concept of motif and the characterization of the relevant motifs of Babi-Bahá'í history, in which I shall argue that both the motif concept itself and the individual motifs need to be defined more rigorously at a theoretical level, and that at the empirical level one of Berger's motifs is inadequately characterized; a brief presentation of Babi-Bahá'í history in which I will apply the recharacterized motifs with special reference to the process of the routinization of charisma and to changes in authority; and finally, various theoretical conclusions. It is beyond the scope of this paper either to comment on the substance of Berger's presentation of the "facts" of history or to offer a critique of Berger's Weberian-phenomenonological stance within sociology (12).


At the theoretical level Berger inadequately distinguishes his own position from that of Nygren and the Lundensians, for whilst not stated by Berger there are two important differences between the type of motif identified by Nygren and those Berger himself identifies. Nygren's ‘fundamental' motifs are essentially the answers to fundamental, that is ultimate questions (1953:41-43), and as the most fundamental question of all is seen as the relationship between man and God, the fundamental motifs of the various historical religions are defined in terms of that relationship, thus the three principal relationships are: agape, in which ‘unmotivated' divine love is regarded as leading to man's receipt of undeserved grace; eros, the (Hellenistic) human longing to reach the level of the divine; and nomos, the Judaic concern with law (1972:374-7). In contrast to Nygren's obviously theological concerns, Berger's motifs, whilst theologically derived, are of greater sociological import and in his 'typology' of motifs as applied to the American religious scene are directly related to various attitudes towards the world (13).

The second difference lies in the degree to which the motif is held to describe what is essential in a religion. When Nygren describes Agape as being what he regards as the 'essence' of Christianity, the uniquely Christian, in contrast to the unwelcome intrusions of Eros and Nomos. Berger on the other hand is more concerned with tracing the changes in fortune of various 'dominant' motifs and in general adopts a more flexible and less theologically determined position, although ultimately he also seems to endorse the idea that the motif describes the essence (Berger 1954b:478).

.The weakness of this position has been argued by amongst others Max Weber who states that not only is it impossible to absolutely identify the ‘essence' of complex historical phenomena or of a complicated system of ideas - such systems consisting of the infinitely differentiated and highly contradictory ideas of individuals; but also that such attempts to identify the ‘essence' are really a type of ideal-typification (Weber 1949:95-7 )(14) Further, whilst Nygren argues that motif research escapes from 'arbitrary subjectivism' by being amenable to scientific verification: "A religion deprived of its fundamental would lose all coherence and meaning; and therefore we cannot rightly regard anything as a fundamental motif unless its removal would have such an effect" (Nygren, 953:36-7), the 'objective' means of verification proposed rests on the assumption that it is objectively possible to distinguish the ‘coherence and meaning' of a system of ideas and also the point at which such a system loses that coherence and meaning. Thus, inevitably a subjective element enters into these assumptions and hence motif research is only able to be 'subjectively verified.'

Divorced from the claim that it represents the 'essence' of a complex of ideas and experience, the 'motif' can be a useful concept. In this modified form it can be equated with one kind of Weberian ideal type, the "idea" (Weber, 1949:95-7; Berger, 1976:132-3) and as such provides an unambiguous means of description able to inform hypothesis construction (Weber, 1949:90), Weberian examples include Calvinist predestination and Methodist 'liberalism.' As an ideal type the 'motif'/'idea' (the term 'motif' seems the less ambiguous of the two) is no more and no less the research tool, an accentuation of a reality for specific purposes which does not exhaust that reality of possible motifs. This, does not mean that the researcher can not attempt to identify 'dominant motifs,' indeed it would seem useful to confine the use of the term to what are considered vital aspects of that which is being studied; nor is it necessary to confine its usage to theological expressions of 'religious content.' It is in this modified form that the 'motif' will be used in an attempt to redefine Berger' s motifs.

The messianic motif

From Berger's earlier work (1954a:136-7, 189; 1954b:478-9) it becomes evident that the dominant messianic motif may, for the purpose of typologizing, be characterized as one of two component forms, or sub-types, of the prophetic type of sectarianism (15). Whilst the ‘chiliastic' motif, as it is there termed, is concerned with warning that ‘the Lord is coming,' its co-sub-type, the ‘legalistic' motif is concerned with world conquest in the name of 'a new order.' That one sub-type may follow on the other is shown in Berger's analysis of Babi-Bahá'í history in which the messianic/chiliastic motif is seen as increasingly assuming legalistic forms with the process of the routinization of charisma. As chiliasm became secularized so "legalism replaced chiliasm at the religious heart of the movement" (1954a:166) (16).

Later in this paper I will argue that in the analysis of Babi-Bahá'í history it is more realistic to regard the two co-motifs as being separate, albeit related, rather than subsuming one under the other as Berger would seem to do. At the present juncture it will suffice to note that an individual who is regarded by his followers as a prophet may fulfill various roles, he may simultaneously be a charismatic leader who legitimates a break with the established order, and be the establisher of a new order and the creator of a new Welatanschauung; the prophet may be regarded as lawgiver, teacher and ideologue, exemplar, thaumaturge and the focus of piety (17). It is thus possible for the history of a religion to be characterized in terms of several prophetic motifs, legalistic and messianic/chiliastic amongst them. These motifs themselves may also contain several clearly related aspects, thus, concern with the coming of a messiah may be distinct from expectation of a millennium (18); and concern with the establishment of a new divine order is also likely to imply the necessity for propagation of the faith, the adherence to such belief and law which is regarded as divinely ordained, and the regarding of the community of believers as in some way the bearer of the new order.

Specifically, in the cases of Judaism, Islam and the Babi and Bahá'í faiths, the bringing of a divinely-revealed law is seen as a vital part of the prophet's task and the application of that law regarded as a means of realizing a properly ordered world.

The gnostic motif (19)

To determine whether or not the Babi and Bahá'í faiths are in some way fundamentally gnostic in Berger's terms it is first necessary to clearly distinguish what is essential in the gnostic motif and what is merely historically incidental. Whilst there is no need to take any definition of gnosis as a base by which to judge Berger's usage - his concern being to describe a 'historical pattern rather than construct a logical category" -it is useful to note the definition adopted by the Colloquium of Messina on "The Origins of Gnosticism" so as to show more clearly what Berger's motif is not; the Colloquium defined gnosis as: "Knowledge of the divine mysteries reserved for an elite" (Bianchi; 1970:XXVI).

In contrast, the essential element of Berger's gnostic motif is concern with "the hidden secret," knowledge of which gives the knower special wisdom or powers; that is, the emphasis seems to be on the secret nature of the knowledge rather than the importance of knowledge in and of itself. The related concept of the elitist nature of this secret knowledge would not seem to form an essential part of the motif, although it could be logically inferred. In the particular historical context under discussion this essential element is garbed, as it were, in the trappings of Islamic, specifically Shi'i esotericism, from which Babism derived both much of its elaborate metaphysical system and the particular intensity of its messianic motif, and which continued into the Bahá'í Faith in both some of its doctrines and in the aura of mystery which surrounded its leaders.

Islamic Esotericism' (20)

The applicability of Berger's motif to Babi-Bahá'í history will be discussed in a later section. At this juncture an alternative characterization of 'Islamic esotericism' will be presented, for it is on the basis of that tradition that Berger's gnostic motif is constructed, and it is the present author's belief that that construction is inadequate. The alternative characterization here presented rests on the assumption that three closely related, central themes, which may be termed 'esoteric, 'gnostic' and 'polar,' may be identified amidst the marked diversity of Islamic esotericism. Necessarily these themes are ideal typical in that their actual doctrinal form differs widely between such 'esoteric' groups as the Isma`ilis the .Ikhwanu's-Safa, the Hurufis, the Ithna-'Ashari Shi'is, the Ishraqis. the Shaykhis and the Sufis. It will not be possible to offer more than an inadequate sketch of these themes indicating some of the more important variations. ·

By 'esoteric' is meant the belief common to all these groups that the Qur'an and hadith are to be understood at two levels: at the levels of zahir (the outer 'or exoteric meaning) and batin (the inner or esoteric meaning). Broadly speaking there have been three responses to this belief: the rejection of the validity of batini interpretation altogether by the ‘orthodox' Sunnis an ‘legalistic' Shi`is; the acceptance of zahir and batin as being of joint importance by the ‘moderate' Shi`is and Sufis, as well as by the Fatimid Isma`ilis; and the downgrading or even rejection of the exoteric or zahir by the Isma'ili, and 'extremist' Sufis and Shi'i groups.

Associated with the belief that scriptural references have an inner batini meaning is the doctrine, most fully developed by the 'extremist' groups an those influenced by them, that the batin must be guarded and kept secret from the uninitiated. The body Muslims are thus seen as divided into an ignorant generality ('awamm) following a zahir revelation and an elite (khass) initiated into the true batini meaning of that revelation. The process of ta'wil, of symbolic interpretation of the batin from the zahir is made possible by the existence of awliya' (saints), between whom and the individual member of the ‘elite' may exist, either a complex hierarchy of ranks of teachers who impart the batin in gradual stages and in authoritarian fashion as in Isma'ilism, or a more simple relationship of faith and self-realization, as generally in Sufism and Ithna-`Ashariyyih Shi`ism. Ceremonial initiation into the khass may also occur. Extreme rejection of the zahir may extend to the shari`ah itself, either covertly so that the law is only observed so as to 'conceal' the batin from the zahiri Muslims, or overtly when the laws of Islam are openly flouted (21). Not surprisingly the belief in batin has led to complex metaphysical speculation and to the syncretistic acceptance of elements from non-Muslim philosophies and religions.

The term 'gnostic' as used here essentially follows the usage employed by the Colloquium of Messina, rather than that utilized by Peter Berger, in that the primary stress is on gnosis as a soteriology based on esoteric knowledge. Indeed Islamic gnosis (`irfan) is in some ways very similar to the classical system of Gnosticism prevalent in the second century A.D. in the Mediterranean area, in that man is regarded as a "theomorphic being endowed with the intelligence which can lead him to a knowledge of God...," he possesses a spark of the divine and can attain a state of illuminative knowledge by which he can realize his 'God-like' nature (Nasr, 1966:22, 132-5). This knowledge is achieved through illumination and not rationality, and involves progress through successive spiritual states.

The similarities between Gnosticism and Islamic gnosis are greatest with respect to the more 'extreme' forms of Islamic esotericism, within which the syncretistic adoption of the 'ancient wisdom' was greatest. The similarities include: the belief that the first emanation from the remote Divine 'Essence was the Primal Will, or Intelligence, from which in turn emanate the lesser forces and demiurges concerned with the creation and development of man; elaborate cosmologies combining mythology, scientific speculation, angelology and numerology; the interpretation of history in ahistorical terms; the cabalistic use of words and numbers; (a tendency towards) syncretism, especially the incorporation of elements from Hermeticism and other ancient lore, ad from Neo-Platonist philosophy; an interest in alchemy, astrology and thaumaturgy; and a tendency towards secrecy and caution motivated partly by the desire to guard esoteric beliefs and partly by the reality of persecution.

Whilst some of these similarities also occur with respect to 'moderate' Islamic esotericism, they do so with much less force. In general, they form as it were a 'gnostic corpus' from which ideas might be selected by a particular gnostic group or individual, they do not constitute the central core of gnosis.

It could be argued that the main difference between Gnosticism and Islamic gnosis, in all but its most extreme forms, was the relationship between knowledge and faith, gnosis and pistis. Whilst both Christian and Islamic orthodoxy have at times treated gnostic beliefs as heretical and indulged in persecution, the antagonism towards gnosis in the case of Christianity was much stronger and more effective, with the result that gnosis was seen as diametrically opposed to Christian faith, similarly the Gnostics defined their gnosis in sharp opposition to pistis and Christian orthodoxy. In Islam persecution of extremist gnostic groups such as the Isma'ilis (for reasons not simply doctrinal) and the declaration of various gnostic beliefs as bid`a (innovation, i.e. heresy) did not prevent the acceptance or at least tolerance of gnosis in its more moderate forms or the more general adoption of elements from the 'gnostic corpus' - thus the general influence of the Ikhwanu's-Safa on subsequent philosophers; the rapprochement between the Sunni ulama and the Sufi orders under the Ottomans; and the lasting impact made on orthodox Ithna-`Ashariyyih Shi'ism by the Ishraqi 'School of Isfahan.' What is proposed here, is that in Islam, in contrast to the dichotomy between Christianity and Gnosticism, a continuum of belief existed between the orthodox and the gnostics, enabling the construction of a system in which gnosis might be seen as an inner reality of faith and not an alternative means of salvation in contradiction to it. In such a characterization gnostics may form what might be thought of as a type of ecclesiola in ecclesia.

The third theme, which I have termed 'polar' (from .'qutb,' see below), relates to the Shi'i concept of wilaya (Persian vilayat) which may be translated as 'sainthood,' but also refers to the "function of interpreting the esoteric dimension of the revelation" (Nasr, 966:61) and has been described as constituting with batin the two lines of force in Shi'i thought (Corbin, 1971-2, III). The wali (pl. awliya'; Persian: vali) is not only ‘the friend of God' (waliyu'llah) and possessed of personal sanctity; he is the direct channel to the source of revelation, who makes possible the interpretation of esoteric from exoteric, -and is the source of grace (baraka). In Shi'ism the awliya' are the inerrant, immaculate Imams, the rightful and real rulers of the community, who sustain And interpret the faith. The term also occurs in Sufism where the wali is par excellence, 'al-insan al-kamil' (the Perfect Man) and the 'qutb' ( 'axis' or 'pole') at the centre of the hierarchy of saints, or more generally any saint or shaykh ( 22 ).

In Ithna-'Ashari Shi`ism (23), the Prophet, who is also a wali, is regarded as bringing a divine revelation, including a law (shari`ah) which represents the exoteric content of the revelation, the esoteric content being maintained by the sequence of: awliya' who follow after him. This alternation of Prophets and awliya' reached its climax with. Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets,' and of the cycle of prophecy, after whom followed in lineal descent the Twelve Imams, beginning with 'Ali, the son-in-law and nephew of Muhammad and ending with Muhammad al-Mahdi who disappeared upon the death of his father in 260 A.H./873 A.D. Each Imam received his appointment,. his designation as imam (nass) from his predecessor. As there must always be an Imam present in the world, whether .visible c hidden, he disappearance of the twelfth Imam is termed 'ghaybat' (occultation). The minor occultation (260-329 A'H./873-940 A.D.) during which he occasionally appeared to his representatives (na'ib), the four abvabs ('gates'; singular, bab) was succeeded by the major occultation (329 A.H. Onwards) during' which the Hidden Imam remained alive as "the axis mundi, the invisible ruler of the Universe" (Nasr, 1966:166), and which would only end with the reappearance of the Imam, "in the last Days," who would establish Shi`ism and "fill the earth with justice after it has been filled with iniquity" (Browne, 1902-1924, IV:394), when shall follow the appearance of Antichrist, a reign of saints and the resurrection (24). In the absence of the Imam the individual Shi'i could only hope to communicate with him in prayer, by visions or leaving letters addressed to the Imam in special places where he might read them. The uncertainties of these means of contacting the Imam and receiving his baraka may partially explain the seeming eagerness with which the mujtahids of Safavi and Qajar Persia were invested with a share of the charisma and authority of the Imam and the fervour with which baraka was sought .from the tombs of the Imams and their descendants, and from the person of holy men, particularly s, the descendants of Muhammad and the Imams (25).

To complete this portrayal of Islamic esotericism, it is necessary to mention the Shi'i doctrine of taqiyya (dissimulation) by which the Shi'i is encouraged to conceal his true belief if by so doing he may avoid danger to himself and his family. A doctrine born out of the persecution resultant upon allegiance to the Imams and to distinctive beliefs, taqiyya fits easily into the batin/zahir division as true belief concealed within an outer profession of faith (26).

'Polar' and 'esoteric-gnostic ' motifs

Having portrayed the main elements of Islamic, especially Shi'i, esotericism and the interrelationship between them, it is possible to suggest the applicability of two separate motifs to the study of Shi'i and, as will be seen later, in Bahá'í history. The first of these motifs, is what has been termed 'polar,' that is the belie in an individual who is the vicegerent of God in the world, the sustainer and interpreter of the faith and the source of grace. Important variables with regard to this motif are whether the 'pole' is absent or present and the degree to which the individual believer is expected and. prepared to submit to the interpretations and decrees of the 'pole.' In the case of Ithna-'Ashari Shi'ism this motif is also strongly linked to the messianic motif. The second motif, which. will be termed 'esoteric-gnostic,' represents both the concern with knowledge of the inner reality which lies within external appearance and the soteriological import of. that knowledge. Associated with this motif in. its lthna-Ashari form is that congeries of ideas which I have termed the 'gnostic corpus,' and also the doctrine of taqiyya. In its 'moderate' form this motif is associated with a rapprochement between batin and zahir, and relatively less concern with gnostic beliefs, knowledge of the Imam/qutb being regarded as the supreme gnosis as it were. In its extreme form this motif is associated with the dominance of the batin over the zahir, a greater concern with gnostic beliefs, and more interest in the gnostic corpus.

Sociologically, these two motifs are closely linked to the questions of authority and sectarian differentiation. The Imam/qutb possesses strong hereditary charismatic authority by virtue of his holy descent and charisma of office as a result of his designation (nass) by his predecessor, in addition to personal charismatic authority imputed to him by his
followers, This authority invests .the institution of the Imamate with a large measure of what Michael Hill has termed charismatic 'latency' by which the charismatic pedigree may readily legitimate a process of innovation (Hill, 1973:168-173),

In a situation where the qutb is also. a temporal ruler then, as with the Zaydi Imams of the Yemen and Tabaristan or the Nizari Imams of Alamut, charismatic. authority is likely to be routinized and infused into traditional authority, as the basis of a centralized patrimonial state (27); where the qutb does not hold temporal power then the legitimacy of the actual holder of power may be called into question, an attitude which is likely to result in persecution. If the legitimacy of the temporal authorities is only weakly questioned or if the followers of the Imam are strategically weak then taqiyya is the most probable response. If that legitimacy is strongly questioned d the followers strong, then rebellion or succession is the likely response. When, as in Ithna `ashari Shi'ism, the Imam is hidden, then unless the faithful can be convinced of the legitimacy of some intermediary between themselves end the Imam, they are more likely to observe taqiyya. The ambiguities of Ithna `ashari state in the absence of the Imam will be commented on later.

As already noted the existence of gnostic elite may simply lead to some form of ecclesiola in ecclesia. 'In a situation in which loyalty to the state is equated with at least nominal orthodox and heterodoxy may lead to persecution then whether sectarian tendencies .result in the formation of a sect depends on the degree of freedom officially 11owed under the heading 'orthodoxy' as well as the distance between the beliefs of the potentially heterodox group end the majority. Beliefs in a hidden batin, salvation on the basis of knowledge and the necessity of taqiyya can in such a situation make the apparent degree of separation seem less than it actually is. Obversely, a sectarian group identified as heretical can have heterodox beliefs attributed to it which it does not in fact hold, the very secrecy surrounding its beliefs making it easier for the 'orthodox' to believe that the group is concealing its ‘real' beliefs.



At a theoretical level with regard to Berger's messianic motif I have suggested that 'messianic' and 'legalistic' motifs may be usefully distinguished, particularly with regard to religions in which the concept of a divine law is important. In considering Berger's gnostic motif, it was felt that a far more rigourous conceptualization both at the theoretical and empirical levels was required; accordingly, two new motifs were proposed and discussed in some detail so as to provide 'unambiguous ideal types. These 'esoteric-gnostic' and 'polar' motifs were derived from a brief review of Islamic esotericism which formed an important part of the background from which the Babi Faith emerged and also, in part, the base from which Berger's gnostic motif was conceptualized. The present discussion will consider the applicability of both the original motifs and the recharacterized ones.

Messianic and gnostic motifs

In broad outline Berger's messianic motif would seem highly apposite to Babi-Bahá'í history: the driving force of Ithna-'Ashari messianic expectations and its realization in the Bab's claims accounting for the intense fervour of the Babi period; the Bab's doctrine of ‘Man yuzhiruhu'llah;' extending that expectation into the future and enabling the ready acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh's claim and, we might add, of the changes he instituted; and the routinization of the motif into its 'legalistic' form accounting for the transformation from the Babi attempt to establish a theocracy to the contemporary Bahá'í concern with a future world order, and for the final routinization of charismatic authority into ecclesiastical forms. What remains problematic in Berger's account is the nature of the Babi attempt to establish a theocracy; the degree of continuity despite major changes of leadership and emphasis) between the various expressions of the motif in the Bahá'í period; end the manner in which the emergence of ecclesiastical forms and the routinization of charisma are related.

Berger's gnostic motif however is much less satisfactory with reference to Babi-Bahá'í history. Whilst there is an undoubted continuity between mar elements of Babi theology and doctrine and the beliefs of previous esoteric groups, it is insufficient to subsume this under the concept of gnosis as defined as concern with the secret nature of knowledge. Similarly, there are very real differences between Babi and Bahá'í doctrinal concerns, many of which can be correlated with the "Westernization" of the Faith, but it can also be argued that there is a very strong continuity between the two, and that it is not just "Westernization" that has accounted for the changes. Berger applies the concept in a wide-ranging manner so as to include not only the messianic secret, but also more generally Babi theology and the "mysterious authority" of the Babi and Bahá'í leaders. Whilst accepting that there is a very strong aura of secrecy surrounding many of the events and beliefs of early Babi and Bahá'í history, I am not convinced that it is to he explained solely with reference to a 'gnostic motif,' but rather to the threat or reality of persecution. If it is the notion of secrecy which Berger regards as fundamental to his gnostic motif, then neither in Islamic esotericism nor in the Babi and Bahá'í Faiths has such a motif played the dominant role outlined for it. As for the 'mysterious authority' surrounding the leaders that might be better thought of as the charismatic authority attributed to the representative of the polar motif.

Berger's presentation of both motifs raises the question of the extent to which the motif can be regarded as the cause of any historical changes. The following discussion does not assume, unlike Berger, that the motif represents the essence of religious content and will, therefore, seek to indicate correlations rather than arguing causes.

Polar, Messianic, Legalistic and Esoteric-gnostic motifs

The consideration of the four new motifs must necessarily be brief and schematic: reference will be made to a diagrammatic representation of the motifs (Figure I); and for convenience Babi-Bahá'í history will be divided into the following eleven periods:

1. The Shaykhi period (c. 1806-1844).

2. 1844-48. The period from the Bab's declaration of his mission to the conference of Badasht.

3. 1848-1850. The period of the upheavals of Shaykh Tabarsi, Zanjan and Nayriz and of the Bab's martyrdom.

4. 1850-(c.) 1856. The period of confusion during which the attempt was made on the life of Nasiru'd-Din. Shah (1852) and Bahá'u'lláh was exiled to Baghdad (1853).

5. (c.) 1856-1867. The period of Bahá'u'lláh's rising prestige and his de facto leadership of the community of exiles.

6. 1867-1892. The period from the final break between Bahá'u'lláh and Subh-i-Azal, and the development of two separate groups: Bahá'ís and Azali Babis; to Bahá'u'lláh's death.

7. 1892-1921. The period of `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership.

8. 1921-1937. The period of Shoghi Effendi's leadership during which the stress was on the establishment of the 'administrative order.'

9. 1937-1957. The period of Shoghi Effendi's leadership during which the stress was on systematic teaching plans.

10. 1957-1963. The period of the custodianship of the 'Hands.'

11. 1963--. The present period of leadership by the Universal House of Justice.

This periodization is based on changes of leadership, but also attempts to distinguish between significantly different periods within particular leaderships. It will be noted that the same year which saw the publication of Berger's final piece of work on Bahá'í (1957) also saw a significant change in leadership. After Shoghi Effendi's death it was found that he had left no will and appointed no successor; accordingly a body of leading Bahá'ís, the "Hands of the Cause of God" (Ayadiy-i-Amru'llah) named by Shoghi Effendi as "chief stewards of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic World Commonwealth" (Shoghi Effendi; 1958:127) became custodians of the leadership until the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 (28).

Most of the Bab's leading disciples and many of the rank and file had previously been Shaykhis, that is followers of the Ithna-'Ashari school or sect founded by Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i (d. 1826) (29). In contradiction to the claims of many mujtahids to authority in the absence of the Imam, the Shaykhis believed that there must always exist in the world a perfect Shi'i (Shi`iy-i-Kamil) who acts as the intermediary (na'ib, bab) between the Imam and the faithful and hence is the legitimate authority; by implication the Shaykhi leaders might be considered that authority. Alongside this strong expression of the polar motif there was an emphasis on the esoteric-gnostic and messianic motifs. Like other moderate esoteric groups the Shaykhis stressed the importance of batin as well as zahir; what distinguished them from other groups and led to their beliefs being denounced as heretical was the nature of their batin in that they interpreted orthodox beliefs such as the physical resurrection, Muhammad's Mi`raj (Ascent) and the signs preceding and accompanying the return of the Imam Mahdi in an allegorical, spiritual manner. The Shaykhis also believed in the imminence of the return of the Imam, a belief which led to a large number of them enthusiastically accepting the Bab in the years following his declaration in 1844. In contrast the 'conservative" Shaykhis remained as a group in which the messianic motif was 'de-emphasized' and whose leaders were bitterly hostile to the Babis (30).

In the early years of the Bab's ministry (1844-48) it is probable that there was considerable uncertainty as to his claims, even amongst his followers (31). Even if his followers only regarded him as a bab in terms of Shaykhi or Ithna-'Ashari doctrine then that would have been sufficient to constitute him as a 'qutb' in their eyes (32). During the years of the Bab's leadership the dominant motifs ere the polar and messianic: whether he understood the Bab to be a na'ib, the Imam or the Nuqtih a Babi still regarded him as his qutb; what changed was the messianic expectation as it became 'realized' by the acceptance of the Bab's higher claims. The new qutb became the centre of a messianic age (1844-50) when after Badasht the. mass of Babis came to recognize the Bab as Qa'im, the bringer of the Qiyama (Resurrection). The. precise nature of that recognition is problematic however, for whilst it was an Islamic qiyama it was not an orthodox one; to the Shaykhi belief in the allegorical,' 'spiritual' nature of eschatological events had been added the Babi doctrines of the repeated cycles of Manifestations of God (Mazahir-i-ilahiyyih) and of Man-yuzhiruhu'llah; and as well as the abrogation of the Islamic shari'ah at Badasht, the Bab had in hi Bayan-i Farsi (written during his ears of captivity in Azerbaijan) revealed a new shari'ah. This calls into question the nature of the Babi 'rebellions' and attempt to establish a theocracy 'by force of arms' (33). it seems probable that in a situation in which contact with the Bab, imprisoned in the remote North-West, was necessarily tenuous; in which Babi beliefs were often taught cautiously; and traditional intermediate authorities (see below) were highly regarded, that a heterogeneity of belief would develop. It is possible that one of the intentions of the Babi leaders, present in such numbers at the fort of Shaykh Tabarsi (34) was to mount a sort of spiritual pronouncement, a call to their fellow countrymen to accept the Bab: the change in the call to prayer (adhan) by Mulla Sadiq-i-Khurasani, Muqaddas, so as to include reference to the Bab and Mulla Muhammad Aliy-i-Zanjani, Hujjat's assumption of the prerogatives of the leader of the Friday prayers might be thought of as earlier examples of the same. Certainly Babi and Bahá'í accounts stress the similarity of Shaykhi Tabarsi to the "sacrifice" of Karbala when Muhammad's grandson, the Imam Husayn, with a small band of followers was defeated by a large Muslim army and killed. Mulla Husayn's comment prior to Shaykh Tabarsi that those who joined him would become martyrs supporting the interpretation that a major 'purpose' of Shaykh Tabarsi was symbolic. The two urban upheavals of Nayriz and Zanjan might be interpreted differently however, for both of the leaders were important local a'yan (dignitaries) whose factional following followed them into the Faith. In both eases the exacerbation of relatively petty grievances between their ‘faction' and another led to fighting; the division of the town into rival barricaded camps; and the sending in of troops against the Babis, escalating the situation into full armed struggle only ended by the massacre of the surviving Babis. It is probably impossible to discern with any certainty the motives of those townspeople who fought on the Babi side; unlike the combatants at Shaykh Tabarsi they were not clerics nor well versed in Babi belief and whether they conceptualized their struggle as a heroic sacrifice or as an attempt to establish a theocracy, or both, is not known. It is noteworthy both that civic officers were appointed by the Babi leaders and that those who were not prepared to die as martyrs were encouraged to leave the combatants. It is also significant that all three sieges wore ended by the leaders of the attacking forces sealing a truce on the Qur'an and then massacring the Babis when they emerged from their fortifications. One wonders whether the Babis would have fallen into such a trap if they had been in earnest about establishing a theocracy by force of arms. It also seems strange that whilst the Babi faith was established fairly widely by 1850 it was only in these three locales that sustained fighting developed. Of course there may have been strategic reasons for this, but at present it would seem better to regard the hypothesis that the Babis were involved in purposeful rebellion as unproved. On the other hand, it seems evident that they were concerned with the establishment of a theocracy, however that was to be accomplished.

The execution of the Bab and the massacre of the Babis at Shaykh Tabarsi, Nayriz and Zanjan had the effect of driving the Faith underground. It is probable that there was a complex of responses on the part of the Babis: the abolition of the Islamic Shari'ah combined with the defeat of their cause and the death of most of their leaders led some to a disregard for all law; the reality of persecution led o concealment of belief; the difficulties of communicating with Subh-i-Azal. the Bab's appointed successor and in general the lack of leadership and of authoritative texts (35) led to confusion, intense speculation and fragmentation. The situation was worsened when one group of Babis attempted to assassinate the Shah (1852 the resultant campaign of terror directed at all Babis and suspected Babis, resulting in a further loss of leaders. The great need for leadership was eventually me in the years following c. 1856 when Bahá'u'lláh increasingly can to be recognized as an effective and charismatic leader, in effect as a new "qutb." However, it was not until 1863 that Bahá'u'lláh declared his claim to be Man-yuzhiruhu'llah to the small group of Baghdad exiles and it was not until after the Ayyam-i-Shidad (the Days of Stress) in Edirne (1867) when the final break between Bahá'u'lláh and Subh-i-Azal occurred that the Babis in Iran became properly aware of this claim and separate Bahá'í and Azali groups developed.

It is possible to discern a common pattern of motifs with reference to both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh. In both cases intense messianic expectation preceded their initial recognition as ‘qutbs,' which was followed by acceptance of them in the messianic centres (Qa'im/Man-yuzhiruhu'llah) of a messianic age. In this sense the messianic role is to be seen as an extension of their ‘polar' role. In each case the polar and to an even greater extent the messianic motif dominated the other motifs; specifically the general recognition of the messianic role was followed by the 'revelation, of a new shari'ah based on a book of holy law (the Bayan-i-Farsi and the Kitab al-Aqdas). The difference on this point is that whilst the upheaval of the last two years of the Bab's life and the fragmentation and despair following his execution resulted in his Shari'ah being neither widely applied not fully differentiated from its Islamic forebear. giving way instead to a period in which there were strong antinomian tendencies; the laws of the Kitab al-Aqdas were widely promulgated and as circumstances permitted applied as distinct from those of Islam (36). m incidental point of interest here is that Bahá'u'lláh himself asked one of his followers who had been trained as a mujtahid to submit a series of questions to him on these laws, the result being the annex to the Kitab al-Aqdas. Further, it should be noted that Babi and Bahá'í concern with a divine law is fully in accordance with their position concerning the equal importance of zahir and batin; the concern with a Shari 'a is compatible with a conception of the 'true believer' as needing to follow more than just a code of law d of law itself as having a spiritual as well as a material dimension. further pattern that can be suggested is that in general when the legalistic motif is strong because of its 'subsumption' by the messianic motif then the esoteric-gnostic motif is likely to be subordinate.

In some respect the dominant motif for the entire period since Bahá'u'lláh's death has been the 'polar.' It would be wrong to equate too closely the Islamic 'Imam' and the various successors to Bahá'u'lláh's leadership but there are strong doctrinal similarities: `Abdu'l-.Baha, the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice have all been regarded as infallible within certain limits; all have been regarded as the centres of guidance to which to turn; and in each case their legitimacy in terms of their designation (nass) by their predecessor has been stressed specifically. the term for 'Guardianship' is 'vilayat' and for 'Guardian of the Cause of God,' Vali-amru'llah

The importance of the Bahá'í doctrine of "the Covenant," the idea that each leader is the divinely legitimated leader to whom obedience is due is a major theme in Bahá'í writings: during the period of `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership American Bahá'í publications continually referred to the Covenant as the 'Most Great Characteristic' in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and. Testament the Bahá'ís are bidden to obey both Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice: "whatsoever they decide is of God... whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God .... " (p. 11) - until recently Bahá'ís were commonly required to read `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament and to gain an understanding of the Covenant before their declarations of faith were accepted. Obversely the only cause of excommunication has been direct disobedience to the Covenant's centre. Berger suggests that `Abdu'l-Bahá was accepted by the Bahá'ís as successor to Bahá'u'lláh, rather than his brother, because he was a more charismatic leader who represented the messianic motif more strongly; whilst this was undoubtedly a factor, it must also be remembered that `Abdu'l-Bahá was designated ‘Centre of the Covenant.' The must greater emphasis on ‘the Covenant' during the period of `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership and after surely acted as a major factor in the relatively unopposed successorship of both Shoghi Effendi, despite the novelty of the Guardianship and his youth; and of the Universal House of Justice, despite a six year gap following the Guardian's death and the absence of a will giving clear instructions as to what should happen in those years. It is noteworthy that the only numerically significant group of ‘Covenant Breakers' (naqizin, lit. ‘violators') in the period since Bahá'u'lláh's death were those American Bahá'ís or rather ‘Behaists' who followed their teacher Ibrahim Kheiralla into partisanship for Mirza Muhammad Ali in 1900; Kheiralla's version of the Bahá'í teachings was highly esoteric, whilst the relationship he established with his converts was highly centralized around himself (37).

The period 1844-1921 is designated by Shoghi Effendi as the 'Heroic Age' in distinction to the period after 1921 which he termed the 'Formative Age' (1944:xiii), symbolizing thereby not only the break between charismatic and institutional leadership, but also what he perceived as the main purpose of the present period in Bahá'í history, namely the building up of a new 'World Order' in anticipation of a future 'Golden Age,' the ‘Kingdom of God on earth.' If the polar motif dominates the Bahá'ís attitude towards their leadership, then. the messianic motif in the form of working to construct a future theocracy (38), dominates their activity. The series of teaching plans embarked on since 1937; the framework of the 'Administrative Order'; the promulgation and application of Bahá'í social principles; the gradual emergence of the Faith "from obscurity" and from "the fetters of religious orthodoxy"; the recognition .and application of Bahá'í law; and the development of Bahá'í Houses of Worship, local and national headquarters and the shrines and other buildings at the Bahá'í 'World Centre' (Haifa-Akka), are all regarded as constituting aspects of the progressive unfoldment of the Faith as it heads towards its "destined" goal.

Whilst Bahá'í belief in man's inner spiritual potential, in the inner as well as the outer meaning of past and present scriptures; and in the "True Believer" as a station at which the individual Bahá'í should aim, indicate the continued existence of the esoteric-gnostic motif, it cannot be argued that that motif plays more than a very subordinate role. In part this is in keeping with what has already been said about the subordination of the esoteric-gnostic motif at those periods when the messianic motif is strong. Berger has indicated the "Westernization" of the Faith" must also be taken into account here.

An interesting reflection on this motif concerns the change in the relationship of Bahá'í to the Churches in the West. Until as late as the 1930s the Bahá'í movement, as it was invariably termed lacked a fully distinctive existence vis-a-vis the churches, rather its stress on the unity of religion and the universality of its message was expressed in terms of a movement of spiritual d social renewal which was simultaneously separate from and yet part of the surrounding religious milieu. Thus Bahá'ís might also be church members. In a sense Bahá'í then formed an esoteric-gnostic group both within and between the churches.

With the establishment of the 'Administrative Order' and increasing stress by Shoghi Effendi on the status of the Faith as an independent world religion these ties with the churches were gradually cut. A somewhat analogous situation pertained in Iran during the time of '`Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership when numbers of Zoroastrians and Jews became Bahá'ís and retained something of their identity in distinction to their mostly Muslim background co-religionists: thus at one time there was even an 'Assembly of the lsraelitish Bahá'ís of Tehran.' In both West and East the Bahá'í communities gradually became more independent of their parent religions increasing their distinctiveness as they did so.

This review has only partially outlined the relationship between the four ideal types of motifs and Babi-Bahá'í history. It is hoped that their relevance and validity have been demonstrated.

Routinization of Charisma

In Berger's argument the process of the routinization of charisma entails two transformations: from charismatic authority to traditional/rational-legal authority and from sect to church. It will be the purpose of the present section to suggest that these two processes possess a degree of autonomy 'and specifically, that routinization of charisma need not imply the complete transformation of a sect into a church.

The most important traditional authority relationship in nineteenth century Shi'ism was that between the mujtahids and the mass of the people (39). During the occultation of the Imam the 'means of access to him were uncertain, a factor which presumably led to a desire r some intermediary on the part of many Ithna-'Ashari Shi`is. The mujtahids (those amongst the religiously learned qualified to exercise personal judgment [ijtihad] in matters concerning the shari'ah) came to act as intermediaries between the Imam and the body of the faithful; to share some of his charismatic authority; and to be regarded as marja`-i-taqlid (sources of imitation) for the ordinary believer. They also possessed authority over against the government and its agents because, in the absence of the Imam, even a Shi'i state might be regarded as illegitimate. In terms of our motifs .the relationship between the mujtahid and those who accepted his authority was another example of 'polarity' and not altogether dissimilar to that between Sufi shaykh and disciple.

Whilst most of the ulama, including the mujtahids, rejected the claims of the Shaykhis and of the Babis and Bahá'ís it is noteworthy that quite a number of the ulama converted, or became Secret sympathizers: the number of 'mullas' at Shaykh Tabarsi has already been commented on. At both Nayriz and Zanjan the conversion of local religious leaders preceded the conversion of large !numbers of their fellow townsfolk, mostly it would seem from those who already regarded them as their leaders and probably as their marja`-i taqlid (40). In general the Bab's leading disciples, in the face of the Bab's geographical isolation and of the traditional authority which accrued to many of them by virtue of their clerical background acted as 'secondary poles' for the mass of their fellow believers. This situation is represented diagramatically in figure II . When the Bab had been shot, and the Babi faith began to fragment, these secondary leaders, or rather their memories, for most of them were also dead, provided the foci for sectarian tendencies.

After the Babi community had mostly become Bahá'í, a somewhat different relationship pertained (see figure II 2 and 3). The centre of the Faith was still isolated, eventually in the prison-city of Akka in the Ottoman province of Syria, but an effective means of communication between Akka and Iran was developed with Bahá'í 'agents' at Beirut and Cairo to aid pilgrims bound for Akka and with Bahá'í couriers regularly taking letters back and forth. In Iran at this .time leading Bahá'í teachers (muballighs), often from clerical backgrounds (retaining the title mulla) whilst exercising an authority over the rank and file, were very definitely under the authority of Akka and much 'closer' to the mass of their co-religionists than had been their Babi predecessors. In the time of `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership the authority of the muballighs probably became less and 'assemblies' were formed. In the period of both the leaderships of Bahá'u'lláh and of `Abdu'l-Bahá there was also a community of (mainly Persian) Bahá'ís who lived in Akka-Haifa forming a circle of disciples around the leader and providing the secretarial, copying and other services needed by both the leaders and the community as a whole. The main difference in the relationship between the leader and the community during .the two leaderships was the greater 'remoteness' of Bahá'u'lláh end hence the greater prominence of secondary leaders such as Bahá'u'lláh's sons (aghsan, lit 'Branches' ), especially `Abdu'l-Bahá.

The period of `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership also saw the development of the
faith in North America. and other parts of 'the West' in which more democratic forms of secondary authority developed. Apart from the 'Kheiralla period' (1894-1898) in which authority was strongly centered on one man, two different principles 'of authority would appear to have been current in the American Bahá'í community during `Abdu'l-Bahá's time: many of the early Bahá'ís came from a New Thought or similar background and valued individual autonomy, whilst others wanted a more 'business like' organization, both these tendencies being reflected in the record of the Bahá'ís .Annual Conventions (see Star of the West), the 'administrative tendency' becoming increasingly strong with the passing of time. `Abdu'l-Bahá used both the assemblies and various leading Bahá'ís to convey his wishes to the community and stressed the importance of both the assemblies and of individual autonomy.

Whilst many of the elements of modern Bahá'í administration (assemblies, Hands) originated in the 'Heroic age' their detailed form is mostly the result of Shoghi Effendi's 'guidance and the provisions of the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá as well as seeing the establishment of the 'administrative Order' in many new lands, the period of Shoghi Effendi's leadership was marked by a much greater standardization of administrative practice within the various national Bahá'í communities and the development of two administrative 'pillars,' the elected and the appointed bodies (see figure II 4 and 5. Thus in each locality with more than nine adult Bahá'ís a 'Local Spiritual Assembly' was elected and in each country with a sufficient number of Local assemblies a 'National Spiritual Assembly' was elected each appointing their own specialist committees (41). Later Hands of the Cause, Auxiliary Board Members, and an International Bahá'í Council were appointed. Meanwhile the Akka community, depleted by excommunications by `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, came to assume much more of the role of a small staff of secretaries, gardeners and custodians of shrines. The situation under the Universal House of Justice is much the same with the additions of an International Teaching Centre, Continental Boards of Counsellors, assistants to the Auxiliary Board Members as well s Departments of the Universal House of Justice itself.

Whilst the above description only sketches the changes in authority in Bahá'í history it is enough to indicate that in broad outline a transformation from the charismatic authority of the three leaders of the 'Heroic Age' to the more rationalized authority, of the Formative Age,' has taken place. However we should note that non-charismatic elements - traditional secondary tenders, rational elements in leadership in general - were also present in the 'Heroic Age' and that whilst legal forms predominate in the 'Formative Age' the very real belief in the infallibility of the Guardianship and House of Justice has given them a kind of charisma of office in addition to their authority at the head of a largely rational administrative order.

Whilst charisma has in this sense been routinized the Bahá'í faith has not yet entirely made the transition from sect to church. Berger himself points out that strong organization can occur in a sect as a means of furthering the sect's mission in the world and that it is the retreat of the spirit rather than change in organizational forms which is of the essence of the transformation of the sect into the church (1954a:168; 1954b:480-1). Berger's argument that the Bahá'í Faith has made this transition does not seen to be well rooted in this theoretical framework, but instead concentrates on those organizational forms which theoretically' he has argued are only secondary in importance. The point is his argument which comes closest to this framework is in his discussion of 'Covenant Breaking' as a prima facie example of the retreat of the spirit and the replacement of charismatic authority by legal force. However the corollary of this argument would be that in a certain sense the Bahá'í Faith has always been routinized for the conception of a polar centre of the Faith towards whom obedience is obligatory and disobedience equal to disavowal of God is one of the most deeply rooted concepts in Bahá'í belief, as is shown by the extent to which most Bahá'ís have accepted each designated successor to the leadership. The strength of such a belief perhaps makes it difficult to clearly differentiate between charismatic authority and legal force in this case.

It is probably more useful to regard the various national Bahá'í communities separately in a consideration of church and sect, thus some communities might be regarded as more 'church-like' and others as more 'sect-like.' For example in Iran most of the Bahá'í community are Bahá'í-zadih, that is the descendants of earlier generations of Bahá'ís and Babis; most of the activities of the community are centred upon its own needs; and only a small proportion are involved in its administration - ‘church-like' features seemingly predominate. By contrast .most of the Western Bahá'í communities largely consist of first or second generation Bahá'ís strongly motivated to propagate their Faith d heavily involved in its teaching and administrative work - factors which work against the transition to a church. In Isichei's (1964) terms 'insulating mechanisms' exist which in this case prolong sectarian characteristics (42).


I would interpret Berger's work on Bahá'í the fundamental concern is to determine which elements in a particular religious movement re the most important and then to relate changes in these motifs to more general sociological theories such as the routinization of charisma. This approach contrasts with what has become one of the most prevalent themes in the sociology of religion, that is the construction of typologies of forms of religious association. 'Motif-research' endevours to understand a religious group by reference to its dominant characteristics not' be fitting it into an existing classificatory system, in this context Berger's own attempt to fit the motif concept into a typology form (see note 3) is incongruous. Classificatory systems can be useful, but there is always the danger that a religious movement under study may be 'forced into' a relevant 'pigeon-hole' when it does in fact contain elements of various ideal-types and historically my have changed the emphasis given. to these types. In such cases I would suggest motif research is highly relevant. Motif research also offers means by which work in the sociology of religion can be more closely related t more general sociological theory.

Whilst Berger's work has been extensively commented on and many criticisms have been made, it is felt that, albeit in a modified form, Berger's theoretical approaches are of great potential usefulness to both sociologists of religion and to the student of the Bahá'í Faith.

Figures I and II


1. Berger makes no claim to be a historian as such. On the whole he makes good use of secondary sources and of translations of texts. For the early period of Babi-Bahá'í history he relies too heavily on Gobineau (1865), concerning whom see MacEoin (1976:109-110). For the Bahá'í treatment of history he accepts too readily the somewhat polemical belief that the Nuqtatu'l-Kaf represents real history and later Bahá'í works simply revisions: for a discussion of this book and the issues raised see MacEoin (1976:70-101). His presentation of the Bahá'í Faith in the modern period is seriously marred by his non-use of periodicals such as Star of the West and the biennial Bahá'í World volumes as well as by his excessive reliance on the work and attitudes of those opposed to Shoghi Effendi for the account of his leadership. For general accounts of Babi history see Balyuzi (1973), Browne (1891 and 1893), and Nabil (1932). On Bahá'í history see Balyuzi (1971) on the period of `Abdu'l-Bahá's leadership and Shoghi Effendi (1944) on Babi-Bahá'í history as a whole. See also the articles on 'Bab,' 'Babis,' 'Bahá'u'lláh' and 'Bahá'ís' in Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed. 1958, and on 'The Bahá'í Faith' in Encyclopedia Britannica, acropaedi, 15th ed., 1974.

2. Whilst Edward Granville Browne in his numerous works on the Babi and Bahá'í Faiths tended to subsume both under the heading of 'Babism,' the modern trend, and this includes Berger, is the reverse, that is to refer to them jointly as ‘Bahá'í.' Whilst the close relation between the two religions and the fact that most of the surviving Babis became Bahá'ís might justify the occasional use of 'Bahá'í' to cover both, it would seem preferable to refer to them separately.

3. The best treatment of the 'Lundensian' use of the motif in English is probably Nygren (1953), the same author has also dealt with the concept in a more recent work (1972:351-378).

4. The page references in this section to this chapter (1954a) and the article in which it is substantially repeated (1954b) are given in the form ( 1954a/1954b).

5. The term 'island formation' is borrowed from Carl Meyer (1933).

6. I have dispensed with page references for this section apart from where material has been introduced which does not form part of a simple summary of Motif Messianique... (1957).

7. The idea that the Babis intended to establish a theocracy by force of arms will be discussed below.

8. Berger, 1954a:15-17; see also Gobineau, 1865; and Brown., 893:282, 335-7, 367-8.

9. Both of these processes are regarded as representing a secularization of the fundamental motifs (1954a:164-6).

10. The only other overtly sociological study of Bahá'í of which I am aware is the Ph.D. dissertation by Mahmoudi (1966). E.G. Browne's numerous works also contain some sociological insights.

11. The three works by Berger under discussion (1954a, 1954b, and 1957) have unfortunately tended to remain somewhat isolated both in the field of the sociology of religion and in the now redeveloping field of Bahá'í Studies.

12. Berger's interest in the phenomenological understanding meaning is much less pronounced in this earlier work than it is in his later more widely known work.

13. The typology is as follows:

Type Motif Attitude

toward World

1a) Revivalist"Fire falling from heaven"World to be saved Billy Sunday
1b) Pentecostal "Word to be savedOver 100 Pentecostal
2a) Pietist"Follow the gleam"World to be avoidedSalvation Army 
2b) Holiness"Follow the gleam"World to be avoidedChurch of the Nazarene 
1) Chiliastic"The Lord is coming"World to be warnedAdventist groups 
2) Legalistic"A new order"World to be conqueredJehovah's Witnesses 
1) Oriental"Wisdom from the East"World irrelevantBuddhist groups 
2) New Thought"Powers in the soul"World irrelevantRosicrucians 
3) Spiritist"Voices from beyond"World irrelevantSpiritist groups 
  (Berger, 1954a:189;1954b:478. )

14. On ideal-types see Weber (1949:89-109) and Burgher (1976:115-140; 154-167).

15. See note 13.

16. There is element of ambiguity here, the legalistic and messianic motifs would seem to be both co-motifs and sequent forms of the same motif. Whether the construction of typologies of motifs is a legitimate pursuit is discussed in a later section of this paper.

17. For Weber's discussion of the sociology of prophets and prophecy see the chapter from his Economy and Society on 'The Prophet' (1963:46-59). See also Bryan Turner's discussion of the extent to which a 'new' world view is possible (1974:25-7).

18. Both the terms 'messianic' and 'millenarian' are derived from Judeo-Christian tradition. 'The messiah (Heb. mashuah, lit. the anointed one) coming to signify an expected redemptive leader and the millennium (Latin; Gk. chilias, a period of a thousand years) a future thousand
'year Kingdom of God on earth. Sociological usage has applied these terms to a large number of social phenomena and various definitions have been suggested. UsefulI discussions of these issues are to be found in Thrupp (1962:11-27) and Talmon (1966). The present paper is not especially concerned with comparative analysis and the two terms have therefore been used merely to signify respectively the ideas connected with an expected deliverer and with a future perfect age. In Bahá'í belief theirs messianic age is past, but their millennium yet to come.

19. On the nature of gnosis and Gnosticism I have relied mainly on Bianchi (1970) and Grant (1974). I have accepted the distinction dram by the colloquium of Messina between gnosis as 'knowledge of the divine mysteries reserved for an elite" and 'Gnosticism' as referring to gnostic systems prevalent in the Hellenistic world of the 2nd century A.D. (Bianchi, 1970:XXVI).

20. The description of Islamic esotericism relies mainly on the work of Corbin (1964, 1971-2) and Nasr (1966, 1970). See also Corbin's numerous articles in the Eranos Jahrbucher.

21. Such instances as the non-observance of the prayers and fast, the absence of mosques and Friday services and the eating of prohibited foods in Carmathian Bahrayn recorded by Nasir-i-Khusraw in his Safar-Namih (Lewis, 1940:99-100) and the highly symbolic breaking of the fast in the midst of Ramadan ordered by the Nizari Isma'ili Imam Hasan II at his proclamation of the qiyama (Resurrection) (Hodgson, 1955:148-151) have only served to confirm orthodox heresiographers in their view that such heretics had abandoned all law and hence justified the highly coloured and often malicious accusations of libertarianism and the communism of property and women leveled at almost all such heresies from the Mazdakites to the Babis.
The complications inherent in the extreme batini position are well shown by two incidents from the history of Nizari Alamut: for whilst Hasan II's declaration of the Qiyama (1164 A.D.) necessitated the promulgation of what amounted to a batin behind the batin, the kulli, the whole truth, his great-grandson, Hasan III's (r. 1210-1221) acceptance of Sunni orthodoxy came to be interpreted by many of his followers as a concealment of reality - thus Hodgson finds himself discussing the unlikely theory that Hasan III was really an Ithna-`ashari and hence 'laying a triple game: using an Isma'ili position for Twelver (Ithna-`ashari) purposes in a Sunni disguise" (Hodgson, 1955:223).

22. See also Nicholson (1921) on the Sufi concept of the 'perfect man.'

23. Ithna-`ashariyyih) Shi'ism, the Church of the Twelve, is that form of Shi'ism which has predominated in Iran since its designation as the state religion at the beginning of the sixteenth century. For an account of its beliefs written by a traditional Shi'i scholar see Tabataba'i (1975). On Sufism see Nasr (1970), MacEoin (1975) and Zarrinkoob (1970). On nineteenth century Ithna-`ashari Shi'ism in Iran see Algar (1969) and Browne (1902-24, IV:353-411).

24. Descriptions of the traditional beliefs concerning the signs accompanying the return of the Twelfth Imam are to be found in Browne (1891:299-306; and 1902-24:IV:398-401).

25. For two very different views of baraka see Nasr (1966, SV index) and Turner (1974:65-9).

26. For a defence of taqiya see Tabataba'i (1975:223-5).

27. For a discussion of charisma and patrimonialismin an Islamic context see Ahmed (1976).

28.. The designation of the Hands as 'Chief Stewards" was in Shoghi Effendi's last general letter to the Bahais, dated October 1957. Shoghi Effendi died shortly afterwards on November 4th, 1957.

29. There is very little material on the Shaykhis in European languages. An early general account is by Nicolas (1911-14). Corbin (see especially 1971-2:IV:205-300) provides a good account of Shaykhi doctrine within the context of Islamic esotericism.
Sociologically the Shaykhi 'school' might be described as originating as a group with sectarian tendencies within Ithna-'Ashari Shi'ism which later became and remained a separate sect. Historically the break with mainstream Ithna-`Asharism only occurred when some of Shaykh Ahmad's teachings were denounced as heretical; he himself did not originate the break.

30. Bahá'í sources. stress the importance of this belief. Corbin, concerned with the Shaykhi tradition as it has continued to the present day, does not deal with it.

31. The Bab would seem to have progressively raised his claim from bab/ na'ib to Imam/Qa'im to Nuqtih. The cautious manner with which his claims and teachings were generally promulgated, the Bab's own physical remoteness from his followers for much of his mission and the lack of readily available copies of his writings added further to the uncertainty as to his claims.

32. I am not suggesting that the Bab was regarded originally as a 'qutb,' rather that that was the sociological import of his claim however understood.

33. The question is not whether the Babis were endeavouring to establish a theocracy or not, but what means they were employing to achieve that goal. The hypothesis that the theocracy was to be established by force of arms is perhaps often too readily accepted as fact, by dint of the armed struggles that occurred at Shaykh Tabarsi, Nayriz and Zanjan. The three 'upheavals' were not necessarily 'insurrections' and more research needs to be made into the 1848-50 period before the hostile judgment of the Persian court historians is accepted or rejected.

34. Of the 313 participants at Shaykh Tabarsi listed by Nabil (932: 414-29),
56 are listed as 'Mullas' and several others appear to have been clerics; no fewer than 9 of the Bab's inner circle of 18 disciples, the 'Letters of the Living' (Huruf-i-Hayy) are listed.

35. Most of the Babi leaders had been killed in the events of 1848-50 or in the 1852 massacre. [Some of] the Bab's writings were mostly either destroyed, dispersed or hidden

36. In Muslim countries the Bahá'ís have generally moved cautiously before introducing some of the more locally controversial of their laws and beliefs; hence Bahá'í women have only gradually shed the veil in public and were not initially able to serve on Bahá'í Spiritual Assemblies.

37. On Khairalla see Browne (1918:93-171) and S. G. Wilson (1915:265-73) for largely Bahaist accounts of events.

38. The theme of the future 'World Order' is a frequent theme in the writings of Shoghi Effendi, see especially the letters published under the title The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh (1955).

39. See especially Algar (1969).

40. Of the 1500 or more Babis at Nayriz, 1000 were from Siyyid Yahya-i-Darabi, Vahid's own quarter of Chinar-Sukhtih (Nabil, 1932). On the fervour with which Mulla Muhammad-`Aliy-i-Zanjani, Hujjat, was regarded by his followers see especially the account of his triumphal return to his city from detention in Tihran (Browne, 1897:778-9)

41. There have also been regional Spiritual Assemblies coveting an area such as 'Benelux' prior to the establishment of National Assemblies in each .of the countries concerned..

42. See J. A. Beckford's study of the Jehovah's Witnesses (1975) for an account of the continued 'sectarianness' of a very different religious group. In both cases the groups strong sense of mission has been a major factor in the continued predominance of sect-like characteristics.

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