Re: The issue is whether academic standards should trump Baha'i standards, or vice versa

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Posted by Jonah on October 26, 2000 at 22:43:00:

In Reply to: The issue is whether academic standards should trump Baha'i standards, or vice versa posted by Dawu on March 07, 2000 at 11:34:45:

Ultimately, I think Dawu is absolutely correct. Complete objectivity in scholarship sometimes comes into conflict with social/community mores. This is one case where I have self-censored by removing an item which scholarly concerns would require including but community standards suggest excluding.

Having said that, I can't claim to be constructing my web page for the sole purpose of advancing the Baha'i Cause, because I also have objective academia in mind. Were my pages solely for Teaching, there are some items I would not have included (e.g., I have some items by non-Baha'is which criticize aspects of the Faith). But I feel that a dialogue with sometimes-critical non-Baha'is will in the long run further advance our Cause than posting merely non-critical and sometimes non-objective material. The criteria by which I select items are (1) are they well-researched; (2) are they written in a relatively objective and respectful (i.e. not polemical) tone; (3) do they contribute anything to Baha'i Studies. Some items critical of the Faith do sometimes fit into all three categories, so I post them. Having said that, I doubt I have more than 5 such items, total, at the entire Library, and I have thousands of non-critical pro-Baha'i items. The only things I've not included are those about which the House has issued public statements, e.g. A Modest Proposal and the Service of Women paper.

I bring this up because I know that some people have seen one or two of these very few critical items and wondered if I have a saboteur's agenda, and have been suspicious of my project. But I feel that a true academic cannot have an agenda at all. For me, true academia means having a wholly open mind about history and interpretation of events, and an earnest desire to seek truth, wherever it might take you. This alone would prevent me from posting polemical work. For example, while I made much use of MacEoin's historical work in my master's thesis, I never quoted from or used his non-academic critical writings. But some have seen that I quoted MacEoin and automatically assumed that I agreed with his other opinions!

Some might say that in the final analysis it's a judgement call. Sometimes academic standards trump (what would appear to be) Baha'i ones for me, and sometimes Baha'i standards trump academic ones. But I would argue that the truest Baha'i standard is independent investigation of the truth, tempered by respect and civility. Sometimes this means asking the hard questions many Baha'is wouldn't want asked, and sometimes this means upholding Baha'i intepretations in the face of possibly opposing academic ones.


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