Review of: Bahá'í Faith: The Basics
Routledge, New York, 2020
Published in: Reading Religion
(Nov. 30, 2021)
Christopher Buck's introduction to the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'í Faith: The Basics, is insightful and comprehensive. While engaging the basics, it reflects not only the official positions of the faith's institutions (as represented by documents and webpage references) but also the scholarship of the author. This is evident in the way the book is structured, in its fine-grained explications of diverse questions, in its explanations of subjects and facts, in the contextualization of historical and intellectual connections across diverse areas of the developing and current context of the religion reviewed, and in the selection of materials and quotations from Bahá'í scriptures.
Divided into ten chapters, the book commences with an introductory overview of the diverse subjects to come and presents the central concerns regarding which the Bahá'í Faith understands its purpose and mission in the contemporary world. It also gives the reader a clear direction of how Buck wants the emphasis of his book to create one seamless current of thought, the idea that inspired him to write it: the unfolding of the fundamental truth and commitment of the Bahá'í religion to convey to humanity the oneness of its religious and secular existence. This is the oneness of divine inspiration through the "progressive revelation" of "Manifestations" of God and the oneness of the world-embracing, cosmopolitan, humanitarian vision of a future human society of peace and justice, equality and compassion, delivered from the deep conflictual fissures of war and antagonism, inequality and inhumanity, and the deep religious, political, social, economic, cultural, and racial divides that hinder its realization.
The following chapters accordingly explore facets of the fundamental commitment to this "unity in diversity" on all levels of human life and the Bahá'í contributions to its realization. From the spiritual teachings (chapter 2) to the social teachings (chapter 3), the central engagement in the healing of the world from disunity—including the implications for soul and body, equal access to spiritual truths and deep experiences of the unity with the divine, and the socially unifying activation of these truths in all areas of building a global civilization of world-embracing character realizing justice and peace—is examined with vital insights for how the principles of the Bahá'í Faith offer a spiritual path to such a profound transformation of humanity.
The chapters on history (chapter 4) and Bahá'í scriptures (chapter 5) lay out the essentials regarding the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith. The faith was cofounded by the martyr-prophet called the Bab (1817–1850), in 1844, and by the prophet-founder, Bahá'u'lláh (1819–1892), in 1863; led by the son of Bahá'u'lláh as authorized interpreter and exemplar, 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844–1921), and the great-grandson of Bahá'u'lláh and grandson of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957); and now, since 1963, is headed by the world-governing body, the Universal House of Justice. These chapters go on to introduce their respective writings, their importance, and current relevance as one complex process of the unfolding of the Bahá'í vision.
Buck presents to the reader with diligence and accessibility the comprehensive meaning and function of Bahá'í institutions (chapter 6); the community-building activities of Bahá'ís worldwide, both spiritual and social (chapter 7); the imperative to engagement in social action (chapter 8); and the ever-increasing involvement in public discourse on all levels of the Bahá'í community—international, national, regional, and local. A final glimpse at the envisioned future of a healed global humanity (chapter 9) leads back to the beginning: the vision of a new, cosmopolitan humanity as united on all levels of life but infinitely diversified in its contributions and values.
Buck's explanations of the theological, philosophical, and ethical importance of the realization of divine attributes as human virtues—to be activated in spiritual and social spheres, characters and structures—are as important as his explorations of the manifold "principles of unity" in their diversification regarding questions of peace and justice, race and gender equality, social and economic progress, and interreligious cooperation.
If one wanted to look critically to find areas that deserve further integration, one might point to the crucial importance of eminent women throughout the history and dissemination of the Bahá'í Faith—such as the learned disciple of the Bab, Tahirih (d. 1852); the sister of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who led the cause after his death until Shoghi Effendi committed to its leadership, Bahiyyih Khanum (1846–1932); and the Canadian wife of Shoghi Effendi and "Hand of the Cause," Mary Maxwell Ruhiyyih Khanum (1910–2000), who had great spiritual influence until her more recent death. Further, more could be said about the unity in diversity of humanity with the animated world, the biosphere, the earth, and the environmental engagement of Bahá'ís, both individuals and institutions, since the beginning of this religion, when no comparable watchword was in the clear consciousness of the public.
This book is a trove of insights and perspectives that will inform both the reader who is unfamiliar with the Bahá'í universe and the practitioner who seeks information and inspiration. What's more, this book will be a good resource for all fundamental aspects of the Bahá'í religion and in the concert of diverse religions and spiritualities today. One should not miss its unique message to humanity.
About the Reviewer:
Roland Faber is Kilsby Family/John B. Cobb Jr. Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology.
About the Author:
Christopher Buck is an independent scholar and former professor at Michigan State University, USA; Quincy University, USA; Millikin University, USA and Carleton University, Canada.