(edited to add a URL)
Thanks for the excellent feedback, and for providing such an abundance of fantastic materials and resources on this web site.
I personally found the following article (linked at http://bahai-library.com/?file=introductory_information
) to be *very* useful and interesting.
In particular it makes some extremely interesting connections between the influence of Romanticism (the "anti-Enlightenment" ideology that gave rise to both marxism and fascism, amongst other things, see http://mars.vnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/cour ... scism.html
) and the underlying causes of orientation towards "social change" in the thoughts of a wide range of people in Iran during the 1800s that made Babism popular.
My personal opinion is that the study of the underlying forces acting to create changes in social paradigms (in response to the "conditions of modernity") in both the "west" and in the Islamic world, will lead to the best chance of creating "bridges" between westerners and muslims.
In other words, use of an Integral theory of consciousness that "transcends and includes" both the pre-modern and modern assumptions that have been "warring" with each other for dominance for several hundred years.
In any case, Martin appears (to my non-expert eyes) to do a very good job of identifying the parallels between the paradigms changes in europe and the muslim world that made the Bab an important figure to many western Romanticists and some important western historians.
Martin's bibliography would presumably contain some very useful references for anyone that is seriously thinking about the issue.
- - -http://www.bahai.org/article-1-3-1-1.html
The Mission of The Báb: Retrospective, 1844-1994
Douglas Martin considers the Revelation of the Báb in the context of its impact on Western writers of the period and its subsequent influence. This article first appeared in the 1994-95 edition of The Bahá'í World, pp. 193-225.
. . .
The first half of the nineteenth century was a period of messianic expectation in the Islamic world, as was the case in many parts of Christendom. In Persia a wave of millenialist enthusiasm had swept many in the religiously educated class of Shi`ih Muslim society, focused on belief that the fulfillment of prophecies in the Qur'an and the Islamic traditions was at hand.
. . .
Moreover, despite His ability to use traditional Arabic forms when He chose to do so, the Báb showed no hesitancy in abandoning these conventions as the requirements of His message dictated. He resorted freely to neologisms, new grammatical constructions, and other variants on accepted speech whenever He found existing terms inadequate vehicles for the revolutionary new conception of spiritual reality He vigorously advanced. Rebuked by learned Shi`ih mujtahids at His trial in Tabriz (1848) for violations of the rules of grammar, the Báb reminded those who followed Him that the Word of God is the Creator of language as of all other things, shaping it according to His purpose.17 Through the power of His Word, God says "BE," and it is.
. . .
For the young seminarians who most eagerly responded to Him, the originality of the Báb's language, far from creating an obstacle to their appreciation of His message, itself represented another compelling sign of the Divine mission He claimed. It challenged them to break out of familiar patterns of perception, to stretch their intellectual faculties, to discover in this new Revelation a true freedom of the spirit.
However baffling some of the Báb's writings were to prove for His later European admirers, the latter also perceived Him to be a unique figure, one who had found within His own soul the vision of a transcendent new reality and who had acted unhesitatingly on the imperative it represented. Most of their commentaries tended to reflect the Victorian era's dualistic frame of mind and were presented as scientifically motivated observations of what their authors considered to be an important religious and cultural phenomenon. In the introduction to his translation of A Traveller's Narrative, for example, the Cambridge scholar Edward Granville Browne took pains to justify the unusual degree of attention he had devoted to the Bábi movement in his research work:
...here he [the student of religion] may contemplate such personalities as by lapse of time pass into heroes and demi-gods still unobscured by myth and fable; he may examine by the light of concurrent and independent testimony one of those strange outbursts of enthusiasm, faith, fervent devotion, and indomitable heroism--or fanaticism, if you will--which we are accustomed to associate with the earlier history of the human race; he may witness, in a word, the birth of a faith which may not impossibly win a place amidst the great religions of the world.20
The electrifying effect that the phenomenon exerted, however--even on a cautious and scientifically trained European intellect and after the passage of several decades--can be appreciated from Browne's concluding remarks in a major article in Religious Systems of the World, published in 1892, the year of Bahá'u'lláh's passing
. . .
the Báb's writings present a daunting problem for even those Western scholars familiar with Persian and Arabic. To a considerable degree, this is due to the fact that the works often address minute matters of Shi`ih Islamic theology which were of consuming importance to His listeners, whose minds had been entirely formed in this narrow intellectual world and who could conceive of no other. The study of the organizing spiritual principles within these writings will doubtless occupy generations of doctoral candidates as the Bahá'í community continues to expand and its influence in the life of society consolidates. For the Bábis, who received the writings at first hand, a great deal of their significance lay in their demonstration of the Báb's effortless mastery of the most abstruse theological issues, issues to which His ecclesiastical opponents had devoted years of painstaking study and dispute. The effect was to dissolve for the Báb's followers the intellectual foundations on which the prevailing Islamic theological system rested.
A feature of the Báb's writings which is relatively accessible is the laws they contain. The Báb revealed what is, at first sight, the essential elements of a complete system of laws dealing with issues of both daily life and social organization. The question that comes immediately to the mind of any Western reader with even a cursory familiarity with Bábi history is the difficulty of reconciling this body of law which, however diffuse, might well have prevailed for several centuries, with the Báb's reiterated anticipation that "He Whom God will make manifest" would shortly appear and lay the foundations of the Kingdom of God. While no one knew the hour of His coming, the Báb assured several of His followers that they would live to see and serve Him. Cryptic allusions to "the year nine" and "the year nineteen" heightened the anticipation within the Bábi community. No one could falsely claim to be "He Whom God will make manifest," the Báb asserted, and succeed in such a claim.
It is elsewhere that we must look for the immediate significance of the laws of the Bayan. The practice of Islam, particularly in its Shi`ih form, had become a matter of adherence to minutely detailed ordinances and prescriptions, endlessly elaborated by generations of mujtahids, and rigidly enforced. The shari`a, or system of canon law, was, in effect, the embodiment of the clergy's authority over not only the mass of the population but even the monarchy itself. It contained all that mankind needed or could use. The mouth of God was closed until the Day of Judgment when the heavens would be cleft asunder, the mountains would dissolve, the seas would boil, trumpet blasts would rouse the dead from their graves, and God would "come down" surrounded by angels "rank on rank."
For those who recognized the Báb, the legal provisions of the Bayan shattered the clergy's institutional authority at one blow by making the entire shari`a structure irrelevant.30 God had spoken anew. Challenged by a superannuated religious establishment which claimed to act in the name of the Prophet, the Báb vindicated His claim by exercising, in their fullness, the authority and powers that Islam reserved to the Prophets. More than any other act of His mission, it was this boldness that cost Him His life, but the effect was to liberate the minds and hearts of His followers as no other influence could have done. That so many laws of the Bayan should shortly be superseded or significantly altered by those laid down by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitab-i-Aqdas31 was, in the perspective of history and in the eyes of the mass of the Bábis who were to accept the new Revelation, of little significance once the Báb's purpose had been accomplished.
In this connection, it is interesting to note the way in which the Báb dealt with issues that had no part in His mission, but which, if not addressed, could have become serious obstacles to His work because they were so deeply and firmly imbedded in Muslim religious consciousness. The concept of jihad or "holy war," for example, is a commandment laid down in the Qur'an as obligatory for all able-bodied male Muslims and one whose practice has figured prominently in Islamic societies throughout the ages. In the Qayy?-Asma', the Báb is at pains to include a form of jihad as one of the prerogatives of the station which He claims for Himself. He made any engagement in jihad, however, entirely dependent on His own approval, an approval which He declined to give. Subsequently, the Bayan, although representing the formal promulgation of the laws of the new Dispensation, makes only passing reference to a subject which had so long seemed fundamental to the exercise of God's Will. In ranging across Persia to proclaim the new Revelation, therefore, the Báb's followers felt free to defend themselves when attacked, but their new beliefs did not include the old Islamic mandate to wage war on others for purposes of conversion. 32
In the perspective of history, it is obvious that the intent of these rigid and exacting laws was to produce a spiritual mobilization, and in this they brilliantly succeeded. Foreseeing clearly where the course on which he was embarked would lead, the Báb prepared His followers, through a severe regimen of prayer, meditation, self-discipline, and solidarity of community life, to meet the inevitable consequences of their commitment to His mission.
The prescriptions in the Bayan extend, however, far beyond those immediate purposes. Consequently, when Bahá'u'lláh took up the task of establishing the moral and spiritual foundations of the new Dispensation, He built directly on the work of the Báb.
. . .
The connection with the writings of the Báb is readily apparent to anyone who examines the provisions of the Aqdas. Those laws of the Bayan which have no relevance to the coming age are abrogated. Other prescriptions are reformulated, usually through liberalizing their requirements and broadening their applications. Still other provisions of the Bayan are retained virtually in their original form.
. . .
Apart from the specific laws of the Bayan, the Báb's writings also contain the seeds of new spiritual perspectives and concepts which were to animate the worldwide Bahá'í enterprise. Beginning from the belief universally accepted by Muslims that God is one and transcendent, the Báb cuts sharply through the welter of conflicting doctrines and mystical speculations that had accumulated over more than twelve centuries of Islamic history. God is not only One and Single; He is utterly unknowable to humankind and will forever remain so. There is no direct connection between the Creator of all things and His creation.
. . .
Going far beyond the orthodox Islamic conception of a "succession" of the Prophets that terminates with the mission of Muhammad, the Báb also declares the Revelation of God to be a recurring and never-ending phenomenon whose purpose is the gradual training and development of humankind. As human consciousness recognizes and responds to each Divine Messenger, the spiritual, moral, and intellectual capacities latent in it steadily develop, thus preparing the way for recognition of God's next Manifestation.
. . .
The Báb described His teachings as opening the "sealed wine" referred to in both the Qur'an and New Testament. The "Day of God" does not envision the end of the world, but its perennial renewal. The earth will continue to exist, as will the human race, whose potentialities will progressively unfold in response to the successive impulses of the Divine. All people are equal in the sight of God, and the race has now advanced to the point where, with the imminent advent of Him Whom God will manifest, there is neither need nor place for a privileged class of clergy. Believers are encouraged to see the allegorical intent in passages of scriptures which were once viewed as references to supernatural or magical events. As God is one, so phenomenal reality is one, an organic whole animated by the Divine Will.
The contrast between this evolutionary and supremely rational conception of the nature of religious truth and that embodied by nineteenth-century Shi`ih Islam could not have been more dramatic. Fundamental to orthodox Shi`ism--whose full implications are today exposed in the regime of the Islamic Republic in Iran--was a literalistic understanding of the Qur'an, a preoccupation with meticulous adherence to the shari`a, a belief that personal salvation comes through the "imitation" (taqlid) of clerical mentors, and an unbending conviction that Islam is God's final and all-sufficient revelation of truth to the world. For so static and rigid a mindset, any serious consideration of the teachings of the Báb would have unthinkable consequences.
The Báb's teachings, like the laws of the Bayan, are enunciated not in the form of an organized exposition, but lie rather embedded in the wide range of theological and mystical issues addressed in the pages of His voluminous writings. It is in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh that, as with the laws of the Bayan, these scattered truths and precepts are taken up, reshaped, and integrated into a unified, coherent system of belief. The subject lies far beyond the scope of this brief paper, but the reader will find in Bahá'u'lláh's major doctrinal work, the Kitab-i-iqan ("Book of Certitude"), not only echoes of the Báb's teachings, but a coherent exposition of their central concepts.
. . .
Finally, a striking feature of the Báb's writings, which has emerged as an important element of Bahá'í belief and history, is the mission envisioned for "the peoples of the West" and admiration of the qualities that fit them for it. This, too, was in dramatic contrast to the professed contempt for farangi and "infidel" thought that prevailed in the Islamic world of His time. Western scientific advancement is particularly praised, for example, as are the fairness of mind and concern for cleanliness that the Báb saw Westerners on the whole as tending to display. His appreciation is not merely generalized but touches on even such mundane matters as postal systems and printing facilities.
At the outset of the Báb's mission, the Qayy?-Asma' called on "the peoples of the West" to arise and leave their homes in promotion of the Day of God
. . .
Anticipating the decisive contribution which Western lands and peoples are destined to make in founding the institutions of world order, Bahá'u'lláh wrote:
In the East the Light of His Revelation hath broken;
in the West have appeared the signs of His dominion.
Ponder this in your hearts, O people....36
It was on `Abdu'l-Bahá that responsibility devolved to lay the foundations for this distinctive feature of the missions of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. Visiting both Western Europe and North America in the years 1911-1913, He coupled high praise for the material accomplishments of the West with an urgent appeal that they be balanced with the essentials of "spiritual civilization."
. . .
Nothing of what has been said should suggest an uncritical admiration of European or North American cultures on the part of either the Báb or Bahá'u'lláh nor an endorsement of the ideological foundations on which they rest. Far otherwise. Bahá'u'lláh warns in ominous tones of the suffering and ruin that will be visited upon the entire human race if Western civilization continues on its course of excess. During His visits to Europe and America, `Abdu'l-Bahá called on His hearers in poignant language to free themselves, while time still remained, from racial and national prejudices, as well as materialistic preoccupations, whose unappreciated dangers, He said, threatened the future of their nations and of all humankind.
. . .
Jonah wrote:I'd like to interject a brief note about Eric's use of the phrase "dissident (ex/) Baha'i historians." I don't recall having heard the word "dissident" used in this context before, I don't want people to think this is a common category.
Thanks for the clarification.
I personally see a general connection between the "dissident" phenomena (LA Study Group.... talisman1, etc.) and some of the "unconventional" technical Bahai histories written by MacEoin, Cole, etc., that have a more "obective", "western", "rational" frame of reference.
The important thing for me of course is that the Universal House of Justice attempted to resolve the conflict of paradigms issue by suggesting that Baha'i scholarship "contribute to integrative paradigms" instead of being locked into conventional categories of either "traditionalist/conservative" (mystical, devotional, apologetic) or "progressive" (liberal, rational, scientific), and so forth.
The mainstream of the Baha'i community is oriented towards apologetic histories, whereas professional/technical historians tend to use the more rational approach.
As such, the professional historians can be seen as advocating a "materialistic" approach to the understanding of "Divine history", which, at least when it is done by non-conformists, can have "dissident" implications (IMO).
As an Integralist, I would simply say that the "best of both" approaches should be used instead of "taking sides" and avocating that either ought to be exclusively "privileged" or "dominant".