The Process of Baha'i Review: A Changing Paradigm

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The Process of Baha'i Review: A Changing Paradigm

Postby RonPrice » Tue Apr 06, 2010 9:46 pm


Baha’i novels, or to put these two words in a more accurate context--novels written by Bahá’ís--are not simply the result of an author's idiosyncratic intentions but are the product of the collective activity of Bahá'í gatekeepers who work within the constraints of the Baha’i publishing industry. This industry works under the guidance, the authority, the imprimatur, of elected national Bahá'í institutions. These gatekeepers must attend to the sensitivities of Baha’i institutional policies, policies that have been framed over the decades by an organizational framework and principles of operation that are part of the Bahá'í doctrines themselves.

Bahá'u'lláh Himself outlined the features of the Administrative Order of the Bahá'í Faith, and the authority structure of this Faith lies behind the gatekeepers in relation to any published fiction. The role of these gatekeepers is to keep a vigilant watch over the content of the printed matter on behalf of those Bahá'í administrative institutions that they serve and on behalf of the audience for which the books are intended. In resolving the tension between the Bahá'í Faith’s institutional policies and intentions as well their several literary-imperatives on the one hand and the literary proclivities and personal desires of writers who are also Baha’is on the other, the gatekeepers of Baha’i publishing maintain the general conventions that shape the popular Baha’i evangelical, intellectual and literary aesthetic.

Interpretive analyses of fiction written by Baha’is tend to examine the content of fiction and often neglect to account for the social and institutional factors that influence its production. Since fiction written by Baha’is is the product of the collective activity of the increasingly extensive and world embracing culture industry of the Bahá'í community, the content of fiction must be understood as more than simply the product of an author's idiosyncratic intention. There is a social-institutional context for Bahá'í publishing and the arrangements made by Bahá'í institutions in making symbolic elements of Bahá'í culture available to a wider public affect the nature and content of the elements of culture that are produced.

In some ways what I have just written is really only indicating the obvious. But this publishing pattern is slowly changing with the world of cyberspace in these first decades of the new paradigm of learning and growth in the Bahá'í international community since the mid-1990s.

Taking into consideration the roles of gatekeepers, the influence of the audience, the conventions of the genre, and the nature of the popular intellectual Baha’i aesthetic provides a more comprehensive explanation of the content of Baha’i fiction. In resolving the tension between institutional intentions as well as industry imperatives and the preferences of writers, gatekeepers construct conventions that: (a) reflect institutional policies, (b) guide the production of fiction and (c) influence the formation of a popular evangelical and intellectual Baha’i aesthetic.

The task of regulating the content of Baha’i fiction, for want of a better term, rests upon the reviewing committees established by each National Spiritual Assembly(NSA) in the Bahá'í international community. If a reviewing committee does not accept a piece of writing, the author can appeal to the NSA and NSAs have been known to overturn a reviewing committee decision. The primary producers and distributors of the fiction: the authors, editors, and booksellers do not function as gatekeepers except in a broad and indirect sense. The role of gatekeeping has been in the hands of reviewing committees is solely that of the reviewing committees for decades, arguably over more than a century, working under the aegis of their respective NSAs and sometimes LSAs.

Since the religious aspects of a novel written by a Bahá'í mark it as unique in the world of fiction generally, the remarks I am making here concentrate on how gatekeepers conscientiously uphold the primarily pastoral function of such fiction and maintain the Bahá'í community's boundaries within an essentially secular and pluralistic form of popular culture. My remarks also focus on this world of gatekeeping which is undergoing a radical shift due to the internet.

The mission of the Baha’i publishing industry, insofar as novels are concerned, correlates with its dual function: to entertain and to inspire—within a context of a full and frank, legitimate framework of authority, the very structure of freedom for our age, moderate freedom that guarantees the welfare of the world—until just the other day when the world-wide-web changed the whole ball-game on our big planet.

The predictability of popular fiction is a chief factor in the novel's ability to bring enjoyment to a reader..this includes familiar plot structures and, more often than not, happy endings with a construction of characters with whom readers can and do identify. All this enhances the entertainment value of fiction. Novels also function as a form of escapism for Bahá'í readers in much the same way that novels provide escapism for secular readers.

Baha’i readers may be escaping from the demands and stresses of everyday life and escaping to a safe and confirming imaginative world. In these & many other ways fiction for Baha’is is an enjoyable way of experiencing the world. Such entertaining fiction differs from secular fiction in two primary ways: it must be written from a Baha’i perspective. It must also adhere to a correspondingly confined popular Bahá'í aesthetic and inspiration which encompass areas of intention reinforcing the faith of the converted, witnessing to the unconverted, and providing sophisticated and literary explorations of our complex human condition.

Such fiction is intended to strengthen and validate the faith of readers through the reader's identification with the characters. Such fiction is written to challenge a reader's faith, but rarely do such novels challenge religious, social, cultural, or political boundaries set by the reviewing committees because doing so will simply result in the book not getting past the reviewing committee. But, as I say, this is all changing on the web.

The uniqueness of fiction which passes inspection by reviewing committees is found in its perspective: it mediates knowledge about the world indirectly; its very purpose is not found in its capacity to increase any of the reader's conceptual framework—but so much more........

What readers learn from these novels is in the realm of the education of their sensibility, not in the increase of their conceptual equipment. Reading fiction involves aesthetic apprehension: the submersion of readers into a fictional reality and the openness of the reader to what is presented therein, a quiet contemplative act, a learning experience that proclaims its relevance to life in subtle but
significant ways. Reading fiction, therefore, is an aesthetic experience that communicates knowledge about the world indirectly via aesthetic modes........

Apprehension can occur as the result of the author intentionally communicating Bahá'í messages, yet in other instances fiction communicates subsidiary and unintended messages that are often an implicit consequence of writing from a Baha’i worldview. Because of the many possible meanings associated with Baha’i myths and symbols, readers can interpret symbols in a variety of ways, and so writers intrinsically incorporate unintended and subsidiary messages along with their intended message.

The interpretation by the readers of unintended messages often surprise authors and editors--but not much yet-- because the writing of novels, of fiction, for Baha’is and others by Baha’is has only just begun---just the other day it seems in this new culture of learning and growth —this Bahá'í paradigm(1996-2010) The vast literature that has come into Baha'i bookshops in the last three decades(1980 to 2010) is not of the genre of novels.(1)
(1) For more ideas on this subject go to: (a) Jonathan Cordero, “The Production of Christian Fiction,” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Volume 6, Spring 2004 and (b) Barney Leith, “Bahá'í Review:
should the “red flag” law be repealed?” BAHÁ'Í STUDIES REVIEW, Volume 5.1, 1995.

Ron Price
6 April 2010
I have been married for 44 years, a teacher for 35, a writer and editor for 13, and a Baha'i for 53(in 2012). I have lived in Australia since 1971 & am now retired and on a pension.

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Re: The Process of Baha'i Review: A Changing Paradigm

Postby Dame » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:59 am

So, who are the angels wrestling on the head of what pin? Lest history repeat itself.

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Re: The Process of Baha'i Review: A Changing Paradigm

Postby RonPrice » Sat Jun 12, 2010 6:55 am

Apologies, Dame, for taking more than nine months to respond to your point. Life is busy for me even in retirement. As far as angels and pins are concerned, we each have our different concerns, our different angels and our different pins in this wide wide world of diversity. I wish you well with whatever pins and angels come your way as I deal with mine.-Ron in Tasmania
I have been married for 44 years, a teacher for 35, a writer and editor for 13, and a Baha'i for 53(in 2012). I have lived in Australia since 1971 & am now retired and on a pension.

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Re: The Process of Baha'i Review: A Changing Paradigm

Postby BruceDLimber » Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:50 am


Regardless of your thread title, nothing's changing any time soon because the House recently reviewed this question (twice) and decided review should continue for now.



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Re: The Process of Baha'i Review: A Changing Paradigm

Postby Jonah » Wed Jun 30, 2010 2:02 pm

And on the web there's no review at all, so all's good for us. :-)

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