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A shorter version of this thesis is published as "The Bahá'í Principle of Religious Unity: A Dynamic Perspectivism."
Thesis for Master of Arts (Interdisciplinary Studies), University of North Texas, 1993.

The published version of this thesis, from Revisioning the Sacred, is here: may_principle_religious_unity.pdf (1997).

Baha'i Principle of Religious Unity and the Challenge of Radical Pluralism

by Dann J. May

published in Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá'í Theology, Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions vol. 8, pages 1-36
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        The Bahá'í principle of religious unity is unique among the world's religious traditions in that its primary basis is found within its own sacred texts and not in commentaries of those texts. The Bahá'í principle affirms the existence of a common transcendent source from which the religions of the world originate and receive their inspiration. The Bahá'í writings also emphasize the process of personal transformation brought about through faith as a unifying factor in all religious traditions. The apparent differences between the world's religious traditions are explained by appealing to a perspectivist approach grounded in a process metaphysics. For this reason, I have characterized the Bahá'í view as "process perspectivism". Radical pluralism is the greatest philosophical challenge to the Bahá'í principle of religious unity. The main criticisms made by the radical pluralists are briefly examined.

Presented to the Graduate Council of the University of North Texas
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree of Master of Arts

By Dann J. May, B.S, M.S.

Denton, Texas, December, 1993


        I am indebted to Dr. George James of the University of North Texas for not only supporting my thesis and for his encouragement and helpful advice, but also for his friendship and help in guiding my career change from geology to philosophy. Thanks are also due to Dr. Max Oelschlaeger and Dr. Martin Yaffe from the University of North Texas for their advice and for reading and criticizing the manuscript.

        Invaluable discussions relating to this study were provided by Dr. Todd Lawson of the University of Toronto, Mr. Kambiz RafRaf, and my father, Mr. Thomas May. I would also like to thank my students as well as the members of the Bahá'í community, who over the years have had to put up with my speculations and ruminations about the whole question of religious pluralism and who offered ideas of their own.

        Thanks are also due to my wife, Phyllis Bernard, and my mother, Virginia May, for their support and encouragement throughout this endeavor. I would also like to thank Kathy Copeland of the Philosophy and Religion Studies Department at the University of North Texas for all her years of help related to my studies and to teaching classes at the University.

                           TABLE OF CONTENTS

                 Chapter                                      Page
     I.     INTRODUCTION                                         1
          Historical Summary                                     1
          The Bahá'í Faith's Relationship to Islám               4
          Bahá'í Principles                                      6
          Sacred Texts and Writings                              8
     II.    THE BAHA'I CONCEPT OF RELIGIOUS UNITY               13
          Transcendent Unity                                    16
          The Twofold Nature of Every Religion                  21
          Faith: A Common Denominator                           25
          Exegesis of Important Terms and Phrases               34
     III.   CHARACTERIZATION OF THE BAHA'I VIEW                 44
          The Problem of Religious Pluralism                    44
          Typology of Responses to Religious Pluralism          45
          The Bahá'í Repudiation of Religious Exclusivity       47
          Bahá'í Inclusivism: An Oversimplification             50
          The Bahá'í View and Historical Process                60
          The Bahá'í View: Process Perspectivism                64
            A POST-MODERN DEVELOPMENT                           65
          The Charge of Misinterpretation                       66
          The Charge of Unnecessary Abstraction                 74
          The Problem of Initial Assumptions                    77
     V.     CONCLUSION                                          83
     Appendix A: 
            Similarities between Islám and the Bahá'í Faith     86
     Appendix B:
            Prophets Mentioned in the Bahá'í Writings           91
     BIBLIOGRAPHY                                               93
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