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The building of the community and administrative structure of this new world Faith was at the core of Bahai programs & policies, goals & game-plans, so to speak, from 1921 to 1996, a period of 75 years, & as far back as the last years of the 19th century.
Part 1:

This book, of which this document at BLO is Part B, is 790 pages font 16, and 680 pages font-14. The book has about 280 thousand words. It contains reflections and understandings regarding the new Baha'i culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha’i community. This international community found in over 230 countries & territories, as well as some 120 thousand localities has been going through this shift in its culture since the mid-1990s. The Baha'i Faith claims to be the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions.

This Faith had its origins in mid-19th century Iran. But this new Baha'i culture, or paradigm, has just stuck its head above the ground, so to speak. This particular form of the Baha'i culture will be developing in the decades ahead, arguably, at least until 2044, the end of the second century of the Baha'i Era(1844 to 2044), and perhaps beyond into that third century of the Baha'i Era, 2044 to 2144. Time will tell when the next paradigmatic shift will take place in the international Baha'i community, a community I have now been associated with for more than 60 years: 1953 to 2015.

Comparisons and contrasts are made to several previous paradigm shifts in the Baha'i community. Thoughts on future developments within this paradigm, and future paradigms, are suggested. In the first nine years, 2007 to 2015, of the presence on the internet of this book, this commentary, it has contributed to an extensive dialogue on the issues regarding the many related and inter-related processes involved in the many ongoing changes since 1996 in the international Baha'i community and its 5 to 8 million adherents.

Part 2:

This work is dedicated to the Universal House of Justice, trustee of the global undertaking which the events of more than a century ago set in motion. The fully institutionalized charismatic Force, a Force that historically found its expression in the Person of Baha'u'llah, had effloresed by a process of succession, of appointment and election, at the apex of Baha'i administration for half a century by the end of April 2013.

I have also written this book as a form of dedication to, by some accounts, an estimated 20 thousand Baha'is and Babis who have given their lives for this Cause from the 1840s to the second decade of this third millennium. I have also dedicated this book to the many best teachers and exemplary believers--those ordinary Bahais--who have consecrated themselves, indeed their lives by sensible and insensible degrees, each in their own ways, to the work of this Faith.

I have written this work in memory of my maternal grandfather, Alfred Cornfield, whose life from 1872 to 1958 has always been for me a model of an engagement in a quite personal culture of learning and personal growth.

Part 3:

This book is the longest analysis and commentary on this new Baha'i paradigm that is currently available in the Bahai community, although several other books have appeared since this piece of writing first appeared in cyberspace in 2007. The overarching perspective in this book is a personal one that attempts to answer the question: "where do I fit into this new paradigm?" Readers are left to work out their own response to this question as readers inevitably must, now and in the decades ahead, as this new paradigm develops a life of its own within the framework already established in the first two decades of its operation: 1996 to 2015. The question now is not "if" but "how" each Baha'i will engage themselves, will participate, in this new paradigm as the first century of the Formative Age comes to an end in 2021 and in the years beyond as this third millennium continues to challenge all of humanity.

In mid-2015 I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and became unable to continue my work on this book. I leave it to others to take the story beyond the southern winter of 2015

Reflections on a Culture of Learning and Growth: Community and Individual Paradigm Shifts: Part B:
A Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic and Personal Context

As I pointed out at the beginning of Part A of this book here at BLO, comparisons and contrasts are made to several previous paradigm shifts in the Bahá'í community. Thoughts on future developments within this paradigm, and future paradigms, are suggested. In the first eight years, 2007 to 2015, of the presence on the internet of this commentary, it has contributed to an extensive dialogue on the issues regarding the many related and inter-related processes involved in the many ongoing changes in the international Bahai community and its 5 to 8 million adherents. Some of those comparisons and contrasts are found below.

This book is 790 pages font 16, and 680 pages font 14. There are approximately 280 thousand words as the 7th year of this book in cyberspace comes to a close. It is divided into two Parts: Part B which is this document at Bahá'í Library Online(BLO), and Part A which is also at BLO and can easily be accessed by interested readers. It was necessary to divide the book into two Parts due to the limitations in size of each document at BLO. The book contains reflections and understandings regarding a new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha’i community. It has been going through this shift since the mid-1990s. Due to illness no more work on this book has been done after mid-2015.

This newest, this latest, of the Abrahamic religions, has been developing a new culture during a series of Plans in the two decades, from 1996 to 2015. This new culture, or paradigm, will be developing in the decades ahead, arguably at least until 2044, the end of the second century of the Bahá'í Era(1844 to 2044), and perhaps beyond into that third century, 2044 to 2144. Time will tell when the next paradigmatic shift will take place in the international Bahá'í community, the second most wide-spread religion on the planet according to several sources.



"The American Bahá'í Community in the Nineties" by Robert Stockman published in America's Alternative Religions, Timothy Miller, ed. Albany: SUNY Press, 1995. The Bahá'í Faith arrived in the United States in 1894 and is now more than a century old. Its American membership, which in 1899 consisted of about 2000 persons, mostly of white Protestant background, has grown to almost 120,000 [1]. Initially located in a few score towns and cities, today Bahá'ís can be found in about 7000 localities in the United States. Worldwide, 1992 membership stands at about five million, with Bahá'ís located in every country on the planet.

Diversification is an ever-present theme in American Bahá'í history. From two black members in 1899, the African-American membership rose to five percent of the community by 1936 Efforts to teach the religion to rural populations in the early 1970s, especially in South Carolina, increased the African- American population to perhaps thirty percent of the American Bahá'í community. Native Americans have been attracted to the Bahá'í religion in increasing numbers since the 1940s; currently there are several thousand Indian and Eskimo Bahá'ís, especially in rural Alaska and on the Navajo and Sioux reservations. Hispanics have also joined and constitute a thousand or two members


"Paradigm Shifts" is the name of a document compiled by W. Huitt of Valdosta, GA some six years into this new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth. Since this document extends the boundaries, provides a series of differing emphases, and gives readers a range of relevant quotations both within and without this new Bahá'í culture, I quote the document in full below.

1. A thrilling consequence of these favourably conjoined developments is the emergence of a new paradigm of opportunity for further growth and consolidation of our world-wide community. New prospects for teaching the Cause at all levels of society have unfolded.(Compilations, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 13; The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 55)

2. Thus, it seems to us essential to broaden the conceptual framework for addressing human rights problems from an adversarial paradigm, pitting as such a paradigm does the government against the individual citizen, to a cooperative one, where we consider relations among all human beings as members of one community. In this context, everyone has an essential role to play in implementing fundamental human rights. When individuals assume responsibility for ensuring each other's human rights the foundation for unity will be firmly established. (Bahá'í International Community, 1993 Dec 03, Right and Responsibility to Promote Human Rights)

3. The World Summit for Social Development is testimony to the failure of our current development paradigm to provide for the security and well-being of the peoples and nations of both the North and the South. At the heart of this failed model is a deeply materialistic view of the purpose and fundamental nature of the individual and society. Meeting material needs; providing all with education; fashioning democratic institutions and legal codes at every level of our world society to promote economic and social justice -- all these are essential elements of a universal development paradigm for the 21st century, but they are not sufficient. (Bahá'í International Community, 1994 Aug 22, Toward a Development Paradigm for 21st Century)

Thus, a paradigm of development that seeks to promote global prosperity must take into account both the spiritual and material natures of the individual and society, while responding to the increasing interdependence of the peoples and nations of the planet. The Bahá'í Writings anticipate the emergence of a new development paradigm as the regions of the world "unite to give each other what is lacking. This union," we are assured, "will bring about a true civilization, where the spiritual is expressed and carried out in the material." (Bahá'í International Community, 1994 Aug 22, Toward a Development Paradigm for 21st Century)

4. A dispassionate examination of these factors betrays a common systematic and fundamental flaw in the current paradigm for economic development: material needs are often addressed without taking into account the spiritual factors and their motivating power. (Bahá'í International Community, 1995 Oct, Turning Point For All Nations)

It is in the hunger for something more, something beyond ourselves, that the reality of the human spirit can be properly understood. Although the spiritual side of our nature is obscured by the day-to-day struggle for material attainment, our need for the transcendent cannot long be disregarded. Thus a sustainable development paradigm must address both the spiritual aspirations of human beings and their material needs and desires. (Bahá'í International Community, 1995 Oct, Turning Point For All Nations)

5. The phenomenon of "Cold War", in which the struggle for advantage stopped just short of military conflict, emerged as the prevailing political paradigm of the next several decades. (Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p. 87) As the work evolved, however, Bahá'í institutions began turning their attention to the goal of devising development paradigms that could assimilate what they were observing in the larger society to the Faith's unique conception of human potentialities. (Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p. 104)

6. The devising of the new scholarly paradigm called for by this circumstance offers a priceless opportunity of service and achievement to those Bahá'ís who enjoy the dual gifts of spiritual faith and intellectual faculties trained in the best that contemporary society has to offer. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

A related paradigm for the study of religion has gradually consolidated itself in the prevailing academic culture during the course of the present century. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation) ....The House of Justice feels confident that, with patience, self-discipline, and unity of faith, Bahá'í academics will be able to contribute to a gradual forging of the more integrative paradigms of scholarship for which thoughtful minds in the international community are increasingly calling.(The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

7. The progress of the Faith is hastened by the opportunities afforded by its emergence from obscurity. The Universal House of Justice refers to "the emergence of a new paradigm of opportunity for further growth and consolidation of our world-wide community",[1] and it underlines the urgent challenge facing the Bahá'í community to meet the needs of the possibilities that arise as the Lesser Peace approaches.[2] [1] Ridvan 1988 message written by the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá'ís of the world (40) [2] See extracts (35), (44), and (47)....(The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Nov 09, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 3)


The House pointed out back in 2002(22/8)in describing the nature of Bahai community life: "To mistakenly identify Bahai community life with the mode of religious activity that characterizes the general society--in which the believer is a member of a congregation, leadership comes from an individual or individuals presumed to be qualified for the purpose, and personal participation is fitted into a schedule dominated by concerns of a very different nature--can only have the effect of marginalizing the Faith and robbing the community of the spiritual vitality available to it." It should also be emphasized that we should not mistakenly identify Bahai community life with what we see at the local level in our own communities. These are still early days. Such local examples are only the here and now in a very specific location and there are a myriad locations on the planet where this community life exists. Maintaining and deepening Bahai culture, one of the functions of this new paradigm, is dependent on how the Bahais live their daily lives, on the strength of their beliefs and on the nature of their values as well as on possessing the appropriate attitudes. The post-modern citizen in the West is trapped in a culture which in many ways is a setting for a 24 hour frenzy of competing messages, instincts and desires, all playing with their self-esteem.

Living in a culture where even private space is invaded by the unforgiving demands of the public sphere and even the natural effects of ageing are seen as a sign of moral laxitude inevitably has an immense impact and often an unhealthy effect on perceptions of the self and the whole issue of health. The Bahai culture of learning and growth has to deal with this dominant culture and its frenzy which, as that emmminent professor emeritus of history at Harvard University, Dr. Firuz Kazemzadeh, said as far back as the 1960s, this dominant culture makes the Bahai 99% dominant culture in the expression of his daily life and 1% the new age Bahai. Even if that erudite professor of history is only partly right, his point is clear and especially relevant to this new paradigm and its goals and acheivements.

The Canadian sociologist, Will van den Hoonaard, in the very last paragraph of his study of the first fifty years of Bahai history in Canada(1898-1948) emphasizes that the Bahai community is quintessentially a global one and Bahais and others need to "delocalize" their understanding of new religious movements like the Bahai Faith. The bona fide context, the viability, the measuring tools for the study of this new Faith, is an international one and not what happens in one particular bailiwick, one cluster, one locality, down the road in woop-woop, where often there is no overt-evidence of this new Cause at all. The spread of this Cause is universal, gradual and, like Christianity over several centuries of its expansion in the first millennium, a spiritual revolution in the Hands of God with some help from the followers of His latest manifestation.


Part 1:

The Bahai cosmology and its metaphorical-mythological base does what any myth and cosmology must do in our time, in the words of T.S. Eliot, "give shape and significance to the immense panorama of anarchy and futility which is contemporary history." Generally speaking, the shifting confusions and complexities of today's postmodern moment require historical, sociological and psychological contexts, explanatory frameworks to help people make sense of their society and their lives. William S. Hatcher, in his Essays on Science, Religion and Philosophy, entitled ‘Logic & Logos’, provides a concise description of the organismic theory of history where he associates childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in the life of an individual to primary integration, differentiation, and secondary integration, respectively, in humanity’s social life. He writes: "Primary characterized by a relative lack of a sharply differentiated human awareness. In this stage, people tended to perceive themselves as part of a whole, as one with nature and a preestablished natural order into which they fit. This is strongly analogous to the child’s perception of himself as undifferentiated from his family and immediate environment."

The second basic stage in the process of social evolution, that of differentiation, is analogous to adolescence in the life of the individual. For the individual, adolescence is characterized by mature physical development coupled with relatively immature emotional and spiritual development. Through competition and conflict, analysis and criticism, the adolescent forges self-awareness. The adolescent stage in the collective life of humanity is characterized by a relatively high degree of scientific and technological achievement, coupled with relatively immature forms of social organization and human interaction.

The third basic stage in collective human growth, that of secondary integration, corresponds to maturity or adulthood in the life of the individual. The individual seeks self-integration through a new synthesis, a synthesis based on the analytical and critical distinctions he has made and the differentiated capacities he has developed. Thus, to achieve its collective maturity, humankind must move forward towards an entirely new synthesis. This synthesis, this new culture of learning, this new paradigm is at the service of all of humankind. All the qualities of each Bahai acquire dignity if that Bahai knows that the collectivity he or she serves and in which they participate needs them. If proud of that collectivity, that new Order, his or her own pride rises in proportion. The Bahai collectivity or community has aspects that are like a spiritual army and the individual is nourished to the extent that they feel genuine pride in the new Order that Bahaullah has brought. This aspect of the new culture, though, is complex for the army of Bahais is not like your regular army with its guns and swords and uniforms. This army requires wisdom and understanding on the part of its members; indeed, it has some interesting parallels to the army envisaged by Carl von Clausewitz's in his study "On War" which he wrote in the early decades of the 19th century.

Part 2:


A. "We can clearly see," writes Ali Nakhjavání, who served for 40 years as a member of the Universal House of Justice, "the dates of the Twin Festivals, which have a lunar character, will be moving constantly with respect to the solar calendar. The July 10, 2014, message has set their movement to correspond with a fixed number of lunar cycles after Naw-Rúz, so in any given year they will fall in October or November. The Bahá’í world has enlarged its membership over the years, has become well known to the general public as well as governments of the world, and has openly established branches of its Administrative Order wherever it was legally possible. The Bahá’í International Community has been duly recognized as a nongovernmental organization by the offices of the United Nations. There is no doubt that the eyes of the world will be watching with keen interest the forthcoming planetary celebrations by the Bahá’ís of the two-hundredth anniversaries of the Births of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, in 2017 and 2019 respectively, and the commemoration in 2021 of the hundredth anniversary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which had signalized the inception of the Formative Age of the Faith. Thanks to the action of the Universal House of Justice, they will not see a Bahá’í world divided between East and West in its calendar dates, but will witness one unified world community, as the Universal House of Justice indicated in its message of July 10, 2014.

It should first be remembered that each Bahá’í day begins at sunset, and not at midnight as it is now commonly reckoned. For the coming year, the Universal House of Justice has fixed important dates—such as those for Nineteen Day Feasts, Bahá’í Holy Days, Ayyám-i-Há and the fasting period—and apprised all National Spiritual Assemblies of them. These dates will be available from the national Bahá’í offices of every country, and in some countries they have already been shared with the friends. In an authentic statement published in The Bahá’í World series from Volume IV to Volume XX, titled “Bahá’í Calendar and Festivals,” there is an entry in the last section, described as “Additional Material Gleaned from Nabil’s Narrative,” that is substantial and of great importance. Toward the end of this section it is stated that the Báb divided the years following the date of His Revelation “into cycles of nineteen years each” and had given a name to each year. The ninth cycle began in 1996 and is due to end just before Naw-Rúz in 2015. We are now in 171 B.E., the last year of the ninth cycle. The training institute: A new institution is born Riḍván 1996 was not only the start of the ninth cycle, it was also the beginning of the Four Year Plan of the Universal House of Justice.

The House’s message on that occasion called upon every National Spiritual Assembly in the world to consult with the Counselors on their continents, then to establish training institutes in each country to undertake core activities aimed at promoting the teaching and consolidation work. A few years later, in its message of Riḍván 2004, the Universal House of Justice stated that this new institution had proved to be an “engine of growth” for the community wherever it was established. In a letter on behalf of our beloved House, written to an individual believer and dated March 15, 2009, its Secretariat wrote: “‘All men,’ Bahá’u’lláh asserts, ‘have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.’ … The central purpose of the training institute process is to raise up human resources who can contribute to this objective.” And we then read, in its Riḍván 2010 message, the following: “[T]he Bahá’í world has succeeded in developing a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service.”

B. Indeed 1996 proved a turning point in the destinies of our beloved Faith. It is interesting to see how the unity reflected in the worldwide implementation of the Bahá’í calendar corresponds with an unprecedented unity of thought and action that has gradually, over these 19 years, surrounded the emerging framework of the current series of Plans. Immediately after the decision to establish training institutes, the Universal House of Justice announced in its Riḍván 1997 message that another new institution should complement the work of these institutes. This marked the creation of Regional Bahá’í Councils, to function under the supervision of each National Assembly and become an added link to support the activities of Local Spiritual Assemblies. The ninth cycle was steadily evolving and rapidly unfolding. It was clear that in addition to establishment of training institutes and Regional Councils, other detailed measures had to be initiated to systematize the work of these two pivotal new institutions. Gradually and patiently the Universal House of Justice had to formulate new courses of action. Among the most important was the need for each National Assembly, in consultation with the Counselors, to divide its country or territory into workable and sensible clusters, taking into consideration means of communication in use in each cluster.

Further steps were clearly necessary. Thus guidelines were provided for initiating core activities, forming study circles, holding devotional meetings, undertaking home visits as seemed appropriate, organizing children’s and junior youth activities with the energetic and vital support of Bahá’í youth, conducting reflection meetings to evaluate progress with the welcome participation of interested seekers and inquirers, planning the expansion and consolidation work in cycles of activity, and establishing regular programs of growth to sustain the developments accomplished. A survey of activities such as those described above will amply demonstrate that since the inception of the ninth cycle in the Bahá’í calendar, the majority of communities throughout the Bahá’í world have developed a new culture of free and open association with the general public & the social environment around them, and that they are for the most part especially among the precious Bahá’í youth—vigilant, alert, wide awake, & determined to push forward in their efforts to carry out enthusiastically and in their varied aspects the wishes and hopes of the Supreme Body.

C. Progress on major projects calls for processes, and by its very nature has to be gradual. We see how the development of the gardens in Bahjí, in the Ḥaram-i-Aqdas and in the other three quadrants of the large wheel of gardens that surround the Most Great Shrine, has been a gradual process. Similarly we see how the construction of the Shrine of the Báb, with its golden dome and the beautiful terraces that adorn it, has also been a process extending over several decades. It is quite evident that our increasing discourse with the society around us, on the one hand, and the significant publicity we have received through the surge in the oppression and persecution of the Bahá’í community in the land of its birth, on the other, have given rise to a great eager interest on the part of the peoples, governments and media of the world to be informed of our status, our activities and our plans worldwide. It would be appropriate to seize this opportunity to look at the standing and position of the Bahá’í community in the world today:

(i) Three National Assemblies have been re-formed in recent years in the Muslim world: those of Egypt, Indonesia and Iraq.

(ii) More than 5 million Bahá’ís reside in virtually every country and territory around the world, in well over 100,000 localities.

(iii) There are 182 National Spiritual Assemblies operating around the world.Over 40 percent of the membership of these national councils are women.

(iv) National Spiritual Assemblies in countries with extended areas of jurisdiction have all established Regional Bahá’í Councils.

(v) The number of Continental Counselors has reached 81, with 990 Auxiliary Board members serving under them.

(vi) The number of countries where Bahá’í marriage certificates are recognized has reached 60.

(vii) Bahá’í literature is available in 802 languages.

(viii) Over 27,000 classes for the spiritual and moral education of children and junior youth, open to children of Bahá’ís and those belonging to other denominations or groups, are conducted by Bahá’í communities on a regular basis.

(ix) More than 600 Bahá’í elementary schools, mostly in rural areas where formal schools do not exist, are operating throughout the world.

(x) Seven continental Bahá’í Houses of Worship have been established in virtually all the continents of the globe—all open for prayers and readings for the spiritual upliftment of Bahá’ís and interested friends. The eighth and last continental Temple is being built in Santiago, Chile.

(xi) Plans for the construction of two national and five local Bahá’í Houses of Worship have been set in motion.

(xii) Countless devotional gatherings all over the world are held regularly in Bahá’í centers and in Bahá’í homes. These are open to the believers and to the public as well.

(xiii) In all such meetings, whether in Bahá’í Temples or in informal devotional gatherings, Bahá’í prayers and readings are offered as well as appropriate extracts of scriptures of other revealed religions.

Most of the above data were kindly shared with Ali Nakhjavani by the Statistics Department of the Bahá’í World Center.

D. The progress of the Bahá’í world as noted above was achieved through the systematic prosecution of a series of Plans initiated by Shoghi Effendi, the stages of the Divine Plan authored by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. These Plans, which unite the entire Bahá’í world in a common vision and mission, are now set forth and directed by the Universal House of Justice. As we carry these Plans out, individual effort and community activities reinforce and complement each other. They never cancel each other out. They are like two rails of a train track that need and supplement each other. In one letter, written in English and dated July 28, 1954, Shoghi Effendi gives us three analogies to enable us to comprehend the efforts of the individual believer in the community. He likens the individual believers to “the warp and woof” that determine the quality of the “whole fabric” and to the “countless links” of the “mighty chain” of God’s Holy Cause, and each one of the friends to “one of the multitude of bricks” that support the structure of His Faith.

In another letter, written in Persian and dated Naw-Rúz of 111 B.E. (i.e. in 1954), Shoghi Effendi likens the individual isolated believer to a point, a group of fewer than nine to a letter of the alphabet, a Local Spiritual Assembly to a word, a National Spiritual Assembly to a sentence, and the Universal House of Justice to a Book. What an inspiring concept this is, indicating that although each one of us is just a point, yet this point is not only associated with, but is part of, one of the pages of His glorious Book! In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh praises the believer who considers himself or herself to be the sole and only believer in His Cause. In other words, He is calling on each of us to consider oneself to be a Mullá Ḥusayn. Shouldn’t we, then, each endeavor prayerfully and persistently to become an instrument in the hands of our Lord’s heavenly Faith?

I leave it to readers with the interest to go to Ali Nakhjavani's letter which was published on 4 April 2015 for his summary of the present state of the new culture of learning and growth in the international Bahá'í community.


I'll place three prose-poems into this book at this point. They are somewhat tangential to the main theme but they reflect my experience both before and after the beginning of this paradigm and they place the orientation of my work, my participation, in this new paradigm into a helpful perspective. I hope the following three prose-poems are, indeed, helpful to readers.


Carl von Clausewitz’s book or series of essays which became the book "On War" was written in the years 1817 to 1829. Clausewitz was trying to gain an understanding and clarification of the principles of conflict, of war. The nature of war has changed in ways Clausewitz did not anticipate, and they will continue to do so in the centuries ahead I have little doubt. Certainly for me and my daily life and my contemporaries in the half century, 1960-2010, warfare has a new mise en scene. All the wars I fought were in my personal life, in my private domain. Even here, though, inspite of all the changes, the principles of warfare outlined by Clausewitz are relevant. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs,9 February 2003.

It’s a different war these days
than the ones my father
and his father and fathers before
went to with guns and uniforms
and marching, marching. Marching.

A tightening in the gut, real fear,
morning after morning,
wanting to run away
from this stoney, narrow and tortuous path,
learning to love it, slowly, slowly, slowly--
well, most of it.

It’s the kind of war that wears you
down, year after year as you learn
to keep your forces concentrated-
that simple law of strategy-
and keep faithful to the principles
you--and he--have laid down.(1)

(1) These were the first two principles laid down by Clausewitz in his book.


Often men go to war and are there for several months, a year, several years. The souls who make up “the armies of God”, who “attack the armies of the world” and “the right and left wings of the hosts”1 often must fight in this spiritual contest for most of their lives. Having been in the field now as a pioneer for more than fifty years and been a student of my own life, taking account each day, I can see some of the reasons for my failure or, to put it more gently, some of the reasons why I have not been more successful. One: I lack the purity on which so much depends. ‘Abdu’l-Baha says “sanctified breath will even affect the rock; otherwise there will be no result whatsoever.”2 I am only too aware of the quantity and quality of my sins of omission and commission. My secret thoughts are far from pure. May future soldiers in the army take note and learn from the mistakes of soldiers of the first two generations(1963-1986) and (1986-2010) of this tenth and last stage of history. Two: I have failed to eliminate contention, disputation and traces of controversy from my life. ‘Abdu’l-Baha commands that I do this.3 -Ron Price with appreciation to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, 1 p. 48, 2 p.51 and 3 p.53.

These are but two reasons why
my success has been less than
the best. For when you are
talking a lifetime you must be
faithful to the principles of war(1)
even more than in those limited
contests of short duration, for the
affair is subtle, elusive and complex;
but we are still talking war, inspite
of all appearances to the contrary.

I seem to be fighting, now, on
last legs, confining my skirmishes
only to battles that I can clearly
contribute some results and see
ideal forces and lordly confirmations...
rush to my support and reinforcement.(2)
These fifty years have worn me down
and, like Zaynu’l-Muqarribin, I long
to rise out of this life, awaiting departure
from day to day.(3)....I pushed too long and
hard and intense, not being a man of much
moderation; I was also more than a little
aware that my weaknesses might sweep me
into that fathomless gulf so sadly!!(4)

1 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1817-1829. The first systematic study of war and its principles.
2 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p.47.
3 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, p.153.
4 ibid., p.119.


"The idea of modern total war," writes sociologist Robert Nisbet, "was born in the famous decree of the National Convention, August 23, 1793." This decree resulted in the creation of a mass army, a citizen army, the first in human history in France. Carl von Clausewitz's book On War followed forty years after. Clausewitz wrote, according to Nisbet, "the single most influential book written in modern times on war" in the years 1817 to 1827. On War, a book on strategy and tactics, on the philosophy of war and the relation between society and the individual, was begun one hundred years before another book on war, a spiritual war, The Tablets of the Divine Plan. In 1793, too, Shaykh Ahmad left his home in Bahrain to begin the process of that spiritual, that total war, a war of quite a different character, characterized in those Tablets by what you might call 'a military metaphor.' -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought, Heinemann, London, 1973, p.70.

Sharper than blades of steel
and hotter than summer heat,
placed somewhere inside,
pervasive,but as natural as
the weather, unassuming,
unobtrusive, you'd never
know or guess that it was
war. 'Twas more like a fun
park with distractions and
pleasures enough to keep us
all laughing to the grave and
all this amidst a tempest that
threatened to tear us apart in
a third world war that does
its insinuations while we go
shopping, watch movies and
get entertained more than any
generation the world has seen.


Bahais are dealing now, as they have been for over one hundred years, with the nucleus and pattern of the new global community the world will one day adopt in its entirety in a process that can hardly be envisaged at this very early stage of its embryogenesis, its first stages of institutional evolution. Some writers try to grasp this complex process but, as the Guardian emphasized, we stand too close to it and these are too early days to even sketch the process of that evolution in even the briefest of contexts. We have other things on our agenda and they can be found in this new paradigm. This new paradigm is just another stage, another step in the long road toward the establishment of a unified society with justice and peace. The dominant principle of this cycle is the political and religious unification of the planet and the process has been underway for at least six millennia: during three periods in one great cycle beginning metaphorically, symbolically, mythologically, with Adam in 4000 BC(circa) and ending some 500,000 years hence(Bahai Studies,V.9, p.37). The process is majestic, extremely complex, anarchistic in some of its essential aspects but one which will gradually unfold to the eyes of the generations in the decades ahead in this and future paradigms in the evolving World Order of Bahaullah.

To the mass of the Bahais is given many functions. The "power to accomplish the tasks of the community resides primarily in the entire body of the believers" and this is true more than ever before in this new paradigm. Without muscle,effort, energy and action in a myriad forms the organism that is the Bahai community is doomed to inaction and inactivity. To quote one reference which places this growth process in perspective: "The World Centre of the Faith itself is paralyzed if such a support on the part of the rank and file of the community is denied it"(Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith 130-131). The organism that is this new world Faith can be likened to a tree with a massive root system, an immense trunk, branches, buds, stems, off-shoots, twigs and folliage. It is now spread over the surface of the Earth. It is growing larger and larger and, one day, will be found in every locality where human beings are gathered.

This culture of learning and growth, this new paradigm, has a theoretical base. Theory comes first in any analysis of the practice. I don’t assume that some natural instinct or some simplistic description is all that is required in responding to this paradigm. If you say you don’t have a theory, what you’re telling me is that you’re a natural or you’re “open minded” and that you just read or hear or see “what’s there.” You don’t have a filter of understanding; you don’t mediate what's there, you don't mediate the process and the content of the paradigm. I don’t think that is good enough. We are all wearing prescriptive lenses as we go through our lives. I have a theory that asks what’s my prescription? What is my prescription right now in my life? The isolated self in this new culture of learning and growth pays attention to the cultural surroundings, to as much of this new paradigm as possible, including all the variant stories that Bahai history and the history of our wider society reveals. If this does not take place, then this self-designed life is no more than a self-enclosed and oxygen-deprived entity. He or she is rather like a plant whose roots turn inward, toward eventual death, although it is surrounded by what would invigorate it if it would only act and do, think and be in a wider, a social, context. And for each of us their experience of their cultural surroundings is different as is their response and their activity within this new paradigm.


Central to this theme of spiritual development lies the process of transformation which results from, and is part of, the function of nourishment. Transformation constitutes undeniably the life force in all living organisms releasing new powers and revitalizing the old. By transforming food substances into minerals, vitamins, and proteins cells are able to multiply and able to sustain the organism’s growth. The body of believers similarly is bound by this vital law. In its 1989 Ridván Message, the Universal House of Justice affirms: "It is not enough to proclaim the Bahá’í message, essential as that is. It is not enough to expand the rolls of Bahá’í membership, vital as that is. Souls must be transformed, communities thereby consolidated, new models of life thus attained. Transformation is the essential purpose of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh." The transforming, nourishing, agent in Bahá’í community is the Divine Word and the act in the play is the ongoing spiritual intercourse between the soul and its Creator, just as nature derives its sustenance and energy from the omnipresent rays of the sun.

Some people, of course, see this as purely utopian fantasy. But, to quote old Oscar Wilde: those who would build a new world, those who would work at social improvement, an improvement that is not ultimately utopian in its form and spirit, should work at some other task. Some writers might see the Bahai paradigm as one of utopian realism. This could be defined as a vision of alternative futures whose very propagation might help them be realised. “A community is.....a comprehensive unit of civilization," so wrote the House of Justice back in 1996 at the outset of this new paradigm, "composed of individuals, families and institutions that are originators and encouragers of systems, agencies and organizations working together with a common purpose for the welfare of people both within and beyond its own borders; it is a composition of diverse, interacting participants that are achieving unity in an unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress.” To this common purpose there is added in this new paradigm a shared vocabulary about growth and an extension of various disciplined foci in several indicators of Bahai community life and its vitality and strength. But the acquisition of spiritual qualities, motivations to "conform ourselves to that meekness which no provocation can ruffle, to that patience which no affliction can overwhelm, to that integirty which no self-interest can shake" is not done overnight and, even after a lifetime, the individual often falls lamentably short in this and in any of the Bahai paradigms past, present orfuture. This reality must be faced squarely, admitted and accepted. We can't be too hard on ourselves or on others if they or we do not reach the heights. Still we each must arise and struggle within the context of our own limitations and abilities. Transformation is not an overnight event from copper to gold. With fire We test the gold and with gold We test Our servants. I leave you, dear reader, with the copper, the gold and the fire--and the complexity of the concept of tranformation.


The elasticity and specificity which characterizes Bahá’í administration ensures that Bahá’í communities are able to ‘reproduce’ themselves in different localities without losing essential features of their identity. This elasticity and this specificity is at the core of this new paradigm. While such elasticity and specificity are necessary they are not sufficient to keep the body of this Cause intact. It is here that the laws of the Covenant come into play wherever and whenever the Cause expands as it is, as it will and as it inevitably must in the decades ahead. The adherence of Bahá’ís to a legal structure guaranteed by the authenticity of its constitution protecting the body of the Cause from internal divisions secures a process whereby Bahá’í communities are able to reproduce themselves in dramatically different cultural settings without destroying the power of unity. I have watched this process now since the 1950s and it is a deceptively simple concept with transformative implications. There is a strong collective Bahai identity at local, national and international levels. It is not a fiction and this identity does not suture over the individual identities in the community.


This transformation, however fast it proceeds in some ways, it also proceeds in ways that are slow and often unobservable to the casual observer. I have often thought that the Bahai Faith is insinuating itself into modern society in ways not dissimilar to Christianity in its first centuries as it grew along the edges of Roman society and its mature, well-organized, rich and intellectually sophisticated empire. Christ's message prevailed because it won its way into the hearts of living men and women. It triumphed because its spiritual force could no longer be denied. Acting upon his faith, the early Christian does what the modern Bahai does; he or she goes about quietly and for the most part, obscurely, to bring about the promised day. Responding to opposition, Christianity defined itself slowly, sensibly and insensibly, as the decades and the centuries advanced. Christianity's success though, it seems to me, was due to its essential truth rather than its usefulness, although that is not a simple dichotomy and the subject is far too complex to deal with here in even a cursory manner.

After more than fifty years of observing this new world religion and being a teacher of ancient history myself, I have often been struck by the remarkable parallels between the growth of Christianity and the Bahai Faith. External opposition to and internal disagreements within the Bahai Cause have been, are and will be one of the main ways that this Cause comes to define itself over the decades and centuries. The process of dealing with opposition, with persecution, with conflict and arguments of many kinds takes place within the context of a special armory of spiritual incentives within and protracted struggles without. Over time, over the decades and centuries, the struggle changes its colouration, its intensity, its dynamics. Man suffering, striving and doing as he is and was and ever shall be is at the centre of the process and gradually the basic orientation of the Founder becomes the way of life for a whole society.

Iranian clerics see the new Force, the new Revelation, as a form of heresy to be eradicated. Critics within the Cause, often with some axe-to-grind such as the view that impositions of orthodoxy or of dogma are being foisted on the community; such as the view that conservative institutions with authoritarian methods, dictatorial decision-making and ecclesiastical prerogatives---these critics are on the scene from decade to decade with their particular agenda which they bring before the wider community of believers. Their polarized, their divisive, often hair-splitting, often legitimate concerns occupy the places of dialogue for a time before the topics and themes change with the epochs, the stages, the phrases and the ages of the new Faith. For the most part, though, this paradigm is developing a culture in which the Bahais support one another and advance together in a movement which, over time, will be irrepressible. In saying this, though, the process and the game, so to speak, is not easy and tests and difficulties are built into every movement forward.


The Bahai community has been moving toward a more open and inclusive community in the first two decades of the implementation of this paradigm. The history of the Cause over 17 decades has seen a range of policies and attitudes to exclusivity and inclusivity. There has been a history of alternating positions from fixed and definite boundaries on the one hand to loose and amorphous edges of belief, membership qualifications and definitions on the other. It is a story unto itself and I do not deal with this story here. But, however inclusive and flexible membership policies are and attitudes to those in other interest groups as well as the various categories of the alienated and marginal Bahais within this new paradigm, the spread of the internet during the first two decades of its existence led to unprecedented situations for the institutions of the Cause and some of the Bahais on the internet.

Almost overnight at the start of this new paradigm the institutions and individuals on the internet had to deal with a wide-range of dissidents, people whose exit-narratives were available for all to read, the stories of unenrolled Bahais and covenant-breakers. All they had to do was exercise their wrists with a few clicks on their mouse and be curious enough to want to read these stories and investigate these sites. Some believers, well-versed in the teachings, also arose in cyberpsace. They responded to the arguments of these covenant-breakers and various souls with axes to grind as they exited from the Cause or hung on its periphery complaining of this or that. One such believer was a Brent Poirier who directly took on the specious arguments of the covenant-breakers. It was a good thing there were the Brent Poiriers on the net. New believers or even old one who had never really got their study of the Covenant up to scratch, who came across covenant-breakers' sites and threads--knowingly or unknowingly, they would usually not have the intellectual weaponry to deal with the often clever turns of phrase and old arguments in new dress.


As the fifteenth year of this new paradigm was about to open in April 2011 Bahais on the internet were able to read the curious phenomenon of an attempt to revive the claims of Mirza Muhammad Ali, the archbreaker of the Covenant after the passing of Bahaullah. These claims have been revived by a group known as the ‘Unitarian Bahai Association’ in order to lend legitimacy to their existence, as what they saw as a newly-established sect. This ‘Unitarian Bahai Association’ avowed loyalty to Baha’u’llah but rejected the authority that Baha’u’llah gave to Abdu’l-Baha and the Universal House of Justice. These claims were made on a web site and in postings to discussion groups. These people’s own public statements have already told the part of the world that engages in internet discussions at several sites what they are about. One of those who have been publicising this attempt on facebook was an Eric Stetson. Stetson gave Bahais, so he wrote on his site, an opportunity to demonstrate why the rehabilitation of Muhammad Ali was not a realistic alternative to accepting the authority that Baha’u’llah gave to Abdu’l-Baha to lead the Bahai community. This is a sample of some of the developments in the narrow-world of covenant breaking within this new paradigm.

The reason for the Bahá'í policy of shunning the violators of the Covenant was not that they had a different religion; it was because there is such a thing as a Covenant, and it is no trifle to be played with. The Covenant, combined with the policy that the Bahai community does not use violence nor in any way discriminates against the legitimate rights of the covenant-breakers, but simply leaves them to God, is the greatest protection for our children and great-great-grandchildren from the curse of sectarian strife that has clouded the undoubted light of both Christianity and Islam. The blood on the robes of past religions comes not just from their lack of an explicit written covenant identifying the successor to the Founder and his authorities, but also from the lack of a clear principle that sectarian tendencies must be combatted only by shunning those who form sects. Still, shunning is a difficult concept for western and liberally-minded people of secular humanistic proclivities to get a handle on. One often reads of criticisms of the shunning policy and the Bahai community will have to deal with arguments, with the lance-and-parry of words, dealing with its issues for some time to come in this new paradigm.


As that fine essayist in Canada whom I used to know in my youth, Jack McLean, has observed, the Bahá’í community has not seen the end of the complaints of the constantly disgruntled, the doctrinally innovative and the permanently embittered. McLean goes on to say that he does not doubt for a moment that Bahá'ís get hurt and continue to feel hurt, that some have been betrayed by a fellow believer or that some decision by an administrative body has not gone their way. Most Bahá’ís, if they live long enough, will find some ax-to-grind or be the subject of an administrative decision that has not gone their way. This applies to those who are now or have been members of LSAs and many other branches of the quite complex organization, some might say labyrinth, that is now Bahai administration. These experiences contribute to the awakening of all of us to the stark realities of the human condition.

One of the keys to the sympathetic ear temporarily lent to the many disgruntled souls one comes across in the Bahá'í world of several millions has to do with the way that organized religion is generally perceived in contemporary society. In modernity, religion and spirituality have gone their separate ways. Individuals may willingly affirm their theism or spirituality, but many disavow being official members of an “organized religion.” The Bahai Faith is a religion whose organizational structure is part of the spiritual base; indeed, as Shoghi Effendi often emphasized, the organizational form is the crucial factor in what distinguishes this new Faith from all others.

The whole notion of being against organized religion per se is a strange one, when one thinks about it. People, generally, do not object to organized government, to an organized judiciary, to organized political parties, to organized education, to organized medicine, clubs, associations and societies. But except for official members, the religious “organization” in a secular age has become definitely suspect. Of course, even these other organized bodies and especially their authority structures, are the object of criticism. Our age is, as one priminent sociology put it, characterized by the twilight of authority. In Australia where I have lived for nearly forty years, any organized body, any authority figure sets themselves up for receiving criticism. It's part and parcel, the given, in the life of authority figures and organizations. If they don't earn respect, they don't get it and not everyone is good at getting everyone's respect all the time. There is probably no one who has ever lived who has received the respect of everyone in their community, except back in the band and chieftom societies, the first units of social organization on the planet whose groups were very small, usually less than one hundred as anthropologists inform us, and a sense of crisis was always present.

Uninformed observers, consequently, and there are plenty of these people around in community life since there is so much to be informed about these days, tend to be predisposed to accept the viewpoint of the critic or dissident without further reflection or investigation. If the person has dissented from a religious institution, ergo, the charges must be true and they must be a victim: at least, that is often the hasty conclusion of some doco on TV, some newspaper article or some internet post. This predisposition has clearly been at work in the last 15 years on the internet in a number of cases, some noteworthy and most insignificant. What these critics and dissidents fail to realize, and often do not accept, is that the Bahá’í Faith, while it allows for a fair and reasonable largesse of individual interpretation, has nonetheless its own doctrinal boundaries and ethical norms.

In the final analysis these doctrinal boundaries and ethical norms are simply not accepted by some individuals who, driven by frustration at the non-acceptance of the perceived moral rightness of their cause or by their ego-mania, by what you might call a hyper-individualism or by the insinuating principles of 2500 years of democracy's threads and five hundred years of Protestantism which often elavates individual conscience to an ultimate position of authority--engage in corrosive attacks which by definition are beyond the ethical norms and the principles of consultation which Bahá’u’lláh has mandated to replace acrimonious and divisive debate.


The activity of many of those who become in various ways alienated from the Bahai community build up what one writer has called "plausibility structures." Many of those who were anxious and frustrated in the Bahai community worked and reworked their experience in detailed and graphic accounts to tell people about their disappointments, the axes they wound-up grinding in often graphic detail and what became over time their many criticisms of the Cause. As I say, the major platforms for these exercises in the last 15 years during this new paradigm have been the internet and its plethora of sites. The Bahai Faith has a massive internet presence for those who want to investigate what it is all about. The world wide web is a place where anyone who wants to tell their story can do so and we all have stories to tell. Telling stories of ones life, writing engaging narratives, watching them on TV and listening to them on the radio in the print and electronic media is all the rage these days. If we dont watch out we will literally drown in stories. I do alot of telling stories in this book. I, too, have had deep anxieties and concerns, but my writing does not place me into the many negative categories that are popular in some internet circles and that are ennumerated above.

The history of the Faith over more than a century and a half is filled with people who have had axes to grind and who have had sad stories to tell. Covenants have often been broken, an inevitability in more than a century and a half of historical and community experience involving millions of souls. Not all of life, inside and outside this Cause, consists of joys and deep and meaningful experience. Bahai history has its tragic side, its hatreds, its jealousies, its story of sins of omission and commission. One can no more judge this Cause by the behaviour of its members, its narratives of encomium and opprobrium, than one can judge this Faith by the ineptitude of its embryonic institutions, the weakest links among its millions of adherents or some of the horror stories that have begun to emerge in the narratives told by those who want to expose the downside of this Faith's two century-old history. There are now many more sad tales available for all to read. The impression has often been created among those who were curious enough to read the many stories of bitter experiences spread across cyberspace, stories of various forms of disaffection, of a whole new generation of divisive forces within the Cause of a house divided, indeed, of a very unattrative religion. Perhaps the greatest achievement in the fifteen long decades of the history of the Bahai Faith is that its unity is still firmly intact. All of this internet casuistry and complaining, this criticism and contention is but the expression of yet another generation of forces which have not had the least affect in dividing a religion which in the centuries ahead will play a critical and mysterious role in the unification of our planet.

Often these narratives of division, though, are more than impressions. This Cause has always had to deal with divisive forces right from May of 1844 when there were many Shaykhis who did not follow the Bab but remained outside the new fold which emerged from within that Shaykhi school of the Ithna-Ashariyyih sect of Shi'ah Islam. In the 1850s and 1860s these divisive tendencies continued. This book is not intended as a history which provides an outline of these tendencies. The history, the narrative in relation to divisive forces has been no tea-party. The story is long and complex and, for a student of history like myself, it is a fascinating account. The student of this Cause should not expect this paradigm to be any different. In some ways the Cause itself comes to define itself by dealing with the differences that arise in each generation.

A recently published memoir by Dr. Youness Afroukhteh(George Ronald, 2003)of his nine years in Akka from 1900 to 1909 is one good example of what I am writing about here. This Bahai historian-memoirist outlined three types of covenant-breakers: (i) openly offensive people, (ii) those who were entirely severed from the Cause and played no part in its activities and (iii) trouble-makers, evil-doers, spies and informers. Each of the Central Figures of this Cause, Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice have all had to deal with divisive forces and people in these categories. The remarkable thing is that this Faith has remained a religion that is still unified after nearly two centuries of its history. Those who have broken the Covenant and, in various ways, been harbingers of conflict and contention, or bred opposition and its dreadful schizmatic consequences have no place in this Cause. As I mention elsewhere in this book, the internet gives the impression of schism, but the impression is utterly unreal. As Toynbee points out in volume 1 of his A Study of History it took Western Christianity "more than three centuries to final achieve a schism.(p.66) And Christianity had none of the protections that this new Faith possesses. What exists now is simply a handful of disgruntled and disaffected people.

Bahaullah has protected this Faith against the baneful effects of the misuse of criticism; indeed, "dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Bahai community."(UHJ, Letter to Bahais of USA, 29/12/88) We must be constantly on our guard, therefore, lest destructive and divisive forces enter our midst. The building of community, playing the role of custodians of unific forces will keep us all busy in the years ahead within this new paradigm as the Faith goes from strength to strength. After fifty years of participation in Bahai community life, I have found that the fine details of the story are only of interest to a relatively small circle of the Bahais and only a small handful of those outside this new Faith, those with some ax-to-grind. This reaction to a very complex history, of course, will change as this Cause comes under attack in the decades ahead within this new paradigm. Indeed, in the last 15 years there has begun to emerge a significant increase in the numbers of new recruits in several countries in the world and this story of an increase in numbers will be part and parcel of this new paradigm in the years, the decades, ahead in its implementation. The Bahai world waits with wonder as it has always waited with wonder at the increase in numbers, an increase which has made it the second most widespread religion on the planet with its second century far, far, from over.

The impression of divisiveness and critical opposition, as I say, has been correct, but it has only been part of a new generation, a vocal part, a literary part. Their opposition is, in the main, to this Faith's administration, and to individuals within the institutions of the learned or the rulers. Often the opposition is just a simple disobedience to direct instructions from the House of Justice. With increasing numbers of people entering the Cause in the years ahead within this new paradigm, I'm sure we have not heard the end of what you might call these 'opposition-narratives.' With millions of members and millions more to come there are and will be many a dead branch that will be cut off from the tree as there are many who will be on the tree but who derive little sustenance from it. And this has always been the case back to the 1860s and in the two decades of Babism before the clear emergence of the Bahai Faith from Babism by the late 1860s.

This has been the story, this tendency to diviseness, as I say, since 1844 as well as in the history of this Faith's precursors in the decades before 1844. But it has only been a tendency; it has not had the effect of cutting the tree, of dividing the boughs and branches, the stems and the offshoots. This Faith has remained united for well-nigh two centuries and this, it could be argued, has been its greatest achievement in spite of immense efforts to divide---and the story is far from over!

The basic problem of what you might call the negative side of behaviour is not the essential effect they have,although that is destructive, but fundamentally the fact that we repel from ourselves spiritual powers. Positive obedience and following divine law attract to us spiritual powers. The existence of spiritual powers is vital to the activities of our daily lives. But we are vulnerable to being influenced by the lack of belief unconsciously and to behave in ways in which the rest of the society is behaving. This is only to be expected. Everyone around us is going in that direction. We’re like the salmon seeking to swim upstream but we end up going downstream with everyone else because that’s what the society around is doing. This happens from time to time; it happens to us as individuals as we struggle to retain our vision of the teachings while surrounded by people whose values are of a different kind. It even happens to our Bahá’í institutions from time to time.

Often the capabilities of our community or of our own dear selves need to be re-evaluated. We need to possess a greater realization of the power of Bahá’u’lláh to reinforce our individual and community efforts. Our deeds are indeed impotent without divine assistance. Any evaluation of a situation is entirely misleading if it does not take this supreme power into consideration. Any evaluation is wrong if we don’t take into account the power of Bahá’u’lláh to reinforce our efforts. We are all capable of falling into the trap of going the way the world is going rather than the way the teachings tell us to go. What this means is that we are called upon to continually refresh and renew our understanding of this vital abstract concept. It’s difficult because of its abstraction. We can’t answer the most basic questions about what is spirit and issues like that, but we know it’s a vital concept. We need to refresh and renew our consciousness of this concept. How do we do that? By the use of prayer which requires a formal belief statement.

We are faced with the life-long task of maintaining a vision of the Bahá’í worldview in the face of a largely unbelieving society. It requires courage; it requires great determination to persevere in views that are contrary to the prevailing views. There are a few instances where our teachings call upon us to do things which from the perspective of the world appear to be somewhat irrational.


Bahai history is not a simple, happy and innocent bedtime story. It is a fascinating one and this new culture of learning and growth grows out of this history in all its complexity. Every movement, religion, cause and person has what you might call its dirty laundry, its sins of omission and commission, its members who bring bad-advertising with them whereever they go and, if one wants, one can live and move and have ones being immersed in this downside of Bahai history. There is plenty of stuff there if one wants to read it from those who were disaffected, alienated, mischief-makers, those who have denied its truths, repudiated its teachings and rose-up against its leaders or its institutions in some way or another. The media one day I'm sure will revel in the complex and often gruesome history of the Cause with its several generations of covenant-breakers. The media is often inclined to dwell on the cracks and fissures, the weak links and those disaffected individuals in what is now a more than 200 year history going back to the first days of the ministry of Shaykh Ahmad in the 1790s. The road for both the individuals and this Cause is often narrow, stony and tortuous and the life on the tree is often a hazardous one with many storms, strong winds, cold winters and hot dry summers. We are not called upon to be so successful and so happy that we never suffer. Our willingness to suffer is part of our demonstration of love for this Faith and what we believe it can and will do for humankind. We must also develop the spiritual muscle not to dwell on our suffering but to turn to the many sources of joy in this Faith. It is the life processes which this Faith has set in motion in which we must trust knowing that things take time and the process includes many setbacks.

The attitudes we hold to the positions, the people, who hold office in Bahai administration at all its levels is an important aspect of the unfolding of this new paradigm. The Guardian refers to their "all-important though inconspicuous manifestation" of sincere and earnest devotion. Such individuals are not the "central ornaments" of this Cause. They are not intrinsically superior to others in capacity or merit. I have always found such positions very demanding, when I have held them, and I hold these servants of the Cause in "great regard."(Shoghi Effendi, Bahai Administration, pp.78-80) not because they have earned my high regard but because I have been asked to give them this regard, this respect by the architect of its present administration, Shoghi Effendi. But I have not always held such individuals in high regard in my fifty years as a Bahai. The growth of appropriate attitudes to others, whether these others are within the administration or whether they are in the broader community and have idiosyncratic personalities who present difficulties to us personally is often a slow one. Even when one feels one has acquired the right attitudes one is often still tested and one finds one's right attitudes not-so-right. It is a lifelong test and challenge.

The qualifications of those in administrative positions set out by Shoghi Effendi are not ones which, in their entirety, that many possess. It is not easy for such individuals to win over the confidence and affection of everyone whom it is their priviledge to serve. Indeed, it seems to me, this is just about an impossible task. Individuals in positions in Bahai administration can but try and we as the served can do our best to hold them in "great regard." This, too, is often an impossible task if we are practical realists. In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian just before WW2 broke out in commenting on Bahai administrators, we find the following words: "such individuals can never hope to entirely fulfil those ideal conditions set forth in the Teachings" due to "their human limitations and imperfections."


I could tell a sad tale for I have many to tell; I could 'dump' on people in this book. Dumping was a term I used as a hippy in the 1960s. I have had my rancourous divorce from my wife and periods of alienation from the Bahai community. I got into hot water with my mother and father because of my beliefs. I could go on and on with my personal psycho-pathologies and my deep distresses. I do this in my autobiography in five volumes and 2600 pages if anyone wants to have a read at a host of internet sites where I go to be to help to those with: mental health problems, interests in creative writing and other subjects. The Review Office of the NSA of the Bahais of the USA has given me permission to post my material on the internet and so readers here may come across some of my autobiographical experience and writing at many a site if they want to do some googling.

I could very well have been one of those many marginal or inactive Bahais who have made a career out of their varying degrees of separation. But: "Here I stand," as Martin Luther once said in his now famous phrase in 1523 and I do not have the vituperation toward religious authorities in this Cause, the vituperation that Luther possessed toward his religious authority, the Papacy. The lists of those whose address is unknown and who are not contactable in the Bahai community in many countries is surprisingly high and those who have been Bahais for decades and who have lived in Bahai communities of substantial size have had many a discussion about these 'inactive believers.' The reasons, of course, are many and I could expatiate on this subject for some time. I tend to the view that this is not only an old problem but a problem that will be with us well into this new paradigm. Indeed, it has been a problem right back to the 1840s. Being an active member of the Bahai community, a member on the address list and accessible in some way or another to other Bahais, is not an easy ride, so to speak. It no longer surprises me, after an association with this Faith going back to the opening of the Chicago temple in 1953, that thousands of Bahais in many national communities have an "address unknown." I am rather of the view that, when this Bahai community has many million more members in the coming decades there will be many more of these Bahais in name only. I'm sure the inactive believer is one of the many variants of the "many are called but few are chosen" theme. But it is difficult to know who these few are...perhaps some of these inactive believers!! This Cause presents to its votaries many a complexity. One of the complexities is that the individual Bahai should not attempt to divide the community into: the deepened and the shallow, the saved and the damned, the sheep and the goats, or any one of those many dichotomies that religious communities have lived with for centuries.

I dont have any trouble, any intellectual difficulties, any hassles---a term we hippies also used to use half a century ago---with the institutionalized form of the charismatic Force at the centre of the Bahai Faith, those trustees of the global undertaking initiated by Bahaullah more than a century and a half ago. Neither do I possess what might be called an adversarial relationship with the institutions of the learned and the rulers in the Cause. I am familar with the tendency of the institutions to over-administer the handful of often inexperienced souls as if they had large populations of Bahais to regulate, as the Guardian put it in a letter written on his behalf several months before he died in 1957. I am familar,too, with individuals who want to control others and tell people what they think they ought to do. And I am only too familar with my own foibles and failings. All of this, all the negative attitudes people hold, will not go away simply because we have a new paradigm of culture and learning, of growth and community organization. As the Cause expands in the decades ahead it will have to deal with many more difficulties than it has in my lifetime.

This Cause will be protected, though, from the mischief of the aggressor and the hosts of tyranny that will arise against it in a spiritual battle at the very centre of the greatest drama in the spiritual history of the planet. The many people I have listened to, though, in my lifetime who have been critical of individuals, critical of groups of Bahais at the local, regional or national levels and/or critical of the culture in which they live will all be with us for some time at this nadir in civilization. These are the darkest hours before the dawn and one should not expect anything less. The Central Figures of this Cause all had to deal with such criticism and now the burden of that criticism falls upon the shoulders of the mass of the believers who take up the task and responsibilities of Bahai life. The process of community building, now in the last years of its second decade, will take all our energies in the decades ahead. Let there be no mistake. The cherished goal of universal participation, the Supreme Body emphasized in its Ridvan 2010 message will "move by several orders of magnitude," but, I am rather of the view that there will be many orders of magnitude to be yet achieved when I pass from this Earth in the next two or three decades.


The idea of Bahá'í excommunication or Bahá'í "takfir" (the Muslim declaration of unbelief) has acquired prominence in polemics directed against the Bahá'í community generally, and specifically against the Universal House of Justice, to a degree that has gained remarkable currency even in the informal discussions of individuals, members, ex-members and non-members of the Bahá'í community, critical of Bahá'í institutions, even in non-polemical contexts on the internet. It has been applied, in good faith and without polemical animus, to the loss of administrative rights and expulsion by a Local Spiritual Assembly of openly gay believers. There exists a wide range of written opinion within this Faith on virtually all the major issues in society. The sensitive critique of and comment on the Bahá'í position on homosexuality posted at the Bahai Epistolary site is a good example of some of the recent dialogue within this new paradigm and its engagement with social issues. For the most part, this book does not engage, as I have already indicated, in dialogue on these social issues.

"More elaborately, inflammatorily, or influentially," as one writer at the Bahai Epistolary site notes, "Bahai excommunication has been prominently emphasised in blogs, internet lists, and even serious academic journals by individuals with a clear and long-standing opposition to the administrative institutions of the Bahá'í community. Concretely, the accusation of Bahá'í excomunications and takfirs centre on the very exceptional disenrolment, over several years of a very small handful of individuals by the Universal House of Justice on the grounds that their public statements and actions are not judged by that Supreme Institution to be compatible with membership in the Bahá'í community.

This same writer emphasizes at this same site that the voices that are arguing for radical, nefarious and highly pessimistic readings of these recent events have been taking place especially since the inception of this new paradigm. These voices raised in association with excommunication and covenant-breaking are speaking perfectly legitimately from within their own innevitably painful experience of these processes. If one looks beyond the painful crux of these encounters, though, one might see very much a natural, long term process of community development inherent in the nature of religious community itself. This process is not always harmonious; in the past it has been infinitely more explosive than is the case today, inspite of the very explosive tones in which protagonists of these tensions may address it. In the future the explosive tones, I'm sure, will be even more explosive for the process of community development, of growth and learning, is complex and is part and parcel with the very development of the Bahai community's contribution to the global civilization evolving all around us with a speed which we can scarcely comprehend.

This same writer goes on to say that the intense feeling expressed in much of the internet discussion with all of the arguably severe decisions of Bahá'í instituions is a far cry from the thundering jeremiads of Eusebius, the Spanish Inquisition, the witch hunts of James the VI, the fatwas and takfirs of Khomeini or the secular purges of Stalin and Mao---or even the comparatively tender and not-so-tender probings of the McCarthy era. It is perfectly correct, and hardly surprising in a society which allows no stone to go unturned, usually by a media culture wanting to get to the bottom of everything possible in the name of truth, publicity or ratings, to identify an area of tension in outlook and in the communication culture between the Universal House of Justice and those intellectuals who have run into this kind of conflict with this institution at the apex of Bahai administration.

Like so many aspects of this new paradigm, though, the nature of the conflict, the disagreement, the tension is not primarily doctrinal as processual, not primarily a content problem as a context one with a linguistic and casuistically centred focus--or so it seems to me as an observer at the end of the world down in the Antipodes about as far away from the Bahai World Centre in Haifa Israel as one can get on the planet unless one lives in Antarctica where, as yet, there are no Bahai communities. Mine is just one perspective on this highly complex subject, a perspective which I don't expect others to necessarily share. The dilemmas of inclusion and exclusion, of individual interpretation and community cohesion, of institutional authority and individual freedom, will remain with us for many a long year as they have been with us for more than 160 years. Such issues are part of any community's history, religious or secular. Within the first two decades of this new paradigm, though, the scenario is not one of extremism and not one of human rights violations. Nor is it the end of academic freedom for all Bahai academics. It is really a transitory yet painful, altogether mild and somewhat benign culmination of a process of competing discourses and identities within a constituted,institutionalised community setting. Of course for a few individuals, the experience is neither mind nor benign.

That within such a setting the perspective of a community's elected institutions should come to prevail is only to be expected. This is an inevitable outcome and should not be accompanied, notwithstanding the suggestions that this should be the case, by calls for attacks and hostilities. A respect for the conscience of dissenting individuals and for their right and freedom to express their thoughts on the matter especially if such individuals are outside of the community is and always has been a preferred course of action. The institutions have been elected to guide and indeed shape community processes and this is what they do, inevitably in the context of some opposition and some institutional estrangement for a small handful of members of the community. That is quite a natural phenomenon and should not surprise those who are even a little familiar with Bahai history over the last two centuries. That dissension and conflict arise from time to time is also natural and has been so in human society since those theoretical and mythological first individuals, Adam and Eve, when they represented both individual and society, both man and his institutions.


The Bahai process of literary review, to focus briefly on what has often been experienced by Bahais who are writers as an uncomfortable and divisive process, as something often seen as unnecessary and certainly unwanted, is radically different from the experience of writers in the Catholic church. The concept of excommunication of writers whose views are outside the orthodox line has as its aim the forcing of a change of belief or action in the excommunicant. Its aim is often expressed through penance, thus infringing on the freedom of the writer's conscience. The consideration by an elected, constituted body that a set of individual statements and behaviour are incompatible with its criteria for membership does not carry with it a demand for a change of opinion, much less a call for penance. It is even farther removed from the catholic concept of anathema, which, in addition to the excommunication, condemns the anathemised person to everlasting hell.

One Bahá'í scholar has persuasively argued for the role of review in the future: "at this still formative stage in the world-wide development of the Bahá'í Faith when we seem to be on the verge of "entry by troops" in many parts of the world, I think it would prove unwise to do away with review at this time. As "entry by troops" continues to happen, we can envision all kinds of people entering the Bahá'í Faith–unity notwithstanding–amidst a great welter of cultural backgrounds, dissimilar attitudes and various temperaments. In the intellectual realm, such a mix can lead to powerful ideological storms which may serve to undermine the very unity the Bahá'í Faith aims to create.

Barney Leith had a different take on the issue as far back as the year before the beginning of this new paradigm. Leith pointed out in his excellent article: "Bahá'í Review: should the “red flag” law be repealed?"(Bahai Studies Review, Vol.5 No.1, 1995)that between 1878 and 1896 British law limited the speed of mechanical vehicles to 4 mph and insisted that each vehicle be preceded by a man with a red flag. Leith believed as far back as the mid-1990s that the provisions for review were in a "red flag" law situation. Traditional "vehicles", such as books, were subject to review (the man with the red flag). But, newer faster vehicles were increasingly coming into use. On the information super-highway the man with the red flag was in danger of being run over. In the last 15 years, he has indeed been run over.

The Universal House of Justice, in defending the continuation of the practice of review, now and into the future, has made the same moral appeal as did Shoghi Effendi. It has done this in a number of documents, notably in Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh (of 29 December 1988), and in a letter dated 5 October 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual which restates the case for review in a specifically academic context. Some NSAs do not insist that writing and writers on the internet obey the red flag law.

In many respects the Bahá'í community is being decentralised and deregulated as it grows in size and maturity. Its diversity and plurality are increasingly being acknowledged. Greater emphasis is being placed by the House of Justice on the need for individual initiative, and institutions are learning how to facilitate rather than control Bahá'í activities. These are processes that will continue and become more pressing as the community grows explosively in many places. Many National Assemblies have recognized that it is no longer possible to try to control the kinds of things Bahá'ís publish about their Faith on the internet. The process of review has undergone radical change during this new paradigm.

Sincere Bahá'ís will always have "the dignity and unity of the Cause" at heart, even if they differ on how these are to be achieved. Responsible Bahá'í publishers of traditional printed matter and in the newer media will exercise, as most do now, editorial control and responsibility over what they publish. Attacks on the Faith can continue to be answered by individuals suitably briefed by the institutions or, indeed, by the institutions themselves and their agencies. The life and richness of the Bahá'í community has been greatly enhanced as it has been freed from review as a form of control. Individual Bahais like myself are now encouraged in this new paradigm to explore ways of using consultation, formally and informally within authorial and editorial teams, as well as between individuals and institutions and their agencies. New and exciting presentations of the Faith have resulted and the best interests of the Cause have been served.


There are today what some refer to as a number of Bahai splinter groups of one or a few people, who do not accept the Universal House of Justice as Head of the Faith. Their number in total is only a few, but cyberspace gives voice to these few and the impression is created of a Bahai house divided when, in reality, these splinter groups are so small as to hardly be worth a mention. Indeed, the word splinter, split, or fracture is not really appropriate; the word fragment is a fitting one for the infinitessimal, miniscule sliver or shavings. Still---impressions are impressions--however false. Cyberspace allows readers on the internet to see the sometimes bitter feelings possessed by members of these dots or traces on the landscape between these snipets or molecules and the main body of the Cause. These morsels or driblets serve as a living demonstration that unity is not created by the anarchous and divisive methods of a few.

It would be better for these numerically insignificant crumbs or dollups if they each focussed their energies on achieving good in the world rather than taking up the cudgels of opposition with those they really cannot agree with. The Bahai Cause possesses an authority, a legitimate one, followed by 99.9% of the community and they decide when enough is enough, and some opposing person is declared a covenant-breaker or loses his or her voting rights. Such an Authority is derived from a written Covenant and Its authorised interpreters. This Covenant finds its origins in the pen of Baha’u'llah. Baha’u'llah has already spoken and passed on. So even if individual members of these groups do abandon disputation and get on with demonstrating the virtue of their principles, the fate of these groups as a whole is sealed by the quandary they have put themselves in. They are smidgen on the scrap heap of history. After 160+ years the Bahai Cause is not a house divided in spite of appearances on the world-wide-web, appearances to the uninformed, to the contrary.

In a passage of the Guardian cited by the House of Justice in its letter on theocracy from 1995 makes clear:"...the mere fact of disaffection, estrangement, or recantation of belief, can in no wise detract from, or otherwise impinge upon, the legitimate civil rights of individuals in a free society, be it to the most insignificant degree. Were the friends to follow other than this course, it would be tantamount to a reversion on their part, in this century of radiance and light, to the ways and standards of a former age: they would reignite in men's breasts the fire of bigotry and blind fanaticism, cut themselves off from the glorious bestowals of this promised Day of God, and impede the full flow of divine assistance in this wondrous age."

The recent policy of dis-enrolment of a relatively few individuals, perhaps less than half a dozen on the planet, can be and is often cast in the rather inflammatory discourse of excommunication or takfir. I think a much closer parallel to this Bahai policy of dis-enrolment would be the much more common policy found in all kinds of voluntary associations. Sometimes policies of exclusion in many organizations result in acrimonious situations; sometimes they entail moral judgments and even metaphysical consequences; sometimes they require recantation associated with religious practices. This subject has many permutations and combinations, but I shall leave this subject for now. I could write more on this subject but I encourage readers to Google the Bahai site entitled Epistolary with its excellent discussion on many a controversial issue.


Any discussion of this new paradigm must place the concept of the Covenant at the very centre of the discussion. Enunciated as "the most great characteristic of the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, a specific teaching not given by any of the Prophets of the past", the Covenant signifies obedience to the successive ministries of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and the agency of the Universal House of Justice to preserve the integrity of the Faith, maintain its unity and stimulate its world-wide expansion. By the process of written appointment and the provision of a legitimate succession the Bahai Faith has been safeguarded and protected against differences and schisms, making it impossible for anyone to create a new sect or faction of belief."(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace 455-456)...The Universal House of Justice, the present trustees of the global undertaking which the events of Bahaullah's life set in motion has a much more complete and specific set of provisions in the matter of succession, in clear, explicit directions, in unequivocal and emphatic language. These facts, at the centre of all the Bahai paradigms of the past, remains at the centre of this one.

This new paradigm, this new organizational framework for action of the last two decades has been on the receiving end of the baneful forces of dissension, divisiveness, factionalism and inordinate criticism aimed at undermining the authority of the elected or appointed institutions of this Faith. Dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Bahai community as the House pointed out back in 1988 when the word paradigm first came into their Ridvan messages. The notions of various categories of Bahais, informally institutionalized by using such terms as: conservative, liberal, progressive, reactionary and so forth, is but one of the results of much of the ill-directed criticism which dignifies conflict in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Obedience is a difficult art to learn in these times of individualism, a "I-Me-and-Mine" attitude and the seemingly ever-present concern with fulfilling one's potentiality.

"He who has learned how to obey, said the famous Greek poet and statesman Solon 600 years before Christ, "will know how to command." Solon embodied the cardinal Greek virtue of moderation. "Every individual man carries, within himself, at least in his adaptation and destination, a purely ideal man," wrote the German poet, philosopher and historian, Friedrich Schiller, "The great problem of his existence is to bring all the incessant changes of his outer life into conformity with the unchanging unity of this ideal(Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man). For the Bahai in this new paradigm as in previous paradigms such a purely ideal man has existed in the person of Abdul-Baha. The incessant changes of my outer life and this new outer paradigm I must now bring into conformity with this new paradigm--as all Bahais must in the decades ahead.


There is a strong place in this new paradigm, as there has been in all previous paradigms, for the place of individual initative, creativity and an unbounded confidence in the powers of human rationality and science. The intellectual foundations of the Enlightenment, an eighteenth-century philosophical movement characterized by rationalism, a trust in reason, empiricism, a trust in the senses, and scepticism, a trust in mistrust or doubt, that is, a refusing to believe in anything without good evidence are part of how an individual like myself puts this paradigm into practice in his life. The Enlightenment faith in progress, science and reason which the Bahai is able to put at the centre of his philosophy due to the general Bahai teachings forms only part of the philosophy of this paradigm, however, it seems to me. I often feel a little like the main characters in the original series of Star Trek and The Next Generation, such as Spock and Picard, who constantly reveal a belief in dispassionate logic and a trust in technological or scientific solutions to problems. But I also am strongly influenced, as many characters in that series were, by their awareness of philosophical or religious answers and an awareness of the place of intuition and spirituality exemplified by Counsellor Deanna Troi. I don't want to push this analogy too far but, it seems to me, that this new paradigm has very eclectic aspects, aspects that enable each individual to work out their role in their own ways.

When every human being is the judge of the norms of his life-style and of the social order, and when there is no recognition of an authority which cannot be questioned. When social utility and reason is substituted for tradition as the main criterion of social institutions and values, egotism grows as does the spread of pessimism and a concern only for getting the best for oneself. Udo schaefer discusses this aspect of modern society, an aspect which this new paradigm attempts to counter. But it is an uphill battle because for millions the sense of purpose once provided by religion has been replaced by a sociological interpretation of existence, a sort of political messianism, in which hope is now placed in everything but religion: science, technology, political parties, democracy, socialism, inter alia. We are seen as social beings not as beings created by God with no relationship, therefore, to any transcendent reality. To compound the problem for the Bahá'í trying to implement this new paradigm, he must deal with the many who espouse religious views which possess a mythologized and irrelevant eschatology. The mind of modern man cannot accept so much of the baggage of the old religions and the transcendent retreats from the social sphere into a private realm(The Imperishable Dominion, p.14)

One final note I want to strike here is the importance of confidence in the ultimate success of the venture on which we are embarked. We may, and inevitable will, fail many times along the way, But the overall success of the Plan at the centre of our efforts is assured.


As one Bahai writer put it recently: The majority of local Bahá'í communities, and many, if not all, national Bahá'í communities are really embryonic entities, with very crude systems, agencies and organisations in place, a limited number of individuals and families, as well as few subsidiary institutions to speak of beyond a Local Spiritual Assembly, the Nineteen Day Feast and, perhaps, a host of committees and elected and appointed members in a variety of roles. “The Order brought by Bahá’u’lláh is intended to guide the progress and resolve the problems of society,” the Universal House of Justice states, but "our numbers are as yet too small to effect an adequate demonstration of the potentialities inherent in the administrative system we are building; and the efficacy of this system will not be fully appreciated without a vast expansion of our membership.” Compared to the earliest years of Bahai administration, say, up to 1936 when the first formal, organized and systematic teaching Plan was initiated, the current administration of Bahai affairs is far from embryonic. But the contrast between the present development of this Bahai administration, this nucleus and pattern of a future world order, and its development in the fullness of time is so stark that it is necessary to apply the word 'embryonic' to the present form of its operation and activities in all countries, regions, cities and towns. However stark the contrast, the main foundations of this new world Order, this new structure for society, this new elan, are being laid within the framework of this paradigm and it will be laid on the ruins of this present lamentably defective political and religious orthodoxy that has its pervasive hold over the thoughts and consciences of men.

Often believers live under assumptions that endless meetings and activity will somehow, as one writer, put it, "save the day." These are, as I say above, still early days in the establishment of this new Order. In many places, if not most, the Faith was introduced virtually just the other day on the horizon of history. Bahai administration could be said to be still in its first century. Balance, harmony and a relaxed attitude to things, though, are not easy to achieve when one is engaged in what are often long hours of commitments both inside and outside Bahai community life, when one has a desire to achieve great things in ones personal life and in the life of the Bahai community and when one also has to deal with the mundane realities of everyday existence.

We, the generations of the half-light, are fortunate to be born into epochs in which the challenges have been tremendous, the experiences of our time momentous and the tasks set for us in this Cause are aimed at producing an effect on our fellow man, by the impact of will upon will.

One of the challenges that has faced me and the Bahais whereever I have lived in both Canada and Australia for half a century has been the lack of significant numerical growth in our communities. This has been true in many Western and Eastern lands. Concerns about the lack of enrolments expressed by many Bahais, as the House of Justice expressed some eight years ago to a believer in a state of some anxiety over this issue, is largely accurate and fully justified. To see important Bahai communities markedly lacking in the development of the human resources required to reach populations desperately searching for solutions to the crisis in which society is sinking is painful indeed to believers aware of the potency of Bahaullahs Message, the House went on to say.

This consideration was an important element in the drafting of the relevant sections of the document "Century of Light(2000)." Some of the passages of that document attempted to acquaint believers everywhere with the profound change in Bahai culture that the preceding decades of struggle, achievement and disappointment made possible and that was capitalized on through the agency of the Four Year Plan(1996-2000). The culture emerging in this new Bahai paradigm, the House went on to say, was one in which groups of Bahaullahs followers explored together the truths in His Teachings, freely opened their study circles, devotional gatherings and children's classes to their friends and neighbours, and invested their efforts confidently in plans of action designed at the level of the cluster, that makes growth a manageable goal. The enthusiasm with which Bahai communities in most parts of the world responded to this challenge, and the results their efforts brought have been a source of great joy to the House of Justice. This was already true in 2002 and is even more true more than a dozen years later in 2015.

The analysis found in that document Century of Light explained to some extent the seeming impasse reflected in unrealistic expectations on the part of many Bahais in those decades after 1963. Those difficult decades have now triggered a new culture of learning and change. Many believers by the 1990s were unable to see meaning or purpose in the seeming impasse of those difficult decades. These believers saw themselves as inhabitants of spiritually barren lands, as incapable of dealing with the mass indifference to their efforts, and members of altogether disfunctional local and national, and sometimes even international Bahá'í communities.

As the 1970s became the 1980s and decade followed decade discouragement set in to the spirits of many a believer. Desperate exhortations to teach the Faith and a sense of urgency was accompanied by an element of despondency or resentment. Many strong and faithful Bahá'ís chose to become inactive in the community on account of their perceptions of dysfunctionality. Steadfast perseverance in the teaching work was accompanied by an inner hoplessness and lack of expectation. There were frequent manifestations of disunity as Bahais sought answers to this question in the abilities and deeds of one another. By the 1990s these perspectives coalesced into systematic critiques of the community in internet fora and academic publications.

All the plans since the outset of this new paradigm in 1996 have been designed as progressive steps in achieving a change of Bahá'í culture. The Four Year Plan(1996-2000), the Twelve Month Plan(2000-2001) and then four Five Year Plans(2001-2006, 2006-2011, 2011-2016 and 2016-2021)are, in fact, seven of these progressive steps. The Continental Boards of Counsellors around the world have been intensely engaged in assisting National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, Regional Councils and other administrative bodies to understand the goals involved and to devise strategies for their achievement. Large-scale consultative sessions that have brought together the members of all of these key institutions have, in most cases, been particularly successful in achieving this objective. Where response has lagged, the House of Justice frequently has intervened to reinforce the efforts of the Counsellors by clarifying issues. Ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring that their own community arises to the challenge must rest with the elected representatives of the believers, at local and national levels.

Of course, one must add that, in the end, the individual believer must arise whatever the administrative apparatus exists behind the scenes. This new paradigm has been aimed at the individual and, after 15 years, great changes have taken place. This book discusses these changes, not so much in a systematic way, but from time to time as various themes arise.

The advancement of the Cause is an evolutionary process which takes place through trial and error, through reflection on experience and through wholehearted commitment to the teaching Plans and strategies devised by the House of Justice. Believers, like you and I, who appreciate the opportunities thus provided in this new paradigm, can be of great assistance by encouraging their respective countries and assemblies to similarly invest themselves in the process. And if they are unable to do those things they must each act in their own respective spheres of life.


The fourth(1986-2001) and particularly the fifth epochs(2001 to 2021) of the Cause are witnessing a sea-change in the areas of institution and community building as local communities generate a broad infrastructure of “systems, agencies and organisations” arising singly and collaboratively from the individuals and families who make up the membership. I refer of course to the development of study-circles, mostly focused around individuals; the development of infanta or pre-school programs(0-4), children's(5-11) and junior youth(12-14) classes, mostly revolving around families, Bahá'í and others; devotional meetings which, with socio-economic development activities, can be seen as the seeds of future local Mashriq’u’l-Adhkars; the ever-evolving training institutes in each country; and where these elements are in place, socio-economic development projects, increasingly a spontaneous, organic feature of Bahai community clusters in process of intensive growth," as outlined in the letter written by the Universal House of Justice to the Counsellors of January 9, 2001.

As one writer put it and very succinctly: if the second and third epochs of the Cause were about building institutions, then the fourth and fifth epochs have been and are about building communities. Clearly, again, the aim is not merely to generate an increased flow of individual enrolments or fill-up vacant LSA spaces, but also and above all, to instil into the emerging communities of the fifth epoch a sense of interdependence, whereby a given community will work organically and inherently for the welfare of its own locality and of localities “beyond its own borders”. To the well-known Bahá'í notion of the “locality” we now, therefore, add the compass of a “cluster” of localities to which one also belongs and with whom one systematically interacts and builds community. That this process will not take place at the same speed, with the same effectiveness and efficiency everywhere on earth, in all the 16,000 clusters should be as obvious as the sun in the sky. To expect otherwise is not only unrealistic it betrays a sad lack of understanding of the immense complexity of the process that is taking place across the planet, a complexity that requires, as the House emphasized in its Ridvan 2010 message, that NSA's "think and act strategically" and learn "to analyse the community-building processes at the grassroots with increasing acuity." By 2016 some 11,000 of the 16,000 clusters on the planet will still have little growth, in all likelihood, given both recent patterns of the last several decades and the goals that have already been set for 2016.

As the Bahá’í community has moved from one stage to the next, the range of activities that it has been able to undertake has increased. Its growth has been organic in nature and has implied gradual differentiation in functions. When the Bahá’í community was small in size, all of its interactions with society at large easily fitted together under the designation of direct and indirect teaching. But, over time, new dimensions of work appeared--involvement in civil society, highly organized diplomatic work, social action, and so on-- each with its own aims, methods and resources. In a certain sense, it is possible to refer to all of these activities as teaching, since their ultimate purpose is the diffusion of the divine fragrances, the offering of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation to humankind, and service to society. In the new culture of learning and growth it is also possible to refer to all of the activities as service. As Albert Schweitzer once wrote: "the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." this could very well be a motto for this new paradigm. In practice and certainly for statistical purposes, though, it is more fruitful to treat the various activities as distinct but complementary lines of action.

In all of this social and community activity the individual has what might be called a dual relation. He or she is both and at the same time standing within and outside the community. The unity comes in what at some levels might be seen as logically contradictory relations. Harmony and conflict, attraction and repulsion, ambivalence and enthusiasm, creativity and routine. The members of the community as producers both lose themselves in the products, the interaction and they are separate. The heterogeneity is too extensive to assimilate, to fully integrate. Heterogeneity is part of the reality, the drama, of community and it is engaged in to whatever extent the individual wishes, is capable of handling and is socially oriented. Sometimes the group is rejected and the individual withdraws; sometimes it is endured within the capacity of the endurer; sometimes the individual slips to the periphery; sometimes he is fully alive to the group and intensely involved. Everyone has their own style and level of engagement.

Of the approximately 200 sovereign-states in the world, over 160 are culturally heterogeneous, and they are comprised of 5000 ethnic groups. Between 10 and 20% of the world's population currently belongs to a racial/linguistic minority in their country of residence. Nine hundred million people affiliate with groups that suffer systematic discrimination. Perhaps three-quarters of the world system sees politically active minorities, and there are more than 200 movements for self-determination, spread across nearly 100 states. It is useful to describe this global context within which the new Bahai paradigm exists and has its being.

The structure of the new paradigm can act as a constraint on action, but it also enables action by providing common frames of meaning. The individual is surrounded by a community which paradoxically both constrains and influences his needs and deeds on the one hand and liberates him from the bonds of attachment and dependencies on the other. The individual is faced with these polarities. His social, geographical and physical life shapes his spiritual life and vice-versa. As David Reisman, the author of the Lonely Crowd, put it at the start of the Ten Year Crusade in the most popular social science book of the last half-century, heterogeneity is our problem. To put the problem a little differently: other people are our problem or hell is other people to put it as far as possible in the negative, as Albert Camus once put it. People are also, of course, our heaven and our culture of learning and growth. For most of us it is a question of balance, of getting our interaction capacities and potentials, our skills and abilities, expressed in the way that is both best for us and best for others. This balancing process is, it could be argued and it is by some theorists, the basis of our individuality, our individualism. For most of us this process keeps us busy working it out, adjusting it in our changing lives and their changing conditions.

The culture of learning and growth is like a bridge that anchors the individual in continuous relationships & overcomes his separateness. A good bridge within this culture, a good relationship sometimes takes years to establish and sometimes it seems instantaneous. Human beings are bridge-builders within their cultures of learning and growth. These bridges transcend their separateness; they unite what is separate. They are not built mainly for economic reasons within this culture of learning, although sometimes they are. Bridges are built for many reasons. The bridges are built within their minds and hearts. They help us to carry-out our responsibilities to each other in ways that we would not otherwise be able to achieve.So often one cannot move forward without first retracing our steps and laying a firm foundation for further progress. Healing often hurts and rebuilding bridges one has rashly burned are often impossible. "Stories about people are seldom good; a silent tongue is safest," said Abdul-Baha with his many words of wisdom to those whom my father used to call "the chin-wagers." These bridges are just some of the tissues of this new paradigm. The tissues are built, are made, from all sorts of things in our relationships besides bridges. But these tissues are not unlike the tissues of old paradigms; some of the patterns and processes of engagement are different; many of the deck-chairs have been moved around, and moved to such an extent that those looking for some of those old chairs find themselves perplexed. Still, it's the same boat, and the same ocean, and many of the problems being confronted by the passengers on the ship are the same-old, the familiar tests and difficulties that have existed all our lives. As one of those famous sayings in French goes: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose; the more things change the more they stay the same.

The wholeness that each person experiences is a construction of the mind and comes from the will to relate. How often an individual crosses the bridge and in what way is dependent on each person. The picture is one of endless fragments. To create a sense of wholeness and synthesis is the task of the individual and to achieve this the Bahai institutions and the community are there to assist and, in the process, make a Bahai society. To reach our goals we all proceed along increasingly long and difficult paths, as Shoghi Effendi once wrote, paths that are tortuous and stony. The connection between ends and means is often elusive, veiled, obscured and sometimes lost entirely. In community life compassion and love not power hold the keys to dealing with, if not overcoming, egotism. But the process is far from simple. There is a strange mixture in this culture of learning and growth of selfless devotion and desire, of humility and elation, of sensual immediacy and spiritual abstraction, of piety and faith and it is this mixture of ingredients in the context of the Covenant than makes Bahai society possible.

There are also doors and locks in our culture of learning and growth. Doors open us to endless possibilities of relationship and locks which keep people out and prevent our inundation. Our new paradigm has faces and windows and each of us creates their own world of faces and windows. Sometimes there are bars on the windows; sometimes individuals want more faces and sometimes less. I have drawn on Georg Simmel(1858-1918) for the analysis of group interaction, the sociology, the metaphors and insights that he provides to help me in my understanding of some of the dimensions of this new paradigm. I have really only touched the surface, only begun to explore the implications of his writing, his ways of analysing people and groups, his sociological constructions.


I have also drawn on other writers, both Bahais and others. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin(1909-1997) for example says that injustice, poverty, slavery and ignorance may be cured by reform or revolution and there are millions in the world trying to fight these evils. "But men," he emphasizes, "do not live only by fighting evils. They also live by positive goals, individual and collectiveones, indeed a vast variety of them, seldom predictable and at times incompatible."(Four Essays on Liberty) This new paradigm provides a vast variety of goals for Bahais. Often the results are unpredictable and often, too, in the eyes of some of the Bahais they seem incompatible. I would argue, though, that this new paradigm provides an organic, an integrated, mix of goals that everyone can play a part somewhere, in some context, in achieving. That historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin also wrote that: "There exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.(The Hedgehog and the Fox)In this new culture of learning and growth the hedgehog and the fox can work together.

This new paradigm makes allowance for human idiosyncrasy and what the English essayist William Hazlitt was talking about when he wrote that: "Perhaps the weak side of his conclusions also is, that he has carried this single view of his subject too far, and not made sufficient allowance for the varieties of human nature, and the caprices and irregularities of the human will. 'He has not allowed for the wind' might be plausibly objected that he had struck the whole mass of fancy, prejudice, passion, sense, whim, with his petrific, leaden mace, that he had 'bound volatile Hermes,' and reduced the theory and practice of human life to a caput mortuum of reason, and dull, plodding, technical calculation." This new paradigm is no "petrific leaden mace," although some, it seems to me in the first 16 years of its implementation have made it into a "dull, plodding technical calculation" and have bound that volatile Hermes in a single construct. This tendency to over-simplification is very human, very natural and we should not be surprised when we see it expressed in community consultations.


Part 1:

The paradigm structures with its institutions, its moral incentives, its sets of expectations and its established ways of doing things provide a stable activity core. But they can be and are changed, especially through the unintended consequences of action and as a result of people ignoring the explicit routines and principles, replacing them or reproducing them differently as inevitably happens in everyday life. On a micro-scale, the scale of individuals' internal sense of self and identity, individuals are free to choose what activities they will engage in and how to relate to these activities. It is not a prison of processes. This tendency to work out individually unique activities within the larger, the overall, pattern of the paradigm, often creates new opportunities. The relationship of the individual to the community often becomes a reflexive, introspective project that has to be continuously interpreted and reinterpreted, assembled and reassembled,revised and redefined over a lifetime. For many, if not for most, this process is highly dynamic. These micro-level changes cannot be explained only by looking at the individual level or, indeed, at any one individual.

I don't want to get into the many permutations and combinations of the concept of identity, but one of its more common concepts is that identity is a ceaselessly evolving entity and, in some ways, less an entity, less something that can be defined, and more a kind of awareness, an ongoing process of redefinition. Writing about one's experience of this new Bahá'í culture, or about the global Bahá'í community's experience of this new culture, then, when viewed in such "a context of process and evolution" becomes a pattern and meaning in a life at the time of writing. The part one plays in this new paradigm, this new culture of learning, then, can be seen as part of this way of looking at one's identity and the narrative that is one's life. It is not a static process, but dynamic and it takes place in a highly interactive individual-community context. One could also say, as a concluding note here, that this process is part of the phenomenon that continually gives birth to the self or a congeries of selves. This notion is too complex to deal with in detail here and I trust these few comments will suffice to raise some questions about the area of our lives where we try to have some power over our destiny, our choices, and what we do with our lives. In the Cause, in this new paradigm, to put all this another way, the individual Bahai has an extensive menu of activity from which to choose.

Part 2:

There is also the macro-level and this paradigm must be analysed on a macro scale, on a scale outside the individual and a scale that encompasses the entire globe. This global context directly and indirectly influences individuals often unbeknownst to themselves. A serious explanation of the processes within this paradigm must lie somewhere within the network of macro and micro forces. These different levels cannot be treated separately. They are in fact revealed as having significant influence upon each other and cannot really be understood if studied in isolation. This book deals with this complex interaction, although not as systematically as I'd like and not as systematically as many of my readers I'm sure would like. Perhaps, as this book evolves in its second set of eight years(2016 to 2024) it may become more systematic, more coherent, more simple for Everyman who comes across it in cyberspace generally and here at BLO in particular.

In the end, however one analyses and describes both the micro and the macro level of Bahá'í experience--as I have attempted somewhat unsatisfactorily above, the individual is faced with the ever-present questions: What will I do? What should I do? How should I act? Who will I try to be? These are focal questions for everyone living in circumstances of these years of late modernity. They are questions which, on some level or another, all of us answer all our lives and through our day-to-day social behaviour. Individuals and institutions, it would appear to me, now require much more analysis and thought before they take action than ever before. We all are involved in different ways now in piloting our way through the major revolutions of our time: globalisation, transformations in personal life and our relationship to nature. That these revolutions are essentially spiritual is one of the assumptions of this new paradigm and not one easily transmitted to a secular culture and the diverse interest groups within it, groups with assumptions highly at variance with those of this new paradigm.

The purpose of any description and analysis of the part I have played, now play and will play in the new Bahá'í culture is: the recreation, the nostalgic and not-so-nostalgic, the simple and not-so-simple delineation, of the recent years of my life. The new Bahá'í paradigm goes back to my early 50s in the mid-1990s. For those who were Bahá'ís back then, their life in this new paradigm also goes back to the late 20th century. The purpose of this autobiographical, this quite personal, statement, is now found in my memoirs, my diary or journal writing and in my essays and poetry. A search for some clear understanding of my identity since those early 50s, nearly 20 years ago, is a commonly found aim in the now massive literature on the subject of why a person writes about his or her life. For some people their literary work is animated by the purpose of proving that their lives are ultimately purposeless. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead states, with his tongue in his cheek in his book "The Function of Reason", that the examination of the writings of those who see their lives as purposeless would constitute an interesting subject for study. My written work in the last 20 years, in contrast, is animated by a significant sense of purpose and by what some literary critics have come to call a metanarrative. I do not possess any incredulity in relation to this metanarrative. Mine would not therefore be among those works that Whitehead might find interesting in the context of lack of purpose.

My literary, my autobiographical, exercise involves a significant psychological dimension with its interface between my active, public self and my more contemplative private underside--side by side. Since autobiography constitutes a process of investigation rather than a finished product, it is inevitably open-ended. Until my early retirement at the age of 55 in 1999, my identity was tied-up with my career and my family life, my Bahá'í community life and far, far back in fourth place was my writing-life fitting itself into corners that saw the light of day only when necessity or some selected sense of literary duty and, sometimes, pleasure called.

I had no trouble agreeing with Herbert Marcuse(1898-1979), a twentieth century sociologist and philosopher, when he wrote that: “people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. One’s appearance, clothes, hair-style and deportment became entwined with identity in the nineteenth century so argues one analyst. Clothing, the body, its allurements and images have become, for millions, a significant part of their identity. The “idea of the Self as a Work of Art,” also came to be seen as a false self. This falseness was expressed by Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex: “The least sophisticated of women, once she is “dressed,” does not present herself to observation; she is, like the picture or statue, or the actor on the stage, an agent through which is suggested someone not there, that is, the character she represents, but is not. It is this identification with something unreal, fixed and perfect that gratifies her.”

In my case I have a different set of commodities which play a role in the formation of my identity: books and essays, ideas and concepts as well as, and especially as I got into my sixties, the metaphorical nature of the flora, fauna and material phenomena of existence, the close connections between physical and spiritual reality. My wife takes a serious and active role in the beautification of our home and garden and I am a beneficiary of her domestic enthusiasm. I am sure my identity is also formed by my domestic surroundings in ways that are subtle and complex. This is a subtle and complex subject, though, and is difficult to deal with here. John Hatcher, a former professor and director of graduate studies in English literature at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and now emeritus professor, deals with it well in his book Close Connections and I have dealt with it in my autobiography in a chapter entitled ‘memorabilia.’

In the last 20 years, 1994 to 2015, my life as a writer and poet, an editor and publisher has shaped my life and my identity in different forms and directions than it had been shaped in the previous half-century, say 1944 to 1994. As the poet e.e. cummings once wrote, if the artist does not shape his or her identity to their work, their life will crack open. My life had already cracked open several times before my early retirement. With the medication package I acquired for my bipolar disorder during this last decade, this decade of extensive writing--and as I entered my 60s--I think I have seen the end of those cracking-open experiences. This new-found tranquillity is not in the main because I am free at last to write, although that is an important factor; it is due to the new medications for my bipolar disorder.

My religious identity as a Baha’i acknowledges the place of history, language and culture in the construction of my particular subjectivity, my particular sense of who I am. I also acknowledge that all discourse, all writing, is placed, positioned and situated. All of my knowledge, all of my writing, to put this another way, is contextual. I find it helpful and fertile, useful and engaging, if the way of looking at my Baha’i identity is contested by others, subjected to a dialectic and praxis, dialogue and discussion, apologetics and rhetoric. The assertion of differences, a clash of opinions, is a helpful way of establishing identity. In this way my identity develops from, is clarified by and is based on a process of, engaging and asserting difference rather than suppressing it.

This identity acknowledges the reality of, and the need for, decentralised and centralized, diffuse and specific, as well as systematized and fractured knowledge. This sense of identity acknowledges a sense of power which also has a diffuse set of sources. At the same time this inner and outer sense of identity accepts the useful concepts of periphery and centre, margins and depths, surfaces and heights in the expression of that power. Once I clarify the notion of identity, once it is redefined in a universal and non-derogatory way, once it engages difference without implying superiority and hierarchy, I hope that this expression, this set of views, will help those who read this. I write, in part, to be of help to those who are both part of the Baha’i community and those in other interest groups, help them express their own group consciousness, help that consciousness to develop in a manner which is unfettered by the accrued and often inaccurate associations of history and culture, tradition and ignorance.

My identity and my autobiography is wrapped-up in, is part and parcel of, my search for and experience in a collective solution to the problems of our age. This collective solution is presented to me as both a moral imperative and the logical consequence of reason applied to my intelligible, and I trust intelligent, rendering of history and the nature of my society. The measures needed to cure the ills of civilization are identical with those needed to cure the individual but these measures must be practiced in a social milieux. Indeed the social milieux, the social interaction within the social order revealed in the Bahá'í scriptures, is the workshop for both my individual fulfilment and for the collective solution that I see myself as part of a functioning unit by my free choice. Individual identity and a more inclusive identity as part of a social structure and as a world citizen are inextricably conjoined for me—and they are examined in this memoir.

There are so many ways of looking at identity. One popular view is expressed as follows: What really shapes and conditions and makes us is somebody only a few of us ever have the courage to face: and that is the child you once were, long before formal education ever got its claws into you--that impatient, all-demanding child who wants love and power and can't get enough of either. It is those pent-up, craving children who make all the wars and all the horrors and all the art and all the beauty and discovery in life, because they are trying to achieve what lay beyond their grasp before they were five years old."

My autobiography, which in many ways is a series of depictions of my identity, is presented as a pastiche of many types of writing: first, second and third-person point of view narration, the use of the past as well as the present tense, letters, newspaper articles, speeches, lists, historical accounts, scientific jargon, definitions, photographs, recipes, conversations, obituaries, wedding announcements, telephone conversations and assorted memorabilia. The inclusion of all these kinds of writing both loosens and strengthens the genre boundaries within which I work and points to blurring and cross-pollinating between genres as being more useful. This work is no mere imparting of information. Alfred North Whitehead once wrote: “no university has had any justification for existence since the popularization of printing in the fifteenth century.” I would not go that far with Whitehead but the point he makes about information certainly applies to my autobiography. It is not essentially an information base, a data base, for my life.

The sociologist, Anthony Giddens, has much to say of relevance to the autobiographer and the literary expression of his identity. “Each of us not only 'has', but lives a biography,” writes Giddens, “it is reflexively organised in terms of flows of social and psychological information about possible ways of life. Modernity is a post-traditional order, in which the question, 'How shall I live?' has to be answered in day-to-day decisions about how to behave, what to wear and what to eat - and many other things - as well as interpreted within the temporal unfolding of self-identity.”

In writing my memoirs, my autobiography, I am defining myself because I am putting consciousness into text. In some ways I'm exploring personality, trying to understand myself better and at the same time I'm opening-up personality. I'm writing out of personality and it's my canvas in a sense. I could never have written my memoirs and or got a handle on my identity without postmodernism, without the licence to collapse generic conventions and see myself as many selves. I like the idea of calling my work a novel and then to define it further as creative non-fiction. But, again, I must emphasize, the overview of all of this life-narrative, the general context, the total orientation, the moulding and remoulding of my world, is in the form of a conscious participation, often on a very small scale, in the forming of a new society. The context is one of commitment, of solitude and solidarity.

The Bahá'í community which I have been a part of for more than 60 years gives to me a happy mix of creative expression and group solidarity. “Originality,” writes the psychologist Anthony Storr, “implies being bold enough to go beyond accepted norms. Sometimes it involves being misunderstood or rejected by one's peers.” In these last six decades I have often been misunderstood by my fellow Baha’is. Such an experience is an inevitable part of virtually any intense group experience. “Those who are not too dependent upon, or too closely involved with, others,” continues Storr, “find it easier to ignore convention. Primitive societies find it difficult to allow for individual decisions or varieties of opinion. When the maintenance of group solidarity is a prime consideration, originality may be stifled.”

I have not found a stifling of my creativity to be the case in this new faith, this new international community. This is not to say that I have not experienced tension in the many Bahá'í groups of which I have been a part. As Alfred Adler writes: "we make our own choices on how we are to belong." I have done this all my Bahá'í life. Decisions on how best to make my contribution to the whole, to the local and to the national and international Bahá'í community have not always been easy. I have done this by means of my efforts in my career, in my intimate relationships, in my friendships and, as I say, in the larger Bahá'í community. In all these areas of my existence there has also been frustration and tragedy. Fulfilment, the release of psychic energy, has been an emergence, at least as I look back over my life, from the tragedy among other sources. Perhaps this is, in part, due to my view of religion as world loyalty, of unity as the first and last word and of tolerance as the requisite of high civilization.

The ultimate ends of my lifelong education process are a living religion, a living aesthetic enjoyment and a living courage which has urged me toward a creative adventure. I play my part in the maintenance of the language, the history, the symbolic code, of my Bahá'í society and in the relevant application of its teachings to the society I live in. My identity is, therefore, bound up with an appreciation of the past, with history and with tradition. All of these things are necessary to a full life, a life which develops organically rather than one which is radically cut off from its roots.

The roots of my society are Judaeo-Christian and Greco-Roman, and the new Faith that has inspired my life and which is at the centre of my identity has a rich appreciation of these two roots. However I express my identity, though, I must acknowledge my appreciation to these words of Virginia Woolf: "I sometimes think only autobiography is literature--novels are what we peel off, and come at last to the core, which is only you or me."

Since moving to Australia in my late twenties, in 1971, humour has become an important part of my identity, a humour that has helped to balance the serious side of my personality and life-experience. Many things in life conspired to make me a highly serious person: the nearly total absence of humour from the Bible, from the Bahá'í writings and, indeed, from most of religious and philosophical literature which I imbibed, a literature in which I have also immersed myself for several decades. My seriousness also flowed easily from a socialization process centred in parents who were in their 40s and 50s when I was a child, who worked hard, were serious readers, very religious and highly politicised, and an educational system that was, compared to today, highly authoritarian.

Living in Australia has brought-out in me an appreciation of the funny side of life. I became conscious of this slow development when, in 1980, I got a job as a probation and parole officer in Tasmania and it was largely due to my sense of humour, or so I was told by the interviewing panel. More than thirty years later, now in 2015, humour is part of my soul’s salvation, my modus operandi, Downunder, one of the main gainers from living in the Antipodes for more than 40 years. The American essayist Joan Didion has also contributed to my sense of identity, the identity which writes, and I conclude this brief essay with a paraphrase of her words, words which she acknowledged from George Orwell: "In many ways writing is the act of saying “I” and of imposing oneself upon other people. It’s a way of saying: “listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” It also can be seen as an aggressive, even a hostile, act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses, qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses, evasions, and with a whole manner of intimating literary gestures rather than claiming, of alluding thoughts rather than stating them plainly; but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the readers most private space. Didion says that she stole the title “Why I Write?” not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all that she has to tell us as readers. Like many writers, she says, she has only this one "subject," this one "area": the act of writing. She can bring readers no reports from any other front. She acknowledges other interests, as I do, but—like Didion—in these my latter years, my years now in my 70s, and 80s, if I last that long—writing is my game.

Like Didion, too, I needed a degree back in the '60s, by the end of the summer of '66 so that I could enter teachers’ college. Like Didion, my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch. But, unlike Didion, it was also on ideas, hundreds of them. Like Didion, though, I knew only too well what I couldn’t do. I knew what I wasn’t, what did not interest me, things in life about which I seemed to lack not only the intellectual capacity but also the bodily gestures and movements. It took me some years to discover what I was. By the age of 55, even more by 60, and even more by 65, and certainly by the age of 70, I knew I was a writer.

Didion goes on to say that when she said that she knew she was a writer--she meant not a "good" writer or a "bad" writer but simply a writer. To her this meant a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are/were spent arranging words on pieces of paper. In Didion’s case, she emphasized that had her formal academic credentials been in order back in the crucial early days of her employment career and lifespan, she would never have become a writer. Had she been blessed with even a limited access to her own mind, her own thoughts and an ability to put them into words, there would have been no reason to write. She wrote entirely to find out what she was thinking, what she was looking at and what it meant, as well as what she wanted and what she feared. I had a different set of reasons, a different raison d’etre. I explore this raison d’etre in these essays on autobiography, on identity, as well as many other subjects.

29/12/'09 to 15/3/'14


The Danish RENNER project is a research network on the study of new religions. This research network, which is supported by the Danish Research Council for the Humanities, has been active since 1992. In 1998, a new grant from the Research Council resulted in a specific study on new religions and globalisation. A project was initiated with several separate studies of new age religion and globalisation. The book, Baha’i and Globalisation, which is the seventh volume of the book series Renner Studies on New Religion, is the second of the case studies of the project. Another book, which emphasises the theoretical and methodological aspects of the study of new religions and globalisation, will be volume eight in the series, rounding off this special RENNER topic. Globalisation is the conventional term used to describe the present,rapid integration of the world economy facilitated by the innovations and growth in international electronic communications particularly during the last two decades.

In one of the chapters of that 7th volume, Denis MacEoin pointed to the triumphalist aspect of the Baha’is’self-understanding as representing the religion to unite all religions in the culmination of globalisation. However, on the path ahead lie issues of secularism, and MacEoin discusses the challenges which secular values present to a religion that, rooted in Islamic thinking, aims to fuse the spheres of religion and society. Still this book, the first anthology in Baha’i studies that deals with globalisation is a sign of things to come within this new paradigm.


When asked what he thought of conveying the truths of the Cause in the form of writing fiction, Shoghi Effendi's secretary replied on his behalf: "He would not recommend fiction as a means of teaching; the condition of the world is too acute to permit of delay in giving them the direct teachings, associated with the name of Bahaullah. But any suitable approach to the Faith, which appeals to this or that group, is certainly worthy of effort, as we wish to bring the Cause to all men, in all walks of life, of all mentalities."(Shoghi Effendi in a letter written to an individual believer on 23 March 1945 in Writers and Writing, p. 412) This has been my own MO, as it were, since I joined the Cause in the late 1950s. Reaching and meeting the mentalities of men and women from all walks of life is not easy. To achieve this with any degree of success has been a challenge in this or any paradigm that has been at the centre of Bahai life. Part of the quintessential problem, it has always seemed to me, especially since I am a professional teacher and since I have now spent fifty years in classrooms dealing with printed matter in one form or another, is that the Bahai community, the Bahai Faith, is a religion of The Book, par excellence.

Printed matter is at the core of Bahai experience and the growth of this Faith is taking place, as some argue, in a society that has been in many basic ways moving very forcefully toward an aural, an audio-visual culture. Print does not turn millions on in anything like the same ways that video, cinema, hi-fidelity sound systems, radio and the apparatus of a whole electronic industry does. I don't want to deal with this issue in any detail since the field involved is indeed very complex and a whole literature has grown up which analyses the permutations and combinations that surround the core of the social changes involved. But the paradigm change the Bahai Faith has been going through and will go through in the years ahead can not ignore this complex sociological and psychological phenomenon of a vast print and electronic media. Ironically, of course, much of the large and significant growth patterns are not in the so-called educated West but in the third world. The question, the issue of the basic learning mode that turns people on, the basic styles of print that people turn to in their daily lives for stimulation and entertainment, is a complex one and outside the scope of this book to deal with in any detail. But the quantitative successes, the statistical increases, within this new paradigm in many locations are in part at least bound up with this issue.

Since the mid-1990s there has emerged a paradigmatic shift in communications technology. Children born after 1995, at least in the affluent West, live in a fluid, connected, always-on, digital ecology of hybrid intercommunicating forms, messages, content and activities: personalised, individually and immediately available. It is a world controllable and manipulable at will and feeding-into, promoting or giving rise to personal production, content and meaning-creation. This generation of the digital ‘post-broadcast’ era, their media world and their experiences are radically different from my generation, the war-babies and the baby boomers at their age. Their world is not entirely different; they may still be watching Star Wars and Doctor Who, but a chasm separates the childhoods of this new generation and those of the past, those born before the mid-1990s, before the onset of this new paradigm.

As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes of this digital generation, it is “liquid” or “fluid” and is representative of much of contemporary life. As opposed to many of the solidities of the past, this more fluid culture, more fluid environment of the last two decades, the years of this new paradigm, has far-reaching consequences for the social sphere. An even greater individualism and a more fractured society as well as a freedom from social “bonds,” and an increased inability to connect meaningfully with others has produced a need to constantly adapt or transform according to one's social environment. This last feature, the ability to become socially malleable and fit into multiple social situations becomes, perhaps, the most valued personal commodity of this state of “liquidity.” This new culture of learning and growth caters to this more fluid social world.

Web-publishing also represents a paradigm change since the mid-1990s. This essay or book has now been seen by thousands of people and it has got nowhere near a publisher or, for that matter, a Bahai reviewing committee. By the time a book has been written and passed through a series of readers, editors and proofreaders to make it to the shops where it is eventually noticed, bought, read, reviewed and quoted, years can have passed by. Today the media world moves very fast. Web-publishing allows for cheap, instant, global publication. It allows for faster, updateable commentary, for freer expression, more original ideas, more debate, real feedback, rapid responses to the world and ongoing critical dialogue. Even if this new form doesn’t replace books, web-publishing is taking subjects to the world and throws out faster, draft responses to new developments. It engages people more directly with each other and challenges and pushes the field forward. This is all part of the new paradigm change in the Bahai community. It is also part of my own engagement and participation in the new Bahai paradigm. It is a very rich, satisfying and meaningful interaction and it was not even possible before the mid 1990s when this paradigm got off the ground.


Half the work of essay writing or writing a book is finding surprises, curious juxtapositions, arresting metaphors and clever turns of phrase that readers can enjoy, readers who have become used to having their senses titillated and their minds stimulated with little to no effort on their part. The other half of the work in writing essays or writing in any genre is knowing a good deal about the subject one is writing about, the subject one is bringing to the attention of readers. As writers go about this dual-role, this two-sided field of work, they often see themselves as proxies, as people acting for their readers, as agents or substitutes for their readers. They also try to write about things they've thought about a lot. They aim for good ideas, but good ideas are not always easy to come by. Good ideas can often be funny because the connection may be a surprise. Surprises often make people laugh and surprises are what some writers, at least this one, wants to deliver.

A person who has thought about a topic a lot, will probably, will hopefully, surprise at least some of his readers. Surprises are things that not only the writer did not know, but they are also things that often contradict what a writer thought he or she knew. For this reason they're one of the most valuable sorts of facts a writer can get. They're like a food that's not merely healthy, but counteracts the unhealthy effects of things the person has already eaten. Some of the most interesting surprises are unexpected connections between different fields. Making people laugh in my writing and coming up with surprises are not skills with which I feel particularly endowed. Readers of my various works must put up with a high seriousness more than humour and plain talk rather than a good layering of surprises. I often aim for things in my writing that I do not achieve; the process is not unlike much of my work in the Bahai community. Some goals one achieves and some one does not. Some things one can change and some one cant and, hopefully, one has the wisdom to know the difference as the Alcoholics Anonymous organization emphasizes time and again in their literature.

Here are two examples of the kind of surprise and interesting juxtapositions I am talking about. Firstly: jam, bacon, pickles and cheese, which are among the most pleasing of foods, were all originally intended as methods of preservation. Books and paintings are also methods of preservation. A writer, if he or she is clever enough, could play with this juxtaposition and be quite entertaining. I leave it to readers here to try this one on for size and see what they can do to bring into literary creation some surprising turn of phrase--and do this in relation to this new paradigm. For a second example: Oscar Wilde said that human beings often make the mistake so common among the English that of degrading truth into facts. Wilde complained in a newspaper article he had published in 1894 entitled "Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-Educated," that: "When a truth becomes a fact it loses all its intellectual value." Of course, not everyone will get the surprise or appreciate the juxtaposition. In writing, as in life, one only wins some of the time.

Due to this notion of surprise, juxtaposition and metaphor, I make comparisons and contrasts between this new paradigm and insects, plants, human development and evolution. I hope readers enjoy these extensions into wider worlds as I travel, as they travel with me. Enjoying the provocative nature of this quotation from Oscar Wilde and seeing some truth in what he is saying, I try to get behind the multitude of facts within this new paradigm. Sadly or not so sadly, this book has many of these so-called facts, but I trust I have given them an engendering, an enriching, perspective, a renewed intellectual value. One can have lofty hopes and high aims and I hope, for the sake of the readers who travel with me for these 190,000 words, they get a payoff for their time spent.

If there's one piece of advice I try to implement when writing it is: don't do what you're told like some parrot; avoid imitation and its loathsome odours; don't believe what alot of others have told you to believe and what they think you are supposed to believe. Don't write the essay or book that readers are expecting to read. Readers often learn little to nothing from what they expect. And, finally, don't write the way someone taught you to do back in school. The internet may well make our age the golden age of the essay, the book and many other literary form. It may also help to make it a dark age since so much of the stuff on the internet has a high degree of literary illiteracy. There are wonderful examples, models, exemplars, mentors, out there on the world-wide-web, more than the writing and reading world has ever enjoyed. Sadly and at the same time, as I say, there are piles and piles of garbage that readers must learn to avoid as they look for the flowers, the gems and the wisdom embedded in printed matter.

After fifty years of learning and teaching English and after nearly 15 years of reading the essays and the books of others on the web as well as writing a few of my own, perhaps something of the skills in using this language has rubbed off. Perhaps I have found some gems and flowers. I leave it to each individual reader to make their own assessment as inevitably they do and will in the years ahead. I hope for your sake dear reader that you find some pleasure here. I have received much praise and have for decades; the examples of written encomiums, had I saved them, would fill a small book; but I have also received my share of opprobrium. I have been advised to take classes in writing, to simplify my writing and to write less. Had I taken the advice, the criticism, I have received seriously I would have stopped writing long ago. One can only please some of the people some of the time and not everyone's style and method of writing suits the taste of every reader. I have my enthusiastic readership and I have my detractors. This was true when I was a student and teacher of English for fifty years and I have no doubt it will be true until I am called up yonder and go to the place where, I anticipate, there will be no more writing and talking. But who knows, eh?

I am certainly conscious of much rubbing and polishing of the writing process in my personal life as I look back over my writing since the late 1940s when the Bahai Faith was about to go through a paradigm shift in the remaining years of the then Seven Year Plan(1946-1953) and the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963), a paradigm shift which took its teachings to the four corners of the planet for the first time, saw the Mother temple in the West completed and its holy places in Israel embellished beyond anything they had enjoyed in their century-long history.

As a writer and editor, as an essayist and critic, as an analyst and commentator I have inherited several traditions and read the works of many who have set a high standard for my own work. Many of those whom I read possess that rare gift of capturing the vitality of their own experience of life and art and of making their readers richer for sharing that experience. I hope I achieve some of this rare writing gift to give to readers. We all have gifts that are useful in a Bahá'í community; some of these gifts I'm sure assure some a place within the precincts of the courts of the Lord, and a seat at the revelation of the splendors of the light of His countenance.(Bahá'í Prayers, 1985, p.236)

The Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote that his scientific papers on butterflies, an area in which he possessed some expertise, had absolutely no interest whatever for the layman and little to no interest to most scientists. He was expressing both his pride as much as his melancholy in relation to this topic. This book on the new Bahai paradigm has no interest whatever to the vast majority of people who know little about the Bahai Faith and/or take little interest in it. Even for the 5 to 7 million Bahais, several million of these members are not on the internet and several million of those who are will never read this article. So much that is written in the wide-wide world is inevitably for a coterie; it is useful to keep this reality of literary life in mind as one goes about the exercise of expatiating in written form on some topic of personal interest. Such a view helps to provide perspective, balance and a sense of detachment from what one is describing and analysing. I do not anticipate changing the world with these words. As much as the idea of being a major agent of change has its appeal to my sense of personal meaning, my sense of achievement in life and some of the goals I have lived with for over half a century, I goabout this writing quietly in my study, post it on the internet and wait. My mother used to say to me: "boy, most of life is waiting." I have slowly come to appreciate my other's wisdom is this and many areas as the decades have rolled on.

I have had several thousand "hits" or "clicks" on my article in the last two years but given that success in our modern age at many a site, at many a video site like U-tube is often measured in the millions, this piece of writing, this exposure of an idea is in the minor leagues to use a baseball metaphor. But there are some readers out there, perhaps more than if this article/book had found a place in a hard or soft-covered journal or magazine, bulletin or newsletter. Such is the mystery and the wonder of the internet, of cyberspace. I have no list of the readers any more than someone who writes a book knows the names of those who buy his books. But it's immensely rewarding to think that so many people, from such farflung places, have found this book. Of course, a click has many meanings and one should be aware of the possible low end of the spectrum where readers simply turn you off right at the start of their reading journey through your extended and extensive piece of writing, however constructive, however self-obsessed or however significant your writing may be.


Section 1:

Some observers had the view that in the years from, say 1976 to 1996, the Bahai Faith did not grow. While this has been true in some of the countries of the world, it is not true in most. In the USA from 1976 to 1996 the Bahai population doubled from about 75,000 to 140,000(circa) and I could site similar stats for the Canada and Australia among other countries. From 1956 with some 250,000 believers, from about one million in 1976 to 1996 and, arguably, four million believers; from a religion with most of its members in Iran in the 1950s to a religion with its members scattered to the four corners of the world, this new global religion could be said to have experienced a paradigm change in these years as well, although the language of paradigms was not invoked. That the growth I have referred to was not in places where many westerners lived in the two decades from 1976 to 1996 was a cause of more than a little concern, was a test to the spiritual fibre of the Bahai membership in the West, those refined inheritors, those spiritual descendants of the Dawnbreakers, those believers who lived in the half-light as the Guardian called these years of the Formative Age.

The Bahá'í population of the contiguous forty-eight states was about 110,000 in 1992, but Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico together have about six thousand more. Reconstructing the membership figures for the American Bahá'ís decade by decade is complicated by changing definitions of membership and poor data collection, but the following numbers have been determined: From 1899 to 1921 the number of Bahais ranged between 1500 and 2500, depending on how many of the Bahai sympathizers one includes. In 1936 the membership had risen to 2584; in 1944, to 4800; in 1956, to 7000; in 1963, to 10,000; in 1969, 13,000; in 1971, 31,000; in 1974, 60,000; in 1979, 75,000; in 1987, 100,000. See: "The American Bahai Community in the Nineties," by Robert H. Stockman, Bahai Research Office, Wilmette, Ill. Published in Dr. Timothy Miller, ed., America's Alternative Religions, SUNY Press, Albany, 1995. In 2010 the numbers had arisen to 165,000. With some effort, indeed much effort and research, readers could find out the statistical development within the more than 200 countries wherein the Bahai Faith is now found. In the years of this new Bahai culture the BWC has developed a statistical section to deal with the many issues that now arise in relation to numbers.

Section 2:

Statistics, postal addresses and Bahai membership records are themselves a complex entity. Numbers and details, documents and dossiers, facts and figures, measurements and memoranda, reports and quantitative results as well as testimonies and stories, however important they are in the Bahai community, are not the essence of Bahá'í community life. The use of statistics in all fields is a discipline in itself and I do not want to get into the permutations and combinations of this discipline in relation to this paradigm. Statistics often exhibit a snowball effect: arbitrary figures become widely repeated, and soon become part of the conventional wisdom. In his book Damned Lies and Statistics Joel Best notes that a number "takes on a life of its own through repetition." Best continues: "the number comes to be treated as a straightforward fact -- accurate and authoritative."

It might seem unfair to criticize various sources for statistical errors in books and articles which are not primarily concerned with statistics. But it is precisely because these works are thoughtful and articulate that they serve as good examples. Numbers are unforgiving: small errors can become big errors; even faulty statistics are still imbued with authority by virtue of their source. How can we separate good statistics from the bad? The first step is to approach all numbers with some skepticism.

The statistics department at the Bahai World Centre housed now in The Seat on the 4th floor, as I say above, is dealing with some of these complex questions. Some additional comments to those made above on numbers and stats, though, are necessary and I will be brief. The Bahai Faith is, for the most part, highly diffuse rather than concentrated and this, among other major barriers to demographic research by outsiders, makes surveys and censuses, except of course government censuses which ask individuals their religion, simply unable to be conducted with any degree of comprehensiveness. This is especially true at the statistical levels required to accurately gauge the extent, dispersion and membership of many religious and other minorities in the world.

Section 3:

In some countries the Bahá'í Faith is illegal, making it difficult for even the Bahá'í community in these places to maintain an accurate count. The movement of Bahai refugees out of Iran in and after the 1970s significantly altered the demography of many Bahai communities in western countries. In Australia, where I have been living for four decades, there were some 17,000 Bahais by 2006, the end of the first decade of this new paradigm, on the lists of believers and about 10,000 of these are made up of Iranian born as well as first and second generation Australians with Iranian ancestry.

In Canada, where my Bahai life began, there are now some 30,000 Bahais more than sixty times the number there were when my mother saw an advertisement in the local newspaper in Ontario and then attended her first fireside in 1953. Iranian Bahá'ís make up a significant part of this national community as well. In the bigger global picture and according to an article which appeared at a Foreign Policy website in its May 2007 edition, the Bahai Faith had a growth rate of 1.70 percent and the number of its adherents was 7.7 million. This was reported from the World Christian Encyclopaedia. Their methodology is apparently statistically sophisticated and includes, as I understand, people who will identify themselves as Baha’i but who won’t necessarily have enrolled with the Baha’i communities. This is but one of the variable stats reported around the world.

Localities where Bahais resided on the planet went from 3,117 in the early 1950s, to 11,092 in the early 1960s, to 31,883 in the late 1960s, to 69,541 in 1973, to 102,704 in 1979, to 112,137 in 1988 and to 119,276 in 1994. For all practical purposes this article, this book, assumes a 120,000 locality base on the planet and 16,000 clusters, a new term within this paradigm. There were 1600 IPGs, intensive programs of growth, in January 2011. Until further notice, readers should not expect a discussion of the numbers of IPGs in the remaining years of the current FYP. The entire organizational structure of this new paradigm is one of the many factors now assisting the Bahai community in developing an accurate statistical base. Already in use in some cities around the world before the emergence of this new paradigm, the intimate level of the neighbourhood gradually occupied a more important position in Bahai administration as it would do, without doubt,in the decades ahead in the literally millions, if not billions, of neighbourhoods, depending of course on the multitude of possible definitions, of permutations and combinations of such collectivities on the planet. The instituting of the practice of what is essentially a decentralization of Bahai activity to the neighbourhood level has brought both advantages and new problems which I hope to discuss in a future edition of this book and as this process of decentralization advances under this new paradigm. Of course, in most places, most localities where Bahais reside, this decentralizing process has not begun, indeed, is not relevant, as yet and may not be for decades and possibly centuries to come, if ever. This new paradigm has many new features, features which had already emerged before this paradigm began in the 1990s, and other features which have yet to emerge within this new framework of organization, analysis and action.

Sectrion 4:

The rapid increase in localities and numbers since I became associated with this Faith in the 1950s as I point out in this article, has produced its own problems associated with growth. Some areas paused for a time while attempts were made to deepen the knowledge and experience of the new Bahá'ís. Concern with quantities and numerical successes often limited concern for quality. This new paradigm is partly concerned with this reality, this problem of quantity and quality, the problem of boom and bust as it is sometimes called. The problem of numbers: too many or not enough will, it seems to me, be with us for some time to come, perhaps centuries as it has been a problem since the inception of this Faith in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1892, on the passing of Bahaullah, it has been estimated that there were 50,000 Bahais; in 1921, 115,000, in 1953 some 200,000 and in 1963 about 400,000.

The Bahai community has been making efforts for many years to obtain accurate statistical data. As the International Teaching Centre pointed out in April 2003 statistics have been an ever-present problem, a phenomenon that always needs to be addressed: “the task of refining the criteria needed for valid assessments of what the community is actually proving to be an ongoing challenge to institutions. The counterproductive nature of rigid criteria is obvious, but the necessity for a well-defined scheme to carry out evaluation is essential." In the last four years, 2007-11, a new scheme of statistical data-collection has been introduced and it is still a-work-in- progress. This whole paradigmatic shift in emphasis is a-work-in-progress, as people say somewhat colloquially these days. When I come to revise this commentary, as I hope to do in the months and years ahead, the content of this lengthy piece of writing will, I have little doubt, alter in extent, focus and content.

During the years of this paradigmatic shift thusfar, the Baha’i community in the West and much of the East is not being faced with the many problems that come from vast and significantly increased enrolments. Accelerated and sustained growth is now taking place in some two per cent(see below, Lample) of the 6000 clusters in which Bahais reside. Outside of this two per cent it would appear that enrolments are sporadic, a few new believers here and there. Significant increases have yet to be realized in most places including most A clusters, defined as those clusters with the largest number of Bahais. In many A-clusters the rate of enrolments has actually decreased in the first fifteen years of this new paradigm. Learning about growth has not resulted in a simple formula for action. Indeed, as the House of Justice emphasized in their Ridvan 2010 message among other messages: there are no simple formulae, no hard and fast rules. Rather, sacrifice and perseverence, critical thought, constant valuation and the revising of methods are required. Moving into the new and uncharted waters of this paradigm has often resulted in new obstacles.

Section 5:

The more than 1500 A-clusters with their IPGs, intensive programs of growth, by 2010, helped to turn the tide of concern for numbers. The Bahai community had two full years, from April 2010 to April 2012,to strengthen the pattern of expansion and consolidation established around the world in country after country. This turning of the tide, as one writer put it more than ten years ago at the beginning of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006), saw a significant increase in numbers compared to the years, say, 1975 to 2000 in many parts of the world, but not everywhere. I hope to keep readers abreast of these statistics as best I can as the current Five Year Plan(2011-2016) comes to an end in the next 16 months, and the new one,(2016-2021) the sixth in the series with the explicit aim of advancing the process of entry by troops--unfolds. But, as I say elsewhere in this book, the game is not solely and especially about numbers or, in many places--if not most in the West--the Bahá'ís would have given up long ago. In addition, this book is not a report on Bahá'í statistics. Each Bahá'í with the interest can now access many internet sites for such information.

Significant growth patterns are now being achieved in many localities on the planet, although not in many places in the West. One writer has noted that, of the 16,000 clusters in 2006, "some 10,000 remained unopened and less than 2% were capable of taking on the challenge of growth."(Lample, p.104) As another reliable source for this writer has indicated: in 150 of the 200 territories in the world there is at least one IPG; in another 50 there are no IPGs. The picture of growth and statistical details is highly mixed, complex and is a work-in-progress as I refer to above. It has always been this way and it looks like it always will be for some years and decades to come--if not centuries! Much of the teaching work is unpredictable in its outcome; and much is predictable. So what is new! Sadly, much of one's teaching efforts are quite predictable, at least in terms of enrollments. For this reason the House of Justice has reiterated that the Bahai community should not measure their efforts in terms of enrollments.

This book dwells on statistics to a limited extent and I may pick up this theme in more detail in the years ahead as this book unfolds here at BLO. Wikipedia has an excellent discussion of statistics in terms of National Spiritual Assemblies. Readers with a fascination for statistics can read estimates at a range of internet sites. Statistics have long been used by individuals and groups to prove and illustrate, disprove and counter, claims of growth and decline, development and regress. for now I leave this often complex and elusive subject.

The achievements of the last 15 years have not come without difficulties; the successes are not realized universally but neither are the failures. There is no rigid formula or set of procedures for the teaching work as I have indicated above quoting the House of Justice in the process. There is no doubt that a breakthrough has occurred in the last 15 years from a global perspective. Lample puts it well: "the guidance we receive is not simply a list of suggestions from which individuals and institutions choose according to their own preferences. The question is not does the guidance apply but rather how does the guidance apply to me?


Although Baha’is have always been interested in numbers, an increase in numerical quantities, in the number of believers; although the Baha’i community has always given priority to the establishment of groups at the local level throughout the entire planet, paradigm shifts like this one do not mean, nor have they ever meant, that numbers will necessarily increase as day follows night with some in-built and natural inevitability anywhere and everywhere. Far from it. I see one of the many roles of this shift as yet another preparatory period, another phase, stage, as another paradigm shift in the long process of entry by troops, the prelude to an eventual mass conversion. Not all the individuals who come together in Bahai communities have chosen the path of servitude; indeed, they have each chosen different levels of servitude and sacrifice. Some come together in their respective communities for the sake of the Cause; some come together for the social, the companionship, the stimulation; some readily assume a posture of learning that is indispensable for collective endeavour within this new paradigm and some do not. A systematic process is set in motion in some ways more systematic with each Plan within the community. In this process the friends review their successes and difficulties, adjust and improve their methods accordingly, learn and move forward, sometimes hesitatingly, sometimes unhesitatingly. Sometimes the study of the Creative Word is systematic and sometiems it is not.

This all takes place within an immensely diverse field, with common patterns but also with the creative force of individual initiative and not everyone doing the same thing across 20,000 LSAs, 6,000 clusters and 120,000 localities where Bahais reside. The balance between the subordination of the individual to the group and the right of the individual to self-expression, to personal rights and freedom of initiative is often a difficult balance to achieve. The aim is not to lose individual in the mass and to allow the individual to find their own place in the flow of progress. This balance, it seems to me, is part of what this new paradigm aims to achieve as it develops its community focus and its focus on the primary development of the individual.(UHJ, Letter to the Bahais of the USA, 29/12/88).


The Bahá'í Faith may be the second most wide-spread religion on Earth, but large numbers of new believers have not characterized growth patterns in the West in the Bahai community since at least the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. In the places where I have lived, in Canada and Australia, this has certainly been true. Large numbers certainly did enter this Faith in the late 1980s in many other parts of the world. From 1970 to 1990 the numbers grew globally from about one million to four million. From time to time, the Universal House of Justice expressed its concern for the slowness of the growth, the statistical side of things. In the USA numbers have increased after the bubble of enrollments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but discussions about enrollments in most places in western countries are not a source of excitement and encouragement. Since the late 1970s the number of LSAs have actually dropped in Africa, Asia, South America or so it would appear from some statistical reports I have read on the internet. Something like a third of the Bahai comity in the USA has no known address. In Australia where I live, over 4000 members on the list of some 17,000 believers in 2015 have no known address, no contact point.

Many believers in western Bahá'í communities wondered what their attitude should be to the prolonged and sustained absence of growth for at least a quarter of a century, say, 1975-2000, or the 40+ year period from 1974 to 2015. The British Bahá'í community, for instance, remained static and even had slightly reduced numbers since the mid-1970s. I understand from anecdotal reports that many communities in Western Europe, France and Switzerland for example, share this pattern of low or negative growth. In the United States, according to Robert Stockman (, the Bahai community in the period 1979-1998 grew from 77,396 (48,357 confirmed addresses) to 138,168. Of these 138,000 however, roughly half are mail returns and address unknown. This has led Juan Cole to estimate a Bahai population in the USA of circa 60,000. Margit Warburg estimated that 10-20% of Bahá'ís were "inactive" in Denmark and anyone familiar with continental Europe could site chapter and verse on many a sad situation statistically for the last quarter of the twentieth century.

An entire generation of Bahá'ís, particularly those that entered the Faith in a period of high expansion in the 1950s, 1960's and 1970's and also their children, have experienced constant disappointment, frustration and powerlessness in the teaching work. This has coincided with a growing emphasis on entry by troops, expansion and a consequent development of high expectations. This resulted in a sense of apparent failure and discouragement in large sections of the community. The life-giving task of teaching the faith came to be associated with feelings of pain and inadequacy. In 2002 the department of the secretariat wrote on behalf of the Universal House of Justice that the lack of significant numerical growth in Bahá'í communities in Western lands, while more precisely applicable to some countries than others, is largely accurate and the resulting distress many Bahais feel was fully justified. To see important Bahá'í communities markedly lacking in the development of the human resources required to reach populations desperately searching for solutions to the crisis in which society is sinking is painful indeed to believers aware of the potency of Bahá'u'lláh's Message. This consideration, that letter went on to say, was an important element in the drafting of the relevant sections of the document "Century of Light", to which it made reference. Several passages of that document attempted to acquaint believers everywhere with the profound change in Bahá'í culture that the preceding decades of struggle, achievement and disappointment made possible and that was capitalized on through the agency of the Four Year Plan(1996-2000).


Part 1:

The culture now emerging is one in which groups of Bahá'u'lláh's followers explore together the truths in His Teachings, freely open their study circles, devotional gatherings and children's classes to their friends and neighbours, and invest their efforts, at times confidently and, at times, cautiously and somewhat timidly in plans of action designed at the level of the cluster, that aims to make growth a manageable goal. The enthusiasm with which Bahá'í communities in most parts of the world are responding to this challenge, and the results their efforts are beginning to garner have been a source of great joy to the House of Justice. The number of children in most parts of the world who have benefitted from organized classes of instruction from grade to grade in acquiring knowledge of the Cause, its history and teachings, has been few, but this has begun to change in the first 18 years of this new paradigm. The beginnings are promising but there is much work to be done and, inevitably, more work as expansion proceedes in the years ahead.

Let me quote but one example from one of the 1000s of examples of work with children in Bahai communities around the world in relation to the core activity of children's classes. The example is found in that talk I quoted earlier in this book that the composer Ludwig Tuman gave in Florida at that social and economic development conference. Tuman is also an educator who has worked with children as well as adults for many a year. He said in that talk that he had always been impressed with children’s ability to grasp spiritual principles and make them their own. He talked about a young six year old girl named Jasmine who studied composition and piano with him. Tuman brought her along to his talk and she sang a song she wrote about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It was called “Softly His Voice is Calling”. Its words were written more than a century ago by a Louise Waite, an American believer and writer of hymns, to whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave the name, Shahnaz Khánum.

Tuman gave Jasmine the words written by Louise Waite and asked Jasmine to set them to a melody of her own making. She wrote the melody and then Tuman added the rest. Together the two came up with the song. Tuman suggested to his audience to imagine how the general public attending an open devotional meeting in their own local community would feel when they saw and heard expressions of faith rendered through art works and performed by children as well as adults. Of course, not every community has a Ludwig Tuman in it and not every community has children. The Bahai community I am in has neither a Tuman or any children and our engagement in core activities in correspondingly different than the community Tuman cites as his example. To each their own. From each according to their capacity and circumstances as the House keeps saying in letter after letter.

Part 2:

In the 2000 Ridvan Message, the House of Justice said the following of children: "Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and the guarantee of the future." There are many ways that Bahá'ís are now engaging the children of their community more in the activities. These are some I have heard about.

1. Change the time of events

Many families with young children often find it hard to attend evening programs. A simple change in the starting time of regular community events (e.g. 7 pm instead of 7:30 pm) have gone a long way in encouraging participation of young families (and hence their children) in these events. Even just a 30-minute adjustment can make all the difference! In addition to this, any Holy Days or Feasts that fall on a weekend could be held during the day where possible, perhaps with a barbeque, picnic or big spread of kid-friendly food and activities to celebrate.

2. Showcase the children’s class work

Many teachers brainstorm ideas with the kids in the class, engaging them on many levels to dream up projects that incorporate the arts and various forms of technology into their children’s class. Asking the children to showcase their work not only shows them you value it but also gets them excited to come along to events. Children are now performing plays they’ve written, playing movies they’ve created, showing artwork they’ve created (including a quilt!) and singing songs they’ve written themselves. Don’t let their shyness fool you. Children love to be acknowledged for a job well done!

Rather than have an adult-centric Holy Day why not have the next one focus on the kids? One Ayyam-i-Ha, a friend and I organized a specific afternoon party for the kids in the neighborhood park. We sent out flyers inviting all of the kids in the block to join us in our celebration about a week before the party. Our community organized lots of cooperative games (e.g. three legged race), face painting, virtue sharing, party bags and pass the parcel. It was an absolute joy to organize each activity and the children couldn’t have been more appreciative! The Baha’i kids (although few in number) were beaming with joy at the party’s success and felt great pride in being able to say that this was one of their Holy Day events! To this day, they still mention it and I am touched by how a small act meant so much to them.

4. Get the children involved in the program

From what I hear, many Baha’i kids have pretty good reading skills. Another neighboring community’s children’s class teachers have noticed that instead of telling stories to some of the older kids at the children’s class, the kids get a kick out of reading for each other. They have harnessed this enthusiasm to get them to share some of these stories at each Feast. In another local community, the local treasurer often has stories printed out about the Fund and gives them to kids before the Feast so that they can practice and then share them with the whole community. In addition to this, whenever the kids are at the Feast, they are asked to read a Reading in the devotional portion of the program. If they aren’t comfortable with that, they can choose to say a prayer they are really familiar with instead. And if they’re not comfortable with that, the community will join them in singing a prayer together – whatever works for each child!

5. Encourage the children to work together and host an event

I have heard it said that the best way to show someone you trust and respect them is to give them some responsibility. Kids enjoy a challenge and take pride in being given responsibility for something you care about. Inviting them to host a Feast or devotional meeting is a great way to let them take the reins. Of course, you’ll need to accompany them along the journey. Provide some time at the preceding children’s classes to organize it, and discuss how they’d like to welcome the community, run the devotional program, what they’d like to serve during the refreshments, the set-up of the Feast etc. You’ll be amazed at what creative minds they have, and what grand ideas they can put into action. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Do you have any other ideas as to how we can engage children more in community life? Share them in the comments! THE GENERAL PICTURE WORLDWIDE

Part 1:

All is not bright and rosy, but not all is sad and depressing. Just as I was beginning to write this book in 2007, the NSA of the USA expressed its general view in an annual report of the Bahá'í community’s spiritual vitality and prospects for growth. They said they were inspired and confident that the elements required for a concerted "robust and capable" effort to infuse the USA with the spirit of Bahá'u'lláh’s Revelation were present. Public awareness and receptivity to the Bahá'í Faith, that NSA pointed out, was high. Tens of thousands of Bahá'ís had been trained in the core activities; well over 1,100 children’s classes had been held regularly; 41 programs of intensive growth were in operation and Local Spiritual Assemblies and cluster agencies evinced increasing vigor in their pursuit of the Plan’s goals. This pattern is true in country after country around the world insofar as the core activities are concerned. I could quote from later NSA reports in the USA and other countries but this book would assume dimensions that are too extensive. The picture from country to country is highly diverse and I find it difficult to generalize across the immense world that is this new Bahai world. In some ways this book is a continued commentary on this process and progress of growth.

Generally there is an increase in the numbers in all core activities nationally in most western nations. Nevertheless, as the NSA of the USA reported some eight years ago, in 2006, growth still remains low. In the 19 years, 1996 to 2015, in the first two decades of this new culture of learning and growth, there has actually been a decline in enrollments in many countries. The picture looked much brighter in the USA in 2008 and 2009 than in 2007 and 2006. Each country in the Bahai world has its own story as the new paradigm is being put in place around the Bahai world in these first two decades: 1996-2015.

Part 2:

I will try and summarize and generalize, bring this book up to date, in the months and years ahead as this book is revised and reworked as more and more information comes in, as the the Bahai world puts into action the plans and programs developed at all levels of Bahai administration, as the capacity building of individuals continues especially in the areas of inner life and private character and as the agonies of humanity deepen as they inevitably will.

This book is not intended, though, to become a statistical report. Believers can get this from a number of sites on the internet and it is not my purpose in this book to provide a statistical base for Bahai developments in the 190 countries and 46 territories of the world to which this new Cause has spread and where excerpts of Baha’u’llah’s writings have now been translated into 802 languages.(The Bahá’í World 2003, p.311). So many of the processes in this paradigm are long-term ones & this applies especially to capacity building. Indeed, like learning, it is a life-long activity. So many of the processes involve a rich tapestry of community life in the greatest drama of all--the drama which is our lives, our lives in society and in our private domain.


It can not be overemphasised how important it is to set reasonable goals and take small steps in order to turn bite-sized changes into lasting change over the long term. This process is sometimes called the Swiss-cheese method. As groups sit at the table of their cluster and other institutional meetings, as they come together in their several ways: study circles, Feasts, deepenings, LSAs and NSAs, as well as in the many forums at the Bahai World Centre: sometimes with all of the stakeholders, sometimes with only a few, present--they are often reminded that there is no singular solution. The whole thing is a vast tapestry or jig-saw puzzle and it is the individual in the end who has to put it together in his personal and community life. He or she has to put this paradigmatic shift into his or her own life. For this reason I have focussed, perhaps too much for some readers, on a quite personal perspective in what was first an essay, and is now a book, here at BLO. I have focussed on what I have done, what I want to do and where I hope to go in my service to the Cause within the framework of this paradigm and its action-oriented programs. I invite readers to work out their own role, their own goals, aims and objectives. As readers go about this process they might like to keep the Guardian’s words at the forefront of their minds: “our past is not the thing that matters so much in this world as what we intend to do with our future.” Feelings of guilt can be crippling; they can also be protective; they also can help us find the balance.

This new process, this paradigm change, was initiated in 1996 and perhaps even earlier. For at least the first 19 years(1996-2015)it has been aimed at capacity building, at a culture of learning and of growth in the size of the community as well as an accompanying paradigm shift in Bahá’í community life. This process has resulted, sometimes by sensible, sometimes by insensible, degrees---in the flowing into the waters of the Baha’i community what has seemed to many of the veteran believers a sometimes strange, often new, sense of activity. This activity has a new vocabulary involving many of the same old things and many new things. A systematic study of the Creative Word is not more pervasive; learning & teaching have taken-on new dimensions, there has been a vast extension of individual teaching endeavours "irrespective of circumstance." A wider circle of people has become involved in the last two decades. Obviously, this does not mean that in every town and city, village and hamlet of the 120,000 localities where Bahais live that there has been or will be in the years thus far and immediately ahead an increase in the number of Baha’is, however desirable such an increase may be. It also does not mean that building the Bahá'í community is now easier or less demanding or that the tests which individual Bahá'ís face are somehow less intense. This new paradigm is, for each individual, a different story within a vast framework of commonality.

Statistics, as one analyst put it in gloomy terms, are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death. While I would not want to hit statistics that hard, for they are a key ingredient in the success of science and consequently a crucial basis for our technological and material culture, they are not the last and only word in the social world. Still, in this new paradigm, statistics in the Bahá'í community have moved to a whole new level of organization and interpretation. For most of my Bahá'í life, beginning as it did in the 1950s, "the numbers game" had some quite simplistic content: 9 here and 9 there, how many new Bahais this year, how many LSA do we have, et cetera, et cetera. I will not try to summarize the new paradigm of statistics; suffice it to say, the statistics game is much more complex in this new paradigm; I'm sure there are even more Bahá'ís than before who are no more impressed with this side of the Cause than they were before. As has often been said, both inside and outside this new Abrahamic religion, "statistics can prove anything you want." This is especially true if you want to prove something badly enough.


Paradigm shifts do not take place easily because they involve a change in basic assumptions within the current and dominant theory of operations and activities in whatever field in which they occur. My hope is that this piece of writing may play one of the thousands of incremental or microcosmic, sensible or insensible, significant or minor, parts in a process which is now well into its second decade(1996-2006) and (2006-2015). At the outset I would like to thank Moojan Momen for his useful and critical essay which was instrumental in creating the first stages of serious discussion of this paradigmatic shift in Bahai community life. Back in the early years of this new millennium, in the first decade of what has become an ongoing dialogue about this new culture of learning, Momen started some balls rolling, so to speak. The tide is now turning to an appreciation of the significance of this new paradigm after some initial but not always moderate, balanced or realistic criticisms of its context and content.

My own experience as a Bahai has undergone a paradigmatic shift in the last two decades and especially the first ten years of my retirement from full-time work, 1999 to 2009, coinciding as my retirement has with the first years in the shift in the wider Bahai community. Experience, it has been said, is the name people give to their mistakes and after forty years of experience as a Bahai(1959-1999) I made plenty of them. My work on the internet and the direct teaching done in this connection and five weeks spent at the Bahai World Centre in that same decade have altered the focus of my Bahai experience as I entered the first years(60-65) of late adulthood as human development psychologists call the years from 60 to 80.

According to Thomas Kuhn, "A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone, share."(The Essential Tension, 1977). In the case of this Bahai paradigm it is one shared by the international Bahai community--and it alone. A paradigm, in Kuhn's view, is not simply the current theory, but the entire worldview in which it exists, and all of the implications which come with it. It is based on features of a landscape of knowledge that scientists can identify around them. There are anomalies for all paradigms, Kuhn maintained, that are brushed away as acceptable levels of error or simply ignored and not dealt with. And this, it seems to me, is also the case with this paradigm of change in the Bahai community. The comparisons and contrasts with paradigms that scientists deal with in the scientific community and which Kuhn is concerned with are apt, are relevant, in relation to this study of the Bahai paradigm.

When enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis, according to Kuhn. It seems to me, again, that the previous Bahai paradigm, the dominant one until 1996, the one that operated for virtually all of the years of this tenth stage of history(1963-1996), if not all of the years as far back as the beginning of the formal implementation of the Teaching Plan in 1937, had grown outworn if not in a state of crisis. During this crisis, a crisis that had gradually come into the Bahai community sensibly and insensibly for perhaps two or three decades, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, were tried. Indeed the Bahai community that set out in 1996 within the framework for action of this new paradigm capitalized on the insights gained and the resources that had been developed during the Plans as far back as the first one within which my own life had been experienced: the Ten Year Crusade.

A new paradigm, especially during the time of its initial appearance and formulation, does not simply replace, reject or invalidate the preceding one. For this reason, the previous paradigm, although clearly in something of a state of crisis, can still be useful, albeit in a highly restricted capacity and circumscribed situation. Within Newtonian physics, for example, what is true and what is false, is determined by the entities, rules, and conditions that come to be exhibited within the Newtonian system. As long as one operates inside the framework or ‘paradigm’ of this system, it is possible to define what is and what is not valid for the Newtonian characterization of physical reality. All this changes, of course, when the normal functioning of Newtonian science is confronted with an alternative, like that formulated by Albert Einstein. Einstein’s innovations, however, do not invalidate or foreclose Newtonian physics. They simply reinscribe Newton’s laws within a different context that reveals other entities, rules, and conditions that could not be conceptualized as such within the horizon of Newton’s theorizing. In an analogous way, the change in paradigm that has been in place and developing in the Bahai community since the mid-1990s does not disprove or simply put an end to Bahai community activity that went before 1996. That would be absurd. Instead the new paradigm redefines Bahai activity as a highly specific set of ways and means for what needs to be a much more comprehensive understanding of the role and function of the individual, the community and its institutions. This should come as no surprise to the Bahais now after 15 years experience of this new paradigm. In fact, the Bahais already know this for the most part and currently operate within this new perspective, even if they do not always acknowledge it as such, understand all the new dynamics of this paradigm or are able to articulate all the newness in all its forms.

The Bahai community has always achieved many, if not most, of the quantitative goals it set itself during each Plan; it often struggled in vain to reach some of the lofty qualitative goals. So is this often the case in individual lives. Each of the Central Figures of this Cause experienced great disappointment in Their lives, disappointment that this Faith, the Faith They had initiated or inherited, had not spread faster and that, in the process of its extension in Iran and then throughout other countries, sadness that much suffering had resulted in the process of that extension. More recently and in my own lifetime, high expectations of the decades, say, from 1956 to 1996, led to disappointments because these high expectations did not yield their hoped-for results. They were simply unrealistic expectations based on inadequate understanding of the Bahai community itself and the wider society in general. The several successes that did occur in the West, first in the early years of the Ten Year Plan and then in the Nine Year Plan, among other successes in other parts of the global Bahai community in the years from, say, the 1950s to the early 1990s, did not in themselves build a Bahai community life that could meet the needs of all of its new members. Of course, this was not new. It had been true in the years 1844 to 1944.

Both novitiates and veterans have often faced problems for which their experience provided few answers. When hoped for quantitative results did not materialize deep discouragement often set in and inactivity followed for many as night follows day. But slowly, through the 1980s and early 1990s a maturing Bahai experience, and especially with the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, the trustees of the global undertaking that had been initiated more than a century before by a charismatic Force that was arguably the greatest that history had ever experienced, led to the formation of this new paradigm.


Part 1:

In 1983, the Universal House of Justice, the internationally offered the following guidance to the Bahá’í world on social and economic development activities initiated by the Bahá’í community: “Progress in the development field will largely depend on natural stirrings at the grassroots, and it should receive its driving force from those sources rather than from an imposition of plans and programs from the top” (Messages 379.6). The importance of this principle has been reiterated in subsequent statements issued from the Bahá’í World Centre: “. . . grassroots action must begin simply and in a way that can be managed by the community itself” (Bahá’í Social) ; “Bahá’í social and economic development focuses on increasing the capacity of the friends to make decisions about the spiritual and material progress of their communities and then implement them” (Evolution). Although the present focus on development within local communities has tremendous implications for how the Bahá’í world approaches the challenges of development at this time, it has a broader significance as well. If we view the global and ethnically diverse Bahá’í community as a microcosm of humanity, then the principle of stirrings at the grassroots referred to by the Universal House of Justice is important not only for development in the Bahá’í community; it has implications for development in the world at large.

The introduction of many more social and economic projects, especially since the 1960s, has broadened the range of activities in many of the 120,000 Bahá'í localities and communities around the world. Although this book does not deal with the vast development in the social and economic spheres(S&ES) during the three decades before this new paradigm(1966-1996) as well as the last two decades during this new culture of learning, a few words are in order. From time to time in this book I make mention of aspects of the S&ES; the following paragraphs are one of the more important, more detailed, coverage of this aspect of the new Bahá'í culture.

Most Bahá'í social and economic development efforts have been, and are now, fairly simple activities of fixed duration in which Bahá'ís in villages and towns, cities and rural areas, around the world apply spiritual principles to the problems and challenges faced by their localities. These activities either originate in the Bahá'í communities themselves at the local level, or they are a response to the invitation of other organizations. It is estimated that in 1996-97, at the outset of this new paradigm, there were some 1,450 endeavours of this kind, including tree-planting and clean-up projects, health camps, workshops and seminars on such themes as race unity and the advancement of women, and short-term training courses.

The second category of Bahá'í social and economic development consisted, even in the earliest years of this paradigm, of more than 200 ongoing projects. The vast majority were and are academic schools, while others focus on areas such as literacy, basic health care, immunization, substance abuse, child care, agriculture, the environment, or some micro-enterprise. Some of these projects are administered by nascent development organizations which have the potential to grow in complexity and in their range of influence. All projects seek to apply or explore particular Bahá'í principles.

Part 2:

Certain Bahá'í development efforts have achieved the stature of development organizations with relatively complex programmatic structures and significant spheres of influence. They systematically train human resources and manage a number of lines of action to address problems of local communities & regions in a coordinated, interdisciplinary manner. Also included in this category are several institutions, especially large schools which, although focusing only on one field, have the potential to make a significant impact in contributing to the welfare of the communities in which they operate. In this category there are currently 31 such organizations, which are located in all continents of the globe.

Holly Hansen looked at the evolution of Bahá'í involvement in social and economic development and highlighted some current projects in her article which appeared in the 1992-93 edition of The Bahá'í World( pp. 229-245). But these developments, partly within the Office of Economic and Social Development at the Bahai World Centre, partly within the Bahai International Community, an NGO of the United Nations, with offices in Geneva and New York, and partly at other levels of Bahai administration are not the focus of this new paradigm. Indeed there is much about the Bahai Faith that is not the concern of this article, this book, and readers with a wider interest are advised to consult other sources to further their specific interests, interests largely unrelated to the focus in this paradigm analysis.

Part 3:

Overview of Bahá'í Social and Economic Development: Holly Hansen

The development activities of the Bahá'í community express a well-articulated alternative paradigm of development, of interest in its unusual approaches to the dilemmas of sustainability, of meaningful project design, & equitable North/South interaction. The singularity of the Bahá'í approach is rooted in Bahá'í scripture and is evident in the history of the Bahá'í community's efforts to create social progress since the mid-nineteenth century. Although most of the 1300* or so Bahá'í social and economic development projects are small in scale, they occur in over 100 countries throughout the world. The trends discernible in current Bahá'í social and economic development activities include increasing collaboration with U.N. organs, international aid agencies, and non-governmental organizations; a growing willingness to openly assert a Bahá'í origin for ideas and projects; an increasing recognition of the utility of Bahá'í administrative institutions in facilitating development with justice; and a shift towards a greater degree of coordination and systematic implementation of development possibilities throughout the worldwide network of Bahá'í communities.(1)

A Bahá'í Development Paradigm

The Bahá'í paradigm asserts a central role for spirituality in development: the vision of how to create social well-being comes to humanity through the revealed word of God, and human beings develop the capacities to take effective action through their relationship with their Creator. Bahá'u'lláh states that "the purpose for which mortal men have, from utter nothingness, stepped into the realm of being, is that they may work for the betterment of the world and live together in concord and harmony." Hence, Bahá'ís view their involvement in development activities as a fulfillment of this spiritual obligation to serve humanity.2

Bahá'ís orient their development efforts in terms of principles expounded in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the central work in Bahá'u'lláh's Writings, and other Bahá'í scriptures which call for universal education, the creation of mutually beneficial ties of economic interdependence, and the elimination of prejudices of all forms, and which exhort individuals to trustworthiness, to high moral standards in their individual lives, and to the voluntary sharing of wealth.3 The most thorough exposition of Bahá'í beliefs regarding the process of development is `Abdu'l-Bahá's treatise on the potential advancement of Iran, The Secret of Divine Civilization.4 Writing in 1875, `Abdu'l-Bahá called for the mobilization of the masses through their own efforts to obtain education. He identified ignorance and the absence of genuine faith as causes of the perpetuation of injustice and oppression; outlined the characteristics of effective administrators; and demonstrated that, throughout history, the coming of a new religion has brought about major societal transformation. In The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, further expounded on the relationship of the Bahá'í Faith to the social evolution of humanity, outlining the need to imbue human endeavours with spirituality.

The over-arching context for the design and implementation of development projects is Bahá'u'lláh's mission to weld the diverse elements of the human race into a dynamic and spiritually organic world community. This means that Bahá'ís are extremely concerned about development processes. As important, or more important, than the immediate concrete results of any development undertaking, is that people are drawn together, that they develop the ability to hear all of the voices in a community, and that they begin to learn the process of collective action.

Since Bahá'ís view development activities as practical expressions of the central tenets of their Faith, they focus their attention on those aspects of development which are not usually explicitly addressed in development discourse. Among these are the aspiration that development activities will contribute to a rehabilitation of human society and will eliminate extremes of poverty and wealth, a belief that a desire to serve others is ultimately the most sustaining motivation for participation in development activities, and the conviction that high standards of morality can and should be intentionally cultivated by every person.

Bahá'ís place a priority on cultivation of the moral qualities which they consider to be essential for successful development. "Material development may be likened to the glass of a lamp, whereas divine virtues and spiritual susceptibilities are the light within the glass."5 In Bahá'í religious practice, each individual attempts to improve his or her character through daily prayer and introspection. Bahá'ís consider qualities such as trustworthiness, sincerity, and self-sacrifice to be the invisible infrastructure for development, and try to organize their efforts in ways that foster these qualities. The Ruhi Institute training course for teachers, developed in Colombia and adopted by Bahá'í communities all over the world, contains units on prayer, developing a sense of joy and radiance, and thinking about life after death, as well as units on how to organize a learning environment and how to promote healthy development of children.6

Bahá'í development activities are also based on the perception that initiatives which lead to social transformation begin inside the heart, in the human longing to express love for God through acts of service to humanity. This means that Bahá'ís care about the motivations which people bring to their participation in development activities, and direct significant attention to inculcating a system of values that affirms the spiritual nature and capacities of human beings. Developing attitudes and habits of service is a core element of curricula for Bahá'í schools and training centers. The Human Development Program of the Maxwell International Bahá'í School in Canada aims, for example, to train students to "develop self-knowledge, to work with diverse people, to solve personal and collective problems, to establish healthy relationships with others and to be of service to their community and the world through a comprehensive sequence on practical and transcendent subjects which include Knowing and Loving God, Living in a Material World, and The Role of Youth."7 Each student contributes three hours of service each week in activities which have included constructing an interpretive trail in a provincial park, tutoring, coaching, and finding ways to participate in children's classes or in literacy training with people from nearby Native American Reserves.

The centrality of social service in Bahá'í religious practice means that Bahá'í development projects are able to rely on volunteer participation from individuals and communities. The Guaymi Cultural Center in Panama, for example, operates a radio station, holds annual music and dance festivals, an annual children's festival, regional womens' conferences, regular consultations where Guaymi and other indigenous people can consult about their future, and other meetings. It provides training for teachers of the rural secondary curriculum and for adult literacy instructors, assists eleven village schools, and supports local Bahá'í communities in the area by disseminating information on health care, farming, and other development topics. Ten permanent staff (seven of whom are Guaymi), eleven volunteer teachers who are supported by their communities, and twelve volunteers who translate and do programming carry on the work of the Center on an annual budget of about $30,000.8 The practice of seeking out volunteer staff, especially women and youth, enhances the ability of Bahá'í radio stations to serve as the voice of the people, and also reduces operating costs.9

Some Bahá'í projects, particularly those in non-formal education, have chosen to depend entirely on local volunteer labor and resources. Seen as a way to make religious principles effective in the world, this strategy to draw out people's capacities and to encourage community self-reliance, has had both positive and negative results. A network of almost one hundred self-sustaining literacy centers was established in Bahá'í communities in the Kivu region of Zaire in the early 1980s. On the other hand, the number of Bahá'í literacy schools in India has dropped from 262 in 1986 to slightly less than 200 in 1993, partly because of a lack of administrative support or funding.10

The experience of village Bahá'í schools in the Mangyan areas of Mindoro, Phillippines, suggests that well-trained rural teachers, however, can help to set in motion far-reaching processes of social transformation. In the past eight years, the number of Mangyan Bahá'í village schools has grown from five to eight. Five of the school teachers are now Mangyan, and students from the schools have received high marks on national examinations.

Bahá'í development projects such as these are encouraged and supervised by the Bahá'í administrative structure made up of Spiritual Assemblies. On the local and national levels they are elected annually by secret ballot from among the adult members of a Bahá'í community. Every five years all the members of National Assemblies gather to elect the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council. Assemblies organize devotional services, religious instruction and other functions carried out by clergy in other faiths, but Bahá'í Assemblies are also called on to consider themselves responsible before God for the material and spiritual well-being of their communities.

In well-established Bahá'í communities, Assemblies have become recognized, truly local, representative bodies, able to focus people's attention on actions that are conducive to their welfare. The capacity of Bahá'í administrative institutions to create order and inspire progress has been demonstrated in the past several years by the activities of 200 Liberian Bahá'í refuguees in Côte d'Ivoire, who fled from civil war in their country in 1990. The Bahá'í refugees held a large gathering soon after their arrival, re-elected six Local Assemblies based on the communities that people had come from, and began to organize the spiritual and material dimensions of life in their new homes. They established regular Bahá'í meetings, choirs, classes for children and built several Bahá'í centers. In the fall of 1991, they invested the equivalent of $20 in order to buy tools for the eleven vegetable gardens and four fish ponds which are now having a perceptible, positive impact on the local economy. The solidarity and self-assurance of the Bahá'ís has attracted attention, and there are now about 1,000 Bahá'ís and 25 Local Assemblies in the area. A Liberian Bahá'í who serves as community development facilitator explained the undertaking: "if work is done in the pathway of humanity, it brings a lasting result. We think development is the practical application of the spiritual potential that God has given man."11

The obvious creativity and strength of the Liberian refugee community in Côte d'Ivoire encourages Bahá'ís in their efforts to nurture the 20,000 Local Assemblies that now exist around the world. Bahá'ís are deeply committed to the principle that democratically-elected, spiritually-focussed local institutions are critical for social transformation and the creation of a dynamic and stable society. They have invested significant energy and resources in the development of these institutions since the 1920s, and continue to consider it one of their most important priorities.

Historiographical Survey

The earliest Bahá'í development projects were schools established by the Bahá'ís of Iran at the turn of the century in response to a stream of letters from `Abdu'l-Bahá extolling the importance of education, especially for women.12 More than ten schools in urban areas and approximately forty rural schools were operated by the Bahá'ís between 1888 when the first kindergarten opened in Ishqabad, Russia and 1934 when all Bahá'í schools were forced to close because they would suspend classes on Bahá'í Holy Days. The character of these institutions, and the other cultural, primary health, and agricultural activities of the early Iranian Bahá'í communities have been described elsewhere.13

For more on this survey go to Holly Hansen

Current Trends in Bahá'í Development

In 1983, when the Universal House of Justice released its first letter on social and economic development, the ineffectiveness of many projects and programs in the developing countries, which were planned and carried out from a distant capital or foreign country, was already making itself known. Similarly, in industrialized countries such as the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, government investment in programs over the previous two decades intended to quickly eradicate problems such as poverty and crime had met only limited success, along with growing political opposition. Anecdotal accounts of practitioners and the academic literature abounded with stories of the misallocation of precious government revenues and international agency funds for projects and programs that either bypassed those people most in need or did not achieve the anticipated success. This is not an excuse for the ongoing retreat of governments, their bilateral aid agencies, and multilateral agencies from collective responsibility for problems such as poverty, illiteracy, poor health, and a deteriorating natural environment within their own countries and elsewhere. But it does explain why nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have become major actors in development, since they are seen as having closer links with people at the grassroots. In parallel fashion, attention in the industrialized countries has been turning to the nonprofit sector as a significant agency of change in the social and economic development field. These major shifts underscore a single overriding lesson that has been learned from the decades of failure: engagement of people at the community level is fundamental to addressing development problems.

More Bahá'í communities are gaining experience in carrying out collaborative projects with United Nations agencies, governments, and non-governmental organizations, and the size and complexity of these endeavours have also increased. The Bahá'í approach to collaboration with non-Bahá'í agencies is summarized in the words of the Universal House of Justice in a letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of Bolivia in 1989: "External assistance and funds (Bahá'í and non-Bahá'í) may be used to make surveys to initiate activities, or to bring in expertise, but the aim should be for each project to be able to continue and develop on the strength of local Bahá'í efforts, funds and enthusiasm." Bahá'í National Spiritual Assemblies and the Office of Social and Economic Development which coordinates development activities for the Universal House of Justice, have maintained a policy that the decision to start a project should not be based on the availability of outside funds, but rather on the extent to which community support and commitment can sustain the project once external funding is terminated. Sometimes this policy has meant that Bahá'í communities have found it necessary to refuse funding that was offered to them.

For more on current trends go to Hansen, and to "Natural Stirrings at the Grassroots: Development, Doctrine, and the Dignity Principle," by Anna C. Vakil in a 2001 issue of the Journal of Bahá'í Studies.

Finally, a trend towards a greater international coordination of the possibilities for development is emerging in the Bahá'í community. This is evidenced by current initiatives to intensify literacy education within the Bahá'í community. In July 1989, the Universal House of Justice asked all National and Local Spiritual Assemblies to make efforts to eliminate illiteracy among Bahá'ís. Pointing to the salience of reading for transformation of the individual soul and of society, the House of Justice called literacy "a fundamental right and privilege of every human being," and asked every Bahá'í community to institute their own literacy programs or join those organized by others.25 In response to this call, a task force of Bahá'ís with experience in basic education met at the Bahá'í World Centre to create and disseminate effective literacy methodologies to Bahá'í communities worldwide. The task force prepared suggestions for utilizing spiritually empowering words and themes (called generative words) in literacy training, and arranged conferences in Nairobi and Bangkok in 1992 where Bahá'í literacy workers and leaders met to discuss the implications of this approach for languages and populations in their respective continents. These two meetings led to a number of workshops and the initiation of several new literacy programs.


Considering its small numbers and modest financial resources, the Bahá'í community's contributions to social and economic development are quite remarkable. Bahá'í participation in social and economic development has grown rapidly in the past decade, and in some nations, Bahá'ís have made a visible contribution in rural education, in community health worker training, and in programs for the promotion of equality of the sexes and the elimination of prejudice. From the perspective of Bahá'ís themselves, these actions are only the beginning of what they believe to be possible using the tools of vision, inspiration, & organization which they find available in their Faith.(*For the most recent statistics concerning Bahá'í development activities see Bahá'í Development Projects: A Global Process of Learning

Part 4:

The 16th Annual Report of the International Environment Forum(IEF) summarizes the events and activities from December 2011 to June 2012 between its annual conferences. The report was presented at the 16th General Assembly of the IEF in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 18 June 2012. For more information on this IEF go to this link: ...This book can not and does not attempt to outline either in detail or in general terms all the developments, all the annual reports of Bahá'í activity across its international agencies or its National Spiritual Assemblies. If this book did attempt a more comprehensive picture of developments in the social and economic spheres in relation to this new Bahá'í paradigm this book would swell to several volumes of 100s of pages per volume. Readers who would like to get a more detailed picture of Bahá'í communities around the world in relation to the implementation of this new Bahá'í culture can go to many links. This one will provide annual reports of the NSA of the USA as far back as 2007. Annual reports of the dozens of NSAs around the world, to say nothing of the 1000s of LSAs, are generally not provided in cyberspace. To serious scholars many of them, though, are accessible.

The information available to the Bahá'í community and any interested person on the developments within this new Bahá'í paradigm is really burgeoning and I make no attempt to even summarize the data. Needless to say, those who want to know about this new Bahá'í culture in its first two decades of operation: 1996 to 2015, will have plenty to read for many evenings and weeks to come.

I would like to close this section, though, with some comments from a talk given at a Bahai conference on social and economic development at Orlando Florida in 2000 by Ludwig Tuman. Tuman said that, ever since the Bahá’í community began to involve itself worldwide in the area of social and economic development, the House of Justice has reminded the Bahai community repeatedly "that society’s material development will be solid and lasting only if it is built on the foundation of a spiritual understanding of life." The Universal House of Justice put it succinctly when it stated: “..The working of the material world is merely a reflection of spiritual conditions and until the spiritual conditions can be changed there can be no lasting change for the better in material affairs.” We’ve seen that the highest aspiration of art is precisely to help uplift humanity’s spiritual condition. This means that the practice of art, along with models of learning such as the Ruhi Institute, should be regarded as one of those essential activities that can help to spiritualize both the Bahá’í community and society as a whole. Art, then, clearly belongs among the primary activities that help lay the very foundation for Bahá’í social and economic development.

One of the implications of the above paragraph and this aspect of the spiritual understanding of life is the extent to which individuals attempt to place the Bahá'í principles in the front of their life. Individual initiative has resulted, in the last two decades, in literally thousands of projects, some achieving high levels of publicity but most, such is my view, by unsung, unknown, unpublicized, projects and indivividuals as this Faith grows quietly and pervasively along the edges of society, not unlike the ways Christianity did in its first four centuries before becoming the soul of western society for a 1000 years.


This new paradigm has now gained virtually complete acceptance by the LSAs, NSAs, regional councils, clusters, local Bahá'í communities and individuals across the planet in the more than 100,000 Bahá'ís communities. For many, at least at the outset of this paradigm shift, an intellectual battle took place in relation to what some Bahá'ís regarded as an essentially unattractive package of policies, plans, and ways of dealing with both the Bahá'í community itself and those outside the community. That battle gradually ceased by the end of the first decade of this new Bahá'í culture, 1996 to 2006. Of course, there are still small pockets of non-participation in this new culture of learning, but there have always been some members of the Bahá'í community who have played virtually no part in its community life or in its private practices like: fasting, prayer, reading the writings on a daily basis or any other basis, inter alia. In some ways this is inevitable when a community numbers in the millions.

After a decade of varying degrees of dissension, between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm, one rarely comes across the kinds of criticism of this paradigm that one did back in those fin de siecle years and the first years of this new millennium. This is not to say, of course, that every Bahá'í takes part in all aspects of this new culture of learning, this new paradigm. In fact, I think it is fair to say that by the close of the second decade of this new culture, and the end of the current Five Year Plan in 2016, most Bahá'ís took part in only some aspects of the package of paradigm activities. There are now, as there have always been, what used to be called "the inactive believers" for whom the Bahá'í Faith represents an organization they once joined, once had some enthusiasm for and took part in its community activities, but now play little to no part in either its community life or its private practices.

"In many ways," the House of Justice pointed out at Ridvan 2014, "the communities that have progressed furthest are tracing an inviting path for others to follow. Yet whatever the level of activity in a cluster, it is the capacity for learning among the local friends, within a common framework, that fosters progress along the path of development. Everyone has a share in this enterprise; the contribution of each serves to enrich the whole." They continue in relation to activities within advanced clusters: "a people, increasingly aware of the Person of Bahá’u’lláh, is learning, through reflection on experience, consultation, and study, how to act on the truths enshrined in His Revelation, such that the widening circle of spiritual kindred is ever more closely bound together by ties of collective worship and service." And: "In more and more clusters, the programme of growth is increasing in scope and complexity, commensurate with the rising capacity of the Plan’s three protagonists—the individual, the community, and the institutions of the Faith—to create a mutually supportive environment."

Perhaps the greatest barrier to the paradigm shift across the international Bahá'í community, in the first two decades of the existence of this shift, is the reality of what some students of the concept of paradigms call 'paradigm paralysis.' This is the inability or refusal to see beyond the current models of thinking, to think outside the old box, the old paradigm. In some ways, though, the whole notion of an old and new paradigm is a false dichotomy since there are elements in both paradigms that are the same or similar. At the centre of both, for example, is that God's voice is now heard in a new message that came down from heaven, a new revelation, an additional heavenly message. I am still, as a Bahai, the exotic outsider I was under the old paradigm. At best I and my religion are an interesting subject for debate but not a vital force in life for my society, at least this is true in all the places I have lived and where I now live. Reason and the senses, long ago replacing revelation, are still enthroned across the wider secular culture in which I live and move and have my being.

The great intellectual movements of the last hundred years are all devoid of religious faith with a demythologised and secularized eschatology. The battle under the new paradigm remains largely the same. The individual Bahai must deal with secularism, nationalism, tribalism, nihilism, hedonism, the permissive society, escapism, meaninglessness, normlessness, and the pluralism, the multiplicity, of non-obligatory values, values torn loose from their former metaphysical moorings, inter alia. I could go on and on here and I invite readers to examine Schaefer's book The Imperishable Dominion for a more detailed examination of the themes I have listed here. If lightening and thunder need time and the light of the stars need time to reach earth, if many deeds need time even after they are done to be seen and heard, if two great wars and the blood, sweat and tears of several generations are slowly producing what is latent in this cycle, my guess is that the Bahá'í community itself will slowly appear, will slowly become part and parcel of the wider secular culture and slowly come to play a larger and larger part. During this new paradigm, what is and will be for millions, a strange, a somewhat queer and flowery, a typically oriental and seemingly unsuitable idiom for the West, the language of Bahaullah will become a more common voice in the councils of men. Amidst the poverty of emotive language that exists in our secular and often arid literary culture, the language, the community, of the Bahá'í Faith will come to be seen and heard with greater and greater understanding and acceptance.

Much of the spirit of nationality and tribalism in our current global society is like a sour ferment. The new wine of internationalism requires new bottles and they are slowly emerging in our time. The practical politics of our time has come to be needed in ecumenical, humanitarian and global forms. The sense now of being part of a larger whole is one that underpins this new Bahai paradigm. The field of analysis for this new paradigm is at once local, cluster, regional, national, continental, intercontinental and planetary. No local analysis, no local understanding, becomes intelligible until it is viewed under the perspective of internationalism and its institutions, until we first, or at least also and at the same time, focus on the whole. Our society is the whole of humankind; any one group is but a subdivision of a single group--the human family. This is the ethos which operates behind and under the new paradigm. It operated before this new paradigm, but it has operated a fortiori in the first 18 years of this new Bahá'í culture, and it will operate in the decades to come for the very survival of the species.


Sometimes the convincing force of the new paradigm is just time itself and the human toil and toll it takes. Kuhn said, using a quote from Max Planck: "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." Kuhn vehemently states that when a scientific paradigm is replaced by a new one, albeit through a complex social process, the new one is always better, not just different. It seems to me that this is clearly the case with this new Bahai paradigm. Kuhn argues that the language and theories of different paradigms cannot be translated into one another or rationally evaluated against one another. They are incommensurable. I like this and I like the relevance this idea has when applied to the Bahai paradigm.

In the latter part of the 1990s, 'paradigm shift' emerged as a buzzword, was popularized in marketing-speak and appeared more frequently in print and publication. In his book, Mind The Gaffe, author Larry Trask advised readers to refrain from using it and to use caution when reading anything that contained the phrase. The term is referred to in several articles and books as abused and overused to the point of becoming meaningless. The term "paradigm shift" has found uses in other contexts, representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought-pattern: a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing former ways of thinking or organizing with radically different ways of thinking or organizing at the operational levels. Sometimes the pejorative terms groupthink and mindset are found in the literature, literature that is critical of the vocabulary of paradigms. I will say more on this later.

This new culture of learning and growth is now nearing the end of its second decade. Each of us must work out where we fit into this new paradigm. In the end, we all must see where each of us fits into this new picture however extensive the analysis, however complex the process often appears and however enthusiastic or critical of the process we may be as we live through it in our individual and community lives. My "fit" is just one of millions of others and I leave it to others to describe their own "fits." I would like to think that in this commentary, this book, on the new culture of learning which follows I can give voice to insights at the heart of the recent changes in the experience of the Bahai community. I would like to think that I can enlarge and awaken my own mind and the minds of others as well as articulate spiritual verities through wilful daily action and my own wilful and engaged rational faculty. I have been trying to do this as a classroom teacher and lecturer for the last several decades. From 1967 to 2005 I certainly tried as a teacher of pre-primary, primary, secondary and post-secondary students as well as of senior citizens. I had tried before this as a student in my Bahai junior youth, adolescent and young adult days, say, 1957 to 1967. And so, I feel I bring to this overall written exercise half a century of trying. As one noted humorist once said, though, in a joking fashion: "I feel a little like the marriage guidance counsellor who has been married ten times. He has never pulled off a successful marriage, but he has had much experience trying."


I have addressed this change of culture at the start of Part 2 of my memoir, a memoir I have placed here at BLO and which readers can download free of charge. It is a memoir I have been writing during the first two decades of this paradigm change. My life was affected by this paradigm change and it seemed relevant, at least to me, to discuss these paradigm changes in relation to my ongoing life. After discussing the affect of this paradigm change on my own life in my memoir, I then continued with my memoir, in that Part 2, in the wider context of my life. This change of culture was something, as I say, that I experienced and it is to this subject that I turned to in my autobiography or memoir. Readers interested in this wider context and my memoir are invited to download it here at BLO in all its 1800 to 2500 pages.

I go about analysing this new paradigm and attempting to fit the several paradigm shifts in the Bahai experience since 1944, to shifts in my own life, as I have indicated above, as well as to shifts in the life of my society. The exercise of examining these more personal and society-wide shifts is one that I take on in my memoirs(see BLO "Pioneering Over Four Epochs"--Parts 1, 2 and 3), not in any systematic way, but periodically and when it seemed relevant. I would have to write a separate book on the shifts in the world in the first two decades of this paradigm shift or, for that matter, in the previous paradigm shifts in the several decades from the 1930s to the 1990s when previous paradigms were--arguably--in place. If I were to engage in a minute examination of the shifts in my public and private life here in this discussion of the Bahai paradigms this already lengthy work would become out of reach of readers due to its sheer size. I settle, then, in my memoirs for a brief examination of my whole life in terms of the paradigm shifts that have taken place in the Bahai community, but this is not my aim here in this book. I deal, I'm sure for some readers---ad nauseam--on this paradigm and I take over 790 pages(font 16) to do it.

My aim in what was originally an essay or an article, and is now a book, to focus on the recent change in culture that has come centre-stage in the last two decades in the international Bahai community. The way we see, it is often said, defines the objects we observe just as the way we live actively shapes our thoughts on life. This aphorism is a useful one within which to view this paradigm shift. To look at this thing, this new paradigm, is very different from seeing it. One does not see anything until one sees its order and beauty, its value and purpose, its meaning and truth. Then, and then only, does it come into existence. I have Oscar Wilde to thank for that idea and, like many of his ideas, it provides provocative food for thought. Wilde is begging us to rediscover the artist in ourselves, to be more imaginative and more creative and in doing so to create a more effective and efficient community life. This new paradigm certainly challenges the Bahai community to a new order of participation.

We hardly begin to learn anything about the nature of life for the individual or the community until we succeed in distinguishing the points of relative discontinuity in the ever-rolling stream: the bends, the straight stretches, the crests and troughs of the waves and even the myriad forms that arise when the waters are frozen into a glacier. The very concept of continuity is only significant as a symbolic mental background on which we can plot our perceptions of discontinuity in all their variety and complexity. This new paradigm provides a crucial discontinuity in which the Bahai community can view the continuities and discontinuities of the last 250 years of its history going back to the life of Shaykh Ahmad as he "arose with unerring vision" to prepare the way for the Bab.(Nabil, p.1) This history can become, in the process, not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul and a story that can contribute to the common fortunes of humankind.

I do not regard myself as a scout who is helping to guide the Bahai expedition on a journey into unexplored territory. But I am someone who is participating actively in the journey with 1000s, indeed, millions of my fellow believers with my little knowledge, skills and experience. Each of our contributions, a thimble-full or a gallon-measure, we make as best we can always acknowledging that we could have done better for our perfection is inevitably and always elusive. Hopefully I can: (a) discuss intelligently various aspects of the Bahai community struggle and help that community to make progress, (b) draw constructive perspectives from the past to inform the present and future;(c) provide insight and some degree of technical knowhow or capacity for an ongoing study of the Bahai text;(d) have a role in problem posing and problem solving; and(e) help the defining of culture and intercultural relations. On this journey I do not have any authority; while making some hopefully meaningful contribution, like any other participant, my views are fallible; I am just one of the many are called. Whether I am one of the few that are chosen will remain to be seen until after my parting from this mortal coil. This hardly needs to be said.

I found as I wrote my memoir, the wider context for this study of the paradigm shift in the Bahai community, a quiet emotion of curiosity blended with a certain intensity and superfluity within me all of which led to my essaying many aspects of life at once: myself, my society and my community. The result is, what you might call my style, my way of seeing this interrelated triangle of subject matter. In some ways the process is a perceptual experience put into words, an attempt to interpret a large field of reality, to unify factual knowledge and belief and to transform my experience into attitude and further action. My creativity, guided by purpose, alters my perception as I go along; it also changes how I feel about the subject I am writing. This analysis is not some literary ornamentation or a matter of choice of vocabulary or an amusing linguistic set of tics or wordy mannerisms. As I see it, this book provides a rhythmic alteration between two activities--the collection of materials and their arrangement, the finding of facts and their interpretation. In order not to be beleaguered by the mass of facts and ideas, issues and contexts which now exist in this new paradigm I have to sort them out and arrange them into some kind of order of meaning to me---and hopefully to others. This will help me to continue my study of this paradigm in the years to come: for this new Bahai culture has just begun! I will be lucky if the Good Lord grants me another 30 years so that I may live to the end of the second century of the Bahá'í Era(BE). If He does, I will be 100 in the year 2044 and, since I am a member of the British commonwealth, I will get a letter from its chief monarch.

The role of this analysis is to throw light not only on my personal story, my memoir but also, and much more importantly, on this new paradigm. As I go about this exercise it has been my intention to also throw some light on several of the old paradigms and to provide a means for the: (i) engagement of my life in a process of actualizing my potential, (ii) gaining more control over my life and (iii) facilitation of my own learning competence. I also aim to provide these means for others, for readers who come to these threads of thought, this long post, this far too long article, essay or book. This new paradigm has many roles and this commentary discusses some of them. It attempts to give them a fuller context and a wider direction than is often found in discussions in other places. Such, anyway, are some of my aims and the roles I like to see this exposition possessing and addressing. Fresh facts must be found as the years go on so that the process of synthesis and interpretation can be carried further. No collection of facts is ever complete because this new paradigm is without bounds and the arrangement of the facts and ideas is always provisional.



The solution to the ever-present teaching question in the more than two centuries of Babi-Bahai history going back to Shaykh Ahmad's teaching role in the fin de siecle years of the eighteenth century is different for each generation, each epoch of Bahai history. That the solution is a complex one at some level, at many levels, should not be a matter of surprise given the part played in the process by imperfect men and women, people with one foot in the past and its patterns, one foot in the future and faced squarely with the ever-present on a day to day basis. It is a future where dreams, aspirations and plans lie in wait to stimulate the vision and on which to take action. When the visions in question seem the most utopian of any group on the planet, at least as some of its critics argue; when the plans and aspirations so often seem to exceed their realistic achievement, at least in the short term, frustration often sets in. And so the House of Justice emphasizes that: "Those of us who are alive to the vision of the Faith, are particularly privileged to be consciously engaged in efforts intended to stimulate and eventually enhance" the achievement of that vision, its pre-eminent purpose & its grand design all inherent in this new Revelation. The vision must be alive for it is vision that creates reality but we also must be practical realists to keep the dogs of discouragement from eating away at our very souls.


Part 1:

In 1999 a 700 page book written by Afnan Abu'l-Qasim was published. Its title was: The Babi Dispensation: The Life of the Bab. There have been several books which have appeared for the Bahá'í community on the Babi period. The first was, arguably, Nabil's Narrative which appeared in 1932. I would like to focus on the first major paradigm shift in the history of the Babi-Bahá'í Faiths which took place in the 1840s. I thank Udo Schaefer for his Foreword to Gerald Keil's, Time and the Bahá'í Era: A Study of the Badí' Calendar for the following paragraphs which place one of the major paradigm shifts in the Babi period in perspective.

That which has already transpired and which we collectively consider noteworthy or important becomes history, and the question whether world history makes any sense at all — the endless historical episodes, the rise and fall of systems of political rule, the origin and demise of great cultures — is the subject of the philosophy of history. History is an empirical science; but since human reason is capable of judging very little concerning the meaning and goal of history, the interpretation of world history lies beyond the reach of empirical knowledge. Without appeal to religion and theology, history remains uninterpreted.

According to Bahá’í teaching, God is the Lord of history. He manifests Himself to mankind through His successive prophets and messengers, leading mankind progressively to salvation. World history is salvation history. It proceeds in universal cycles, within which the founders of the world’s great religions leave behind historical caesurae, each of which invariably gives rise to a new chronology. The Adamic cycle entered its final phase with the coming of Muhammad, the last prophet in this series and accordingly called the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ in the Qur’án, who foretells the great upheaval at the end of days, the ‘Day of Decision’. With the coming of the Báb a new universal era began and the ‘prophetic cycle’ attained fulfilment: The ‘Day of Resurrection’ was the advent of the new Revelation. The consummation of mankind will take place during the new cycle which began with the Báb. The fulfilment of the prophetic promises of the unity of mankind and of the messianic kingdom of peace will follow in the wake of an upheaval of apocalyptic proportions. The Badí‘ calendar, revealed by the Báb in his Persian Bayán and taken over in slightly modified form by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i Aqdas, signalizes both: the incursion of transcendence through God’s self-revelation and the upheaval announced to mankind, in which the ‘present-day order will be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.’

Part 2:

The Báb, as his adopted title implies, had at first raised his claim within the traditional Shí‘ite paradigm of expectation, in conformity with the concept of the Babú’l-Imám (Gate to the Hidden Imám). He withheld from revealing his true spiritual identity for a considerable period of time and, like the Jesus of the Gospel of St Mark, kept his ‘messianic secret’ concealed. Only gradually did he announce his prophetic claim to be a Manifestation of God, a claim which transcended the horizon of expectation of the orthodox Shí‘a. At the Conference of Badásht in 1848 some of the prominent members of his community announced the abolition of Islamic religious law. This was, as I see it anyway, the epi-centre of the first paradigm shift in the Babi-Bahá'í religions.

Yet the true claim of the Báb was discernible in his writings from the very beginning.The abrogation of the Islamic sharí‘a is impossible to overlook, especially in the Persian Bayán, which he composed during his imprisonment in Máh-Kú. The changes which the Bab undertook during His ministry clearly demonstrate the break with the past. In one work, the Báb not only announced his teachings, rejuvenating all aspects of religious life, he also introduced a new religious law, thus making clear that his mission was far more than an Islamic reform movement: he endowed mankind with an independent revealed religion, with its own ‘Book’, its own teachings, its own legal system and its own ritual. He thereby accomplished what no Islamic reformer had ever managed: a complete severing with the past. And nothing makes this severance more explicit than a new basis of time calculation and a new calendar.

One might wonder what the purpose of the Bayánic law was, many of the details of which appear strange and severe to the uninitiated Western reader and which was ultimately to be superceded by the legislation of the Kitáb-i Aqdas less than two decades later. Shoghi Effendi provides an answer to this question:

. . . the Bábí Dispensation was essentially in the nature of a religious and indeed social revolution, and its duration had therefore to be short, but full of tragic events, of sweeping and drastic reforms. Those drastic measures enforced by the Báb and His followers were taken with the view of undermining the very foundations of Shí‘ih orthodoxy, and thus paving the way for the coming of Bahá’u’lláh. Designedly severe in the rules and regulations it imposed, revolutionizing in the principles it instilled, calculated to awaken from their age-long torpor the clergy and the people, and to administer a sudden and fatal blow to obsolete and corrupt institutions, it proclaimed, through its drastic provisions, the advent of the anticipated Day . . .

The Badí‘ calendar promulgated in the Persian Bayán is to be numbered among the revolutionary innovations which convulsed the bastions of Islamic orthodoxy; it heralded the end of the Islamic era with unsurpassable clarity, to the chagrin of the Islamic authorities. Even recently, in a Sunnite fatwa from the 1990s, the fact that the Badí‘ year consists of nineteen months, when of course everyone knows that there are only twelve, was noted with particular indignation.

Part 3:

Gerald Keil has not restricted his investigations to the historical background, the theological implications and symbolic significance of the new calendar; nearly half of his study is devoted to the problems surrounding its practical introduction. It is obvious that the official, formal introduction of the Badí‘ calendar is not the most pressing issue facing us today. The Bahá’í community must progress much further before this matter becomes topical. We cannot predict when the critical point will be reached – we might continue to approach it slowly and steadily, or we might get there spontaneously, suddenly spurred on by unexpected events. But an appreciable span of time will undoubtedly lapse before the calendar project can be taken up in earnest.

"The decisions of the Universal House of Justice," Schaefer reiterates, "are not revelational in character. The Universal House of Justice is not a mere recipient, transformer and mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit.Its decisions do not come about through quasi-prophetic inspiration(Latin: ‘quasi per inspirationem’, ‘Divino afflante Spiritu’), but instead they are arrived at in the course of a rational discursive process in which, subsequent to the establishment of the facts and the clarification of the normative guidelines set out in the Writings, a formal process of consultation leads to consensus, & finally to a decision reached by majority vote or by the achievement of unanimity.

As the Universal House of Justice has expressly stated, it is not omniscient. Like any other decision-making body, the Universal House of Justice is dependent on information. The divine, unerring guidance which is vouchsafed to the Universal House of Justice does not hover over it like a deus ex machina. Instead, it manifests itself through the conduct of consultation which precedes the decision stage and in this manner enables infallible decisions through the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Legislation is a highly complex process and impossible without expert knowledge. Among the necessary foundations are legal dogmatics and legal techniques, but every act of legislation also requires that the legislator have at his disposal all-encompassing knowledge of the relevant material. The legislation involving the introduction of the calendar presupposes that all astronomical and technical information pertaining to the calendar be considered and befittingly taken into account in the legislation. No lawgiver in the world could draft such legislation without the support of competent experts. The procedure of clarifying all relevant questions cannot begin early enough, since the ‘shining spark of truth’ will first come forth after all the various differing points of view have undergone the ordeal of a public scientific discourse, so that those positions which do not stand up against critical examination need no longer be taken into consideration.

Such discourse conducted world-wide can, in the first instance, relieve the wheat of much chaff. Profiting from the collective reasoning of the community at large, open discourse over the Badí‘ calendar would enable a preliminary scrutiny of all legal, technical and historical questions. Its fruits would represent a valuable source of information for the commission of experts which will one day be convened for the purpose of preparing the ground for the calendar legislation. This commission would not have to begin at square one, so to speak, but instead would profit from the results of informed discourse.

I will leave the rest of Schaefer's Foreword for readers to go to who have the interest. I simply wanted in the above paragraphs to intimate some of the context of the first major paradigm shift in the history of the Babi-Bahá'í religions. It was a shift which took place, in some ways like that of the new paradigm, 1996 to 2016, in an evolving, an organic, manner, culminating in the conference of Badasht--in the case of that first of many paradigm shifts from 1844 to the present. The period before the revelation to Bahá'u'lláh in the Siyih-Chal was a complex was for the Babi community. Time and those mysterious dispensations of Providence are slowly allowing us to come to a more full understanding of that period we now know as the dispensation of the Bab.


If the individual is not purged of his attachment to his own preferences and preconceptions and to his partiality, reason will be hindered from working through to the truth. Bahá’u’lláh’s call to independent search for truth, such that the searcher see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears and know with his own knowledge, is well the most revolutionary innovation in His entire revelation and a leitmotif which pervades His writings. This innovation, it could be argued, is at the very center of each paradigm shift in the history of the Bahá'í Faith. Whether this is true, a fact, or not, there is no doubt that it is part and parcel of how Bahá'í consultation should take place in this new paradigm now just two decades into its evolution.

Independence of judgement is a condition of justice (insáf) and has been called ‘the essence of all that We have revealed for thee’, and the purpose of justice is ‘for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation [taqlíd], discern with the eyes of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look unto all things with a searching eye. Bahá’u’lláh writes, ‘scrutinize the writings with thine own eyes’ . . . scatter the idols of vain imitation [taqlíd]. The endeavour ‘to arrive at the truth of things’, the search for a hermeneutic comprehension of texts, is ijtihád, the right and the duty of every believer. The Bahá’í community possesses no clergy, no ‘ulamá’ with vested authority, no mujtahids, and the Bahá’í Faith knows no taqlíd, i.e. there exists no circle of authoritative and influential mentors whom one is obliged to follow and imitate unquestioningly. Shoghi Effendi made patently clear that every believer has the right to his own understanding of scripture and that he is entitled to express his opinion.


From the 1860s to the 1880s, the first three decades of Bahai historical experience, the new culture, the new paradigm, if you like, of learning and growth for the first generation of Bahais, typically criticized the clerical establishment and formulated an alternative, spiritualized and disestablished view of its place in society, legitimizing the sovereignty of secular rulers independently of clerical authority. The Baha’i teachings gave nineteenth-century Persians who wished to do so a vehicle to resist the cultural and hence social and political hegemony not only of the ’ulama, but of the intruding Western world. The Baha’i teachings could appropriate the idiom not just of Persianate Islam, but also of the West and use it to resist Islamic and Persian cultural hegemony, in the same way as Islam gave the Sassanids a means to appropriate the cultural idiom of the Arabs to resist their attempt at cultural dominance. In other words, the Baha’i teachings opened an avenue for a new, post-Islamic identity that promised to overcome and finally resolve the cultural and, by implication, political and social, tensions of the day. These teachings of Bahaullah also posed an unmistakable challenge to the existing order. What was seen by some as the fulfilment of Islam, was regarded by others as its open subversion. This was, if nothing else, a new paradigm for the Iranian Bahais of that generation, perhaps the greatest of all the paradigm shifts in the Bahai community in its 170 year history going back, as that history does, to the "commencement of the most turbulent period of the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í Era."(GPB, p.1)

Perhaps, though, the greatest element of the shift was from Babism, the Faith which came into being in 1844 and, in some ways, could be said to have ended in 1863, if not before during the ten year prelude as Shoghi Effendi calls the decade from 1853 to 1863, the decade of the first intimations and first significant aspects of the Bahá'í revelation came into being in the Person of Bahá'u'lláh. That Heroic Age marked, as Shoghi Effendi emphasized in the opening sentence of his comprehensive and reflective history of the first hundred years of the Cause, a history that threw open a window on the spiritual process by which Bahá'u'lláh's purpose for humankind was being realized. Of course, Baha’u’llah’s message that the world should be unified would probably not have fallen on fertile soil much before the 1870s, because the impact of globalisation had not yet begun to be felt among potential proselytes. In the late nineteenth century, and in the beginning of the twentieth century, the climate for this idea was more receptive. The history of globalization, though, has become quite a complex study for students of history since the term first emerged in post-WW2 western society.

I would like to make one more general observation here regarding these earliest decades of Bahai experience and I thank the blog writer at "Bahai Epistolary" for the observation which follows. The theological transition from Islam to Bahai theology has recently been mapped by Chris Buck. Buck described Baha’u’llah’s doctrinal teachings as “an ideological bridge to a new worldview.”( See: Chris Buck, Symbol and Secret (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1995), chapter 5) This new worldview implied sociological innovations too. Traditionally, the energies released by large-scale Islamicate responses to a messianic claim have sought outlet in military enterprises. Such indeed was the case with Babism. The idea of the conquering Mahdi or Qaim pervaded prophetic expectations, and the conquest was expected to occur by military and supernatural means. This Islamic ideal of messianic conquest, like so much else in the Islamic heritage, was not rejected by Baha’u’llah, but it was recast in spiritualized form, community building, and moral regeneration taking the place of physical combat as the proper instruments of victory. Baha’u’llah and His teachings would eventually conquer the world, but He and They would do so by spiritual means, through the attraction of hearts, and the battle would be waged by Baha’is through a consecrated dedication to community building and the cultivation of moral rectitude.

Not surprisingly, a doctrinal outlook that appropriated the prophetic expectations of all religions and yet, at the same time, upheld the relativity of truth led to early experiments in multiculturalism. On the one hand were the imperatives from Baha’u’llah to consort with the followers of all religions; on the other was the conversion of non-Muslim minorities, which initiated a slow and gradual process of cultural rapprochement between converts from these various backgrounds, as has been broadly examined by Stiles-Maneck.(“The Conversion of Religious Minorities,” Journal of Baha’i Studies 3. 3 (1991)) One could analyse this paradigm shift for this first generation of Bahais in much more detail, as indeed it already has to an extent far exceeding the interests, the time and the energy of most of the successors of that first generation of Bahá'ís, those who you might call "the Facebook generation."


If one was a Bahai in Iran in the next generation, say, the years from 1890 to 1920 a paradigmatic shift was also taking place. What did contemporary Persians of that generation themselves regard as innovative about Baha’u’llah’s teachings? One testimony comes from a Baha’i convert from the later period of Baha’u’llah’s ministry, a former cleric, writing in 1911 when the Baha’i community had been securely established in the East and was in its second decade of penetration of the West. The features he highlights as the most significant innovations of Baha’u’llah include: abstaining from crediting verbal traditions; prohibiting individual claims to authoritative interpretation; abrogating conflict and controversy on the basis of differences of opinion; the prohibition of slavery; the obligation to engage in allowable professions as a means of support, and obedience to this law being accepted as an act of worship; the compulsory education of children of both sexes; the command prohibiting cursing and execration and making it obligatory upon all to abstain from uttering that which may offend men; the prohibition on the carrying of arms except in time of necessity; the creation of the House of Justice and institution of national parliaments and constitutional governments; the exhortation to observe sanitary measures and cleanliness, and to shun utterly all that tends to filth and uncleanness; and the provisions of inheritance laws designed, in his view, to prevent the creation of monopolies.[Mirza Abu’l-Fadl Gulpaygani, Letters and Essays, 1886-1913, trans. Juan R. I. Cole (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1992)]

As I have already mention above, a recently published memoir by Dr. Youness Afroukhteh(George Ronald, 2003)of his nine years in Akka from 1900 to 1909 outlined three types of covenant-breakers: (i) openly offensive people, (ii) those who were entirely severed from the Cause and played no part in its activities and (iii) trouble-makers, evil-doers, spies and informers. Each of the Central Figures of this Cause, Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice have all had to deal with divisive forces. The remarkable thing is that this Faith has remained a religion that is still unified after nearly two centuries of its history. Those who have broken the Covenant and, in various ways, been harbingers of conflict and contention, or bred opposition and its dreadful schizmatic consequences have no place in this Cause. Bahaullah has protected this Faith against the baneful effects of the misuse of criticism; indeed, "dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradictions of the main objective animating the Bahai community."(UHJ, Letter to Bahais of USA, 29/12/88) But we must be constantly on our guard lest destructive forces enter our midst.

The building of community, playing the role of custodians of unific forces will keep us all busy in the years ahead within this new paradigm as the Faith goes from strength to strength. After sixty years of participation in Bahai community life, I have found that the fine details of the story, the account are only of interest to a relatively small circle of the Bahais and only a small handful of those outside this new Faith, those with some ax-to-grind. This reaction to a very complex history, of course, will change as this Cause comes under attack in the decades ahead within this new paradigm. Bahá'í history is immensely complex and, unlike the early Christian religion of, say, the first two centuries, to say nothing of the life of Christ and His disciplines, the Bahá'í community and the wider society which takes an interest in its history has too much information not too little. The average person in our emerging global society, whose interest in history is, at most, minimal does not tend to take a deep interest in the intricacies and complexities of modern history and the Bahá'í story within it. It is a history going back, as the earliest decades of the lives of the two precursors of the Cause do, to the early years of modern history in the mid-to-late 18th century. The tempest has indeed been raging for perhaps two-and-a-half centuries.

THE YEARS 1794 TO 2015

The years of this Faith's chief precursors, the years in the lives of the Central Figures of this Faith and, indeed, the years since the inception of the institutionalization of the original charismatic Force, the years, say, 1892 or 1921 to now, are, if nothing else, titanic, tragic as well as triumphant--and worthy of the term paradigm shift. If one wanted to press a point one could argue for several paradigm shifts during that period. The achievements of the last two centuries are gigantic and stupendous but only barely, partly understood. We stand too close to the achievements, the vast changes, of these last 22 decades(1794 to 2015) to really appreciate them. Like a great symphony written by a famous composer and being played by a talented orchestra, the music, its beauty and meaning is simply not heard by most of the potential audience--as yet. Given the currents of skepticism, the blank walls of indifference and the immense complexity of these epochs in our fast emerging--if not already emerged--global society, many of the members of this discouragingly meagre audience within the Bahai community which has to grapple with this new paradigm are often only naturally befuddled and even bemused by much of its content. The Faith in its entirety, in addition to the paradigm itself-is a tour de force, a magnum opus, an epic, a cosmology, a metanarrative, a massive framework for a mythopoetic, metaphorical interpretation of reality, a universe, that far exceeds the individual's, any individual's, capacity to comprehend it.

A wise man or woman must forget the inevitable calamities that come along the path of human life, must alter their internal mental set, if he or she is to participate in---and in time achieve---the goals that are often set by Bahai institutions, by small groups or even by their own dear selves. This, of course, is easier said than done. I have found it this way for more than half a century now since the earliest days of my Bahai life as far back as the 1950s. There are always goals set in the Bahai community for each and all of us. In a world of chronic and passionate dissension, of strong opinionatedness, an extreme individualism and a cancerous materialism, it is and has been predictable that new paradigms in the Bahai community are met with enthusiastic espousal on the one hand and more cautious and even indifferent attitudes on the other. The nature of our society, at least for millions of us in the West, is that it offers us an ample leisure, idle amusements and many unprofitable studies and activities. Often some combination of gardening, shopping, sport, an engagement in some fancy hobby apparatus and an endless series of activities involving job, family and a very small circle of friends is wrapped around our psyches like a vice.

We are hardly tempted, votaries of this or any Cause, to venture forth from the comfort of this personal and private domain and it is this factor alone that has held back the prosecution of plans for many a long year. This social reality is complex, difficult to penetrate and describe and this book cannot possibly explore the many patterns of social withdrawal that result from it. This factor without doubt militates against a more rapid spread of the Cause in this or any paradigmatic shift, but it also has the value of maintaining a type of business-as-usual modus operandi/modus vivendi so that the Cause can continue to grow along the edges of society in much the same way as Christianity did 2000 years ago before it burst on the world in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. in a process that most people now hardly appreciate or understand unless, of course, they take a particular interest in Christianity in its first 5 centuries.


Only the occasional ripple occurred in the Roman Empire in the first centuries of Christianity as the religion of Jesus had to deal with Roman persecutions. In our time only the occasional ripple has occurred due to the persecution of the Bahais in Iran, a ripple which has disturbed the surface of the international Bahai community. This disturbance has resulted in headlines again and again. The experience of the Iranian Bahai community in dealing with massive and periodic persecutions has become a continuing thread throughout several of the community paradigm shifts in Babi-Bahai experience as far back as 1844. Outside the frequent polemics from various political and religious bodies in Iran, polemics that formed part of this periodic oppression and that resulted in frequent media publicity, the Bahá'í community was relatively speaking non-existent in the west before the early 1980s. If one were to judge by the utter absence from the written discourse of their fellow countrymen until, it seems, just the other day: intellectuals, activists, artists, journalists, both inside Iran and abroad, Iranian Bahá'ís certainly "exist" now in the voices and the minds of their compatriots, as never in this Faith's 170 year history. It is almost a truism for Bahá'ís, borne out not only scripturally, but by the long experience of repression, yet one that cannot ever lose its pathos, that each wave of persecution, each effort to erase this Faith's existence, is unfailingly accompanied by an unprecedented victory, that only digs its roots deeper and establishes the claims of this new Faith before the sight of men.

The latest chapter of extreme and nation-wide oppression, from the 1980's to the 2010's has achieved, globally speaking, the Bahá'í Faith's emergence from obscurity. This oppression has endowed the Bahá'ís with an extraordinary capacity for global concerted action, that countless activist organizations admire and respect, as Bahá'ís across the world for the first time arose as one voice in creative and united ways to seek redress and protection for their fellow believers, mobilising public opinion from city councils and local press to the European Parliament and the United Nations, and averted genocide. This important feature of Bahai experience in the last three-and-a-half decades can not be separated from the new paradigm of learning and growth; indeed, this oppression does now what it has always done back to the 1840s: it fertilizes the seed of growth. The oil is ignited and the resulting light spreads around the world even more than it already has as the second most widespread religion on the planet.

Our role is to spread the light as far and wide as we are able. With Edith Wharton we can "be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. Edith Wharton(1862-1937) died right at the start of the implementation of the first systematic teaching Plan. She was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1927, 1928 and 1930, years when the Bahá'í Faith in North America was beginning to grow from an informal network of groups into a vastly enlarged and well-organized religion under the guidance of a man the Bahá'ís call the Guardian. Wharton combined her insider's view of America's privileged classes with a brilliant, natural wit to write humorous, incisive novels and short stories of social and psychological insight. She was well acquainted with many of her era's other literary and public figures, including Theodore Roosevelt. As far as I know, though, she was like nearly all the significant writers of the period wholly uninformed of even the existence of this new Cause in the West even after it had been part of its social fabric for nearly 40 years.

As one Bahai writer put it five years ago, in 2009, the most immediate victory that the present episode of persecution has already achieved in a manner that has astounded observers, foremost among them the Bahá'ís themselves, is the final integration of the Iranian Bahá'ís into the broader identity of their nation. For the first time in their history, the Bahá'ís are not the other, the outsider, the heretical apostates to be shunned, persecuted and violated in so many ways. The Bahais have become, for a new and significant wave of non-Bahá'í Iranians, the prominent and the obscure alike, elite and ordinary people, from all walks of life, "one of us", fellow citizens, and the silence of the past is not only finally and irretrievably broken, but explicitly repudiated, and for all time. This experience of the Bahai Faith in the land of its birth is at the core of the Iranian culture of learning and growth, the new paradigm as it is expressed within Iran. The repercussions have spread around the world and provide a context for this new culture of growth that has, as yet, hardly been appreciated, at least from my point of view. I encourage readers to go to the blog entitled "Bahai epistolary" for an expansion of this theme. Of course, this is not true in every hamlet, town and every neighbourhood of every city. The persecution and oppression is not over. The 170 year story for the Bahais of Iran is, indeed, far from over. And the beginning of the beginning of this Cause in the West is also far from over. One could say that this Faith has just stuck its head above the ground but, unlike the proverbial groundhog, it will not be going back into the burrow.

I would like to make some comments on the paradigmatic change in how the Bahais of Iran have been viewed in the last century. Seven decades ago, when the Baha’is of Iran were first accused of espionage, they responded with astonishment. Until then, they had constantly been accused of corruption, blasphemy, and atheism but not of being Russian or English spies. During the course of the Iranian constitutional revolution and its aftermath, however, Iranian society had become increasingly skeptical of the negative role played by foreign powers, and had decided that its problems were rooted, not in atheism, but in imperialism. This gave rise to new, often grossly illogical, conspiracy theories, many of which implicated Baha’is. Thus, the old enemies were redefined to suit the new understanding. It took some time before Baha’is came to realize that anti-Baha’ism has indeed gone through a paradigm shift and was now defining its self-confessed enemy, the Baha’i Faith, as a foreign conspiracy against Iran and Islam.

In the last 35 years there has been a gradual corrosion of this old way of perceiving the Iranian Bahá'í community, what might be called the old paradigm. We have seen the emergence of a common sense of identification, a move towards a reality-oriented understanding of history. the Bahá'ís, the House of Justice pointed out, are now seen "as caring citizens...who always have Iran's prosperity and honour in mind.(UHJ, 21/2/'13). Today, most Iranian intellectuals, as well as many well-educated middle-class individuals, are no longer willing to succumb to extravagant conspiracy theories. For anti-Baha’i propagandists, this implies that the old spy stories will no longer be effective. Thus, in practice, we are gradually shifting towards a new paradigm. Some critics in Iran are now using terms such as “New Babists” to refer to the members of opposition factions. They are also actively drawing parallels and exploring the possible links between their worldview and those of the Babi-Baha’i religions. I don't want to go into detail here for the picture is complex, but new paradigms are replacing old ones in the views of the Bahais in Iran by the non-Bahai majority.


Cultural differences have always created misunderstandings and they will continue to do so in the years ahead within this new paradigm, whether the discussion is centered in the experience of Iranian Bahais or the experience of Bahais elsewhere. Perhaps this will be even more true with the many more new believers that will be part of the Bahai community in the decades ahead. Subtle and not so subtle cultural differences often create dislikes and even contempt among people of dissimilar backgrounds. We all have backgrounds filled with minute details which make our experience, our culture, unique. There are so many examples: punctuality, cleanliness, eating all the food on ones plate, respect for sacred objects, the need to be together at gatherings or the need to have space and be alone, variations in the sense of humour, admitting that one does not know something and pretending one knows when one does not, interrupting people when they are talking, domineering personalities, timidity and on and on. This new paradigm does not assume that suddenly all of the differences, cultural, social and personality, which cause irritation and hurt feelings are going to disappear and everyone is going to exhibit qualities of endless patience, compassion, tolerance, acceptance, consideration and understanding, inter alia. The struggles in community life will continue as they have in the past right back to 1844 and, indeed, as far back as the years when Shaykh Ahmad left his homeland in northeast Arabia in the last years of the 18th century. In some basic ways these cultural struggles and discontinuities are part and parcel, part of the very nature of our social and community existence, certainly in the epochs we are living through with their immense cultural, social, economic, psychological and sociological shifts in society, with people being thrown together who for centuries, perhaps never in history, would never have met and certainly would not have eaten together and discussed life, society and its problems.


An understanding of the nature and meaning of the great turning point we are passing through at this climacteric of history as well as an appreciation of the implications of what has occurred since the coming of the Báb and Baha’u’llah,will help us to meet the challenges ahead and the social and interpersonal struggles that are and will be our lot in community life. What is occurring in our lifetimes and what will occur in these early decades of this new millennium, as the House of Justice pointed out, has many features: a magnitude of ruin that the human race has brought upon itself, the loss of life beyond counting, the disintegration of basic institutions of the social order, and on and on goes the litany. These understandings, the House emphasizes, will also help us to fathom the nature of this paradigmatic shift that the Baha’i community is engaged in and will be engaged in for some time to come.

Intellect and wisdom are the two most luminous lights in the world of existence, wrote Abdul-Baha as far back as 1870. When those lights are turned on understanding is one of the crucial products and this understanding will help me and you make snese of our own lives. Like salvation itself, this shift has no final point of attainment. Like salvation and like the spiritual realities behind it, the language behind this new culture of learning and growth is, as I say above, often allusive, poetic and abstruse because the reality it is attempting to reveal is often unseen, ephemeral and veiled. The concepts being put under the microscope do not lend themselves to simplistic definition, description and discourse. This is not to say that there are no quantitative, measurable and easily definable aspects to this new paradigm. But its overall conceptual place and role in the Bahai community, it seems to me, is often missed in the heat of discussion and the plethora of print now available on the subject as we go about with our yardsticks of quantitative measurement. Exaggerated expectations and ill-advised actions often hold latent as well as manifest dangers to the Cause, especially when put into print. Rigorous discipline on the part of Bahai writers has always been important in the history of the Cause and this may be true, a fortiori, within this new paradigm.

I have found the book, Century of Light, published in the opening year of this new millennium, provides a wonderful analysis of this turning point and I leave it to readers with the interest to read or reread this short 150 page description of what it calls "changes far more profound than any in our history, changes that are, for the most part, little understood by the present generation."(Foreword)


The question as to what is the optimal role one can play as a Bahai is one of the dominating questions all of one's Bahai life. The answer or series of answers to that question is part of the lifelong journey at the heart of Bahai experience, or so it seems to me and so it has seemed to me in my own life in the Bahá'í community since the 1950s. It was at the beginning of the Ten Year Crusade when my mother became a Bahai and I was but in the first years of my late childhood(1953-1957.) Since those quiet years of the 1950s I slowly, gradually, came to understand that this Cause was giving me the very raison d'etre, the framework, the cosmology,the direction for my life and my very existence. I often think the Cause insinuated itself into my psyche when I was not looking; unobtrusively it came to be the dominant force in my life as I played sport, watched TV, developed my ego, superego and id--to draw on Freud's model of human development, among the many models now available to students of that young and inexact science of psychology.

The teaching question challenges and torments, perplexes and in various ways befuddles the minds and consciousnesses of each person in the Bahai community and will do so for generations still to come. There is a certain anguish associated with the teaching process as there was in connection with this same process, although in a vastly different context, in the mind, the heart and the day-to-day experience of Shaykh Ahmad right at the start of this now two-and-a-half century narrative. One can read about that Shaykh's experience on page 1 of The Dawnbreakers.

The desire to serve has translated and will translate into plans to dedicate various periods of time, from part of a day to one's entire life to full-time service especially at times of "anticipated acceleration" like after the recent youth conferences around the world which witnessed "an outpouring of energy." That phrase comes from the Ridvan 2014 message in which the House of Justice emphasized, in relation to those youth conferences, that the Bahá'í world now possesses " an expanded capacity to mobilize large numbers of young people in the field of service."

Individual initiative is so important that "the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice protects it. Readers here are encouraged to read an ITC document which came out far back in July 1989 when the word "paradigm" was first on the lips of those who were regular readers of the House of Justice messages. It is a letter which outlines a series of concepts in relation to teaching in general and teaching groups in particular. It was a letter which has been expanded upon by many of the House of Justice letters in the last 25 years. Readers, students, of this paradigm, need to be increasingly familiar with the entire corpus of messages and letters from the House of Justice, to say nothjing about those of the International Teaching Centre, the NSAs, the Counsellors, the pageantry and panoply of Bahá'í elected and appointed institutions. That corpus, that oeuvre, of print is, for most Bahá'ís an inundation.


The new Bahai paradigm has called for restructuring, redistribution and expansion of helping behaviours by those who ordinarily, who in the past, functioned as consumers of help, as consumers of Bahai programs and activities. Consumers in this new paradigm are to become much more producers as well as consumers. What matters about the Bahai writings in this new paradigm is something that has always mattered about these writings and that is their exemplary character, their capacity to firstly induce Bahá'ís to produce and secondly their capacity to put an improved apparatus, Bahai administration and the creative Force of this new Revelation, at the disposal of the Bahais. This apparatus is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers--that is, readers or spectators into collaborators. Walter Benjamin made this point in his article "The Author as Producer"(New Left Review I/62, July-August 1970) and Benjamin's idea applies a fortiori in the Bahai community in this new culture of learning and growth.

The result is an expansion of the help-giving resources quantitatively by converting helpees into helpers. The help is also changed qualitatively because the peers and the self-helpers possess an indigenous or inside understanding of the problems and the people to whom they offer help. Heins Kohut, a brilliant psychoanalyst, suggests that the key to therapeutic change may not be insight or understanding, but rather being understood. Who better to understand than those who have been there? But, of course, the whole process is far from simple. When one is dealing with a population of Bahais spread over nearly 200 countries and several million people one can not reduce the entire exercise to some simple paradigmatic explanation however much one tries or however much others may try. And often, new recruits often seem better informed than old veterans. For the times, it has often been said, are a-changin', to draw on old Bob Dylans model of societal experience in recent times.


This new paradigm, now in its second decade, has similarities to the new field of community psychology. The development of this sub-discipline within psychology required a shift in thinking from the individualism espoused by Western culture and the traditional practice of psychology to the embrace of a multifaceted, complex understanding of individuals within contexts. An emphasis on individualism and individual explanations limits the ability to create social change. In the field of psychology this was initially a revolutionary idea and it required more than an academic acknowledgment; it required a seismic shift in the foundation of thinking in the field of psychology. Many programs in which professionals in psychology aimed at helping individuals and communities in the last several decades failed to adequately address community needs and this had byproducts of dependency, a lack of ownership of ideas and a sense of identity with the group in the process. People were acted upon and not actors. Community psychology presents a vision in which power is exposed and turned on its head. Groups influenced by this shift in the dominant paradigm in psychology become groups where people who need help function as producers of help. Community psychologists have been intimately involved in the research and implementation of these groups. It is a trend which looks like it will continue to increase in the decades ahead.


I could also include here new theoretical constructs in sociology which have shifted the frameworks in that discipline as well; but such an inclusion would take this book too far afield from its central purpose. The social construction of reality, the Thomas and Luckman theory from the 1960s and enlarged upon for the last forty years, is one such area of sociology I could discuss here. That theory is not unlike the one discussed above in psychology and it has some interesting intellectual parallels to this new paradigm which some readers might like to pursue.

It is often easy to forget how difficult change can be for communities and organisations. To truly achieve change in a setting requires a complete re-evaluation of the relationships, rules and structures which comprise those systems. Resistance to change can be high and long-standing patterns of behavior are often difficult to reverse. This requires time, patience and consensus-seeking on the part of all the members. With this in mind, it is sometimes difficult to acquire, to develop, a long-term view when seeking community change, especially when program success is highly desired in the short-term and personal and community prestige are on the line. For change to endure, we must think about how the community will be affected 5,10, or 20 years down the road. No writing is more influential or encouraging in thinking about this process of change than Karl Weick’s book Small Wins, published 25 years ago in 1984. Weick described and defined 'small wins' as limited approaches to problems, approaches which reduce negative and emotional arousal and make progress more possible because this negative arousal is delimited. These minute steps often create a momentum which opens the door for more comprehensive changes.


Calling on every believer to respond to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Divine Plan, Shoghi Effendi underscored the privilege to “initiate, promote, and consolidate, within the limits fixed by the administrative principles of the Faith, any activity an individual deemed fit to undertake for the furtherance of the Plan." Shoghi Effendi continued" "Without his support, at once whole-hearted, continuous and generous, every measure adopted, and every plan formulated, by the body which acts as the national representative of the community to which he belongs, is foredoomed to failure. The World Centre of the Faith itself is paralysed if such a support on the part of the rank and file of the community is denied it. The Author of the Divine Plan Himself is impeded in His purpose if the proper instruments for the execution of His design are lacking." When opportunities for action are seized, individual effort is characterized by courage, creativity, lofty aims, and enthusiasm.

The challenge that faces each believer is to find ways in which to serve the Cause. "Neither the local nor national representatives of the community, no matter how elaborate their plans, or persistent their appeals, or sagacious their counsels, nor even the Guardian himself, however much he may yearn for this consummation, can decide where the duty of the individual lies, or supplant him in the discharge of that task. The individual alone must assess its character, consult his conscience, prayerfully consider all its aspects and manfully struggle against the natural inertia that weighs him down in his effort to arise. In responding to the needs of the Cause, the individual must make a conscious decision as to what he or she will do to serve the Plan, and as to how, where and when to do it. This determination enables the individual to check the progress of his actions and, if necessary, to modify the steps being taken. Becoming accustomed to such a procedure of systematic striving and, it might be added, the systematic study of the Creative Word, lends meaning and fulfilment to the life of any Bahá’í.

The need to harmonize one’s initiative with collective action does not imply that the individual must wait for others to act or be hindered by their doubts and concerns. “Let him not wait for any directions,” the Guardian urges, “or expect any special encouragement, from the elected representatives of his community, nor be deterred by any obstacles which his relatives, or fellow-citizens may be inclined to place in his path, nor mind the censure of his critics or enemies.” “Be not grieved,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s own appeal, “if thou performest it thyself alone.” This need for harmony in the community, this need to teach, to demonstrate, to urge, to love and to encourage does not mean to force, be responsible for, nor be defeated by the present condition of our community. It is difficult; it is very difficult.

"From time to time," writes the House of Justice, continuing on the topic of obstacles in their Ridvan 2014 message, "there may be a lull in activity or an obstacle to the way forward; searching consultation on the reasons for the impasse, combined with patience, courage, and perseverance, enables momentum to be regained." An example of this kind of movement, they pointed out in April 2014 "is especially in evidence in those clusters where a local Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is to be established. One such, by way of example, is in Vanuatu.

As the poet and philosopher Emerson once said: My tongue is prone to lose the way; not so my pen, for in a letter we surely put them better.(Emerson, Manuscripts and Poems: 1860-1869) This pioneer, in a period going back now fifty years, has often found that one way of doing something for another was: to write a letter, since the mid-1990s send an email and, since the late 1990s, post on the internet. Not endowed with mechanical skills and proficencies with wood and metal; not particularly interested in so many things in the popular culture like sport, gardening, cooking, heavy doses of much of the content in the print and electronic media; indeed, I could list many personal deficencies and areas of disinterest, I found the letter was one thing I could do and write and in the process, perhaps, document some of my sensory perceptions of the present age, perceptions that were relevant to the future of a religion whose very bones spoke of a golden age for humankind which was scarcely believeable, but was worth working for and was at the basis of my own philosophy of action in this earthly life. Hopefully my letters would evince some precision and, perhaps, for a future age they would be of value. I often wondered, though, how useful this interest, this skill, was in its apparent single-mindedness for it was not, as a I say, a popular sport! The exercise resulted, too, in a collection of many a dusty volume of paper which, as T.S. Eliot once put it with some emphasis, may in the end amount to an immense pile of stuff with absolutely no value or purpose. In the second decade of this new paradigm I deposited in the National Bahai Archives of Australia(NBAA) as a gift for some future student several 1000 of my letters and their replies. The letter has had a significant role to play in the unifying fabric of the planet in the Bahai community. It is one aspect of my individual initiative which has been useful in this new paradigm. In my retired life, retired form employment, I have more time to write letters and emails.


There are many aspects of what is involved in our understanding and experience of this culture of learning and of growth and my comments here make a reflexive, a critical, and hopefully a useful, exploration of some of these aspects. Hopefully, too, members of the Baha’i community and interested observers will be assisted, in the process, in clarifying and adding to some of their own understandings, some of their misconceptions and confusions, if they have any. Confusion and dislocation, disempowerment and frustration have been reported in various national communities in relation to this new paradigm. In addition, it is often difficult to even know if one has any misconceptions and confusions unless one is confronted with views different from ones own and views which are challenging, realistic and framed within the context of the new paradigm. These words of mine at BLO aspire to play a heuristic, a clarifying role, through that collirium which is knowledge and understanding, a metaphor Abdul-Baha uses. I trust my aspiration is realistic and not seen as pretentious. I would be more than a little pleased, to say the least, if this book comes to have some value to readers. There has certainly been an inadequacy of Baha’i perspective and there have been inappropriate attitudes, at least from my point of view, which have developed in these first years regarding several fundamental issues involved in this new culture of learning.

Inadequacies of perspective are often the case on all sorts of matters in and out of the Bahá'í world in these difficult and complex times in which we live in our emerging and traumatized global society. Some readers may see my book, this far too-long essay, as not sufficiently critical of the new paradigm, not sufficiently challenging in its tone, challenging to what these same readers might regard as its underpinning of entrenched dogma from/of Bahai quasi-ecclesiastical authority; some readers of this book of 700+ pages may, on the other hand, see my disagreements, however well-based, as a form of disention and not sufficiently an echo of their view of a Bahai orthodoxy. The world and this new paradigm are not simple packages of data and concepts to be learned, experienced and understood. Like much of learning the Ruhi experiment is not like memorizing the multiplication tables, the names of the Kings of England and a pile of stuff for an exam. This new paradigm is not some rigid formula to be applied simplistically in a series of lock-steps.


As Baha’is around the world celebrated the last day of Ridvan in 2013 and the Baha’i world witnessed the election of the Universal House of Justice, the Baha’i World Centre released a new film entitled Frontiers of Learning. This uplifting film captured the insights and experiences of four different communities on four different continents in relation to the institute process. In these communities, children, junior youth, youth, and adults were all seen taking part in a process of community building based on concepts enshrined in the Baha’i Teachings. Filmed in Canada, Colombia, India, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Frontiers of Learning was divided into four main parts and was approximately 90 minutes in length.

Some critics of the learning processes involved in the Ruhi institute programs around the Bahai world have expressed the view that the courses are a form of monkey-see-and-monkey-do, programs based on parrot-like repetition, rigid and fundamentally flawed formula harckening back to anachronistic Shiite traditions of taqlid which Bahaullah abolished over a century ago. This, it seems to me, is a somewhat harsh rendering of the Ruhi institute learning process and its sequence of books, a rendering found among the unloving critics of this core element of the new paradigm. As Paul Lample describes in his excellent new book Revelation and Social Reality: "the focus is on raising up thoughtful, creative protagonists of the progress of the Faith, nor mere technicians implementing a fixed methodology or formula for expansion." (p.83) As the House expressed the nature of the oft'-criticized Anna's presentation in Book 6, the presentation should "give rise to a conversation between two souls-a conversation distinguished by the depth of understanding achieved and the nature of the relationship established."(Ridvan, 22010)

My book does not provide a minute analysis of the sequence of Ruhi books, an analysis one can find in other places both on and off the internet. Those Ruhi enthusiasts in the Bahai world--and there are millions now--may find this book sadly lacking in what they hoped to find here: a detailed exposition of the permutations and combinations of this learning program used, as it is, at the grassroots level to train individuals to develop their skills and attitudes, their values and the knowledge base they need. The aim, among the many aims of the Ruhi institute program, is to succeed in instilling in its participants the capacity, as well as the confidence, to embark on service activities aimed at gradually uplifting the wider community. The messages and letters from the elected and appointed institutions of the Cause provide more than enough detail for readers without me going into yet more detail.

A sincere longing for being of use and helping one’s surroundings is a natural driving force that most people have who call themselves Bahais. In the Baha’i Faith, love and service to mankind are regarded as “the worthiest and most laudable objects of human endeavor”, through which Bahais can also develop virtues and spiritual qualities within themselves. The Ruhi Institute, as I point out elsewhere in this book, is an educational institution, operating under the guidance of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í Faith in Colombia. The general idea of an institute in Bahá'í terms originates with the beginning of the Nine Year Plan (starting in 1964) designated by the Universal House of Justice. The institute or training institute was especially for countries where large-scale expansion was taking place to meet the needs of the thousands who were entering the Faith. At that time, the emphasis was on acquiring a physical facility to which group after group of newly enrolled believers would be invited to attend deepening courses.

Over the years, in conjunction with these institutes as well as independent of them, a number of courses— referred to, for example, as weekend institutes, five-day institutes, and nine-day institutes— were developed for the purpose of promulgating the fundamental verities of the religion and how to serve it. The Ruhi Institute developed in Colombia after the 1970s from this general form and eventually was organized under the guidance of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í Faith in Colombia. Since 1992 it has been registered as the “Ruhí Foundation,” a legally independent non-profit organisation. The Ruhí Foundation dedicates its efforts to the development of human resources for the spiritual, social, and cultural development of the Colombian people. Although its center is in the town of Puerto Tejada in the department of Cauca, its area of influence extends throughout the entire country. Especially in recent years, its educational programs have been adopted by an increasing number of agencies worldwide. It is now being used all over the world and is at the core of this new paradigm. Based on the Writings of the Baha’i Faith, the material aims at giving its participants an understanding of the many presented topics, not only on a level that generates reflection and analysis, but, more crucially, on a level that facilitates action and change.

The main sequence of books in the institute consists of seven booklets in the first cycle. More are planned and there is a second cycle of booklets on its way. The Ruhi booklets are essentially a core curriculum, each with a specific theme and an act of service tied to some of them. The books are studied in study circles consisting of one tutor & several participants. Some of the themes of the main sequence are “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit” and “Teaching Children’s Classes”. The last book of the sequence is a book focused on tutor training, after which the participant herself/himself can serve as a tutor should they desire. As this paradigm has developed the role and structure of the institute with its several critical elements: board, coordinator, tutors, study circles and participants have all come under increasing analysis and scrutiny. The House provided some seminal statements in relation to this analysis in its Ridvan message of 2010.

The Ruhi Institute has come to spread all over the world, being used by Baha’is and their friends from the Kiribati Islands in the South Pacific Ocean to the Faeroe Islands and Iceland in Northern Europe. Of course, culture, weather and tradition influences the shape and expression of the study circles in different corners of the world, but they all have in common the purpose of educating and training their participants to be of service to their fellow beings and to mankind. The detailed analysis of the minutiae of this program, as I say, is found in many other places, and I do not go into this kind of detail in this book, I'm sure to the disappointment of some readers who were hoping for a comprehensive delineation of the entire Ruhi program and its institutional expression. Perhaps, as this paradigm advances in the years ahead I may give this sequence of books the kind of description and analysis it deserves due to their importance in this new paradigm.

Like any other institution involved in the process of education for development, the Ruhi Institute has formulated its strategies within a special framework and a philosophy of social change, development and education. In this case, that understanding has emerged from a consistent effort to apply Bahá'í teachings to the analysis of social conditions. The evolving institute boards oversee the institute process as a whole largely through the periodic reports of the coordinator and through occasional and varied consultations among the many participants in the institute programs. The reports to the National Spiritual Assemblies are through the Regional Bahá'í Councils. The Boards consult with the Councils regularly concerning the role of the institute to provide human resources to meet the teaching needs of the region. Regional Bahai Councils(RBCs) were established in certain countries at the start of the second year of this new paradgim. The characteristics and functions of these Councils were outlined in a letter available to interested readers in cyberspace. RBCs are to be regarded as "expert advisers and executive assistants" to the NSAs.

RBCs came into being in the late 1990s and in the first years of the 21st century. They are, as the House of Justice refers to them, “a new element in Baha’i administration” and “institutions of a special kind.” As an early letter from the Supreme Body to all NSAs noted: The expansion of the Baha’i community and the growing complexity of the issues which are facing National Spiritual Assemblies in certain countries have brought the Cause to a new stage in its development. They have caused us in recent years to examine various aspects of the balance between centralization and decentralization. In a few countries we have authorized NSAs to establish State Baha’i Councils or RT and Administrative Committees….a new element in Baha’i administration, between the local and national levels.(In Baha’i Canada, Nov/Dec. 2012.

Like prayer, fasting, the celebration of Feasts and holy days, indeed, in the entire panoply and pageantry of Bahai individual and community life and its activities there is a great freedom. "The quality of freedom and its expression, the very capacity to maintain freedom in a society undoubtedly depends on the knowledge and training of individuals and on their abilities to cope with the challenges of life with equanimity."(House letter, 28/12/88)This framework of freedom depends on the recognition of the mutuality and balance of benefits and on the spirit of cooperation maintained by the willingness, the courage, the sense of responsibility and the initiative of individuals. These activities are not a prison-house of musts and shoulds and or-elses. The oft-heard phrase over the years: "this is the only way to do it," is an orientation that the Bahai community has been trying to get away from in this new paradigm. The whole idea of the existence of simple formula to follow in order to find the sources of success has long been abandoned as a wide range of approaches to teaching are being encouraged in Bahai community life. This does not mean, of course, that many individuals do not seek simple formula to apply. Ours is an instant society with often high and unrealistic expectations and an emotional unwillingness to accept that failure is often the best recipe for learning.


Many, if not most, of the quantitative goals in Bahai community life in the half century I have been participating and watching the process have been achieved. But with qualitative goals the story is far different. We achieve them, it seems to me, mostly in part like so many things in our Bahai lives. This is an observation of my Bahai experience going back as it does to 1953. Win-win is not always possible on every front for: to ere is human and making mistakes seems to be one of our main methods of learning. To know things, in many ways, we must act upon them, displace, connect, combine, take apart and reassemble them. In writing one does all of these things. Hopefully this process of writing results in behavioural change on my part. I do all these things while I write and I do them in relation to this new paradigm, this new culture of learning and growth. I also do them within the limits of my incapacity, my inexperience and my lack of knowledge and understanding, as we all do when we write, talk and engage with our environment in a process called living.

The firm and impregnable ediface of this new Faith, the Bahai Faith, has been raised and preserved by the inscrutable wisdom of Providence. The Bahai community around the world, united by this Book and by Centres of authority, is challenged from time to time by paradigmatic shifts: wise, simple and beneficent but not implemented always and everywhere in the same way, with the same set of understandings and level of enthusiasm. These various modes of implementation in the Bahai world could all be viewed as equally appropriate to the conditions but often inappropriate by the critic. Toleration of the inevitable diversity of implementation produces a concord of views; insistence on uniformity produces discord. Where a mild spirit of toleration prevails and not the zeal of fanaticism--the I am right and you are wrong and/or this is the only way attitude--harmony existed and has existed in the Bahai community. And when this harmony prevails the distinctively different approaches insensibly coalesce into one great forward movement united by Book, institutions, manners and the use of language. The process is not easy, not always harmonious and not always successful. One could hardly expect otherwise in a community of several million souls across some 200 countries in the world.


Hopefully, as I do battle with the phantoms of what is often my wrongly informed imagination and the imagination of others; and even though I often feel ill-equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet as do millions of my contemporaries, still I feel prompted to action and to fulfil the intentions of this Plan as I have tried to do in previous Plans for the last half century. Perhaps, hopefully, I will make my mark at this crucial turning point in history, a turning point which may well be the most awesome, the greatest and most eventful in the long history of humanity. After more than fifty years of association with this Cause hopefully I have learned a thing or two. One could hardly expect otherwise. As Gibbon noted, providing an importantly cautionary note: individuals often advance in knowledge and truth but they proportionally decline in their practice of virtue. That is why, among other reasons, Bahaullah also wrote to the Bahais another cautionary but quite profound note, summarizing in the process the entire Kitab-i-Iqan; namely, that none of us should judge this Cause by the behaviour of its members. After several thousand years of other traditions based on revelation, this should be obvious to all of us. But Bahaullah puts this idea right up front in one of His central works: lest we forget.

The acquisition of knowledge often does not really engage the minds of many who abhor the fatigue and disdain the advantages of study. The pleasures and resources of solitude and the necessity of silence are not everyone's cup of tea in this electronic age of supersaturated media. Enthusiasm and care for the body and the senses often takes precedence over that of the mind and its care or care for society. Without this kind of concern or ‘caritas’ there is no agency. In this new culture of learning such attitudes and inclinations regarding the mind, the cultural attainments of the mind, that first attribute of perfection which 'Abdul-Baha gave primacy to, gave an especial emphasis, in His Secret of Divine civilization are to be fostered anew. In this new culture of learning the words of Ayn Rand are useful to keep in mind given the emphasis placed on learning in groups. "Civilization," wrote Rand, "is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. (The Fountainhead) In this new paradigm there is a balance between man's solitude and his social existence, his public and his private self. Of course, for some, the balance will tip more for learning in the public sphere and, for others, their learning will be primarily in a private context. In an expanding Bahai community of millions of souls it could not be otherwise. This is but another example of the pervasive nature and reality of unity in diversity in the Bahai community.

There is much that is incomprehensible in the growth of this Cause and much that can not be anticipated no matter how organized the plan or program, no matter how competent or incompetent the souls who must implement these plans and programs. But there is much that requires little understanding, that can not possibly elude our inquiry and only requires simple action. The spirit of doubt and delay, the lack of any real sense of urgency which commonly adheres to pusillanimous and skeptical minds and which Shakespeare describes in Hamlet is his famous soliloquy "to be or not to be," has a profound effect on Bahai Plans and will also affect this new culture of learning as it has Bahai culture since its inception. Shakespeare wrote that: "....the native hue of resolution/ is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought,/And enterprises of great pitch and moment/With this regard their currents turn awry/And lose the name of action." If an individual's sense of personal interest in possessing high resolve and endeavour, in acquiring a breadth of knowledge and an ability to solve difficult problems of benefit to the community--if these things are not aroused, not excited, in some way; if the sense of industry and application loses its force and languishes in the glitter and tinsel of an affluent society, the culture of learning and growth is to that extent delimited.

I do not break any new ground in this literary exegesis but, rather, just look over a patch in an intellectual action-oriented garden which has been laid out in the last few years. I try to profit from the work of other gardeners and to achieve as much lucidity and beauty of expression as my skills permit--for beauty of expression has come to interest me more and more in recent years, however elusive such an expression may be. Exegesis is a methodical search for meaning without which the Word of God would be inapplicable and pointless. Every proclamation, every study, every activity, of the Faith that goes beyond pure quotation, every translation into another language, even reflection about the revealed Word, the search for meaning in pectore, is ultimately exegesis. And so, while I may not break any new ground, perhaps these words may offer light on a complex subject.


Part 1:

Interpretations by the believers are not at all forbidden. In fact, they "constitute the fruit of man's rational power." However, Bahá'u'lláh has monopolised authoritative interpretation by transferring it to 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Kitáb-i-Ahd. 'Abdu'l-Bahá in turn designated Shoghi Effendi as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture in His Will and Testament. Establishing an auctoritas interpretativa simultaneously implies the exclusion of any other interpretative voice that claims any authority. In his Law-i-Ittid (Tablet of Unity) Bahá'u'lláh abolished the institution of the clergy. Thus, there is no separate class of divines in the community of Bahá'u'lláh who, such as the 'ulamá' in Islam to expound religious law or religious meaning with binding authority.

The centres of authority in the Bahai community are combinations of the three clear-cut grounds for legitimate authority outlined by Max Weber: legal, traditional and charismatic. The powerful prestige of a prophetic message, Weber emphasized, though, makes that message prevail in the end over all competing creeds in the form of its institutional permanence and in the routinization of the charismatic Force that gave it birth. History's dynamic element is and has been the charismatic breakthroughs of great men or what Bahais call manifestations of God. The charismatic inspiration becomes a style of life within a distinct community and over time the dominant orientation of a whole civilization. The central tenets of this inspirational Source emerge, also over time, from a variety of orthodox and heterodox views. The conflicts between rule-making administrators and various interest groups in history became a tangle of bureaucratic manoeuvers without public accountability, Weber argues. But these problems are not present in the Bahai system, the Bahai paradigm. But the road ahead within this new paradigm will not be an easy one. As Weber concluded, "the only hope for escape from the icy darkness and hardness of our time, our age, lay in the hands of the very figures who are excluded from sociological analysis-the advent of entirely new prophets."(Max Weber, "The three types of legitimate rule," Berkeley Publications in Society and Institutions, Translated by Hans Gerth, 1958, p.182.

This is not the place, though, to expand on theories of history. This would be far too complex a subject to deal with in the context of this paradigm. This new paradigm cannot be separated, though, from historical and, indeed, many underpinning frameworks from the social sciences and their specific action- oriented sub-disciplines of study. Suffice it to say, the turbulent stage of transition, the discord reflected in the relations between the citizens, the body politic and the institutions of society, is rooted in a power struggle which ultimately proves fatal. Within quite unassuming settings, a visible alternative to society's familiar strife is emerging. Within the matrix of this new Bahá'í culture a world spiritual civilization is emerging bearing the imprint of divine inspiration. The process is gradual and the road is often stony, arduous and complex.

Part 2:

The characteristics of a spiritual civilization are not just a set of activities in which the people engage in prayer and meditation and are aware of the spiritual things of life such as beauty, harmony, & kindliness. It is a society which lives and functions in accordance with the will of God and in the consciousness of His guiding Hand and Spirit. To describe such a civilization & how we will move towards it, I can do no better than to read the closing paragraphs of The Promised Day is Come. This passage is undoubtedly familiar to you all, but it bears reading and rereading as we struggle with the problems, sufferings, and looming disasters of the present period in history. "To the general character, the implications and features of this world commonwealth, destined to emerge, sooner or later, out of the carnage, agony, and havoc of this great world convulsion," Shoghi Effendi begins, "I have already referred in my previous communications. Suffice it to say that this consummation will, by its very nature, be a gradual process, & must, as Bahá’u’lláh has Himself anticipated, lead at first to the establishment of that Lesser Peace which the nations of the earth, as yet unconscious of His Revelation and yet unwittingly enforcing the general principles which He has enunciated,will themselves establish. This momentous & historic step, involving the reconstruction of mankind, as the result of the universal recognition of its oneness and wholeness, will bring in its wake the spiritualization of the masses, consequent to the recognition of the character, and the acknowledgment of the claims, of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh—the essential condition to that ultimate fusion of all races, creeds, classes, and nations which must signalize the emergence of His New World Order.

Then will the coming of age of the entire human race be proclaimed and celebrated by all the peoples and nations of the earth. Then will the banner of the Most Great Peace be hoisted. Then will the worldwide sovereignty of Bahá’u’lláh—the Establisher of the Kingdom of the Father foretold by the Son, & anticipated by the Prophets of God before Him and after Him-be recognized, acclaimed, & firmly established. Then will a world civilization be born, flourish, and perpetuate itself, a civilization with a fullness of life such as the world has never seen nor can as yet conceive. Then will the Everlasting Covenant be fulfilled in its completeness. Then will the promise enshrined in all the Books of God be redeemed, and all the prophecies uttered by the Prophets of old come to pass, and the vision of seers & poets be realized. Then will the planet, galvanized through the universal belief of its dwellers in one God, and their allegiance to one common Revelation, mirror, within the limitations imposed upon it, the effulgent glories of the sovereignty of Bahá’u’lláh, shining in the plenitude of its splendor in the Abhá Paradise, and be made the footstool of His Throne on high, and acclaimed as the earthly heaven, capable of fulfilling that ineffable destiny fixed for it, from time immemorial, by the love and wisdom of its Creator.

Part 2.1:

Not ours, puny mortals that we are, to attempt, at so critical a stage in the long & checkered history of mankind, to arrive at a precise and satisfactory understanding of the steps which must successively lead a bleeding humanity, wretchedly oblivious of its God, & careless of Bahá’u’lláh, from its calvary to its ultimate resurrection. Not ours, the living witnesses of the all-subduing potency of His Faith, to question, for a moment, and however dark the misery that enshrouds the world, the ability of Bahá’u’lláh to forge, with the hammer of His Will, and through the fire of tribulation, upon the anvil of this travailing age, & in the particular shape His mind has envisioned, these scattered and mutually destructive fragments into which a perverse world has fallen, into one single unit, solid and indivisible, able to execute His design for the children of men.

Ours rather the duty, however confused the scene, however dismal the present outlook, however circumscribed the resources we dispose of, to labor serenely, confidently, and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance, in whichever way circumstances may enable us, to the operation of the forces which, as marshaled and directed by Bahá’u’lláh, are leading humanity out of the valley of misery and shame to the loftiest summits of power and glory.


God is the divine artificer fashioning a civilization and each of us is slowly being empowered or disempowered, as the case may be. As I mentioned above, each Bahá'í during his or her lifetime slowly becomes a co-creator in fashioning God's poem from the earthly materials of their lives, their clusters, their study circles, their LSAs, their Bahai communities, their resource materials--Ruhi and other--and much, much else. The art that is the life of a believer gives, if it is effective, a permanence to some of what seems ephemeral, because this art has the capacity to give concrete form to the spiritual verities. The form is the result of a freezing of a moment's vision into a lasting image, however imprecise and allusive.

The participation of each Bahá'í in Baha’i community life could be said to be a fitful tracing of a portal, a window in the physical world through which he or she gains a fleeting glimpse of the eternal reality. I repeat myself here and I repeat the words of John Hatcher because I think that what this emeritus professor of English at an American university in Florida writes is crucial, at least for me. It has been crucial in my slowly evolving understanding of the entire process of learning, of growth and of paradigm shifts, as well as an understaning of my life and society. What is required is not so much a denial of self but an affirmation and fulfilment of self, an expression of the self through the achievement of a more inclusive identity which is, in turn achieved through a greater involvement with others. Central to this paradigm shift is, as Hatcher emphasizes, a greater involvement with others.

The degree, the type and the style of the social involvement is, of course, different for each of us. Each of us has a different capacity for social engagement in this social religion as Horace Holley once called the Bahai Faith. Indeed, the very process of our spiritual development, of acquiring what are essentially intangible spiritual realities, of learning the subtleties of spiritual development gradually, daily, but being aware that the process is useful, necessary and possible, involves learning how to make appropriate responses to various circumstances and how to initiate certain kinds of actions. This is all part of our self-knowledge and involves failures, tests, difficulties, suffering, discovering our limitations, our imbalances, our immaturities and our imperfections as well as our talents and capacities. Each of us will play different parts, experience different degrees of intense inner life, attain different capacities for mature relationships and possess varying degrees of social conscience in the wider society in which we live. This is, arguably, the main point which Abdul-Baha makes in His Memorials of the Faithful written before He wrote the Tablets of the Divine Plan and first published by the spiritual assembly of Haifa in 1928.

This paradigm shift in the life of the Bahai community, therefore, will mean different things to different Bahais. We will each and all do different things; we will not all do the same things at the same time and in the same way. The House of Justice, for example, outlined a dozen specific things Bahais can do to find a fulfilling path of service within this new paradigm--and especially for those Bahais who do not want to take part in the institute process.(See "Talk by Stephen Hall," in The Australian Bahai March 2009.) But whatever path of service one takes, whatever way an individual decides to contribute his or her part to the betterment of the world and to this new and very precious Cause, the purpose of such contributions, whatever contributions, they are always secondary to the main purpose that animates the Bahá'í. That purpose is to assist the people of the world to open their minds and hearts to the one Power that can fulfil the ultimate longing of humanity for peace and justice in society as well as the one Power that can bring the human soul to what Bahaullah calls the Ancient of Days. Given the menu of activities in this new paradigm people of any temperament and whatever their experience in life can contribute. There is a place in this community for virtually anyone whose spirit is touched by this new revelation.

There are many sources in Bahá’í history and in the Baha’i writings to help us to obtain a more adequate understanding of: (a) the role each of us can and should play, (b) this turning point and (c) how this Revelation relates to this new culture of learning and of growth in the life of the community. Hopefully, these sources will help us find a context for the discussion of several relevant fundamental questions which have arisen in this decade-long exercise. We need to be on our guard that in making merely superficial adjustments in the context of the glitter and tinsel, of the oscillations and fragments of our group activity, of the innumerable fleeting moments, these adjustments will themselves fulfil the tasks at hand. Far otherwise. I trust the lengthy journey of words in this book across this terrain of Bahai activity and the part my study plays in my larger work, my memoir, will not be in any way intimidating and will not be lacking in a good deal of common sense as I explore the nature of the process in which the Baha’i community is currently involved. Perhaps the absence of footnotes, an absence I was unable to correct when I posted this commentary at Baha’i Library Online, will simplify this 190,000 word piece of writing on the recent paradigm shift and make it less intimidating. Perhaps readers can eliminate their academic concerns about who said what and when and where. If the more academically inclined readers at BARL find this impossible to do, if they find that virtually no footnotes is annoying to their scholarly sensibilities, then they can write to me at my email address and I will happily snailmail them a footnoted copy. My email address is:

The desirability of engaging in this culture of learning and growth is taken for granted, although I am sure that for many my exercise in analysis is not needed, nor wanted, nor seen as even remotely necessary. There has developed in recent decades a burgeoning of print in all fields and I'm sure for many my exposition here will be seen as just another addition to this expanse of analysis that is part of what for many is a sea of overwhelming printed matter. This sea is so deep that it drives people back to the movies, to leisurely pursuits of a more manual nature and to the simple life, as simple as possible as Henry David Thoreau used to say was the goal of life. Who wants to drown in the sea? What has already emerged on this subject in the last dozen years, as well as the dozen or so years that clearly led up to this paradigm shift(say 1982-1996) as we look back with the advantage of hindsight is no mean body of print to engage the mind. I'm confident that this book will remain largely unread, but that is true of so much print today, as I say, given the burgeoning of the print media especially in the audio-visual age our culture is immersed in on a daily basis and which often takes precedence, primacy and great slices of time in the lives of the votaries of all Faiths in the West where the electronic media has become so pervasive.


The process of publishing has been made easier for writers in the last decade due to internet-technology. There are now thousands, if not millions, of writers like myself who publish on the internet. Writers, both off and on the internet, who find themselves published to an increasing extent are often asked to make their aims explicit and their goals frank--up-front--as it is often said these days. Sometimes writers engage in what T.S. Eliot once said is an intolerable struggle with words and meanings. For me, this process with words is more pleasure and, whatever struggle I am involved with, it is far from intolerable. I hope readers benefit from my pleasures even if they find my writing a little too verbose for their personal tastes, a little too expansive and abstract and my sentence construction too complex and long-winded for their personal literary proclivities. May my style be a bridge to substance for readers who persist with this work.

Not having abilities and interests in many avenues of life, not wanting to occupy my leisure time with gardening, extensive use of hobby apparatus, house repairs and fix-it jobs, great quantities of TV watching, shopping and cooking, educating children, adolescents and adults as I did for decades, among other activities, I settle for a little cleaning and laundry, meals and dishes, watching TV and visiting friends, pleasing my wife and emptying the garbage in these middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80). Writing has slowly developed over the decades, by sensible and insensible degrees, into an occupation, a vocation, an avocation that brings me great pleasure. If others can share in my pleasure, get pleasure from my writing, what further delight can I ask? As Abdul-Baha wrote in another context: there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.

As the years of this new paradigm shift have developed from, say, 1996, through a four year plan(1996-2000), a one year plan(2000-2001) and two five year plans(2001-2006) and (2006-2011) the Bahai world, the secular world and my own personal world have seen immense changes, some would say paradigm changes. My autobiography only touches on these changes. Even at 2500 pages and five volumes, this memoir can only skim the surface of these Plans and of nearly seventy-five years of recent history: three-quarters of a century or more back to the first Seven year Plan(1937-1944) or more than a century if I go back to the birth of my parents--in what appears to be the darkest in the history of civilization with a catalogue of horrors unknown to even the darkest of ages past.

Not finding a soft or a hard cover with some bright colour to attract a reading public, this book will most likely remain in cyberspace. It will be read by a few, a select few I like to think. But I am inclined to think that there will be even more readers in cyberspace than there would have been if this article got into the hands of traditional publishers and found a soft or hard cover. It is for these readers, then, whoever they may be, that I write. As I indicated above and as I reiterate here: in the first two years that I have had this site published on the internet several thousand clicks have been registered at this book. It is difficult to measure dialogue by clicks, but such is one of the measuring sticks in this cyberage. In the end, though, I must write for myself--as I say above--to help relieve some of the complexity and burden, to clarify and enlarge some of my own thinking. I look forward, as I write, to my enjoying the act of discovery as I make room for new and fresh ideas, as I come--always hopefully--to find those wings of human life that are found in the art of writing; and as I come to find that ladder for my ascent, another epithet Bahá'u'lláh uses to describe the arts. Perhaps, as I go along, my mind will be awakened and enlarged and some of the veils will be lifted from the receptacle that is my thought and the beauty of the world will be perceived with greater clarity and, with that beauty, a greater understanding of this new paradigm of which we are all a part each in our own ways. This book is part of my own pursuit of the success that is excellence not the success in the pursuit of dominance, not part of a competitive struggle with others.

For years I tried to write stories, novels, sci-fi, but as the years of my life lengthened I seem more destined to write books, non-fiction work and poetry and not fiction, stories, narratives of many kinds. This book is one such effort on this seemingly predestined path of essaying, of sailing on the shoreless sea of words. For years, too, it was my hope that I would be an engaging speaker that "my voice might be raised in great assemblies and from my lips might stream the flood of His words," or something to that effect. But I was not invited to give talks living as I did: among the Inuit in Canada, the Aboriginals in Australia or among Iranians in large cities like Perth and Melbourne Australia; or living in a small mining town, small and remote towns in parts of Australia that were so hot that listening to a talk was the last thing people wanted to help them brighten their life and to help them cool off. I seemed destined for analysis done in a small room with no one to read the products of my overworked brain except, it now seems, in this new space, cyberspace.

When the internet came along, well......more on that later. For years, too, for decades, from the age of 15 to 55, I had a much higher degree of social involvement but in these years of my late adulthood(60 to 80) I did not want to keep up that pace of intense social life. My voice is now raised in the form of written expression. Each of us goes through great changes along our lifespan and the part each of us plays in any paradigm is partly a result of where we are in our life journey, of what type of temperament and personality we have and of what taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and of dreams we have on our tongues and in our minds and hearts in that part of our personal journey. The part I play in this new paradgim is very different as my particiaption heads toward the end of its second decade. When this new Bahai culture began in 1996 I was a teacher in a college, served on an LSA, was an active member of a large Bahai community and now, 15 years later, my wife and I are the only Bahais in a small town and I am retired from the job world. And this is true for all Bahais: their role in the new Bahai paradigm depends on their personal circumstances which, in turn, depend on where they are in the lifespan.


I would like to make some remarks about this internet work which has coincided with this new culture of learning. In the first year after I retired from FT work, July 1999 to July 2000, Google officially became the world's largest search engine. I had only begun to engage in internet activity and an extensive use of emails in the Four Year Plan(1996-2000). With Google's introduction of a billion-page index by June 2000 much of the internet's content became available in a searchable format at one search engine. In the next several years, 2000-2005, as I was retiring from PT work as well as casual and most volunteer activity that had occupied me for decades, Google entered into a series of partnerships and made a series of innovations that brought their vast internet enterprize billions of users in the international marketplace. Not only did Google have billions of users, but internet users like myself throughout the world gained access to billions of web documents in Google's growing index.

In 1994, at the age of fifty, as I was beginning to eye my retirement from FT work as a teacher and lecturer and as this new paradigm was about to be launched, Microsoft launched its public internet web domain with a home page. Web site traffic climbed steadily and episodically in that Four Year Plan, the years 1996 to 2000. Daily site traffic of 35,000 in mid-1996 grew to 5.1 million visitors in 1999. Throughout 1997 and 1998 the site grew up and went from being the web equivalent of a start-up company to a world-class organization. I retired from FT work at just the right time in terms of the internet capacity to provide me with access to information by the truckload on virtually any topic. This new technology had also developed sufficiently to a stage that gave me the opportunity, the capacity to post, write, indeed, “publish” is quite an appropriate term, on the internet at the same time. From 1999 to 2005 then, as I also released myself from FT, PT, casual and most volunteer work, Google and Microsoft offered more and more technology for my writing activity. My life had experienced a paradigm shift certainly one of its major shifts in the first seven decades of my life, in the years 1943 to 2009.

There are now several hundred thousand readers engaged in parts of my internet tapestry, my literary product, my creation, my immense pile of words across the internet--and hundreds of people with whom I correspond on occasion as a result. This amazing technical facility, the world wide web, has made this literary success and teaching enterprise possible. If my writing had been left in the hands of the traditional hard and soft cover publishers, where it had been without success when I was employed full time as a teacher, lecturer, adult educator and casual/volunteer teacher from 1981 to 2001, these results would never have been achieved. Bahai teaching entered a dramatically new phase.

I have been asked how I have come to have so many readers at my website and the tapestry or jig-saw puzzle of writing I have created across the internet. My writing is just another form of published writing in addition to the traditional forms in the hands of publishers. The literally hundreds of thousands of readers I have at locations on my tapestry of prose and poetry, a tapestry I have sewn in a loose-fitting warp and weft across the internet, are found at over 8000++ websites where I have registered: forums, message boards, discussion sites, blogs, locations for debate and the exchange of views. They are sites to place essays, articles, books, ebooks, poems and other genres of writing. I have registered at this multitude of sites, placed my literary products there and engaged in discussions with literally thousands of people, little by little and day by day. I enjoy these results without ever having to deal with publishers as I did for two decades without any success, without ever having to knock on doors, go to study circles or even open my mouth. Cyberspace is a teaching medium, like the advanced in the print and electronic media, which has brought a whole new world of teaching possibilities to Bahais and, as I see it, is part of that new paradigm.

The last sixteen years of internet posting, 2001-2015, have been immensely rewarding. When one talks one likes to be listened to and when one writes one likes to have readers. It is almost impossible, though, to carry literary torches as I do through internet crowds or in the traditional hard and soft-cover forms, without running into some difficulties. My postings singe the beards of some readers and my own occasionally. Such are the perils of dialogue, of apologetics, of writing, of posting, indeed, I might add, of living. Life's perils, the problems we experience in our relationships, verbal or in writing, often stimuate. The heavier the blow the stronger the stimulus is an aphorism with many an example in history.(See Toynbee, A Study of History, Volume 2) Toynbee writes of those who are disabled in various ways and have used writing, poetry and the arts to exercise a potent influence on their culture and this is true for many Bahais in this new paradigm.

Much of writing and dialogue in any field of thought derives from the experience each of us has of: (a) an intimate or not-so-intimate sharing of views in some serendipitous fashion or (b) what seems like a fundamental harmony or dissonance between what each of us thinks and what some other person thinks. In some ways, the bridge of dialogue is immensely satisfying; in other ways the gulfs over the valleys of life are unbridgeable. When the latter is the case and when a site is troubled by my posts, I usually bow out for I have not come to a site to engage in conflict, to espouse an aggressive proselytism but, rather, to stimulate thought and, as I say, share views. When I see that my participation in a group is also a cause of tension and conflict I also bow out, take alower profile. Dissention is a moral and intellectual contradition for those who would be peacemakers and unifiers of the children of men.

The new stage which has opened with this paradigm shift has required of Bahais a fundamental rethinking of the presentation of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, a simple but radical shift. The internet has provided for thousands of Bahais--and certainly for me--a medium for implementing this shift. It does a disservice to the mission of Bahá’u’lláh, to the World Order which He has come to establish, to focus the public message in religious categories. This talk by Douglas Martin was, for me, a heuristic and stimulating contribution to the up-and-coming discussion on the new Bahai paradigm. That talk was one of the earliest intimations of the new direction that the Baha’i community was about to take in the next decade. That talk was, it seems to me as I look back in retrospect at nearly sixty years of my association with this universal system, part of a decade-long warm-up(1986-1996) to the paradigmatic shift of the mid-1990s. Bahai history has many of these so-called warm-ups or shifts which go by many names: a hiatus or delay, a discontinuity or continuity, interval or interstice, interlude or intermission, suspension or termination. The Bahai timetable is full of stages and phases, chapters and states, scenes and settings, epochs and eras, periods and cycles.

To shift the focus from an "us-them" dichotomy, with insiders and outsiders, and to present the Cause in a radically different form has been no easy achievement. But it has been accomplished incremental step-by-step over the nearly two decades since Martin gave that talk. This is not to say that there is none of that old dichotomy between believer and non-believer present. One would not want to remove it entirely. There will always be outsiders, people who are not members of this Cause; there will always be Bahais who do not follow all the laws and ordinances of this Faith. The perceptions we each have of others and their obedience to direction are part of the experience of people in community.

Legitimate expressions of concern for the behaviour of others need not be viewed as criticism or intimations of a need for confrontation. All Bahais are in various degrees uninformed or disloyal. Perfection is elusive. The issues confronting the community are often very complex, perhaps necessarily so and they often require high levels of interpersonal skills, skills which are often simply lacking. Without the necessary skills conflict is sometimes inevitable. Wide latitudes for action, the avoidance of over-controlling personalities, a wide margin and tolerance for mistakes, being easily pleased with others and not endlessly fussy about all sorts of middle class proclivities and propensities--all these will help in the context of this new paradigm. But they are not qualities many people possess and even if many possess them, there are always the few who can make life difficult in community contexts. All the Central figures had to cope with these issues and personalities, these kinds of conflicts and tests. And it is part of the burden we, too, must bear if we are to refine our characters, contribute to an ever advancing civilization and to this new Bahai paradigm. The old maxim "possess the desire to please," and you will be a useful asset in your community.

The issues involve the Bahais in a fundamental dialogue with the wider society, a dialogue which has been slow in developing in the last several decades but which has been moving much more quickly in this new culture. Bahá'ís have responded to the challenges facing humanity in two ways: internally, by creating a promising operating model for a spiritually based world society which has embarked on an infinite series of experiments at the local, national and international levels in its efforts to realize the vision of mankind's oneness which it finds in the Writings of its Founder and of all the messengers of God. In this great undertaking all people of good will are free to participate. The Bahai community attempts to reflect the principles in these Writings and this is the basis for the model. In this new Bahai paradigm this process has been advancing significantly. Externally, the Bahai community aims to help heal the damage that inequality, injustice and ignorance have done to society. This, too, has advanced in many ways in the last 15 years.

Still today, the House emphasizes, "can anyone claim to have glimpsed anything but an intimation, distant and indistinct, of the future society to which the Revelatioon of Bahá'u'lláh is destined to give rise?" There is a vast distance that separates society as it is now arranged from the stupendous vision that Bahá'u'lláh gifted to the world."(Ridvan 2012)

The international Bahai community contains within it 2,100 ethnic groups speaking over 800 languages. In some nations minority groups make up a substantial fraction of the Bahai population; in the United States, for example, perhaps a third of the membership is African American, and Southeast Asians, Iranians, Hispanics and Native Americans make up another 20 percent. Racial integration of local Bahai communities has been the standard practice of the American Bahai community since about 1905. Women have played a major, if not central, role in the administration of local American Bahai communities, and of the national community, since 1910. American Bahai have been involved in education, especially in the fostering of Bahai educational programs overseas, since 1909.

Worldwide, numerous Bahais have become prominent in efforts to promote racial amity and equality, strengthen peace groups, extend the reach and effectiveness of educational systems, encourage ecological awareness and stewardship, develop new approaches to social and economic development, and promote the new field of conflict resolution. The Bahai Faith runs many radio stations in less developed areas of the world that have pioneered new techniques for educating rural populations and fostering economic and cultural development. The Faith also conducts over 1000 schools, primarily in the third world, as well as about 200 other literacy programs. Bahai communities sponsor hundreds of development projects, such as tree-planting, agricultural improvement, vocational training and rural health-care. It would be impossilbe to list them here. The Bahai international community is particularly active at the United Nations and works closely with many international development agencies. Many national and local Bahai communities have been active in promoting interreligious understanding and cooperation.

Bahá'í efforts in the field of social and economic development generally take the form of grassroots initiatives carried out by small groups of individuals in the towns and villages in which they reside. As these initiatives evolve, some grow into more substantial programs with permanent administrative structures. Yet very few can be compared with the kind of complex development projects promoted and funded by government agencies and large multilateral organizations. This is beginning to change in the context of this new paradigm.

The Mongolian Development Center--a Bahá'í inspired organization--offers training in health and nutrition, as well as in growing essential vegetables. The distinguishing features of the Bahá'í approach to development are the principles and processes being employed by Bahá'í communities around the world rather than the number or size of projects. In a very real sense, social and economic development activities are an expression of faith in action. Consequently, Bahá'í development initiatives are designed to engage and benefit all the members of a community and not just Bahá'ís.

At the heart of all Bahá'í development undertakings is the recognition of a deep and inseparable connection between the practical and spiritual aspects of daily life. Creating a desire for social change and instilling confidence that it can be achieved must ultimately come from an awakening of the human spirit. While pragmatic approaches to problem solving play a key role in development initiatives, tapping the spiritual roots of human motivation provides the essential impulse that ensures genuine social advancement.


We must turn again and again to fundamentals, at least I feel I should as I discuss this new development in the religion I been associated with for over half a century, since 1953 when the Kingdom of God on earth made its beginning in Chicago unbeknownst to the wider world and even to the majority of the Bahais at the time I rather suspect. I say this for, in some ways, paradigm shifts like this are not some revolutionary new wave of thinking that has suddenly sprung up ex nihilo. A detailed and exact knowledge of all the terms and language involved in this new paradigm and of the many and varied applications of this culture of learning and of growth and of the diverse conditions prevailing around the world where this paradigm has been and will be applied, while valuable in themselves, are not what this book explores. This sort of detailed information cannot be regarded as the sort of knowledge, learning and understanding that I outline and explore in this now lengthy essay, although these details obviously underpin any comprehension of this paradigm, at least to some extent.

This detailed knowledge and this new language is explored elsewhere in many an essay, discussion paper, document, letter and internet post. It is explored in fine detail with definitions abounding and explanations tuned and retuned for various publics in and out of the Baha’i community. This book attempts an engagement with the content and the issues, an examination of this topic, hopefully, from a fresh perspective, a wide-angled lens, at an oblique, a slanting, a slanted direction. Some might even find my approach here too circuitous, roundabout, indirect--even tortuous and devious, not to say bent--goodness--hopefully not that. I hope not but, in writing as in life, one can not please everyone and one never knows how a reading public and particular individuals in that public will react to what one has written.

This literary and conceptual analysis moves on various and different paths from most of the analysis and discussion of the new paradigm that has been part of the Baha’i community for a dozen years--or so I like to think. I hope I am making a fresh, an original contribution to the discussion even if I am going over old ground. When this exposition goes over old ground, as it inevitably must, it is my hope that the paths on this ground are seen in a new way with new trimmings, new flowers along the edge and new-green grasses under the feet. Sadly, gardening is not my speciality and so I borrow from other gardeners perhaps too often to achieve my aims. But writing has been a tool I have been working on for decades and I have engaged in its discipline wilfully, dutifully and rigorously with the aim of developing the tools and the craft of this medium. Not possessing so many other tools in life, I have had to develop this one particular tool to pay the bills and survive in this practical world of practical people, to raise my family and to eat. The result, dear reader, is what you read before you, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health until death do us part as it is said in another context of life's commitments.


I am going to expand here on an article which Moojan Momen wrote and give a special emphasis to an aspect from that useful article originally written in 2001(circa). Momen wrote about the same topic I am writing here and he provided for me some of the context in which I want to discuss this subject of the new culture of learning--at least initially. Thanks to Momen's capacity for analogical thought, a capacity which has enriched my reading of his work for years, I want now to comment on the change in culture that the Guardian initiated in the 1920s and 1930s. This change did not spring up ex nihilo within the Guardian’s action-oriented exegesis any more than other significant and paradigmatic shifts in the life of the Baha’i community have sprung up ex nihilo, out of nothing. Like most change in science and the arts, change occurs by what you might call a happy accumulation; an original approach is not invalidated just modified or given a particular emphasis. Thanks, too, to the literary and analytical efforts of some others writers, my article here expands on the work of others and tries to knit the material into one fine warp and weft, a carpet of fine thread for the mind. I try to draw on all this reading and my experience but I must admit to the difficulty of putting it all together and of composing with a unified, unidirectional literary and intellectual perspective. But as a serious writer, I am afflicted, perhaps compelled, to try. I enjoy what I find to be an exquisite sense of release and relief from getting the job done even if, in the process, any unified perspective I find along the way, fades a little and loses its gloss and focus. Writing, like life, has its dangers, its ups-and-downs; all is not consistency and clear sailing. The clearer and more evocatively that I write the more in touch with the realities of my subject that I feel even if, in the process, I lose some readers along the way.

To draw on Momen, Kahn and others as well as expand on their comments in relation to the work of the Guardian from 1921 to 1936 provides for me, if not for all the readers here, an irresistible comparison and contrast in concept and method with the changes in this most recent of shifts in our time and in the last years of my working life(1996 to 2005). In those years I headed out from the world of jobs and earning a living, raising a family and going to meetings, as well as listening and talking for at least eight hours every day and made a major shift in my own modus vivendi. I find the comparison with the work of Shoghi Effendi in those years after WW1, those entre-deux-guerres years as they are sometimes called, the paradigm shift he put in place and developed, although he would not and did not use the term paradigm, irresistible because retrospection offers dimensions of understanding which sharpen our perception of the current cultural and community shift in the life of this Faith I have been part of even as far back since 1953.

My parents, indeed, none of my family had come across the Bahai Faith in those years between the wars. It was not until 1953, the year that DNA, was finally discovered and worked out, that any contact between the Bahai Faith and my family was established. I was then aged nine. While my parents went though most of their young and middle adult life in the years 1921 to 1957, Shoghi Effendi was engaged in transforming the religion that had been entrusted to his care in 1921. Shoghi Effendi did much more than explain the texts; he directed and guided the community through a crucible of transformation that forged the Baha’i community that my parents came across in the 1950s. I don’t want to go into the details of this forging process. Glenford Mitchell did a fine job, one of the best I have read in the more than fifty years of my reading Baha’i inspired print, a fine job of delineating the objectives and purposes of this forging process some thirty-five years ago in World Order magazine. I leave it to readers to enjoy the pleasures of engaging in his well-written article in that very useful magazine that has been in print since the 1960s. This forging process of Shoghi Effendi had been preceded by decades of preliminary work, preliminary work laid down during the early lives of my parents(1895-1921) and my grandparents(1872-1921) and great-grandparents(1844-1872: circa). This 'preliminary work' is a story in itself; these two words are a simple expression for a complex process, a process that had taken place for decades, arguably eight decades, before this unassuming man assumed the reins of office in 1921. But it is not my purpose here to delineate this fascinating preparatory period, a preparatory period that led in time, to my own birth as a result of my parents meeting each other in the years of that first teaching Plan, 1937-1944.

The Guardian, that offspring of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretive mind and co-sharer in the genius of divine interpretation, assumed his position as the legitimate successor of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, as Mitchell points out, a position which was and is difficult for people, for Baha’is, to estimate, to understand, to appreciate. An evaluation and understanding of the grandeur of the Guardian’s work, his role and status, his exegetical function, his place in the realm of words and actions, was difficult for the Baha’i community of that generation in those inter-war and intra-war years to understand. That generation was perhaps the first of the many generations of the half light that were to come. As the British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay(1800-1859)once wrote in another context and in relation to another person, the historian and analyst needs some standard by which to make a comparison or a contrast--and the Baha’is had none vis-a-vis Shoghi Effendi; they had no standard by which they could measure and gain some historical perspective on his position. The Guardian’s role and station was, in a Baha’i context, unique in history. The Guardian died when I was thirteen and I had no appreciation of him and his role at that early age, although my mother had had contact with the Cause for four years by then and the Bahai Faith had spread its wings to over 200 countries in an international teaching enterprise than had been, in that four year period, quite beyond the wildest expectations of even the most optimistic believers-a period which could be termed a mini-paradigm shift in itself.

The preliminary steps, the precursors, of the Administrative system which Shoghi Effendi gave his paramount attention to building, to permanently and systematically establishing in those entre deux guerres years, had already been taken by ‘Abdu’l-Baha and even by Baha’u’llah in the years preceding His ascension in 1892. As I say, I will not outline these steps here. Shoghi Effendi has done this for us comprehensively in his extensive delineation of the first stirrings of the Baha’i Administrative Order in his magisterial work God Passes By. It is a work whose vision and whose elevation of history’s role provided the Baha’is with the majesty and meaning of the narrative of the first century of their history and its several paradigm shifts. In short, the cultural shift, the paradigm shift, that Shoghi Effendi was so instrumental in developing involved, among other things, what Horace Holley called and described briefly, referring as he was at the time to the Bahai community of the United States, as an evolution from a small and amorphous series of local groups to a national unit of a world society.”

The American Bahá’í community consisted of an informal network of groups, of “small pockets of ingrown and amorphous communities” in 1921 and by 1936 it had developed into “a vastly enlarged and well-organized religion with a national consciousness.” It was able, by 1936, to plan and to initiate a systematic, an international teaching campaign. It is this development, this organizational evolution, this alteration in the consciousness and direction of the Baha’i community that is involved in what Momen calls “a change in the Baha’i culture.” Momen draws on this paradigm shift to compare the present change in culture in the life of the Baha’i community in the last two decades. The change in culture initiated by Shoghi Effendi was, indeed, a gradual one characterized by phases, stages and transitions, breaks and continuities with the past which added up, in overview, to what very well might be called a multi-paradigmatic shift. During these years my parents were in their young adulthood for the most part, the years 20 to 40, making of their lives an event that would cast the pearl of "pure and goodly issue on the shore of life" and bring up "greater and lesser pearls." Would I be a greater or a lesser pearl? Time would tell and even my memoir leaves such a final question, such an ultimate outcome and question until the last syllable of my recorded time in life. Such is my belief in relation to quite a complex question whose answer I will not go into here in even the most cursory manner.

Reading the study of early Baha’i administration in the United States by Loni Bramson-Lerche in one of Kalimat Press's series of volumes on Babi-Baha’i history is instructive, but I will only comment briefly on her analysis here. Suffice it to say, the context for the change in culture that Momen refers to in the 1920s and 1930s, and that Bramson-Lerche describes in her informative description of the development of Baha’i administration from 1922 to 1936, is a useful one for us to examine here in our study of the change in culture that the Baha’i community is currently undergoing. The comparison and contrast between the two paradigm shifts is instructive and rich in its potential to cast light on our current culture change. The paradigmatic shift that the Baha’i community is now engaged in, like the one referred to between WWI and WW2, needs to be seen in context. For this most recent shift, like the one I have just referred to, did not spring up ex nihilo. Indeed, it seems to me that this most recent of paradigm shifts, is but another part, another stage in the long process of the Baha’i community providing the world with the long-awaited workshop by which the collective social advancement of civilization will support and work in concert with the individuals attempt to fulfil their inherent purpose.

The Baha’i paradigm, any Baha’i paradigm, has always been fundamentally a new, even if only an altered, institutional matrix. Of course, it can also be seen as merely an adjustment, an adaptation. The issue is partly a question of semantics, definitions, perspectives and meanings. The answers, the interpretations, given to these semantic issues of meaning all vary from individual to individual and one can get caught up in endless hairsplitting and casuistry, empty and profitless debate and a vain concatenation of thoughts that lead nowhere except to dispute and acrimony. For the Baha’is, the generations of the half-light in the 20th and 21st centuries, only a dim perception of the main features of this institutional matrix, this paradigm of paradigms, is achievable. We stand too close to its beginnings to appreciate either its potential or the relationships of its component parts, as the House of Justice once expressed the idea when I was but 25 and just starting my work in this administrative Order, this System. Those words from the House came in 1969 and they came when my work in this Order was just beginning. By 1969 I had been associated with this new order for more than 15 years beginning as that association did as far back as 1953 in sensible and insensible degrees right back to the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth, a term used by 'Abdul-Baha for the year when the temple in Chicago would be finished.


After more than half a century since I joined this Faith, I can see some brilliant lights in the wide world that is the international Bahai community. There are also many dark shades and clouded visions of the whole, for we have only intimations of the subtle and hidden relationships between the component parts of this Cause. In these generations of the half-light we still see through a glass darkly. We probe the many mysteries of this new Order and seek to discover more and more of the picture it presents to our minds. We do this as a Bahai community year after year as this Order, this nucleus and pattern of a new society, spreads across the planet quietly in the hearts and minds of millions. For the Baha’i this is not a subjective statement but one of fact. The Baha’i paradigm, the Baha’i worldview, the Baha’i model, the Baha’i archetypal pattern or exemplar, is not, at its heart, an organization, an ideology, a cosmology, nor a framework for action among other possible definitions and applications of the term paradigm. It is, as Douglas Martin pointed out in the conclusion to a talk he gave in April 1992:

“a universal reality operating within every soul and between all souls. It is readily accessible to independent investigation and discovery. It is the axis of the oneness of the world of humanity. It is reality and ultimately it will engage the minds and spirits of all people because it is the nature of reality to do so.”

Martin’s words here are elusive, subtle and visionary; they are also provocative, enticing and stimulating to the imagination. For the Bahá’í this Cause is the paradigm of paradigms. Our world and especially our institutional world will be significantly centred on this Cause in the centuries ahead. From time to time this paradigm of paradigms needs a refinement, an extension, a variation, an adjustment, a series of fundamental transition phases, what some might call simply a shift. The new culture of learning and growth that has been underway since the middle of that fin de siecle in the twentieth century in the Baha’i community is part of this latest shift. Before going on in this book to discuss what is often called the triple impulse, an impulse within whose context I want to discuss this most recent paradigm shift, I would like to add some words about the paradigm shifts that have taken place in the wider context of society in the Bahai Era beginning as it does in 1844. These remarks will be brief, a sort of parenthesis which adds colour and texture, a certain fascination and interest, to the shift we are presently observing and in which we are taking part. Such is my aim and hope here in this part of the book.


Parenthetically speaking, then, let me add that since 23 May 1844 there have been a number of major paradigm shifts in many aspects of the various secular and religious worlds within which the Babi-Baha’i world has grown and developed. Beginning on 23 May 1844 itself, to chose a starting point for the delineation of more than a century and a half of paradigm shifts, a starting point which is far from arbitrary for the Baha’i, let me enumerate but a few: on 23 May 1844, coincidentally, the first message was sent over a telegraph wire; in the summer of 1844 Karl Marx made his first contribution to the world of sociology, history and philosophy; to continue listing paradigms let us go into the world of science with Charles Darwins Origin of the species in 1859. One could go on and on, decade after decade into the 20th and 21st centuries, through the lives of Bahaullah, Abdul-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the years of the House of Justice at the apex of Bahai administration, outlining a multitude of paradigmatic shifts in the wider society that accompanied the ones in the parallel universe of the emerging Bahai community.

For fear of prolixity, though, I will say no more and leave this fascinating and serendipitous series of juxtapositions to readers, juxtapositions they can find in the biological and physical sciences, in the social sciences and humanities, in society and everyday experience. The list of major shifts is staggering in magnitude and it virtually goes without saying to anyone with only a little familiarity with history and the contemporary society in which they are enmeshed. These shifts provide perspective, ambience, meaning and helpful overviews that can add a wider understanding to the process that is taking place before our eyes and has been for the last dozen years in the Bahai community itself. Since 1996 the paradigm shifts in culture and society, in science and technology, indeed, across the whole panoply and pageantry of our global society have been staggering in their magnitude. I have already referred to this above and I shall say no more on this theme here, although one can not limit its importance as a background to the paradigm shift in the Bahai community.

I would like to hypothesize that since my mother first joined this new Faith in 1953 there have been at least three major paradigm shifts in the Bahai community: 1953-1963; 1963-1996 and 1996 to the present or, perhaps, to 2021 the end of the first century of the Formative Age and, I would guess, its fifth epoch. I will discuss these shifts later in this 200 page sojourn. The future of my life, the life of my fellow Bahais, the life of all the people of the world is at the centre of this new culture of learning and growth in which we are all searching for a new voice, a new identity, a new tradition and the magical transformation that is taking place and has the potentiality to actualize in the decades ahead is quite magnificent. It is the combination of the best of many worlds, combining them and coming up with something new that is truly breathtaking.


I would like now to turn to that triple impulse I referred to above. Whatever shift, whatever culture of learning and of growth that the Baha’i community is now going through, whatever phases and stages that have characterized it and will characterize it in the years ahead, they are each and all part and parcel of the three distinct but interrelated processes set in motion by “the triple impulse generated through the revelation of the Tablet of Carmel by Bahá’u’lláh, the Will and Testament and the Tablets of the Divine Plan bequeathed by the Centre of His Covenant.” I want to place this new culture, this new paradigm, within the context of this triple impulse. While discussing this triple impulse, I try as far as possible, and when relevant, to bring these three major foci into interrelationship with my own life and the life of my society. At the core of my memoir, my autobiography, now in five volumes, is another triple impulse: my society, my religion and my own life experience. As I indicated above, I feel I must apologize to readers for the inevitably quite personal context that they will find in the pages ahead as I go about connecting my own micro-world with the macro and the triple impulse I have just mentioned.

The immense significance of this paradigmatic shift in its first dozen years has coincided more than just serendipitously in retrospect with an almost incredible if often inscrutable alliance of social, economic and political forces in the wider world on the one hand and developments in that triple impulse I have already referred to on the other. To ignore this wider context, one within the Bahai community and the other in our global society, is to deprive this analysis, this exercise in the study of the new paradigm, of some useful, indeed, critical understandings of the new culture of learning and growth in which our international Bahai society is immersed.


The construction work at the Baha’i World Centre is and was an historic thrust in the context of that first impulse. This vast, prolonged and costly building enterprize, relative to the small size of the Bahai community that took the project on, fulfilling even more than previous buildings and community achievements had done the glorious vision of the efflorescence on God’s holy mountain, is exerting, has exerted and will exert “a profound influence” on the worldwide Baha’i community. A series of developments at the World Centre: the completion of the Seat of the Universal House of Justice in 1984, the announcement in 1987 of the Arc Project which by 1988 had resulted in “the emergence of a new paradigm of opportunity” and which by 1989 had resulted in “heightened expectations” were all an expression in the world of concrete, marble and architectural reality of that first impulse generated well over a century ago just before the passing of Baha’u’llah in His revelation of the Tablet of Carmel. This tablet is, for the Bahai community, the Charter of the World Spiritual and Administrative Centres of the Faith on that mountain. This document established Mount Carmel as the physical location of the Bahá'í World Centre. This project, this Arc, these terraces, are yet another stage, a major stage, in the fulfilment of Bahaullahs words that: "Ere long will God sail His Ark upon thee, and will manifest the people of Bahá who have been mentioned in the Book of Names."

While all this was taking place, perhaps as far back as the 1970s when construction of The Seat began or even as far back as 1951 when Shoghi Effendi wrote about the rise of the World Administrative Centre of the Faith after a hiatus of thirty years(1921-1951), the Bahai community was developing and consolidating, a word that once used extensively in Bahai community life. My personal life within the context of this new Faith was also evolving along its lifespan. My autobiography, now in five volumes, charts my story, my narrative and the several paradigmatic shifts in the nature and expression, the form and the context of my Bahai life in its individual and community contexts. But I write only a little of that story here.


This most recent change of culture, this historic paradigm shift, is also intimately connected to the second and third impulses specified above. The second impulse and this paradigmatic shift, I would argue, is part of “the striking impact” of the Holy Year and the publication during that same period of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Charter of Baha’u’llah’s World Order and a Book of phenomenal importance, a Book which opened “wider the door of a vast process of individual and community development.” That Holy Year of May 1992 to May 1993 witnessed: (a) “an auspicious juncture in the history of His Cause,” the hundredth anniversary of the commemoration of the Ascension of its divine Author and a celebration of the centenary of the inauguration of His Covenant; and (b) the implementation of Huququ'llah. All of this served as a prelude to this new paradigm. It was, indeed, part of a paradigmatic prelude, a prelude that could be seen as going back as far as the 1980s.

The Huquq became binding upon the believers in the West just four years before the implementation of the new paradgim. One of the developments in the first 15 years of this new Bahai culture has been an increased understanding of many aspects of the Huququ'llah. The Universal House of Justice has been primarily emphasizing the spiritual aspects of this law, in particular the attitude the believer must have. The House of Justice has not provided detailed explanations in many aspects of this law, preferring for the present time to leave these matters to the conscience of the friends. It is not my intention to go into details regarding the developments of Huquq in these early years of this new paradigm but they are part and parcel of the overall framework of Bahai life in this new Bahai culture, or so it seems to me.

Part of the paradigmatic shift involved the laws of the Kitab'i-Aqdas being reviewed by the House of Justice and it was seen as timely to implement an extension of those pertaining to prayer: the washing of hands and the repetition of certain specific verses. This was announced on 28 December 1999, one month after another announcement that: (a) there were "nearly 110,000" believers benefiting from training courses and (b) the paradigm of the culture of change for the next twenty-one years would be organized around a single One Year Plan and four Five Year Plans to take the Bahá'í community to 2021 and the end of the first century of the Formative Age. The context for this new paradigm was given a timeframe to the end of the first century of the Formative Age in 2021.

The erection of the buildings at the World Administrative Centre of the Faith “within the precincts and under the shadow of its World Spiritual Centre” is part of a process that has been underway, as I noted above, since 1951. The construction of the eighteen monumental Terraces are manifest expressions, it should be emphasized, of the emergence from obscurity of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, an emergence which, like entry by troops, is very importantly process as well as event: indeed, the event could be seen as quintessentially a process. This emergence from obscurity, associated with the developments at the Baha’i World Centre, resulted in the increasing emphasis, especially as that “propitious Year” with its “vista of new horizons” concluded, on the process of entry by troops which the House of Justice pointed out Baha’i communities could “prepare for and help to bring about.” This emphasis on the process of entry by troops was foreshadowed in the Ridván Message of 1990 when the House pointed out that “almost one million souls entered the Cause” from 1988 to 1990.

Entry by troops was also not a new phrase or a new concept which suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It was also, as I say, a process, a process which the Guardian had referred to as far back as 25 June 1953, four decades before the beginning of the recent song and dance about the process which emerged on the dance floor in the 1990s. When the term began to be used extensively in the 1990s and when many Bahá’ís began dancing to this new tune, thinking it a new concept and thinking it meant masses of new believers entering the Cause, they slowly began to feel pangs of disappointment. When the familiar one or two new believers, when a few or none at all joined the Cause, or even when a decline in membership was experienced and the enrolment lists remained discouragingly meagre each month in the various Bahai newsletters in most of the Bahai national communities at least in western countries, many wondered what they were doing wrong. Eventually those with high, unrealistic expectations, often based on false assumptions regarding the processes involved, made the necessary emotional and intellectual adjustments to their system of suppositions and came to accept what Peter Khan had emphasized as early as 1996. He had pointed out, in one of his many fine talks in North America, that the key word in the expression “the process of entry by troops” was "process.” Indeed, one could argue that the process of entry by troops has been part of the Babi-Baha’i experience since the 1840s, if not in Islam itself 1300 years before. My autobiography tells of my own experience of this process as far back as the 1950s giving emphasis as I go along to the heyday of my experience of this process in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But more of this later, although my memoir is not the focus in this article at BARL.

The obstacles preventing the realization of great numbers of new Bahá'ís and the realization of the vision of the Cause often seem insurmountable. Hopes often founder on erroneous assumptions about human nature that so permeate the structures and traditions of present-day society. These assumptions attain the status of established fact. I leave it to readers to reexamine the Ridvan message of 2012 in which the House of Justice discusses the complex questions regarding these assumptions.


The third impulse, set in motion by the Tablets of the Divine Plan written in 1916 and 1917, appearing in part in Star of the West as early as 1916, unveiled in their entirety in 1919 and first formulated into a specific teaching Plan, the Seven Year Plan of 1937 to 1944, is at the basis of the recent emphasis on this process of entry by troops. For such a process to be successful now and in the years and decades ahead, a new culture of learning, a paradigmatic shift, is and will be required on a number of fronts. This was true in the 1950s when the Guardian first used the term in one of his letters and it has been true wherever and whenever large numbers of people entered the Cause or are part of the plans for their entry. In all likelihood it will also be true throughout the coming centuries and cycles during which Abdul-Baha said, in the first of those Tablets, many harvests will be gathered. I sometimes think that it was also true for those first Letters of the Living, the first Letters generated from the Primal Point, in May 1844. They, too, had to make a paradigmatic shift in their lives in the days, months and years when they were launched upon their mission of promulgating the message of the Bab. Not all of them were successful in implementing their own paradigm shift as Moojan Momen points out in his brief study of their lives in one of his many excellent essays. And not all of us will be successful in implementing our present paradigm shift nor will all the Bahai communities across the face of our planet in these early decades of this new millennium. We all achieve many things in our lives only in part: we see many things darkly but then face to face to draw on an old New Testament saying in relation to prophecy. After the first decade of the implementation of this new paradigm(1996-2006), as one writer has noted, "of the 16,000 clusters in existence some 10,000 remained unopened and less than 2% were capable of taking on the challenge of growth." Five years later one can only guesstimate that, perhaps, 8000 remain unopened.(Lample, p.104)

However few, however small the percentage of clusters capable of taking on what are called IPGs, the House of Justice emphasized in April 2014 that: "The two essential movements which continue to propel the process of growth—the steady flow of participants through the sequence of training institute courses and the movement of clusters along a continuum of development—have both been immensely reinforced by the outpouring of energy released at the youth conferences held last year." As far as the goal of 2000 IPGs globally is concerned, the Supreme Institution emphasizes that: "the community of the Greatest Name is well positioned, before the expiration of this current plan, to add to the clusters where IPGs have already emerged." "How glad we are to see," they continue in relation to the current IPGs whose programs are "vigorously advanced across the far-flung regions of the globe, and in a diversity of circumstances and settings," that they now number "some three thousand, and many clusters are at a point where momentum is being generated through the implementation of a few simple lines of action." I encourage readers to study the latest Ridvan message for its brief summary of cluster development.

I would like to make some final and additional remarks about those Tablets since they form one of the three major foundation documents, one of the rocks, for all the teaching plans including this present paradigm. In the longest tablet in the entire collection Abdul-Baha writes not about where to teach, since he does this in the other tablets, but about what is required for success in teaching. The rest of the collection of what are in some ways letters is somewhat anticlimactic, at least for me. This Tablet caught my attention overforty years ago and it does so as I reread it for the umpteenth time. Here, it could be argued, is the true foundation of the Divine Plan for our age.

First, 'Abdu'l-Bahá talks about the term "Lord of Hosts", frequently mentioned in the Bible as one of the Names of God and in the Bahá'í Writings also used to refer to the Manifestation of God. I've always assumed that "hosts" merely indicates a multitude, so "Lord of Hosts" might be similar to "Lord of All". 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes reference here to an army, a heavenly army arrayed for spiritual rather than physical battle. Filled with the love of God, this army marches into metaphorical battle with its chief weapons being: character, conduct and words. Reminding us of the Apostles of Christ, He calls upon the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada to become Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh and to go forth into the world and teach. There are some conditions, however, which must be met in order to achieve success:

Firmness in the Covenant of God
Fellowship and love among the Bahá'ís
Continuous travel by Bahá'ís to all parts of the world for the purpose of teaching
Purity of motive on the part of the teacher
Education of children
Translation of the Holy Writings into all languages

A few other things are mentioned as well. Taken together, these points form the bedrock upon which all of the activity of the global Bahá'í community since that time has been based. Perhaps most interesting of all, 'Abdu'l-Bahá chose to end this Tablet on this note:

In brief, O ye believers of God! The text of the divine Book is this: If two souls quarrel and contend about a question of the divine questions, differing and disputing, both are wrong. The wisdom of this incontrovertible law of God is this: That between two souls from amongst the believers of God, no contention and dispute may arise; that they may speak with each other with infinite amity and love. Should there appear the least trace of controversy, they must remain silent, and both parties must continue their discussions no longer, but ask the reality of the question from the Interpreter. This is the irrefutable command!('Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 53)


In the study of human development, psychologists point out that human beings in their lifespan have two phases of growth ‘spurts’, one in infancy and one in adolescence. In between infancy and adolescence there is a period of steady growth; adulthood is when growth halts although, for millions now, weight gain insignificant. It seems to me that the Bahá'í Faith is now in the period between infancy and adolescence. There has been an initial ‘spurt’ and there has been a steady growth; the Bahá'í community in this new culture of learning and growth will, it seems to me, experience that second spurt of adolescence. Of course, it could be argued that this Cause has had a series of spurts and in the decades to come it will experience another series of spurts. This process could go on for some time perhaps even centuries. I would not want to predict but the field of biology and developmental psychology offers a useful metaphor for an overall description of the historical process and the growth patterns thusfar and into the future.

The growth of insects offers another useful metaphor or paradigm. Insects possess exoskeletons, that is, exterior skeletons. Continuous growth of the insect cannot occur until this outside skeleton, this outside layer, has been shed. This process is called moulting and after the moulting phase growth can continue. This moulting of the skin allows body mass to increase. The Bahá'í religion has begun its moulting phase, to draw on this insect analogy, in the context of this new paradigm of learning and growth. Indeed, we could play with this metaphor in many ways. We could see the Heroic Age as the exoskeleton and the prelude to mass conversion as the moulting phase with that mass conversion as the real, the massive growth in the Formative Age. I leave further metaphorical interpretations to readers.

The study of the cultures of plants, of the evolution of animal and human life and their vast ranges of species provides still other interesting metaphorical contexts in which to throw metaphorical lights on the growth of the Bahá'í Faith. I could make more than a few comments about plants, animals and man and their several developments. I will let readers make their own comparisons and contrasts between the growth of the Faith and the growth and development of other life forms. But I will make two or three observations: plants, require different amounts of light each day in order to grow. The amount of time that a plant requires is called the critical period. Some plants require more than 14 hours of light and without this amount of light on a regular basis their stalks become etiolated, yellow in colour, and the leaves of the plant will fail to grow to their potential. This is partly because there is not enough light available for photosynthesis, cellular processes and growth.

The latitude of where a plant exists also has great bearing on how they will cope in their environment because, for instance, in the extreme latitudes, there is not sunlight for 6 months, and the following six months their is constant light. Seasons also play a part and, taking both seasons and latitude into account, it is evident why different climates make homes for different varieties of plants. Plants have a balancing act between flowering, growing and producing energy for the mass already present on the plant. Several chemicals play their part internally while reacting to the outside environment. All these reactions originate from one thing, the genetic coding that made the plant operate the way it does. I could write much more here about plant life. The metaphorical nature of physical reality gives us as human beings whole worlds in which to view this growth and learning process. Indeed, the very literature and history of this Cause gives us mirrors in which we can see our own lives. We become, as it were, spectators of our own life; we are given many larger visions in which our life is contained and through which we can interpret the reality of our lives. The entire history of this Cause is one immense metaphorical landscape in which we can view our lives.

Often we are blind to the truth of our holy writings because we read them "with" rather than "through" our eyes; as a result, their "visionary" spirit turns into the dead letter of history and dogma. Fundamentalism and its accompanying rigidity of attitude, narrowness and intolerance of differing points of view, enters our worlds. Fundamentalism has more in common with a certain mental attitude than it has with religious belief itself. What should enlarge, instead terrorizes and enslaves with judgementalism and moralizing. Instead of sin-covering eyes we are only too conscious of the faults and failings of others. Ordinary Bahais often become divorced from the creative Word; what should be spiritual attitudes become religious habits. This is not to say that the habituation of various practices like prayer and fasting are bad things. Far from it.

Questions are not signs of doubt and answers signs of certitude. Just by being members of this Faith does not give us all the answers to the imponderable, immensely complex questions of our age. It is naive, simplistic and somewhat arrogant to twitter away that we have all the answers. We are not a catechistic Faith. There is no assumption, as a catechism requires, of set answers, of questions tailored towards a specific doctrinal response. Teaching and learning by rote and its dominant repetitive element is antithetical to the spirit of independent investigation. Variety and diversity not repetition and dogmatism is at the core of this new paradigm. At least that is the emphasis I would give it. At the same time,repetition and a certain catechistic attitude has its place and this is evident all around us in the Bahai world: 95 Alla'u'Abhas every day, 19 nineteen day feasts, a calendar of events that give the Bahais celebrations and commemorations month in and month out year after year, an emphasis on memorizing the writings, inter alia. But, again, we must be on our guard that our Feasts do not become more like restrained church services and our LSA meetings predictable business meetings dealing with routines and the details of organizing events and activities. Discussions often are better when they are untidy and when one person does not rule the roost, so to speak.

There has slowly developed over the years to 1996 a vast literature on all the major institutions of the Cause. This literature has been added to and will be added to as the years go on in the future decades of this paradigm. I encourage readers who want to know more about: the UHJ, NSAs, LSAs, the regional councils, the often complex committee system that operates at local, national and global levels, the ITC, the Feast, the Deepening, inter alia, to revisit this vast literature. This new paradigm is, as I often point out, not being instituted ex nihilo. It is and has been built on at least 133 years of Bahá'í history, 19 years of the Babi Faith and, arguably, the lives of the two major precursors of the Bab's Cause, precursors whose lives go back to the 1740s and 1750s. This latest of the Abrahamic religions goes back to the earliest years of modern history, if one defines modern history as the years after 1789. Of course, there are many definitions of modern history, and I leave this esoteric subject to those with a keen interest in history.

I also leave it to readers to follow-up on the fascinating juxtapositions and the endless metaphors we can discover between various forms of life, their workings, their development and their several evolutions in this new Cause. The habit of analogical thought is important to develop if one is to see the metaphorical nature of physical reality in all its forms--and especially in the Bahai writings. Through the juxtapositions which emerge, for me at least, I am helped to explain and to illuminate the varied developments and evolution of the history of this 165 year old religion and its future in the centuries to come. John Hatcher has developed this theme in a book in which he tries to answer the question: "Why do spiritual beings-human souls-begin their lives in the physical world?"

According to Hatcher the world is a classroom designed by God to instigate and nurture mental and spiritual growth. His book The Purpose of Physical Reality examines the components of this classroom to show how everyday experience leads to spiritual insight. Viewing life in this way, we can learn to appreciate the overall justice of God's plan and the subtle interplay between human free will and divine assistance in unleashing human potential. The idea of physical reality as a divine teaching device not only prepares us for further progress in the life beyond, it also provides practical advice about how to attain spiritual and intellectual understanding while we are living on earth. The Bahá'ís are "cultivating environments wherein true understanding can blossom, and "so well have the features of the current Five Year Plan been grasped" that the House "feels no need to comment further on them." "To behold the Bahá'í world at work," the House continues, "is to behold a vista bright indeed." Still, the evolving administrative structures offer only glimmerings, however faint, of how the institutions of the Faith will incrementally come to assume a fuller range of their responsibilities. That ridvan message of 2012 is replete with guidance on this subject.

I leave it to readers, as I say, to investigate the implications of this, of past, and of future messages as the exegisis of explanation and description of this new culture of learning and growth, this new paradigm and this paradigm of physical reality within the paradigm of learning and growth continues.


The new culture of learning and the training institutes with their increased and more regular socializing, with their emphasis on memorizing, on accompanying service activities, on learning methods that compliment individual learning and that are especially useful for new Bahá’ís has begun to generate, to be productive, as I say, of a significant rise in enrolments. But, as I also said above, this is not true everywhere. The present focus is on building up the numbers in the A-clusters where there are already a significant number of Bahais. The B,C and D clusters, indeed most of the clusters on the planet are not the focus at the present stage of the current Five Year Plan(2011-2016). I would venture to suggest that in at least half the localities, some 60,000, significant growth is not being achieved. This is partly due to the present Plan's focus on A-clusters. This picture is, in all likelihood, true in most of the 16,000 clusters into which the planet has now been sketched or organized. As Paul Lample notes, Bahais only exist in some 6000 of these 16,000 clusters as of 2009. Perhaps by the end of 2016 the community may open another 2000. Time will tell.

My guess is that in at least 60,000 of the 120,000 localities on the planet where Bahais now reside no growth or very limited growth has been achieved or will be achieved in the first two decades of this new paradigm(1996-2015). But this is a guesstimation at best. More significantly, though, from my perspective, there is now a framework for action, a framework that is much more detailed, systematic and energized than in the more than four decades of my association with the Bahai Faith from 1953 to 1996. Of course, within this context, many of the requirements for believers are much the same as they have always been: prayer and fasting, attendance at Feast and holy days, systematic study of the Creative Word and engagement with society, inter alia.

Everyone can find some part to play, though, as I have already pointed out, in the multifaceted requirements of this new paradigm no matter what cluster in which they live. In the clusters in which Bahais now live and have their being the diversity of activities and the simplicity of many of these activities is beyond the scope of this not-so-brief article. This is true right across the range of cluster groupings from A to D. My own son Daniel was working as a support secretary in the International Teaching Centre as a statistical analyst. He was, as far as I know, the second person to have this role in the context of this new paradigm; I look forward to further conversations with him on some of these statistical matters, matters which have always been with the Bahai community as long as I have been associated with it----more than half a century now.

The renewed emphasis on the process of entry by troops and the concomitant and associated “united clarity of vision for the expansion of the Cause and all its agencies,” was and is, as I say, part and parcel of this recent paradigmatic shift. It was ushered in by “the developments in the remarkably dynamic period” of the Six Year Plan of 1986 to 1992 and “the accumulated potential for further progress” which was considered “incalculable at the time;” as well as the view that “some mysterious rampant force” was resulting in a quality of change in the world which the House of Justice referred to as characterized by suddenness or “precipitateness.” The rigorous effects of this rampant force were like “a quickening wind” which was “ventilating the modes of thought of us all” and “renewing, clarifying and amplifying our perspectives.” It is against this background, this socio-historical context, that this new culture of learning found its original articulation in the mid-to-late 1990s.

This ventilation, this quickening wind, it seems to me in retrospect, resulted among other things in: (a) the new focus of the Four Year Plan of 1996 to 2000, “a turning point of epochal magnitude,” and (b) a series of documents that tried to summarize “the experience of the Baha’i world in advancing the process of entry by troops. These documents, in addition to many letters beginning with a series of three letters in January 2001: “to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors,” “to the Conference marking the inauguration of the International Teaching Centre Building” and “to the Baha’is of the World,” laid out in some detail the nature and meaning of this culture of learning, this culture of growth and this paradigm shift. And there was much else. Part of the problem of coming to grips with the realities of this new paradigm for the ordinary, the average, the typical, Bahai--if there is such a person--is the plethora of print that is now available on this culture of change: 15 years worth now(1996-2011) of letters, papers, blog sites, messages, analyses, reports, inter alia.

These letters and these documents noted that, among other things: the scheme could not be applied in every situation; we stood too close to comprehend the magnitude of what was so amazingly being accomplished; a coherence of understanding, a change of time, a new state of mind and immensely promising prospects were developing within the divinely driven enterprize with which we were occupied; an unprecedented project, a fundamental change of consciousness was taking place; and that the future had never looked so bright.” But such a view, such a prospect, such an attitude, required of many, especially those believers who had seen few to no enrolments for decades, what had been required all their Bahai lives, wisdom and the power of understanding, often a short commodity at the best of times, these new and wonderful configurations, these dazzling rays of a heavenly power to chose but two of the many phrases Abdul-Baha uses for intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in either this world or the next. The process whereby both the suspected and unsuspected benefits of this new Cause have been manifested to the eyes of men has been slow, painfully slow. This has been true for more than a century and a half. Crises which this Faith has faced and which its believers have had to deal with have at times threatened to arrest the unfoldment of this Cause and blast the hopes which its former progress has engendered. It is, therefore, not surprising that disappointment sometimes sets in and the apparently slowly crystallizing institutions and its policies are often barely understood.


By 2011, a decade and a half after the inception of this new paradigm, this culture of growth and learning: (i) had “crystallized into a framework for action,” (ii) resulted in the friends engaging in “progressively more complex and demanding acts of service,” (iii) saw “a steady increase in the exercise of individual initiative,” (iv) was characterized by the believers “entering into closer association with people of many walks of life,” (v) was marked by “a graceful integration of the arts into diverse activities,” (vi) issued in a rigorous process of community learning that was a hallmark of its community development, (vii) possessed a flexibility that “discouraged the tendency to confuse focus with uniformity or exclusivity” and (viii) saw this new process as the outcome of yet another stage in “the silent growth of that orderly world polity whose fabric” the Baha’is themselves were weaving.

But more importantly, and with a necessary emphasis, it must be stated that all these developments did not occur everywhere and to the same extent. Indeed, in some places, as is virtually always the case, things went backwards, or one step forward and two steps back. In a global organization with Bahais in 120,000 localities the picture is both difficult to summarize and, for most of us, impossible to integrate into some unified perspective in our brains occupied as they are with so much of quotidian and local reality. An international picture emerges and is updated with each major message from the BWC. The events outlined in these messages possess a complexity that staggers the imagination of the humble votaries of this Cause--that is you and I.

At Ridván 2006 the House cautioned the Baha’is not to be “misled by the painful slowness characterizing the unfoldment of the civilization” they were laboriously establishing. This cautionary note has been voiced on many occasions over the years by each of the Central Figures and Their legitimate successors. When “hoped-for results did not readily materialize” and “a measure of discouragement set in” it became necessary for believers to become aware that their “high expectations of the early years were.....quite unrealistic.” This problem of high expectations, of the flush of enthusiasm, of the lack of what might be termed emotional moderation and of unrealistic goals and aspirations is and has been “in no small measure responsible for the failure of the hopes” many so fondly cherish within the context of this new paradigm as well as the entire Baha’i paradigm right back to the days of the Báb. Discouragement, fatigue, frustration and disappointment are part of the Bahá'í experience; indeed, they are at the core of any person's life--with much else.

By 2011, though, statistics began to be included more extensively in messages. This was partly due to the existence at the BWC of a statistics officer or analyst, a department devoted to the quantification, the numerical side of the Cause,a side which has always been important and which has been in the process of increasing efficiency over the last several decades. I won't enumerate all the numbers of tutors, study circles, believers engaged in this or that activity. Occasionally in this book I write about statistics when it seems timely. After more than 60 years of association with this new world Faith I must say that numbers have always been high on the agenda of importance. This has become somewhat less true in this new paradigm or, perhaps more accurately, numbers have taken-on a new numerical scale, a new place of significance that recognizes what are often the inevitablities of slow growth. Now it is: home visits, deepenings, attendance at Feasts and holy days as well as the number of devotional meetings. The number of new believers, while still kept in the record-system, does not occupy the attention of the believers as it did before the mid-1990s and the emergence of this new paradigm.

Readers can easily find this sort of data by simply reading the messages and rereading them, keeping in touch with regional newsletters and cluster newssheets as well, of course, as the traditional national Bahá'í magazine usually under the direction of the NSA of that country. Since the mid-1990s there have emerged a wide-range of national and international journals and magazines as well as internet sites. The average Bahá'í would not want to try to keep pace with all the print and electronic material that has come out like Niagara Falls into the computer directories and mailboxes of those active members of the Bahá'í community. It is only in the study of all this burgeoning print that any individual believer can retain a comprehensive picture of all the information now existing in relation to this paradigm at the global level. Most of the 5 to 8 million Bahja'is have a partial picture, enough of a picture to suit their individual needs.


Like the task of the Báb Himself back in the 1840s, as Shoghi Effendi pointed out in his epilogue to the Dawnbreakers, the task faced in the context of this new paradigm needs to be viewed as a process. In the long term, as the Baha’is have been told time and time again since the earliest days in the history of their Faith, the ascendancy of this process among the many processes in which the Cause is engaged, however severe the disappointments, is inevitable. However severe some crisis may be which threatens the unfoldment of the Cause---making that unfoldment slow, painfully slow and which in the process of that unfoldment often blasts the hopes of some program and some of the hearts and minds of many participants, triumphs unsurpassed in the past have occurred and will inevitably occur in the decades ahead. I make this point occasionally in this long essay, this book, because it is a point that needs repeating, needs added emphasis by its very repetition. As the future comes at us year by year, triumphs unsurpassed in splendour are in store, down time’s long and not-so-long and stony and not-so-stony path. This process of alternating rhythms of decline and fall, victory and achievement, calamity and grace is itself a paradigm of process that characterizes so much of the activity of the Cause. Shoghi Effendi draws to our attention in that same Epilogue of The Dawnbreakers as he discusses the tragedies of the 1840s, tragedies in the growth of the Bab's new Cause, that it was the very enthusiasm of those first believers, in what could very well be seen as one of the first paradigmatic shifts in and after 1848, and in and after 1852, of Babi-Bahai experience, that was a major cause of their failures. We need to take warning more than a century and a half later. Often it is the enthusiasm of the believers, their very attachment to the Cause, that causes so many problems in commmunity life. The overzealous believer wanting to impose his or her view of the Cause on others, often unknowingly, has been a burden to individual Bahá'ís and Bahá'í communities since the inception of this latest of God's Revelations, latest of the Abrahamic religions.

I have lived with the presence of the terms entry-by-troops and mass-conversion as well as the notion of increased receptivity now for over half a century. Entry by troops has been occurring in one way or another, as I suggested above, since the 1840s and, I would argue, so too has been the increased receptivity we keep hearing, but about which we seem to have little understanding. Our understanding of the implications of this deceptively easy phrase which falls from our lips, of its long term role and of its fundamental importance to our community life in the last century and a half and in the decades to come--is crucial. Like so many terms and concepts, the word understanding has many layers of meaning. It is not my purpose here to dwell on the nuances of meaning of this term entry-by-troops, nor do I intend to outline the places where it has occurred and the variations as to its application and realization but, like so many things in the Cause, we all stand in need in this important epoch of transition of the “new and wonderful configurations” of knowledge and understanding, “the dazzling rays of this strange and heavenly power,” to embellish our minds with fresh insights derived from wisdom and the power of thought as applied to this important phrase: increased receptivity within which entry-by-troops has and will take place.


When my mother first went to a fireside in 1953 in Canada there were only a few 100 believers in the Canadian Bahá'í community after the passing of nearly 60 years of Canadian Bahá'í history. Some 200 thousand Bahais on an assortment of lists and non-lists across the face of the Bahai community could be found on the planet in that historic year of 1953. Record-keeping was not then what it is now--in the Bahai communities on the planet and 90 per cent of the Bahais then lived in Iran; now there are some six million adherents and 90 percent of them live outside Iran. The numbers have multiplied thirty times in those five decades. That is one statistical measure of receptivity. Examining the paradigm shift in the earlier years of my Bahai experience the years from, say, 1953/4 to 1973/4, could also provide for this work a useful context for discussing my life, my society and my religion--a triple focus. The size of the Bahai community went from some 200 thousand to a million during those years. Two Plans were completed and the apex of Bahai administration was first formed in the world's first global democratic election. But, again, I leave the discussion of that paradigm shift and its context in my life to my memoir and the many documents now available in cyberspace for the interested reader willing to do some internet research.



Each of the Central Figures of this Faith Themselves faced disappointment, as I mentioned above, at the results of the teaching process, its slowness and the lack of receptivity of the human beings who heard its message. Bahaullah, Himself, has written that "had the ultimate destiny for God's Faith been in Mine hands, I would never have consented, even though for one moment, to manifest Myself unto you, nor would I have allowed one word to fall from My lips."(Gleanings, p.91) In the last years of Abdul-Bahas life, after His journey to the West and after the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, the years 1918 to 1921, were for Him years of disappointment. If one reads the new Commentary on the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, for example, by Jamsheed Samandari one can get a view of the intense disappointment Abdul-Baha experienced at: (a) the lack of response to His efforts to promote His Fathers Cause by His trip to the West in 1912 and 1913 and (b) the behaviour of the Bahais themselves. The Guardian's story is filled with disappointment. And so it is that, if you and I experience similar disappointments as this Cause unfolds within this new paradigm that is part of the process. It is a process which is built into our very history, the very history of our Faith going back to the 1840s, if not to the last years of the 18th century and the first steps taken by this Causes first precursor, Shaykh Ahmad. I find it especially interesting to read what happened in the early months of 1844 before the Bab declared his mission, as well as what happoened to the many Letters of the Living. All was not joy and success; bitter disappointments and discouragements faced the believers in every decades of the Babi-Bahá'í experience.

Discouragement is an oft-experienced emotion by individuals both within the Cause and without. Indeed it is as common as air and has been since 1844, to say nothinbg of the centuries int eh great hisotirc religions in recorded history. As this new paradigm was getting off the ground in the mid-1990s, there were many and diverse manifestations of discouragement. And there still are and I'm sure will be in the years and decades to come. On the one hand Bahais see and hear desperate and not-so-desperate exhortations to teach the Faith and this sense of urgency was and is often accompanied by an element of despondency or resentment. Often strong and faithful Bahá'ís have chosen to become inactive in the community on account of their perceptions of dysfunctionality and the gap between ideals and reality. Steadfast perseverance in the teaching work is not easy over an entire lifespan; it has never been easy; often individuals experience an inner hopelessness; this becomes a lack of expectation and then no effort at all. This exists at one end of the motivational spectrum with zeal and enthusiasm at the other end.

There have been frequent manifestations of disunity as Bahá'ís experienced problems in their community and in the meagre response to teaching initiatives. The inabilities and misdeeds of their fellow believers was often a cause of immense frustration to the enthusiastic and committed Bahá'í. Skeptics and cynics often pointed to lofty ideals in Bahai exhortations like:"Let deeds not words be your adorning," and emphasized how these ideals just crumbled in the face of the realities of life. "Nobody lives up to their ideals, nobody," I have often heard it said. That's why in email discussions I was always a bit uncomfortable if the word "hypocrite" got thrown around. On some level all of us fit that description because none of us act entirely according to what we believe. So, I never thought it made much sense to point fingers. Just about the only way not to be a hypocrite would be not to have ideals in the first place. This would not be a good way to go. But it was these sort of perspectives that often coalesced into systematic critiques of the community in internet fora and academic publications. This was not true everywhere, but it was one of the many symptoms of discouragement and these symptoms and characteristics of dialogue were found in many Bahai localities, groups and LSA areas. When you have 120,000 localities where Bahá'ís reside, all will not be honey and bliss; sometimes poison and indifference will be found as well.

In 2002 the Universal House of Justice wrote to an individual believer who had expressed these sentiments of discouragement. The House of Justice pointed out that this believer's description of the lack of significant numerical growth in Bahá'í communities in Western lands, while more precisely applicable to some countries than others, was largely accurate, and the resulting distress many Bahá'ís felt was fully justified. To see important Bahá'í communities markedly lacking in the development of the human resources required to reach populations desperately searching for solutions to the crisis in which society was sinking was painful indeed to believers aware of the potency of Bahá'u'lláh's Message. All the House members and those on the ITC are veteran Bahá'ís and they are more than a little aware of the problems and frustrations of the Bahá'ís around the world.


The International Teaching Centre, sometimes referred to as "the ITC", is a Bahá'í institution based in the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. Its duties are to stimulate and coordinate the Continental Board of Counselors and assist the Universal House of Justice in matters relating teaching and protection of the faith. The duties of the International Teaching Centre include coordinating, stimulating, and directing the activities of the Continental Boards of Counsellors and acting as liaison between them and the Universal House of Justice. The membership of the Teaching Centre comprises nine Counsellors appointed by the Universal House of Justice. The seat of the International Teaching Centre is located at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa, Israel.

The ITC has itself written a host of documents since 1996. "In the last few months," the ITC wrote on 8 June 2005, "the process of growth on every continent has continued to gather pace as cluster after cluster has reached the stage where intensive programmes of growth can be initiated. In analysing the associated learning, drawn from the experiences you have shared with us, we have identified several patterns of action which have proven effective, as well as certain pitfalls which should be avoided. We wish to take this opportunity to share with you a few observations that we hope will be of assistance in your ongoing efforts to promote further programmes of growth and to maximise the effectiveness of the existing ones. Care should be taken that the planning work does not take too long and place an undue delay on the start of the programme. Further, the plan of action, particularly in the early cycles, should remain simple and be presented at the reflection meeting with clarity so that it can be easily understood, eliciting the friends’ willing and enthusiastic participation." I could quote copiously from ITC statements. Until May 2013 there had been more than 30 issues of a document entitled Reflections on Growth. Those issues are themselves a detailed summary of the progress of the new Bahá'í culture from a global perspective. As I write these words in on the first days of January 2015, these issues and their attachments are available in cyberspace. I leave it to the Bahá'ís who read this book to familiarize themselves with these issues and the several 100 pages of information they contain in relation to the developments in this new Bahá'í paradigm.

The latest Reflections on Growth newsletter is number #32. As a publication of the International Teacher Centre it includes learning from around the world. This one focuses on methods used to strengthen growth in emerging clusters to assist them to achieve a program of growth. With 20 months left of this current FTP(2011 to 2016) there are still many clusters in the world that need to establish a program of growth, many requiring short or long term pioneers.

"At the outset of the current Five Year Plan," this latest issue begins, "the Universal House of Justice called “upon the community of the Most Great Name … to raise over the next five years the total number of clusters in which a programme of growth is under way, at whatever level of intensity, to 5,000,approximately one third of all clusters in the world at present.”1 Some three years later, the Bahá’ís of the world had already established 3,000. With 2,000 clusters remaining of the goal, the Universal House of Justice observed in its Ridván 2014 message and again in later messages, that, in the last months and years of the Plan, “the critical tasks of strengthening existing programmes of growth and beginning new ones urgently beckon.”

I will mention one development of interest to readers who, for one reason or another, do not have access to the many issues of these Reflections documents that have become available since 1996 and which serve as one of the many types of commentary on the new Bahá'í culture of growth. and do not want to acquaint themselves, or reacquaint themselves with this massive amount of content. There are now, writes the ITC, some 40 sites on the planet for the dissemination of learning and they serve some 400 advanced clusters. These structures are playing a critical role in the advancement of the junior youth empowerment program worldwide. The involvement of the Office of Social and Economic Development is also outlined in issue #31. This book cannot attempt to even summarize what the ITC has written to the Bahá'í community in the first two decades of paradigm experience. The Office of Social and Economic Development alone has had many demands placed on its functioning in this new paradigm and this book hardly scratches the surface of that institution's work and activity in this new Bahá'í culture. In passing, though, I should point out the existence of a new agency of the Cause: the Office of Public Discourse established in 2013. The many agencies of the Cause play an integrated role in the overall articulation of this culture and its series of Plans.


As the Bahai community goes through the early decades of this new paradigm it will be important, as it has always been important, for members of the community to have, as I used to say as a teacher, their thinking caps on. Critical thought, as the House of Justice once put it as far back as 29/12/88 in a letter to the American Bahá'ís, solid thinking, the attainment of correct perspectives, the adoption of proper attitudes, moderation in the expression of views among a host of other virtues, an awareness of the different latitudes from one mind to another, the evocation of a rarefied atmosphere of prayer and meditation in the context of courtesy, dignity and care, indeed, a profound change in the very standard of public discussion and a personal discipline necessary to successful consultation are absolutely critical within this new paradigm. Criticism has a baleful influence and yet, without critical thought and candour it is impossible to get to the truth. If dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction to those who would be unifiers of the children of men, then an etiquette of expression is called for. Indeed, it is one of the many sine qua nons of success both on and off the internet in this new Bahá'í culture.

Of course all of this, it could be said, is nothing new. The Guardian gave emphasis of these same ideas with a special focus right at the start of his years in office in the 1920s. He wrote in 1923, in words I have already quoted, but which deserve to be read twice: "Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organised campaign of teaching -- no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character -- not even by the staunchness of our faith nor the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and skeptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahaullah."

But we can't wait around until our inner lives achieve some lofty degree of perfection, a perfection far above our own individual and present existential morass of sin and heedlessness. Bahaullah tells us that sin and transgressions are part of our lifetime lot in that Long obligatory Prayer. We have to arise and struggle; that, too, is our lot on earth. As we arise and struggle we make our individual efforts to get our ship afloat, our plane off the ground, so to speak. We arise to play our part within this new paradigm.

Obstacles, as always, are part of this Bahá'í culture. When they arise, they are ultimately resolved through perseverance and further experience. Of course, this is not always the case. Some obstacles we always have with us and, as Helen Kubler Ross that expert on aging puts it: "we all have unfinished business" in our last years. "Fruitless debate," the ITC emphasizes in its May 2013 document, "insistence on personal views, creating false dichotomies, or the 'tendency to reduce a complex process of transformation into simplistic steps, susceptible to instruction'(UHJ, 28/12/'10) can be carefully avoided or wisely overcome. It is learning together that is yielding the insights necessary so that “stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress”.


I would like to make some comments below drawing on some of the views of Dr. Irving Janis whose writings, it seems to me, offer some useful perspectives as the Bahai community goes about its work within this difficult and challenging process of learning and culture change in this new paradigm, a new paradigm that must deal, as the Faith has always had to do, with the human frailties, the idle fancies and vain imaginings that we all exhibit in our own individual ways. there are many other writers I could draw on here, and I do draw on several in this book, but Dr Janis and his work is the focus here.

Janis gives primary emphasis to what he calls Groupthink. Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analysing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness. The advantages of seeing many choices and paths and achieving a reasonable balance within the framework of these many choices and thoughts are skewed by a decision-making process dominated by paradigm paralysis and various forms of groupthink. During groupthink, a term that has its origins as far back as the first years of the Ten Year Crusade, but popularized by Dr. Irving Janis in the 1970s and 1980s, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of current consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this development may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group.

Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions. Often individual doubts are set aside for fear of upsetting the group’s balance or other personalities. The term groupthink is generally used pejoratively. When groupthink operates in a decision-making process or in consultative settings it is not merely instinctive conformity at play which is, after all, a perennial failing, perhaps a necessary reality, of humankind. What is at play, what is happening in the group when groupthink is present, is a rationalized conformity—an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well. Groupthink is a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.

To make groupthink testable, Irving Janis, perhaps the major writer and analyst in the last forty years to describe the processes involved , devised eight symptoms indicative of groupthink which are detrimental to the group and the achievement of a groups goals.


These symptoms include the following:

1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group consensus as people who are weak, evil, biased, spiteful, disfigured, impotent, stupid or one of a number of other qualities which stand in the way of group goals.
5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
6. Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus. This is due to fear of others, fear of being able to speak out, fear of challenging other views, the absence of the clash of differing opinions when such opinions are needed for successful consultation.
7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
8. Mindguards: these are self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Groupthink results, Janis emphasized, from the symptoms listed above and it results in defective decision making. Consensus-driven decisions are the result of the following practices of groupthinking:

1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
2. Incomplete survey of objectives
3. Failure to examine risks of preferred choice
4. Failure to re-evaluate previously rejected alternatives
5. Poor information search
6. Selection bias in collecting information
7. Failure to work out contingency plans


Janis devised seven ways of preventing groupthink. They include:

1. Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
2. Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
3. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
4. All effective alternatives should be examined.
5. Each member should discuss the group's ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
6. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
7. At least one group member should be assigned the role of devil's advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.

Janis’s probing and insightful analysis of historical decision-making has proved much more common, much more accurate in his findings, than originally thought. His analysis has often proved correct; the symptoms of groupthink are pervasive. The relationship to such symptoms and their outcomes include: the suppression of dissent, polarization of attitude and poor quality decisions. There is a high likelihood that symptoms of groupthink will develop when there is intense group cohesion, when a sense of crisis is present and when the group is insulated from criticism. As an alternative to Janis' model, other analysts have presented other models. One is known as "the strong ubiquity model" for groupthink. The strong ubiquity model represents more a revision of Janis’s model than a repudiation of it. The ubiquity model emphasizes strong group identification, the presence of salient norms and a sense of low self-efficacy in many of the members of the group. These factors are all necessary and sufficient, so goes the argument, to evoke groupthink reactions and defective decision processes.

The suppression of dissenting views, selective focus on shared viewpoints, polarization of attitude and action and heightened confidence in such polarized views are all factors preventing critical thought and resulting in poor decisions. Elevated confidence often evokes feelings of in-group moral superiority and invulnerability. I invite readers to follow-up on this brief summary I have provided here.


I have referred above to Douglas Martin's 1992 talk and I will reiterate his comments here. This former director general of the Baha’i World Centre Office of Public Information emphasized that the Baha’i community had “not been able to escape a certain connotation of exclusivity.” Such a connotation, he went on to say, had inevitably arisen from the efforts of the Baha’i community in the teaching field and the Baha’i community’s consequent preoccupation with conversion and membership as well as the intrusion, like some necessary reflex action and its accompanying impulse, of an “us and them” mentality. The culture of learning, the paradigm shift, that the Baha’i community has been engaged in since the mid-1990s, and which had been initially intimated by Martin, among other intimations in the late 1980s and early 1990s that I have referred to above, involves a heroic effort to shed a number of previous and now quite inappropriate views in the Baha’i community. This shedding of old, now archaic views, it seems to me, is all part of this paradigm shift.

When I left the north of Australia, north of Capricorn, where I had been living, pioneering and travel-teaching from 1982 to 1987,after 25 years in the pioneering field(1962-1987), it had already become apparent to me that it was time for me to shed my own preoccupation with conversion and membership. This preoccupation had been part of my mental set, my pioneering mentality, my community orientation as far back as the 1950s. Along with it came a consequent intrusion like some necessary reflex action and accompanying emotional impulses of an “us and them” mentality. This was partly due to the fact that the first 25 years of my pioneering life(1962-1987) had been years of creative experimentation, necessary ones for the refinement of my own endeavour and the purification of my motives so that I would become "worthy of so great a trust," to draw on some of the expressions used in the publication Century of Light to describe and analyse the Bahai experience in the 20th century. By the 1990s I had already begun to orient my Bahai life without this strong conversionist spirit and ethos and I am sure I had lots of company in the Bahai international community.

This 25 year period from the 1960s to the 1980s had been one of "small inconspicuous beginnings" for this Cause. These beginnings widened and assumed "universal dimensions" in the next two decades, 1987-2007(Century of Life, p.111)and these universal dimensions are found described and scattered thoughout this book in ways which I trust readers will pick up without me having to point the way. Proving one is worthy of so precious a trust, the trust of faith or belief in this Cause, is an ongoing exercise, it seems to me. I seem to have had to prove this worthiness time and time again for half a century. This memoir is partly the story of that proving ground, my failures and successes. This attitude to Faith should come as no surprise to Bahai readers here since "living the life" and exemplifying the teachings is not about building-up credit points for the next life. There are no guarantees in this Faith as one finds in some sects, cults and religious groups about one's salvation. Religious zeal, however intense, does not guarantee a place among the angels or the seraphim in places beyond those proverbial pearly gates. This helps to keep the religious temperature cool and to counter the kinds of religious fanaticism that one finds in all too many places on this planet and which gives the name of religion the bad press that it has come to experience in our time among other previous times in history.

Martin also referred to “parochial” views, views clearly outmoded, counter-productive and militating against realistic and accurate images of the Cause in the public mind. These images must be reconfigured by public information programs in this new paradigm. By the time I came to write this book in the years 2007 to 2011 this reconfiguration was well underway. The several-decade long focus in the public image, the public message, the very ethos of the Baha’i Faith, which had tended to preoccupy the Baha’is with conversion in one way or another was slipping away at last. It is not the converting to a new religion that is now the emphasis in this paradigm but, rather, the process, the provision of means to unlock the secrets of the phenomenal world and bring about the Golden Age of humanity. And that process is and will be long and complex. Without the motivation of purpose to give meaning and usefulness to our experiences of life, hope and happiness remain elusive.

Just as the Guardian had summoned the Baha’is in the years between WW1 and WW2 to reject a view of the Cause as a movement, a fellowship and, even, as a religion in the familiar sense, so too are the Baha’is now being summoned to see the Faith they belong to in quite different terms than was the case in the first three decades after the election of the House of Justice in 1963 or as was the case in the first six decades of the implementation of the teaching Plans initiated in 1937(1937-1997). In virtually the entire lives of most of the Baha’is who are now members of the international Bahai community that unavoidable parochialism which had been part and parcel of the attitudes and values of the Bahais themselves was slipping slowly but surely into a theological and social dustbin. The very idea that the Bahai Faith once possessed a narrow parochialism seems surprising in some ways given the universalism and broad liberalism that is part of the very ethos of this Faith. These parochial views Martin said, several years before the emergence of this paradigm, must now be shed. During the first 15 years of this paradigm shift this shedding is becoming more and more apparent.


For many of the ideas which follow I want to thank Shahbaz Fatheazam and his article Growth & Community in Bahai Thought: The Organismic Metaphor. Fatheazam informs us of a good example of this new inclusiveness and the integration of Bahai methods, teachings and values back in 1992. He describes the experience of some Japanese Bahá’ís in the extension of the Bahá’í system of elections into the wider secular society. "The Bahá’í system of elections is too good to be monopolized by the Bahá’ís...Municipal organizations and citizens’ groups in this city are experiencing terrible difficulties in electing their executive councils...These organizations are easily caught up in the worst forms of electioneering which split their members into opposing camps...We felt that the Bahá’í election system had much to offer our fellow citizens: no nominating, no electioneering, secret balloting, and valid ballots having to contain nine names." Various groups, such as the local Businessmen’s Union and a senior citizens organization, adopted the Bahá’í proposal and experimented with the idea. Aside from the one membership enrollment of an officer of the Union currently serving on the local assembly, the initiative has had the effect of discussing the Faith "very frankly with a large number of people...while avoiding the anti-religious prejudices which too often poison such exchanges... An unexpected by-product of this approach has been that a significant number of local politicians have been attracted to the Faith and some have sought to join the Faith."

There is a danger inherent in simplistic applications of this new paradigm and its normative guidelines for shaping practice. The style of thinking suggested by the organismic metaphor that is so frequently used by the Central Figures of this Faith shows that people are not mere resources to be developed, but rather human beings who are valued in themselves. They must be encouraged to choose and shape their own future. Human society is composed not of a mass of merely differentiated cells, but of associations of individuals, each one of whom is endowed with intelligence and will. Community growth and development in Bahá’í thought is not bound by the biological metaphor, but likened to it as a means of understanding the intricate values and processes that govern growth. A warning of following too rigidly the mechanical and/or chemical instructions passed on by the body that holds the component members together is given by Shoghi Effendi in the following: "To dissociate the administrative principles of the Cause from the purely spiritual and humanitarian teachings would be tantamount to a mutilation of the body of the Cause, a separation that can only result in the disentegration of its component parts, and the extinction of the Faith itself." (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh 5)


The key forms of Bahai community experience, of the labour involved in building Bahai institutions and communities in the decades of my Bahai experience from the 1950s through to the 1990s; indeed, the processes and activities of the Baha’i community throughout the 20th century surrounded: the 19 Day Feasts, Local Spiritual Assemblies and Bahá'í funds. Through these and others forms of Bahai activity the Ark of God was erected on Mount Carmel in the last years of that century. There was a beauty, a music, in the architectural edifaces on Mt. Carmel. As the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling once wrote:"Architecture in general is frozen music." I rather liked this clever play on words for there was a music at the Bahai World Centre for me as I went through the first 15 years of this new paradigm. It was a new music which had not been at the BWC in the years of the previous epochs and paradigms.

All of the above, the essential organizational framework and activity program that I had been engaged in constructing before 1996 was designed exclusively for Baha’is. The new key agencies, institutions and organisations Baha’is are now building within this new paradigm are not explicitly and exclusively for Baha’is only. “In every dispensation," Shoghi Effendi writes elsewhere, "there hath been the commandment of fellowship and love, but it was a commandment limited to the community of those in mutual agreement, not to the dissident foe. In this wondrous age, however, praised be God, the commandments of God are not delimited, not restricted to any one group of people, rather have all the friends been commanded to show forth fellowship and love, consideration and generosity and loving-kindness to every community on earth.”

The embrace of the other, those outside the Cause, is a long-standing Baha’í virtue in a general sense. The systematic and deep engagement of local Bahá'í communities with the world outside their borders of place and of identity, is, however, relatively new to a Bahá'í world that has spent the greater part of the last century concentrating on the accumulation of “individuals, families and institutions” within the banner of the Cause, and erecting and maintaining at great personal cost a basic infrastructure of thinly resourced administrative bodies: not having the luxury of looking very much outside. As this outward looking, inclusive focus deepens, the boundaries of Bahá'í identity soften, and what Bahá'ís call the "community of interest", become allies in this building of a new civilization amidst the current, evidently tottering one. It is thus not only Bahá'ís who are empowered by the new culture of Bahá'í community life to fashion the "systems, agencies and organizations" of a new civilization.

Viewed in some ways this new, global and embryonic civilization as well as this culture of learning and growth has been intertwined, enmeshed, interconnected with the Baha’i community since its inception in the middle of the nineteenth century. It has been slow in developing in some senses and in other senses it has developed in leaps and bounds. Viewed from different perspectives this growth and development has been “momentous” with prospects which are quite “dazzling.” This has been the case all of my Baha’i life wherever I have lived. At Ridván 2007 the House urged the Baha’i community “to open up avenues to guide souls to the Ocean of His Revelation” and such an urging, such a tone and style of writing, has been the case in many, if not most, of their statements over these past five decades since the “unique victory that the Cause won in 1963” when the fully legitimate institutionalization of that charismatic Force, what some sociologists call a routinization of charisma, a charisma of office as opposed to a prophetic charisma was completed. The potential significance of the labours of the present-day Baha’i community is and has been breathtaking. Baha’is are not merely building local Bahá'í communities now in clusters and localities, but they are building the basic units of a civilisation which Shoghi Effendi declares will constitute the “fairest fruit” of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, and signalise the advent of the promised “golden age”.

In a wider sense, as Shoghi Effendi wrote at the very start of what may also have been considered a previous paradigm shift in the 1940s: “The second century is destined to witness a tremendous deployment and a notable consolidation of the forces working towards the world-wide development of that Order, as well as the first stirrings of that World Order, of which the present Administrative System is at once the precursor, the nucleus and pattern---an Order which, as it slowly crystallizes and radiates its benign influence over the entire planet, will proclaim at once the coming of age of the whole human race, as well as the maturity of the Faith itself, the progenitor of that Order.”(Messages to America: 1932-46, pp. 96-7; letter 15-JUN-46, "God Given Mandate")


The Universal House of Justice expressed the view, as they were describing the operation of one of the key features of this new paradigm, the cluster, that these clusters should discuss the concepts of the culture of learning, of change and the paradigm shift in Baha’i community life. Consultations which take place in the periodic cluster meetings, meetings instituted at the very start of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006) and which are part of this new culture of growth and learning, should generate a “unity of thought about the growth of the Faith.......maintain a high level of enthusiasm and.....create a spirit of service and fellowship among those present.” “Such discussions,” they went on to say, in one of their many letters “should not become bogged down by undue concern for procedural issues, but should focus on what can be achieved and on the joy of witnessing the fruits of hard work and diligent effort. This is easy to say but, for many groups, difficult to achieve. I have watched this process of discussion now for decades and what the House of Justice refers to here had been a perennial and pervasive problem.


This tendency to get bogged down in casuistry, in definitions and meanings of terms, is an oft’-experienced problem both within and without the Baha’i community, both within academic circles and in a host of other interest groups. Undue concern for minute detail, for the machinery of administration and its channels and for the means, the instruments of the process and not the ends is a danger all-too-many fall into as they go about all sorts of activities within the Bahai Faith and this is no less true of this new paradigm of learning. I do not want to contribute to this endless discussion of terminological distinctions, this disease of words, this illness that strikes at the heart of many a consultation on a myriad of issues, but it is a problem that must be faced even if it is difficult to deal with and solve. We need to be on our guard to protect ourselves from the insidious affects of this casuistry on the consultative process and on our very understanding of quite fundamental issues in the Cause and, in particular, in relation to this new paradigm. There is a paralysis, as one writer points out, which originates in debates over the best method of teaching and arguments about the success or failure of particular initiatives.

We need to be on our guard, too, less the new emphasis on the institute process results in a limiting of other Baha’i activities and programs like: interfaith dialogue, deepenings, scholarship, firesides and the many possible individual initiatives. The individual believer, wrote the House of Justice,(17/2/04) "retains the inescapable duty to teach the Faith on his or her own initiative." There is much to be done; many avenues of activity and, to reiterate a point yet again, not everyone needs to be doing the same thing. Many of the activities in the Cause are tools not goals, instruments for the achievement of ends, not the aims and ends in themselves. Indeed the entire administrative apparatus is a means, at this stage of the growth and development of the Cause, is but a medium, an instrument for the prosecution of the teaching work. It has always been thus and so shall it always be thus, at least as far as most of our limited eyes can see in the first century or two of the Formative Age. So it has often been argued by people like Ali Nakhjavani(A Talk, 12/10/02).


It is natural that any given educational program, involving whatever resources and whatever format and wherever located, will not appeal to everyone and that some Baha’is will not wish to participate in that program. That has always been the case. Universal participation is and has been as elusive as its agreed on definition. The House of Justice has recognized this reality and the complexity of the concept. The very definition of universal participation and of the variety of available methods of learning, preferences for certain styles and approaches, have evolved with the years. The House has consequently advised that the believers not make their own evaluation and understanding of the new programs and emphases a cause for disunity. We all can chose our own method now and chose our own way of making a contribution to the ongoing needs of the Cause. Universal participation is, at least from my point of view, much more within the Bahai community's grasp, its reach, than it has ever been in the past.

“Participation”, the House went on to say in this context in a recent letter regarding the institute process, “is not a requirement for every Baha’i, who, in the final analysis” chooses “the manner in which he or she will serve the Faith. What is essential is that the institute process be supported even by those who do not wish to take part in it." "What is essential," they continued, "is that whatever the personal efforts of individuals to teach and in whatever ways they involve themselves in core and other activities that these individuals should possess a sense of mission, a sense of enthusiasm and the wisdom to know what to say and when to say it." Education and participation, like the nature of deepening, has many aspects and the House of Justice has often expatiated on these terms and their meanings, some might say ad nauseam, over their nearly fifty years at the apex of Bahai administration.

The print and electronic resources that have become available in the Bahai community, especially in the resource-rich western countries, in the years of this new paradigm have been exponential. the process of this vast development began before 1996, indeed, one can trace the development back to the opening message of the Seven year Plan in April 1979. Films, videos, CDs, a plethora of media productions that are ostensibly aimed at broader audiences, live performances, and web content—have high production values. Newsletters have burgeoned. Unlike other media productions, Bahai texts have been increased in both quantity and quality. They have been produced, not primarily to induce conversion but instead to strengthen the relationship between the believers and the community. The newsletters, of course,are insider documents to memorialize past triumphs and tribulations and also to provide information on present objectives and obstacles. These texts help readers to develop a collective identity or, to borrow political philosopher Benedict Anderson’s term for a group that forms a sense of unified purpose through self-recognition in print, an “imagined community.”

For many Bahais in the years of this new paradigm, part of their religious communicative tradition, especially in the third world, involves public displays of emotional, verbal, performances which often take place with great heights and depths of feeling, feelings that often invoke great spiritual intimacies. It is part of the essence of large groups activities and performances that they offer to the participants a special enhancement of experience, bringing with it a heightened intensity of communicative interaction which binds the audience to the performer and to each other in a way that is specific to performance as a mode of communication. Through these public performances, the performer elicits the participative attention and energy of his audience, and to the extent that they value his performance they will allow themselves to be caught up in it. When this happens, the performer gains a measure of prestige and control over the audience—prestige because of the demonstrated competence he has displayed, control because the determination of the flow of the interaction is in his hands. In this new paradigm there have been many conferences and public performances in which this process has taken place.

Perhaps the most obvious, significant, and defining characteristic of the approach to history in this new paradigm--and in paradigms before--is the way it ascribes divine purpose to all historical change. Bahais believe that God holds ultimate agency, nothing can occur in contradiction to God’s plan, and it is their responsibility to convey this message. This belief does not deny the importance of human reason and will; however, it assigns to human agency an auxiliary function: to apprehend, praise, and help realize God’s designs, which is by faith perfect and incorruptible. The Bahai community is a new evangelical community and writes its history as a form of witness, describing its expansion as the result of obedience to God’s instructions.

This evangelical, outwardly focussed, Bahai community that is caught up in this new paradigm believes that secular models for historical change erroneously focus on proximal, secondary causes and that the divine source of all change will become clear to non-believers in retrospect, either after conversion or the end of their lives. The prayers and the deeds of the believers, NOT the mayors or prime ministers or presidents or president’s men or any other political personalities, are the molders of history. This is because human events are only a reflection or projection of activities spawned, promoted, and propagated in the unseen worlds. The emerging authority in heaven and in earth belongs to the new Bahai institutions. Bahaullah has vested that authority in these new institutions. this view is central to this new paradigm.

Decisions about what an individual should do in the context of this new paradigm, though, must be made according to individual “circumstances and possibilities” and “the nature of the populations” with whom the Baha’is interact. And again, the House emphasizes that it is desirable that activities which “give expression to a diversity of talents become harmonized into one forward movement, and that the stagnation caused by endless debate over personal preferences about approach” be avoided. In this regard the House emphasized that it was “most noteworthy....that the spirit of initiative by believers” had come to extend over a very wide range of endeavours....But, again, it is only too obvious that not everyone, everywhere is going to exemplify that extension of the spirit of initiative. The Cause is, without doubt, capable of helping us all understand ourselves; indeed, this new paradigm is aimed at just this goal among other goals. But this does not mean that this increase in understanding will result for all believers, nor does it always mean an increase in the numbers of believers. This is, by now, only too clear, at least in the short term.

The Cause is often relegated to some obscure and largely ignored part of the lives of many Bahais. This is true in 2009 as it was true in 1849, 160 years ago at the very start of the Bahai Era. Not everyone will learn the required skills, acquire the necessary attitudes and apply the appropriate tools inspite of Bahaullahs command to immerse ourselves in the ocean of His words, inspite of the best of institute programs and the most saintly conduct of those implementing the Ruhi programs or, indeed, any other program. This is only a simple note of practical realism. We all must become pragmatists in todays world whatever our ideas and ideals or we set ourselves up for loss, a sense of disappointment and discouragement. Some things we can change, some we cant and we all need to have the wisdom to know the difference. Wisdom in this area is often in short supply.

The sense of misfortune and disappointment which more than forty years of teaching the Cause in many places in the West with little overt success may be diverted, assuaged or explained. But this is not always easily done and, when done, it does not always result in a new lease on life, renewed activity and heightened and more robust teaching initiatives. Such discouragement often requires more than the labour of thought and the inspiration of prayer and meditation. The riches of history and the arts, of philosophy and poetry, of biography and many of the social sciences and humanities when applied to an understanding and interpretation of these past decades can illumine the difficulties an individual or the Bahai community has faced during these years---indeed, during all of Bahai history and all of our own dear lives. Still, it is not surprising that many of the believers, myself included from time to time, have been worn down in the process. For others their wit was sharpened and their resolve quickened. At this climacteric in history, at this great turning point, at what may well be the greatest and most aweful period in the history of the planet, to chose a phrase from Edward Gibbon, it is not easy to make ones mark. These days will pass more quickly than the twinkling of an eye the House pointed out at Rivan 1999, in the month I retired from my career as a full-time teacher. Millions are ill-equipped to interpret the social commotion of our time; they sink deeper into a slough of despond as they listen to the pundits of error; they are easily entrapped and their visions are darkened. Bahais are not immune from the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination at this portentious juncture in the history of the planet.

This Cause provides a bridge as sharp as a razor and it is suspended over the gates of the Placeless by the master hand of Providence. Many are called but few are chosen. This paradigm offers a call to the many, a challenge to the souls of men. One of the many bridges is to scientific perspectives like those represented by Fred Hoyle when he writes that: "Religion is but a desperate attempt to find an escape from the truly dreadful situation in which we find ourselves. Here we are in this wholly fantastic universe with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance. No wonder then that many people feel the need for some belief that gives them a sense of security, and no wonder that they become very angry with people like me who say that this is illusory."(The Nature of the Universe) This fundamental skepticism is a pervasive one in the West as is its polar opposite, a religious fundamentalism. In these decades of this new paradigm the Bahais will be acting as a bridge between these two perspectives as well as other social and intellectual polarizations that exist in our global society.

Having a certain number of believers complete a sequence of Ruhi books is not a magic formula as the ITC pointed out in a letter to Continental Counsellors as early as 28 November 2004. It is an indicator that has to be viewed in the context of other propitious conditions as well as the success at outreach and teaching already achieved in the cluster. Doing the Ruhi books or responding to the call for more direct teaching must not be distorted, as some have noted, into trivialized notions that: (a) we are now all being called to go door to door or (b) we are all being asked to become parrots and give Anna's presentation anywhere and everywhere, or (c) the Ruhi books only apply in the third world. As the House pointed out in its Ridvan message of 2010 in relation to people who are first contacted as a result of direct teaching: "whether the first contact with newly found friends elicits an invitation for them to enrol in the Bahai community or to participate in one of its activities is not an overwhelming concern."

In a letter from the ITC wrote they wrote that in "C" and "B" clusters emphasis is generally placed on individual initiative. The role of the institutions is to encourage and facilitate the "spirit of enterprise" that results in an ever-growing number of core activities. As clusters develop, those individual initiatives often become systematized in collective endeavours like forming teaching teams or conducting invitation campaigns. This is beginning to happen in many B clusters on their way to becoming an A cluster. This has just happened in our cluster in northern Tasmania. In "A" clusters where intensive programs of growth(IPGs) are being launched, individual initiatives increase further while the role of institutional planning becomes more prominent in the overall design of the expansion and consolidation activities. Naturally the institute process, the multiplication of core activities, and the reflection meetings continue. The character of the reflection meetings evolves and the collaboration among the institutions intensifies. For more comments relevant here google: "Intensive programs of growth>Inspiration for Bahá'í Teaching."

In the months leading up to the December 2008 regional conferences the NSA of the USA reported that the bulk of service related directly to the Five Year Plan was being undertaken by a relatively small cadre of believers but, as the new Bahá'í culture developed in the first years of its second decade, 2006 to 2015, this small cadre was coalescing into a vast collective effort across the planet.(Ridvan 2013) The number of individuals deployed in the arena of action was not commensurate with the many thousands who had received at least some training through participation in institute courses. Of those who did engage in service, not all were able to sustain their activities. In addition, the number of new human resources being developed through the institute process was beginning to flatten. I refer to this development in the USA in 2008 but this is only one of the 200 countries in the Bahai world and in each country the picture is different. It is not possible in this book to present even a general outline and certainly not a detailed statement of what is happening across the Bahai world. For this reason I draw on messages form national, regional and local Bahai elected institutions as well as from many statements written by Bahais on the appointed side of Bahai administration. Many individuals are also commenting on this paradigm both on and off the internet and I draw on this burgeoning mass of people when it seems appropriate.

The 41 conferences around the Bahai world, announced on 20/10/'08 have become a story in themselves, as were the 95 youth conferneces from May to October 2013. Those 95 conferences brought to the process of growth a renewed vigor, as thousands of believers pledged specific services within the context of the Plan. They were designed “to provide the opportunity for the friends to gather together, as much to celebrate the feats already achieved during the Plan as to deliberate on its current exigencies.” These conferences occurred between November 2008 and March 2009. The 95 youth conferences, organized by the Universal House of Justice, were designed as a series of regional conferences that spanned the globe.

The Regional Councils and Auxiliary Boards lost no time following those 41 conferences with various initiatives and programs. It has now become clear, after more than two years since those historic conferences, that in many clusters the resulting progress has been dramatic. The true success of the conferences, one NSA reported, must be measured not in weeks or months, but throughout the remainder of the Plan, a Plan which ended in April 2011. The best means of harnessing the energies created by these extraordinary events, these great conferences, is to cultivate a culture of accompaniment, whereby every believer receives loving and continuing encouragement in his or her path of service. In some places this is happening and in some places it is not. In an emerging world religion like the Bahai Faith the pattern and the picture across 200 countries and 6000 clusters is impossible to describe in a book of this nature. And I do not try.

The obvious difference with these youth conferences is that they are geared specifically toward youth in order to “summon today’s youth to fully assume the responsibilities they must discharge” in the current plans of the global Bahá’í community. So why specifically for youth? Youth have always played an incredibly important role in the history of the Faith. Many of the first people who recognized Bahá’u'lláh, and even gave their lives to promote the teachings of the Faith, were in their late teens and early twenties. Because of the central role that youth have played in the Faith it is unsurprising that the Universal House of Justice has dedicated these conferences specifically to youth, but, to my knowledge, never before has the Universal House of Justice organized such a global effort to provide opportunities for youth specifically to gather together and reflect on their role in the unfoldment of Bahá’u'lláh’s vision for humanity. In the words of the Universal House of Justice: "To every generation of young believers comes an opportunity to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity, unique to their time of life. For the present generation, the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessing will flow in abundance.

The following is a list of locations for the youth conferences held in 2013:

Accra, Addis Ababa, Aguascalientes, Almaty, Antananarivo, Apia, Atlanta, Auckland, Baku, Bangalore, Bangui, Bardiya, Battambang, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Boston, Brasilia, Bridgetown, Bukavu, Cali, Canoas, Cartagena de Indias, Chennai, Chibombo, Chicago, Chisinau, Cochabamba, Daidanaw, Dakar, Dallas, Danane, Dar es Salaam, Dhaka, Dnipropetrovsk, Durham (United States), Frankfurt, Guwahati, Helsinki, Istanbul (2), Jakarta, Johannesburg, Kadugannawa, Kampala, Kananga, Karachi, Khujand, Kinshasa, Kolkata, Kuching, Lae, Lima, London, Lubumbashi, Lucknow, Macau, Madrid, Manila, Matunda Soy, Moscow, Mwinilunga, Mzuzu, Nadi, Nairobi, New Delhi, Oakland, Otavalo,Ouagadougou, Panchgani, Paris, Patna, Perth, Phoenix, Port-au-Prince, Port Dickson, Port Moresby, Port-Vila, San Diego, San Jose (Costa Rica), San Jose City (Philippines), San Salvador, Santiago, Sapele, Sarh, Seberang Perai, South Tarawa, Sydney, Tbilisi, Thyolo, Tirana, Toronto, Ulaanbaatar, Vancouver, Verona, Yaounde.


In a talk Peter Kahn gave in Toronto in August 2006, six years ago now and before his recent death in 2011, he commented off the cuff that “if you don’t want to participate in the core activities, it’s okay; you’re not being disobedient to the Cause. If your orientation is that you want to do proclamation work or write poetry and that’s all you want to do, God bless you." What Baha’is have to do is overcome the zealotry of people in the community who are really enthused about this new direction. We do not want to see those with the enthusiasm beat the drums, so to speak, to use these new forms of activity as a club to beat others with. It is important that all Bahais re-channel whatever penchant they have to pressure others into pressure on their own dear selves. In some ways these enthusiasms are natural and overly-zealous people have always been a test for the less zealous. In the process of exerting pressure on others such people turn encouragement into discouragement by laying what are often called colloquially-'guilt-trips'-on those who don't want to do what others are doing. It is not the intention of this new paradigm, this new institute process to divide the community into those who have done the Ruhi program and those who have not, to develop a hierarchy, an elite; it is not the intention that the Ruhi activities become a substitute for Baha’i community life or, indeed, provide a ladder to climb and thus attain some formal or informal form of leadership. Each of us is not responsible for the whole community and for what others do. We each are responsible for ourselves and for exercising our responsibilities in our own ways. Having others tell us how we should carry out these responsibilities doe not help. But, again, having others tell us what they think we should do also seems to be part of Bahá'í community life. It has been that way for me for nearly 60 years!

In yet another talk, this time on 3 July 2009, Peter Khan provided the Bahai community with a very useful analysis of the Ridvan 2009 House of Justice Message and, in the process, a commentary on the new Bahai culture. This talk can be googled and I recommend that talk as a logical inclusion or extension of this book. Much of what this wonderful teacher and administrator of the Cause said in that talk some two years ago is found in this book and much is not found here. Any bibliography on this new Bahai culture would include that talk and readers of this book should keep in mind that there is much that can be googled now if they want to learn about this paradigm.

The core activities, Peter pointed out in yet another talk, have a certain basic significance. The first is that they are a vehicle to avoid the dichotomy of the active leader with the passive congregation that follows him. That problem has never been solved in religious history. Every religion that we know about has either started off or, after a fairly short time, settled down into the active leader, who is on the edge of a nervous breakdown because he is so busy. With him has been the passive congregation that is expected just to sit there and do what it has been told. Bahá’u’lláh has broken that dichotomy down to create an active participating community of believers from which administrators are elected or appointed for limited periods. We have a lot of work to do to break down this tendency of Bahá’í communities to fall into that pattern of super-active individuals who either are exalted or who exalt themselves, and the passive remainder who do what they're told and try not to make too much trouble. We have to break that historic division down as our teachings tell us it is not the right pattern. We have a lot of work to do to absorb this new tendency into our very bones, to make this new form of action an integral part of our functioning; it will take generations to do that. Our core activities rest upon the fact that we do not have any leader or guru who tells us what the words mean. We must now rely on the power of personal initiative and/or group consultation and understanding in order to develop for ourselves a deeper vision of what the Creative Word is about.

The core activities are a means of training us in the vital aspects of Bahá’í life. As we participate in the core activities we realize that what we are doing is paying homage to the concept that humans need spiritual food as well as material food. We are underlining the supremacy of the Creative Word for understanding and devotion. By the very act of our participating in core activities, we are affirming that the Creative Word is supreme. We are recognizing the legitimacy of individual understanding. If the study circle goes well, each individual opinion is given a legitimate degree of respect. We don’t have people saying, “Oh, that’s stupid. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” or anything like that. We emphasize the legitimacy of the sincere expression of personal understanding. Through the mechanics of the operation of the core activities we don’t have authoritative individuals who acquire a following; people don’t hang on every word and say, “Well, I believe that to be true because I heard something he said and therefore it must be right.” We don’t have any of that. Rather, the Word is the authority. It gives us experience in consultation and in forming a sense of community in the study circle, which is generalizable then to the broader community.

Probably most important of all, the core activities are designed to inculcate in us a culture of learning. That culture of learning is fundamental to our religion because we are a religion of change. The central body of our Cause, the Universal House of Justice, is an institution committed to change, charged with the duty of change by virtue of the statements in the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, so intrinsically we are a religion of dynamic change rather than seeking a static ideal condition. That philosophy of change permeates all aspects of our religion, and change implies an attitude of learning. If you believe you are learning, then you are committed to continually changing and improving and developing, which is fundamental to our religion.

As the House of Justice emphasized two years after what might be said to be the earliest mention of this emerging paradigm in the Ridvan message of 1988: "each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing." The Bahai community has been forced, slowly but surely, to accept this reality in the last two decades. But this sign of maturity in accepting that many will not be taking part in what I take part in; indeed, many not only do not want to take part in what I do, they often do not have the talent to do what I do and vice versa: to each their own.

In the late 1980s and in the years leading up to 1996 the notion of a paradigmatic shift, of the vocabulary of a Bahai paradigm became more frequent. The fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989, in the year following the first mention of the term paradigm in a Ridvan message from the House of Justice, was symbolic of what was arguably the major paradigm shift in the socio-politcal landscape in our post-WW2 age. In 1995 the English translation of Udo Schaefer's book: Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm was published by Zero Palm Press in Prague. Organizations and disciplines in the social and behavioural sciences as well as the physical and biological sciences began to use the term "paradigm" much more frequently than the term had been used in the 1980s; indeed, in the years since the term was first coined, so to speak, by Thomas Kuhn in 1962, the term was increasingly used. In some ways, the time was right for the Bahai community to bring the term into its organizational vocabulary.

The structure of LSAs, Groups and localities, committees, councils, feasts, holy days, inter alia remains in place and is still at the heart of the Baha’i community. This paradigm shift is intended to enrich the overall expression and diversity of Baha’i community life not replace what has been at the centre of community life for decades. The guiding philosophy of this new paradigm has sometimes been expressed as an integration of service activities with focused study of the Baha’i writings around a central core. “This system allows for the almost infinite development by various user communities of branching sub-sets that serve particular needs.”

In these early days, in what is now the early years of the second decade of the implementation of this new paradigm, this new process, this new system is still developing and its rich potential for diversity of expression has yet to fully reveal itself. Some local spiritual assemblies have felt that they were on the sidelines in this new paradigm. In some clusters and regional areas there has been tension between LSAs and ATCs. This is not surprising given the extensive organizational and administrative shifts that have been part and parcel of the overall paradigm shift in this new Bahá'í culture. LSAs still have a central role to play. This hardly needs to be said. One only needs to reread some of the essential, the core, literature on LSAs to understand this. Along with the assemblies’ distinct administrative functions, what has been added is the responsibility to channel the community’s human resources into needed areas and to become more of a loving parent to the community, instead of a carpenter directing the human resources of the community as if they are inanimate objects, as one noted Bahai writer put it recently.

Spiritual development from a Bahai perspective has always involved, always meant interaction with others. The Bahai Faith has often been called 'the social religion' since the assumption is made, indeed is repeated in the literature of its Central Figures, over and over, that human development involves a growing awareness of the collective or social self. Spiritual progress is seen as almost entirely theoretical until learned and practised in a social milieu and this assumption is put into yet another context in this new paradigm. And we each have to decade to what extent we can engage in this social milieux. To each their own. In this new paradgim, it can not be stressed too often, there is a place for every temperament, every person no matter what his or her index of social enthusiasms and preferences, desire for solitude--indeed, whatever their style of life.


There has been much happening across the Bahai world since the middle years of that fin de siecle decade of the twentieth century when this new paradigm was being launched. Much that has happened needs to be acknowledged as we all come to focus on the new paradigm because there is much that has not been part of the explicit framework of this paradigm. And again, much of these new activities have not occurred ex nihilo.

In 1948 the Bahai International Community registered with the UN as an international non-governmental organization (NGO) and in 1970 was granted consultative status (now called "special" consultative status) with the UN Economic and Social Council(ECOSOC). Consultative status with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) followed in 1976, and with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in 1989. Working relations with the World Health Organization (WHO) were also established in 1989. Over the years, the Community has worked closely with the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the UN Development Program(UNDP).

The Bahai International Community has offices at the United Nations in New York and Geneva and representations to United Nations regional commissions and other offices in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Nairobi, Rome, Santiago, and Vienna. In recent years an Office of the Environment and an Office for the Advancement of Women were established as part of its United Nations Office.

An Office of Public Information, based at the Bahai World Centre in Haifa and with a branch in Paris, disseminates information about the Bahai Faith around the world and publishes a quarterly newsletter, ONE COUNTRY. Distributed in English, French, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and German to readers in over 170 countries, ONE COUNTRY covers social and economic development projects, relations with the United Nations system, and global issues of interest to decision makers.

In the years before this new paradigm was initiated there had been decades of Bahai work at the United Nations. In September 1994 a document entitled "Comments on the Draft Declaration and Draft Programme of Action for Social Development (A/CONF.166/PC/L.13)" was presented at the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit for Social Development in New York, U.S.A. This is noteworthy in light of the new paradigm that emerged in the Bahai community only two years later. This new paradigm did not emerge ex nihilo or without a wider context in the international and multi-cultural world that is our emerging planetary civilization.

The dominant model of development in mostplaces on the planet depends on a society of vigorous consumers of material goods. In such a model, endlessly rising levels of consumption are cast as indicators of progress and prosperity. This preoccupation with the production and accumulation of material objects and comforts, as sources of meaning, happiness and social acceptance, has consolidated itself in the structures of power and information to the exclusion of competing voices and paradigms. The unfettered cultivation of needs and wants has led to a system fully dependent on excessive consumption for a privileged few, while reinforcing exclusion, poverty and inequality, for the majority. Each successive global crisis—be it climate, energy, food, water, disease, financial collapse—has revealed new dimensions of the exploitation and oppression inherent in the current patterns of consumption and production. Stark are the contrasts between the consumption of luxuries and the cost of provision of basic needs: basic education for all would cost $10 billion; yet $82 billion is spent annually on cigarettes in the United States alone. The eradication of world hunger would cost $30 billion[viii]; water and sanitation—$10 billion. By comparison, the world’s military budget rose to $1.55 trillion in 2008.(See the May 2010 statement of the Bahai International Community for more on this subject.

From a Bahai perspective a paradigm of development that seeks to promote global prosperity must take into account both the spiritual and material natures of the individual and society, while responding to the increasing interdependence of the peoples and nations of the planet. The Bahá'í¬ Writings anticipate the emergence of a new development paradigm as the regions of the world "unite to give each other what is lacking. This union," we are assured, "will bring about a true civilization, where the spiritual is expressed and carried out in the material." The Bahá'í¬ International Community believes that the Declaration and Programme of Action can contribute significantly to true social development for the 21st century if they address both the material and the spiritual needs and aspirations of the people of the world.

I will list below but a few of the developments at the international level since the beginning of this new paradigm but not explicitly part of its new culture of learning and growth. These developments are not part of the advances in childrens classes, junior youth programs, external affairs activities as well as the institutions of the LSA, the NSA and both the elected and appointed arms of Bahai administration operating as they do at the local, national and global levels all of which extended their scope and depth during the first fifteen years of this new paradigm. To outline all of these developments would lead to an even greater prolixity than has already come to characterize this book.

In 1997, for example, the Bahai International Community(BIC)launched the Human Rights Education Initiative with over 100 national affiliates worldwide to support the UN Decade for Human Rights Education. In 1998 the BIC participated in the World Bank’s World Faiths and Development Dialogue and released a major statement titled, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually-Based Indicators for Development. That same year the BIC participated in the World Conference on Human Settlements-Habitat II-in Istanbul, Turkey; the Turkish Bahá'í community sponsored a campaign to promote the concept of world citizenship. The BIC addressed the conference plenary with the statement Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World. The BIC also assisted with the establishment of over 30 national Bahá'í offices and committees to promote the advancement of women.

In 1999 the BIC participated in the third Session of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2000 the Bahá'í International Community representative, Mr. Techeste Ahderom, served as co-chair of the NGO Millennium Forum and addressed the Millennium Summit on behalf of the NGO community.

In 2001 the BIC representative addressed the International Consultative Conference on School Education in relation with Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance, and Non-Discrimination in Madrid. The BIC also published One Same Substance: Building a Global Culture of Racial Unity for distribution at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.

In 2003 the BIC cosponsored the regional conference in India on “Education: The Right of Every Girl and Boy,” with UNICEF, UNESCO, and major international non-governmental organizations. And in 2004 the BIC chaired the NGO Committee on the Status of Women and facilitates the participation of over 2,500 NGO representatives at the Commission on the Status of Women.
In 2005 the BIC Representative addressed the Conference on Gender Mainstreaming and the Millennium Development Goals co-sponsored by the Pakistani Prime Minister’s office and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Ms. Bani Dugal, Principal Representative to the UN, spoke at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on panels dealing with global governance, gender equality, and values in leadership. The BIC issued a statement on the right to freedom of religion or belief titled, Freedom to Believe in response to the 2004 United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report titled, “Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World.” The statement served as the catalyst for a BIC-hosted Symposium with His Excellency Piet de Klerk, Ambassador at Large for Human Rights at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Ms. Felice Gaer, Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.

In the years 2006 to 2010 the BIC continued to build on more than half a century of work at the United Nations. In May 2010 the BIC contributed the following paper to the 18th Session of the United Nations on Sustainable Development: "Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism." Serious readers of the work of the Bahá'í International Community United Nations Office should google that site and examine the many reports, statements, papers and an assortment of presentations to many conferences at the UN level. The new culture of learning and growth is a multi-faceted paradigm with Bahais working in a range of activities not highly or especially specific to the overall structure of this new pattern in Bahai community life.

For the last 15 years the worldwide Bahá'í community has been endeavoring systematically to effect a transformation among individuals and communities around the world—to inspire and build the capacity for service. The framework for action guiding these activities has been rooted in a dynamic of learning—characterized by action, reflection, and consultation. In thousands of communities, Bahá'ís have set into motion neighborhood-level processes that seek to empower individuals of all ages to recognize and develop their spiritual capacities and to channel their collective energies towards the betterment of their communities. Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, they have started children’s classes that focus on laying the foundations of a noble and upright character. For youth aged 11-14, they have created a learning environment which helps them to form their moral identity at this critical time in their life and to develop skills which empower them to channel their constructive and creative energies toward the betterment of their communities. All are invited to take part in small groups of participatory learning around core concepts and themes which encourage individuals to become agents of change in their communities within a dynamic of learning and an orientation towards service. Of course, this is not happening in all the 120,000 localities where Bahais reside, but in some 1500 communities a solid start has been made.

There are also a range of what you might call developments in the creative and performing arts. If I was interested in compiling the information and doing the research on the developments in the arts in the Bahai community in the last 15 years a separate book would have to be written. Film is a lot like the Baha’i Faith. Film brings together all the art forms. The Bahai Faith brings together all the peoples and religions of the world. The two combine well and Mithaq Kazimi, a young Bahai filmmaker and native of Afghanistan, founded the Dawn Breakers International Film Festival(DBIFF). DBIFF debuted in December 2008 at the 24th annual Grand Canyon Baha’i Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The public was invited to attend and some 600 people from around the country participated in this two day event. In the coming year, DBIFF plans to take its films on the road to several cities in the United States and abroad. Bahais are also making films in the wider culture. A full-length feature film, entitled "Serenades," was written and directed by Mojgan Khadem, an Iranian-born Bahai from Adelaide, South Australia. The film received a glowing review ahead of its release in an industry publication, Screen International, where critic Frank Hatherley described it as an international gem. And there is much more, too much to include here.

The first significant success of the stand-up comedy career of Omid Djalili was at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was on the eve of this new paradigm in 1995 with "Short, Fat Kebab Shop Owner's Son", followed by "The Arab and the Jew" in 1996. In his act he claimed to be the only Iranian comedian which, he said, was "three more than Germany". His stand-up routines and jokes focus primarily on multiculturalism and ethnic peculiarities. His hyperactive and energetic manner of imitating accents, undercutting political humour with absurd bellydances and singing has earned him a significant worldwide following. Readers who would like to follow his career in the years of this paradigm shift can get a telescopic view at Wikipedia. There are other famous Bahais, celebrities, people of renown from various fields and other outside this Cause who have written statements of high praise endorsing this new Faith and its teachings which I do not want to dwell on here. If readers google the words "famous Bahais" they can get a list going back to the earliest years of Bahai history and all the previous paradigms.

There is so much happening in the print and electronic media: Bahais on TV, on the radio, being interviewed in magazines, in journals, writing in magazines and journals. Since 1996 there has been a veritable explosion of Bahai activity across the creative and performing arts in addition to what I have mentioned above. Just google a few relevant terms/words and you will be more than a little surprised. Of course, many of these developments come outside the explicit scope of the new paradigm. But there is clearly a new wind blowing as it was often said of the Cause back in the 1960s in the West.

As the Bahá’í community has grown in the decades since I joined back in the 1950s, I have seen many experts from numerous fields become Bahá’ís. I have also seen Bahá’ís becoming experts. As these experts have brought their knowledge and skill to the service of the community and, even more, as they have contributed to their various disciplines by bringing to bear upon them the light of the Divine Teachings, problem after problem has been illumined. This aspect of the growth of the Cause is often not given the emphasis that it deserves, in part, due to the tendency of Bahais not to blow their own horn, so to speak. The problems now disrupting society in the decades ahead will be answered from the perspectives of the Cause. The process often seems too slow for our instant coffee, instant and immediate gratification society. But in the last 50 years I have been amazed at this development within the Faith. In this new paradigm this development that I have observed in the last half century will continue to characterize the Bahai experience to an even greater degree; I have little doubt. But, as I say, the processes are complex and mysterious and everything in its own season.

Not all is in the hands of experts, though. The approach to curriculum development in 1000s of Bahai communities for many of the activities in Bahai life has been one of both design as well as field testing and evaluation. The first step, often, in the writing of any set of materials has been taken when experience emerges from grassroots action in response to particular development needs. Curriculum materials are continually refined in light of new knowledge and insights. The cultural shifts taking place are evident in the greater capacity to carry out collective action, to see oneself as an agent of change in the community, as a humble learner, as an active participant in the generation, diffusion and application of knowledge. The continuous cycle of learning through action, reflection and consultation has raised awareness of the needs and resources across communities as well as strengthened the mechanisms for collective action and deliberation. Again, as I say, this is not happening everywhere in the immensely diverse tapestry of the international Bahai community with some 17,000 elected bodies and, as I say above, 120,000 localities where Bahais reside.

When a Bahá'í community is very small, and of the 16,000 clusters in which the world-wide Bahai community is divided, most of them are so small that much of the new paradigm can not be put in place, into action. There is just not the men-on-the-ground, so to speak. But the pattern exists, and as expansion takes place, the pattern is simply--or not-so-simply replicated. The Bahai community I live in with its four Bahais is an example of one of the infinite number of experiments in Bahai commuity life. There is little that we can do to implement the social teachings of the Faith beyond their impact on the behavior of the four individual believers. Such a community like my own with the resources in funds and manpower at its disposal is but a drop in the ocean in comparison with the many large agencies, governmental and private, which are engaged in social improvement. When the Bahá'í community grows sufficiently large, however, its activities can, must and do proliferate and diversify.

This development is already taking place in many parts of the world. In India, for example, the New Era School in Panchgani, which has been developing remarkably for a number of years, is closely associated with a rural development project in the villages close by that is having dramatically favorable results in the life of the villagers. In the province of Madhya Pradesh, where there are hundreds of thousands of Bahá'ís, the Rabbani School in Gwalior is educating children from the villages of the area in the Teachings of the Faith, in academic subjects and in agriculture, so that when they return to their home villages, these pupils not only promote the Faith but will influence their growth and development in every way. In Ecuador the size of the Bahá'í community, scattered over inaccessible terrain in the high Andes, made it both necessary and possible some years ago to establish a Bahá'í radio station. "Radio Bahá'í," as it is known, broadcasts not only about the Faith, but has programs concerning health, agriculture, literacy and so on. It has now become so well established and highly regarded that it has been able to apply for and receive a Canadian Government grant through C.I.D.A. to finance the development of certain social service activities. Thus it can be seen that once the Bahá'í community attains a certain stature it is able to work in fruitful collaboration with non-Bahá'í agencies in its social activities.


I have seen many a formal deepening program since my first association with the Cause in the 1950s and I have drawn on just about every one of them that has been circulated in North America and Australia in the last several decades at least those in the West and in English. The Ruhi program, the Ruhi Institute, is only one of many new institute programs that I am confident will evolve in the decades head. Right now it is the major institute program out and about in the community. It is an indispensable engine that drives the new paradigm forward. But, more importantly in some ways, it is the enthusiasm, effectiveness and devotion, the wisdom and understanding, with which the teaching work is carried out, not so much the method. It is the capacity of individual believers to demonstrate those spiritual capacities and virtues in interaction that, in the end, obtains the quantitative results desired. For this paradigm is, if nothing else, a simple or not-so-simple extension of the workshop that is the Bahai community, a workshop for individual aspirants to human spiritualization to advance civilization itself.

Deepening programs have been around for decades, indeed, one could argue, for over a century and a half. But the institute process, centred as it is on a structure and on several roles, on the Ruhi Institute curriculum and on study circles, on boards and coordinators as well as on tutors and systematic training is a different ball-game, as they say, to the old deepening programs which still exist in many places especially small ones like the one I live in. After perhaps thirty to forty years of the use of the term 'institute,' and at least thirty years of the existence of the Ruhi Institute in different forms, the decision of many National Assemblies around the Bahai world to make Ruhi courses the core program of Training Institutes, yet another term that is part of this new paradigm and a term with its own timeline, has resulted, in just this last 15 years(1996-2010), in bringing the word 'institute' into a much sharper focus than was the case as far back as I can remember.

Jenabe Caldwell and others first used the term institute in the 1970s and by the early 1990s the story of the institute process within a Ruhi Institute framework could be read in a publication entitled: Learning About Growth: The Story of the Ruhi Institute and Large-scale Expansion of the Bahá'í Faith in Colombia (Riviera Beach: Palabra Publications, 1991). Jenabe Caldwells story in From Night to Knight(1995, New Delhi, India) is also the story of the transformation of one man from spiritual timidity into a great pioneer. This is a tangential aspect of the topic under discussion here, but I would like to add some thoughts on the subject of the pioneer before passing on to other aspects of this new paradigm. I make these remarks due to the important role that the pioneer has had in the first 15 years of this new paradigm and will have in the decades ahead.

In the American cultural mythology, the cowboy stands firm as a “unique” representation of America – her people, her spaces, her cultural belief that America is a land of “the essential American soul…an isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man."( See:Jennifer Moskowitz, "The Cultural Myth of the Cowboy, or,How the West Was Won," Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Spring 2006, Volume 5, Issue No.1) While the phrase is problematic, the figure of the cowboy offers a myth that seems to substantiate the ideology behind it which is certainly capitalist. In order to further capitalism as the dominant ideology, the country needed to cultivate an idealized self-image characterized by the individual, self-reliant, transient qualities of the western hero, no matter that upon further study the cowboy is not necessarily any of those things. The myth prevails and masks the violence of the West, class and racial unrest in America, and capitalism’s control over American culture.

William Bevis contends that capitalist democracy seems to many a natural yoking, and usually implies more, a modern industrial capitalist democracy wed to progress, as if economic liquidity were necessarily linked to political freedom, social mobility, and individualism.(ibid) Placing Bevis’ contention in the late nineteenth/turn of the century post-Civil War framework, then, undergirds the importance of the archetype of the western hero, an archetype which perseveres in contemporary American culture. America aspired to be unified, powerful, industrial, and capitalist, and Americans desired power and success. Therefore, if the western hero held the traits of individualism, self-reliance, and permanence, and if the future of the United States was to be finalized in the West, then Americans would revere the perceived capitalist tendencies of the western hero who managed to embody the desired image of nation for all Americans. Thus it is in the literature that the knight and the cowboy become romanticized archetypes furthering the dominant ideology through their hegemonic representations. And it is in western American literature that we paradoxically draw on and deny the medieval knight as we construct his mythsake, the uniquely American cowboy.

I make mention of this cowboy image because, it seems to me, that the pioneer image in the Bahai community has had and will have a similar function. I do not think that the image will become hegemonic, though; the role and importance of the pioneer has become softened in recent years. Still he or she is going to be an important feature of the Bahai cultural landscape and this new paradigm in the decades to come if the great spaces on the globe where there are no Bahais are to be filled up in cluster after cluster. Deep in the national mythos of the cultures in which I have lived: North America and Australia--is the glorified figure of the loner: the farmer, the cowboy, backwoodsman, gold miner, or some other adventurer who lives by wit and grit a step from the frontier, needing no organized religion or government to show him the way. In some ways the pioneer which I have now been for more than fifty years partakes of some of this mythos. At the same time, though, pioneers struggle, as the decades of his or her experience lengthen, to define themselves geographically, culturally and in a non-partisan political sense. In so doing they assert some degree of communal identity. The Bahai ethos, its history and teachings are crucial in this regard. In the new culture of learning and growth the pioneer will both contribute to and be aided by the many programs and the inherent dynamics of this new paradigm in which his life is embedded.

The Bahai community, one of the lives within it like my own and all of the accompanying ideals and activities do not occur either naturally or by accident. They are framed by design when a writer like myself goes to put that design, that story, on paper with description and analysis. An international organization like the Bahai Faith requires some sense of congruence between its international system, its paradigmatic features and the social and cultural structures which are part of it if the account of its internal life and external relationships is to hang together. If an international movement is to exist an internationalist sentiment is required. Such a sentiment exists when a feeling of anger is aroused by the violation of internationalist principles, or when a feeling of satisfaction is aroused by their fulfillment.

To put what I am trying to say in the words of the social critic Raymond William, an international organization requires certain hegemonic figures. In western history the knight and the cowboy were such figures. In the international Bahai community the pioneer is such a hegemonic cultural figure. The pioneer provides the Bahai community with an organizational force, a person and an activity which connects otherwise separated and even disparate meanings, values and practices. The knight, the cowboy and the pioneer are archetypes. The pioneer evokes part of the image of what the international Bahai community should be. The term appeals to disparate parts of the community, parts that are required if the Bahai community is to extend itself to every section of the globe in the decades ahead.

The stories of the knights were essential to defining England as a nation in the late middle ages. Painted as romantic purveyors of right, upholding chivalric ideals, and commencing on exciting, colorful quests, the knights appealed to all, aristocrat, merchant, and peasant alike. The timing of the overwhelming popularity of the knights’ tales strongly suggests that these tales, and more specifically, the knights depicted in them, provided England with a central icon around which to establish identity as a nation. The pioneer in the last eight decades and even more so in the next several decades has been, is and will be essential in propelling the Bahai community into the international arena so that every cluster on earth is inhabited by Bahais and especially the approximately 10,000 existing clusters in which there are at present no Bahais.

In the attempts of the Ruhi Institute process to integrate religious conviction and practice with concern for material advancement in some places and service activities in most others, Bahá'ís find often, but not always, unique solutions to problematic issues in development and community participation. For Bahá'ís, the essential goal of any development or service undertaking is the implementation of Bahá'u'lláh's instructions regarding the creation of a united world. Projects are sustainable when they harmonize the inner need of human beings to understand their true reality with their outer needs for sustenance, shelter, and support. The Bahai community is slowly becoming more adept at accommodating a wide range of actions without losing concentration on the primary objectives of teaching, objectives we have always had with us: expansion and consolidation. Much of the philosophy, the ethics, the psychology and sociology of the Ruhi process and the hundreds of development projects in the last three decades are written about elsewhere and it is not my purpose here in this book to expatiate on these aspects of the institute process as they have developed around the Bahai world, except to a limited extent in this overall statement which is attempting to provide some kind of synthesis of views and ideas, concepts and notions regarding this new paradigm.

The institute process, although not an entirely new term, then, is certainly one that has been given an elaboration and definition in the last dozen years, a more detailed and focussed framework for action for the international Bahai community. It is a framework, initially designed by the International Teaching Centre after some three decades of the Bahai community's use of some of the institute nomenclature going back, at least in my memory, to Jenabe Caldwell in the 1960s if my memory serves me well. The institute process is a critical, a crucial, some might say, the centrepiece of the new paradigm. Three documents were central to the initial definition and elaboration of this international institute process, a process that deals with teaching and consolidation on the one hand and service and community building on the other. These three documents were each prepared by the International Teaching Centre and published in: April 1998, February 2000 and April 2003. They say a great deal about the institute process, a great deal that was just not present in the Bahai world before the late 1990s--and readers are advised to begin with these documents if they want to read about the initial description, the initial elaboration and outline of the details of this paradigm that I leave out here in this discussion.

Let me close this section with an excerpt from a talk by Universal House of Justice member Dr. Payman Mohajer. Dr. P. Mohajer encouraged the participants at a seminar held in Haifa in mid-2009 to reexamine the Ruhi Institute books from a society-wide, social-action, perspective. He suggested that we reflect on how the concepts embedded in this Ruhi-institute-educational program could be used for social action and not just for the sake of expansion and consolidation. The very first quotation in Ruhi Book 1, Dr. Mohajer emphasized, talks about the betterment of the world through pure and goodly deeds. We need to remind ourselves, in this context, that the reason for becoming more truthful is just as much to contribute to a better society as it is for the sake of our own spiritual progress. It is clear that we need to imbue institute participants, those engaged in our core activities, with a vision of social transformation as well as personal transformation. If someone were to ask us, Dr. Mohajer concluded, whether the purpose of our inviting them to join study circles is to make them Bahais we can confidently say 'no' and tell them that the purpose of our core activities is to assist in the transformation and betterment of society. Indeed, the House cautions the Bahai community that the nature and purpose of social action "is not to be judged by the ability to bring enrolments." it also cautions the Bahais against "projecting an air of triumphalism."


Mohajer's comments here echo the words of Douglas Martin, the former director general of the Baha’i World Centre Office of Public Information, from a talk he gave in April 1992. Martin said at that time, in the years immediately preceding the initiation of this new paradigm that the Baha’i community had not yet "been able to escape a certain connotation of exclusivity.” Such a connotation, he went on to say, had inevitably arisen from the efforts of the Baha’i community in the teaching field and the Baha’i community’s consequent preoccupation with conversion and membership as well as the intrusion, like some necessary reflex action and its accompanying impulse, of an “us and them” mentality. Conversion to a new religion is not the focus in this new paradigm, as I have pointed out elsewhere in this book; it is, rather, the provision of th emeans to bring about the Golden Age of humanity. The focus in this process is on meaning and purpose to give hope and happiness to everyday life.

The culture of learning, the paradigm shift, that the Baha’i community has been engaged in since the mid-1990s, and which had been initially intimated by Martin, among other intimations in the late 1980s and early 1990s that I have referred to above, involves a heroic effort to shed a number of previous and now quite inappropriate views in the Baha’i community. This shedding of old, now archaic views, it seems to me, is all part of this paradigm shift.

The process of spiritual development is “essentially a solitary is a process of refining one’s character, of cultivating the practice of prayer, meditation and regular reading of the sacred Texts." These solitary activities are, by their very nature, things done in the privacy of ones chamber, so to speak. This has always been the case. This is not to say, of course, that these activities can not be done in groups, again, as they always have been done, as the option has always been present, coextensive with the private aspects of the spiritual life for the Bahai. The process of learning, like the spiritual life, is also and inevitably both an individual exercise and a group experience in one of several of their many and various forms. It is also something that requires an effort. Self-education and self-motivation, independent of group processes goes hand-in-hand with formal and informal education if an individual is ever to make any significant advancement in their life. In this new paradigm, individuals can chose to weigh their learning on the side of an individualistic approach or a group approach or some combination of both. All of this is, in the end, left to the individual. Whatever enterprize one engages in as a result of personal initiative or as a result of engagement in some group activity like an institute or a devotional meeting, a study circle or a cluster meeting, one needs to purge ones heart and motives, otherwise, as Shoghi Effendi emphasized as far back as 1923, it may "be futile to engage in any form of enterprize." Over the years of his ministry, the Guardian emphasized many other factors that determined success. A thorough study of his writings will often explain why it is that particular activities lack the success we would wish them to have and why it is that gradually, gradually and little by little is the nature of the process in which we are all engaged. It must be recognized that there are often numerous stages that need to be traversed before the desired goals are achieved.

If the Ruhi program promotes one way of reading Scripture, a way that focuses on a plain, outward and acontextualized understanding of a quotation, a quotation without any historical or major literary context, this does not need to be seen as an undermining of other approaches to interpretation, approaches which promote a multiplicity, a variety or just one or two other methods. Scripture can be read and studied in a multitude of ways and there has grown-up, in the last several decades, a fine literature for Bahais to draw on in their pursuit of these approaches. The field of literary studies, the study of literature, now has much to assist any serious student in the study of the writings of this Faith should he or she wish to go beyond what is often some simple, superficial and simplistic approach. Of course, not everyone is that serious and not everyone has the time of inclination. We are all left to our own approach, our own method and, in this new culture of learning, any one of many specific forms and practices in groups and on ones own.

Some Bahais devote their lives to the study of the writings of their Faith and some only give this study very little time and effort. There is no formula, no A to Z method, no just-follow-this and you will come out on top approach. As I say, just to emphasize a point and parenthetically: there is now an extensive, a massive, literature in the field of literary studies that is useful should Bahais wish to make use of it to illumine their understanding of the extensive literature of this new world Faith. This new culture of learning is, among other things, bringing new awarenesses of the many approaches to learning and interpretation; and it is already beginning to result in a “growing confidence and commitment of the believers which has been reflected “in the thrust of individual initiatives,” a thrust which is gathering momentum. There is, as I indicated above, a much richer expression of the diverse talents of the friends, an expression which is beginning to appear in the Baha’i World—a richness that bodes well for the future progress of the Cause. Of course, this richer expression, this deepened study and commitment to learning does not and will not take place everywhere and with everyone across the thousands of Bahai communities and the many millions of Bahais on the planet. This point hardly needs making but, surprisingly, such an obvious point is often missed as discussions seem to assume that either progress is being made everywhere and on all fronts or, if the person is of a more pessimistic and skeptical turn of mind he only sees inadequacy and weakness, lack of commitment and failure to deepen everywhere confirming, in the process, his pessimistic skepticism. Perception and focus is often the mother of invention, the mother of not only ones cosmology but also ones view of the Faith to which one belongs.


That this richness and diversity will not appear in all 120,000 localities where Bahais reside, among all the more than 2000 indigenous tribes, races and ethnic groups, the 20,000 LSA areas and the now 16,000 clusters that cover the planet, as I say, should not be expected. In the early 1950s when my mother joined the Bahai Faith there were less than 1000 LSAs and some 3000 localities. One could argue, as I have done in this book, that there has been exponential growth. But the issue is far from simple and too complex to deal with in the framework of this book. The Bahai Faith should not be measured by its weakest links. There is a range of statistics that I could draw on to paint a very discouraging picture of the experience of the Cause in the West and in many places in the third world. But as the sociologist Will can den Hoonaard points out in the last paragraph of his illuminating study of the first fifty years of Bahai history in Canada, what happens at the local level in Bahai community life is not the major or the sole measuring rod for the quality of the international Bahai community or the quantity of its global membership. The term best practice, the belief and the associated activity in which there is a method, a process, an incentive or a reward that is more effective at delivering a particular outcome. A given best practice is only applicable to particular condition or circumstance and may have to be modified or adapted for similar circumstances in other locations. In addition, a "best" practice can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered. As the term has become more popular, some organizations have begun using the term "best practices" to refer to what are in fact merely rules or frameworks, organizational constructs, which cause a linguistic drift from previous patterns. Documenting and charting these procedures and practices is a complicated and time-consuming process often skipped by secular and religious organizations even though they may practice the proper processes consistently.

Naturally enough in the thousands of Bahai communities where the numbers are very small, say less than a dozen of so, with great distances to travel between localities, much of this new paradigm goes by the wayside or, when implemented, may not be able to follow the core sequences of activities to the letter. After 32 years of teaching in classrooms and another 18 as a student, I am more than a little aware of the need for immense flexibility when one is involved in the teaching process and in the evaluation of programs. This is true both in the Faith in and out of the institute process and in classrooms in the wider society. Statistics, while a valuable tool, do not tell the whole story in either ones private life or in the public domain. They are a complex, a subtle, often misleading but necessary entity in any pursuit with pretensions to being scientific.

In some ways the institute process is a type of best practice, a template, to standardize a process and its documentation. The term best practices has implications of finality, obedience, authority and universality. The term also implies that some source has the final answer to a matter in dispute or disarray. The matter is closed, decided, set and resolved. The term "better practices" seems to seek better ways, which may even lead to tweaking the suggested practice to make it even better. It suggests that all of us together can come up with something better than any one of us can arrive at individually, and places authority in the community. The term often implies that the better practice is not universal, but depends on the specific situation.

Bahai localities, the innumerable small registered and unregistered groups across the planet, one in which I live myself here in northern Tasmania, are part of an endless, infinite series of experiments at the local, national and international levels, part of a global model, a global effort to realize Bahaullahs vision of humankinds oneness. Of course, the Bahai Cause and its paradigms, this immense experiment, is and has often been measured by critics who focus on a plethora of negative factors: (i)the words and deeds of mortal men, (ii) the behaviour of individuals and communities, (iii) declining numbers or static enrolments (iv) the slow development of the Cause in many a town, city and region, indeed (v) one can now find a list of factors as long as your proverbial arm posted on the internet by the cynical, disillusioned, negative and critical people who expatiate on these factors and these several criteria. Those who come across the internet sites which dwell on these negative factors might wonder what they have stumbled across and, as has happened to many seekers across the planet I have little doubt, they have stopped their search and gone elsewhere. I am often left wondering if such critics are describing the same Faith as the one to which I belong. There is much in the Bahai community to criticize; indeed, there is much in the lives of everyone and anyone to criticize should one want to focus on weaknesses and human deficiencies.

I will site two quotations from many possible ones, which underlie a best practice which has always been in place in the Bahai community at least since the Guardian institutionalized the charismatic Force that initiated this whole process in the middle of the 19th century. It is a best practice which had already been stated, put in place, by the Faith's Central Figures Who had done the preliminary work for this new administrative order in the years 1844 to 1921. The first quotation I will draw on was written, as far as I know, in 1921, in the first year in which Shoghi Effendi was the Guardian:

Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching - no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character - not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and sceptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahaullah.(Shoghi Effendi, Bahai Administration, p.66).

The second quotation underlining what might be called a view, an underpinning, of Bahai best practice in this and all Bahai paradigms is the first paragraph of Bahaullahs Book of Certitude:

The essence of these words is this: they that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly - their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, and become the recipients of a grace that is infinite and unseen, inasmuch as man can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All-Glorious, can never quaff from the stream of divine knowledge and wisdom, can never enter the abode of immortality, nor partake of the cup of divine nearness and favour, unless and until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets(Bahaullah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, pp.3-4).

George Orwell put the same idea a little differently: "As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.(The Road to Wigan Pier) This idea needs to be kept firmly in place by those millions who will become attracted to this Faith in the years of this new paradigm. George Orwell also had another idea which is useful to keep in mind as this new paradigm increasingly manifests itself across the planet. "In a society in which there is no law, and in theory no compulsion, the only arbiter of behaviour is public opinion, wrote Orwell, "But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. When human beings are governed by "thou shalt not," the individual can practice a certain amount of eccentricity; but when human beings are supposedly governed by love or reason they are under continuous pressure to behave exactly the same way as everyone else."(Politics vs. Literature)And finally and to continue in the same vein I will draw on the French sociologist Gustave Le Bon who wrote that: "One of the most constant characteristics of beliefs is their intolerance. The stronger the belief, the greater its intolerance. Men dominated by a certitude cannot tolerate those who do not accept it."(Opinions And Beliefs)

Let there be no mistake. The Bahai paradigm is aimed at increasing the number of adherents across the globe in every cluster & locality. But the process is little by little and day by day, not by force, but by the inner life and private character of individuals within the framework of a new world order. This new world order is described in the Bahai writings in many places and it is not the purpose of this book to outline the character and the detailed framwork of its operation. This book is about the process of winning the hearts and minds of the people of the world in this new community building narrative which began, as this book emphasizes, in 1996.


After fifty years of listening and talking as well as watching and analysing the teaching process both in the Bahai community and in the secular world, I don't get surprised to anything like the same extent as I once did in my younger years by the failings and inadequacies of my fellow Bahais, of those in the wider world or, I might add, of my own self whom I have come to know so well in all its weakness and deficiency. Destructive and negative forces can and do enter Bahai community life and our own quotidian experience so very easily. The world is tired of words and yearns for human example, for models, for excellence and with new people coming into the Cause all the time existing side by side with veterans who are often worn-out and tired, words is often many of the believers--old and new--have. This, of course, is itself a somewhat harsh and pessimistic view, but it contains some truth as many who read this book I'm sure will testify.


Living up to principles is no easy task even within the context of new paradigms. This has always been the case and, in all likelihood, always will be; for this life is a world of contradictions, paradoxes and immense complexity, human inadequacy and sin--to use a word with old currency. But, as Bahaullah emphasizes so often, one must cease to regard the words and deeds of mortals as signs of true religion and the recognition of God and His prophets or as signs, it might be added, of the progress of this new paradigm. Adjusting principles to the reality, the lesson, of facts is no easy matter, especially when the fires of enthusiasm and dedication are burning in the breast and hoped for results are not forthcoming or, as is often the case, the hoped for results bring more problems than were originally anticipated or that can now be coped with without much renewed effort and commitment.

If the expression of the diverse talents of individuals and if the number of believers completing the Ruhi books has increased, but this has not led to increased enrolments; if the mobilizing of Baha’is to do anything often attracts non-Baha’is thus making what some might call “the non-specific aims and aspects of the study circles that are working” and not their specific aspects; if some Bahá’ís do not want to take part in the Ruhi-institute programs; if some of the believers see this new paradigm as some uniform system imposed coercively from the top-down on each and every believer for each and every seeker no matter what their background; if some believers see non-participation as a form of covenant breaking; if an apparent lack of success of this new program is placed at the door of the familiar phrase or the notion that: “it has not been implemented properly;" if the presence of covenant-breakers on the internet is giving that old and tiresome group whose numbers have always been negligible a public space far out of proportion to that paucity of numbers; if in implementing the core sequence of Ruhi books presents unanticipated problems that make their very implementation a difficulty or a process that raises new, unforeseen problems-—these are just some of the tests and issues, questions and criticisms, that such a work in progress in the Bahai community must deal with. Community activities and individual initiative are always confronted by new struggles and difficulties for each and everyone of us. This has always been the case and I would suggest this problem, these problems or variations of them, will be with us for decades if not centuries in some form or another as this new Faith grows in proportions and numbers that we can barely envisage at the present time. Problems and difficulties, like itches that must be scratched or endured or both--will always be with us.


The engine of initiative and group activity must always be ready to adapt if it is to result in the many forms of successful engagement in Bahai activity and in efforts to promote the Cause. Until this new paradigm LSAs and Groups among other collectivities were the focus of the need for adaptation. In this new paradigm, the Bahai community now has clusters and study circles, institutes and direct teaching processes among other activities and collectivities to do the adapting. And adapting is not always simple and easy. It often beats the best of us. Failure, the inability to adapt, to alter, method and approach, habit and lifestyle, it must always be remembered, is one of our best teachers--perhaps our best. But we do not always learn from failure even when it brings fear as it often does. We are often fixed in our temperaments, our lifestyles, our personalities, our community group-styles and complexions, if you like.


Abdul-Baha informs us that the test comes again and again in more severe forms until we learn. One of these tests is the simple lack of growth, stasis, dealing with the same people, the same problems year after year until our spirits are numb and we want to escape. The inactive believer is one of these results and people on the enrolments lists who have no phone numbers, addresses or contact point of any form. There is always something on the plate of Bahais, some criticisms, some difficulties, that must be dealt with and answered from within and without the community itself. This is a reality of community life and it has been the case right back to the year dot in 1844 as well as in 1826 and in 1793 when Shaykh Ahmad left home in those precursor years that prepared the way for the Babis. And difficulties will be on our plates, so to speak, in the decades and centuries ahead.

This religion attaches much importance to freedom and personal initiative, as I have said above, and if there are some Bahais who do not want to take part in some activity, they are free to do so in the same way they are free to fast and to pray or not to fast or pray. Compulsion is in so many ways contrary to the very spirit of the Cause; penalties are not imposed on those who do not take part in various aspects of Bahai activity, however central that activity is to the development of the Cause. But personal grievances arise which are difficult for members of the community to forgive and forget. So much of our society is disillusioned and cynical and living example in community or in an individual form that counters the world's dark forces is no mean achievement. The work of this Cause has always involved imperfections in ourselves and others. And the struggle is ever-present.


The following brief essay draws a parallel between fishing and teaching the Cause.....Having been a fisherman for years, I’d like to comment on what drives a man to go fishing. First, fishermen are all different. I don’t really care if I catch a fish any more. But I do want to enjoy the experience. I fish for pleasure; if the fish are biting, well and good; if not, that’s okay too. I’d be the first to admit that I’m not that successful. If you define successful fishing in terms of how many fish are caught, I’d be a failure, at least for the last 50 years. I could tell you some whoppers about the old days when we caught lots of fish. I haven’t caught a fish in years. But I still go fishing every day. I find it a little hard to get going in the morning after all these years, but once I’m out and about I still get excited about the process of fishing.

My friends can’t really understand why I’m so excited about fishing. But I wear my enthusiasm softly; I go about my work quietly without a lot of song and dance; I carry my candle lightly; the flame, I trust, warms those with whom it comes in contact. I enjoy the bright sun much more than I used to; the cool breeze and the clouds in the sky I experience with much more intensity than when I was young and keen to catch fish. Fishing has become, over the years, the dominant passion of my life. But, as I say, I wear that passion lightly; I don’t put my heart on my slieve and talk to all my friends about my experience of fishing.

I could no more imagine not fishing than not breathing. But then, as I said, I see it as a process. It’s a very big thing this fishing. Some days are sunny. Why I’ve even found some years have been the most pleasant imaginable: dozens of nibbles, many big bites; some I’ve had to throw back; others I even caught, but they were stolen on the way home, or got eaten by the cat. Other days, months, even years it was hard yakka.

I moved to a sea-side town, and took an early retirement. I’ve been out on that sea for years now doing some big fishing. The crew I take is often untrained; the nights dark. It is often like a deluge. It is no lark fishing at sea. A ship and the faint-hearted are soon parted under these difficult conditions. This vulgar truth may seem uncouth! Fishing requires an ardent spirit. Sometimes the boat itself goes down. Many fishermen have died out on the open sea. I’ve seen it happen.

Others have got bored to death on the land waiting for some action. Still others seem to fish and fish but not learn. They do not attract any fish. In the end they give up the sport. They throw away their rod and give away their tackle. “Fishing is not for me”, they say. “You can have it”, they say. Courage, saith the Poet, is a bi-product of fishing: the source of courage is the promotion of the Word of God.(Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Wisdom) And you need it because the sea is often fearsome. The long, dark nights do not seem to go away even after the most ardent of prayers. You often feel as if you’ve paid too high a price for all this fishing, all this waiting. Not enough of a pay-off for many. There are many, indeed 1000s, of inactive fishermen. I must say, too, that I can’t blame them. As my mother used to say: “boy, most of life is waiting”. And was she right; little did I know back then as a child and adolescent with my expectations far too high and built for an inevitable disappointment.

But, I’ve always said, fishing is not about catching fish. If it was I’d have given up long ago. I would have stopped fishing, let me think, sometime in the late ‘70s. Back then, I think it was in ’79, They said the results were “discouragingly meagre.”(Ridvan, 1979). By then they’d been meagre in my life for 7 years after some heady days in the late 60s and early 70s. I find thinking of fishing as a process is very valuable: it involves life and death(when taken seriously) pleasure and pain, and the long wait for the salient Dove to bring the living twig. -Ron Price 5/12/’12.


The institute work “has significantly reinforced the long-term process by which a universal system of Baha’i education will take shape,” but for many believers the process, the effectiveness, the results, at the local level thusfar have been very small, inconspicuous and problem creating--rather than problem solving. The trials encountered seem to be, as they have been for more than a century and a half, necessary and inevitable ones “that refine endeavour and purify motivation so as to render those who would take part worthy of so great a trust.” Not getting too upset over the many unfortunate and often superficial things which occur in so many aspects of our Bahai lives as individuals and as communities is as essential as oxygen is in the air, if we are to breath easily and continue to work and to serve. Feeling discouraged and anxious are experiences that are part of our lives, even lives that are fundamentally assured and happy ones. The standards by which we measure this Cause are not to be found in the behaviour of others and often, as we all know, some of our keenest tests arise out of our relationships with the Bahai community itself.

Beyond and beneath all this, of course, is the necessity for each believer to strive to become a more effective teacher. As the International Teaching Centre pointed out, if we are not meeting people to teach, all of the plans, campaigns and reflection meetings aimed at finding ways to share the Divine Message with the waiting masses are to no avail. To put this another way, “no amount of organization can solve inner problems or produce or prevent victory or failure at a crucial moment.” As Shoghi Effendi wrote during the height of WW2: “Ultimately all the battle of life is within the individual.” This battle, however private and personal, however individually focussed and centred on the inner life, also involves an individual alignment or conjoining of motives and objectives with those of the larger society, with action and involvement with others. The achievements are often, if not mostly--and I can not emphasize this enough--to be attained little by little and day by day. They are the work of a lifetime and, as long as this new paradigm is part of our lives, this paradigm provides yet another context within which these achievements can find expression. I hasten to add that this process will in all likelihood take place even unto our life in the world hereafter when the paradigm shift of paradigm shifts comes part of our experience in the land of light the journey continues.


If this new culture of change with its concomitant emphasis on entry by troops was all about numbers, then Douglas Martin would never have said that the “maturation of the U.S. Baha’i community since the 1960s has been breathtaking;” nor would Peter Khan express his concern that, when he hears people talk about entry by troops, he “internally cringes.” The Plans, Dr. Khan went on to say, are about “advancing the process of entry by troops.” It is simply unrealistic in many places to expect a large increase in numbers or even a small increase in the short term. It should not surprise us that all the Central Figures of this Faith have also made the same kind of remarks as have Their legitimate successors, those who represent the institutionalized form of the charismatic authority at the centre of this new world Faith. The key word is “process” not “troops” and not “entry.” I draw this to the attention of readers here for the second or third time in this book because of its fundamental importance to this discussion. The recent developments in the last year or two, involving as they do, the distinction between direct and indirect teaching, are often seen as new. Of course, in some ways, they are, but in other ways they are distinctions that have been around for decades. Sometimes they result in new programs with promising results and sometimes they dont. They offer to the believers yet more opportunities to engage in teaching activities, more options, various types of teaching campaigns and activities with results that will be seen in the fullness of time, if not tomorrow and if not in ones own community the day after.

I would add that this new paradigm of the last two decades is about membership, but membership seen in a different light than it has been in the lives of those who have joined the Cause in the first six decades of the teaching Plans(1936-1996). Although there is much discussion about entry by troops and direct teaching in many ways numbers are a secondary issue. The language of this paradigm is not about us and them; it is not quintessentially about enrolments, conversion and a range of other words and terms that have preoccupied the Baha’i community, that have focused its energies and its goals, on numbers---a critical but necessary focus and preoccupation of the first six decades of those plans and, indeed, the three-quarters of a century before(1863-1937)the formal implementation of Abdul-Baha's Plan in 1937. Douglas Martin made this point in the early 1990s before this new paradigm came into effect. He emphasized in a published talk that the Bahá’í community must make a heroic effort to shed much of the baggage of the past. If tests and difficulties beset the Baha’i community in these early stages of the implementation of this paradigm then “such tests are the surest evidences of that process of maturation.” Such tests are the inevitable precursors to a broadening and a widening of the very processes in which this community is engaged. My work on the internet has been a broadening and a widening of contact with others. I engage with people all over the world in direct discussions about the Cause for more than I do in this town in Tasmania and far more than I have in any other of the 24 towns where I have resided.


I have often thought that the work of the sociologist, Max Weber, in his study of the sociology of religion provides a helpful context for this new emphasis to which Douglas Martin alludes. Weber, one of the last two century's major two or three sociologists, emphasizes how world religions arise by a coming together of a secular ethic and a religious ethic. The necessity for one world, a unified and federated planet, places the Bahai Faith and its teachings in a central place in the coming decades and this new paradigm and the changes and chances that will take place within it in the coming years, it seems to me, are part of the preparedness of the Bahai community for this inevitable expansion however slow it is may be in many places--like the place I live in here in Tasmania and the places I have lived in most of my Bahai life. As we work through this major shift, this new paradigm, though, it is important that we keep before us, as I indicated above, a number of fundamentals. The Guardian put some of these fundamentals in context right at the start of his ministry in 1924 in an ‘oft quoted passage:

"Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organised campaign of teaching -- no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character -- not even by the staunchness of our faith nor the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and skeptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahaullah."

Some of that complexity I referred to above, in light of this quotation, reduces to a "living the life" answer to the questions and issues. This new culture of learning “implies that Baha’is must not only learn from their Scriptures and from the collective wisdom of the the study circles, but they must also learn from their own experiences.” More recently, Momen says he sees “the community as an aid to the individual’s personal mystical progress.” This, of course, is hardly new, although Jack MacLean in his interesting critique of some of Momen’s ideas emphasizes that the basic thrust of Momen’s comments “is to make a major shift from the individual to the community.” As the Bahai community travels through the many stages of this paradigm shift it must continue as it has tried to do for decades--and not always with success--to avoid the tendency to divide into two antagonistic groups: those who blindly follow and to the letter the teachings and those who question and doubt everything. These two extrems should be avoided.(UHJ, Letter, 1980).


Another context for an analysis of this complexity that I would like to include here because of the perspective it offers to both the teaching process and, indeed, much that has been my life and my efforts to promote the Cause. The quotation comes from God Passes By. Shoghi Effendi writes that the process whereby the unsuspected benefits of the Cause "were to be manifested to the eyes of men was slow, painfully slow, and was characterized, as indeed the history of His Faith from its inception to the present day demonstrates, by a number of crises which at times threatened to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered."(GPB, p.111). Frequently in my years as a Bahai and also in my personal and professional life crises have arisen which threatened to arrest whatever unfoldment had occurred in my life or in the life of the Cause. Hopes have been blasted many times but still, as Roger White puts it so well in his poem "Notes On Erosion," hope "renews itself under the cool metallic stars, springs up intractably like the p esky weed....yields its head but not its root." "Neglect," he emphasizes, fosters, dismays and fertilizes "its thrusting growth." Indeed, it "insinuates itself through the sockets of despair's bleached skull." I quote the poet Roger White because his poems so often, as they do here, express my Bahai experience so essentially--far better than an outline of what I have actually experienced, what is normally placed in a memoir and what I have written in my analysis of this paradigm shift.



About twelve months, perhaps even less, before completing the last of His books, Memorials of the Faithful, ‘Abdu’l-Baha began His Tablets of the Divine Plan, the foundation statement for all the future teaching Plans and the framework of action within which the Baha’i community could put into practice all the good advice He had given it in His Memorials of the Faithful among His many other writings. Like The Will and Testament, though, it may take a century or more to grasp the implications of this surprisingly subtle and, deceptively simple, book and, indeed, the vast corpus of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s writings. These are the earliest stages of community building, in fact just two decades of experience, with clusters and core activities, with study circles and devotional meetings, with children’s and junior youth classes and deepenings, with external affairs and a range of other departments and agencies of this efflorescing Cause. Getting a handle on Bahaullah's teachings, those of His Son and Their legitimate successors, is the basis for making our own personal deepening in the writings a primary, if not the primary, focus of our lives.

If, in the end, personal commitment and deepening, a focus on the inner life does not take place, the group experience loses its relevance. It should also be emphasized, indeed it hardly needs saying, that however deepened one soul is--for a community of growth to result many other factors, aspects of community building, need to be in place. If growth is going to result in our communities with their novices and their veterans; if the patterns of growth from the first century of the Formative Age and the Heroic Age before that, are to be replicated in our time, in the epochs ahead that are the backdrop for this paradigm, only time and those mysterious dispensations of a Watchful Providence will unveil what are growth's secrets. We who are called upon to bring about this growth will do what several generations of Bahais have already done in the last 17 decades. We need only read the history of this Cause to see what they did: the active and the inactive, the deepened and the uninformed, the several dualities we have lived with so long and which have begun to fall away in this new paradigm.

History is not predictive in many ways; it is not a science. But the Bahai view of history is, at a minimum, religious. It is also about providential control, but in quite a different sense in its workings than in its seemingly and highly arbitary form found in either Christianity or Islam. The Bahai view of history is teleological, that is: it is under the complete control of God, under providential intervention within the processes of historical evolution. It is not a fortuitous composition and arrangement. There is no contemptus mundi, no historical pessimism. The Bahai philosophy of history has as its cornerstone a belief in progress through providential control of the historical process. The Bahai view of the future is also prophetic and speculative, visionary and utopian. This is the wider context of mystery and wonder, of promise and threat, that lies as a backdrop for the new Bahai culture. From speculative and utopian pursuits we must be satisfied with speculative and utopian benefits. (See Nash, The Pheonix and the Ashes, 1984, p.89)


As I look back over these six decades of pioneering and travel-teaching, I contemplate writing more biographies as I had already done following the model that 'Abdu'l-Bahá has set before me in that seminal literary work that I refer to here. For a period of twenty-five years, from 1981 to 2005, I wrote some two dozen biographies. They are found in Section IV of my autobiography entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, the section marked 'biographies.' In 1981 I had taken my first excursions into writing biography. Those excursions became part of, first, The History of the Baha’i Faith in Tasmania: 1924-80 and; second, The History of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997. The short biographies I had written in the 1980s and 1990s are, for the most part, now in the archives of the Bahai Council of Tasmania and the NT. Some of these short sketches of human personality are in a file in my study, a file which has increased in size since it was first created in the early 1990s. Some of my sketches are on the internet at But they will not be included in my autobiography which I am posting on the internet since the people are, for the most part, still living, and confidentiality is an issue. The notes I have collected on the subject of biography, which I began to collect seventeen years ago in 1993, have begun to assume a far greater extent, a wider ambit than was initially planned due to the plentiful resources available on the Internet and my own general and increased interest in the subject. My current plans are to write one major biographical work with material in much greater depth of expression than I have done thusfar. This biography will come from a more fertile base than I have been able to discover in my first, my sketchy,attempts in the 1980s and the 1990s.

Whatever biographies I write, they will be part of Section IV of my larger autobiographical work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs. My biography file/s have developed into a more substantial resource in recent years, as I have indicated above, and a brief examination of the table of contents of these files will show the wide range of relevant sub-topics. This biographical interest provides some balance, although I must confess very little so far, to counter all the autobiographical material I have collected in other files. It will, perhaps, counter any impression of my narcissistic tendencies which critics may be inclined to dwell upon. The material on biography that I have collected will prove useful, or so I hope, in my efforts to write some mini-biographies in the years ahead as part of Section IV of my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Most of the people whose lives I have written about were pioneers. In the decades ahead in the context of this new paradigm in which, by 2006, there were still 10,000 of the 16,000 clusters in the world unopened, the Bahai frontier, the field of a necessary and inevitable pioneering activity was still immense.

More than half of the globe, as measured in cluster-geography, was still unopened. That part of the planet held great promise; it was a garden of potential, a space with infinite resources and future plans. In the decades ahead in this new paradigm this great landmass and its peoples would be part of an increasingly discrete and multicultural Bahai international identity. The Bahai pioneering world, the physical, locateable frontier place across the planet, the imaginative space that would help to rhetorically and conceptually structure Bahai internationalism would be one of the continuing themes and topics for discussion in this new context of learning and growth--and in my own sphere if literary work as part of my individual initiative, my own contribution to the growth, the extension, of this Cause to every corner of the planet.

Pioneering will be in this new Bahai culture what it has already been for decades in the Bahai community, an anchoring theme. It was a theme not unlike the one used by John F. Kennedy when he spoke of the “New Frontier” during his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination in 1960: "We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier – the frontier of the 1960s – a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils – a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. . .The new Frontier is here whether we seek it or not. Beyond are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus which demand invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking you to be pioneers on the New Frontier." President Ronald Reagan drawing on the same theme in 1982 proclaimed at an Independence Day celebration that the “conquest of new frontiers is a crucial part of the American national character.”

It was not by accident that Abdul-Bahas Tablets of the Divine Plan were addressed to the North American Bahais. Pioneering was a theme which, as I write these words in 2010, has been in use in the American Bahai community since the mid-1930s, if not as far back as the 1890s. It is a theme which could be said to have helped launch one of the greatest of the previous paradigm shifts,a shift associated with the launching of the first formal teaching Plan in 1936. I leave this theme to readers to investigate as their interest in Bahai history is developed in the decades ahead.

There are vast continents, frontiers of pioneering, awaiting the Bahai community in thought patterns,in discovery, in social and economic activity, in human relations and the interpersonal domain, potentially more prolific in the release of human potential than ever before. The concept of the pioneer and the frontier is so versatile and can be so easily invoked to underpin spiritual and community, economic and social, calls to action and to stimulate those who are allegedly inactive, whatever their temperament. The concept of the pioneer I'm sure will be preserved and extended in the decades ahead. “Frontiers breed frontiers,” as Archer Butler Hulbert wrote in Frontiers: The Genius of American Nationality back in 1929. The frontier spirit is alive and well, Hulbert wrote, as Americans continued to pioneer “intellectual, social, and political” frontiers before the term pioneer even became common coinage in the 1930s in the Bahai community. And this process has really only begun in the last three-quarters of a century(1936-2015) both in the wider culture and in the Bahai community. When Abdul-Baha returned home from His own travel-teaching in 1914, He had prepared the Bahá'í world for its own travel-teaching. There has now been 100 years of this form of Bahá'í activity on the planet. Within this new paradigm pioneers and travel teachers will take this Faith to every cluster on the face of the earth; I have little doubt.

The Bahai community, both the lives within it and all of their accompanying ideals does not occur either naturally or by accident. It is framed by design when a writer like myself goes to put its story on paper with description and analysis. An international organization like the Bahai Faith requires some sense of congruence between its international system and the social and cultural structures which are part of it--if the account of its internal life and external relationships is to hang together. If an international movement is to exist an internationalist sentiment is required. Such a sentiment exists when a feeling of anger is aroused by the violation of internationalist principles, or when a feeling of satisfaction is aroused by their fulfillment.

To put this concept in terms used by the social critic Raymond William’s, an international organization requires certain hegemonic figures. In western history the knight and the cowboy were such figures. In the international Bahai community the pioneer is such a hegemonic cultural figure. The pioneer provides the Bahai community with an organizational force, a person who connects otherwise separated and even disparate meanings and meetings, values and practices. The knight, the cowboy and the pioneer are archetypes. The pioneer evokes an image of what the international Bahai community should be. The term appeals to disparate parts of the community, parts that are required if the Bahai community is to extend itself to every section of the globe in the decades ahead.

The stories of the knights were essential to defining England as a nation in the late middle ages. Painted as romantic purveyors of right, upholding chivalric ideals, and commencing on exciting, colorful quests, the knights appealed to all: aristocrat, merchant, and peasant alike. The timing of the overwhelming popularity of the knights’ tales strongly suggests that these tales, and more specifically, the knights depicted in them, provided England with a central icon around which to establish identity as a nation. The pioneer in the last eight decades and even more so in the next several decades has been, is and will be essential in propelling the Bahai community into the international arena so that every cluster on earth is inhabited by Bahais.

North Americans, the recipients of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, have, it seems to me, a continuing urge to chart new paths and explore the unknown. That instinct drove Lewis and Clark and a host of other explorers to press across the uncharted continent and into the extremities of its Arctic wastes and "sustained twelve Americans as they walked on the moon."(James Beggs, NASA Administrator, 23 June 1982) From the voyages of Columbus, to the Oregon Trail,to the multitude of explorers all across the North American continent, to the journey to the Moon itself and, for the Bahai community, more than a century of pioneering, history proves that Americans have never lost by pressing the limits of their frontiers.(See: George Bush, 20 July 1989, in Catherine Gouge, "The Great Storefront of American Nationalism: Narratives of Mars and the Outerspatial Frontier," Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Fall 2002, Volume 1, Issue 2

A deep-space mission to Mars is a focus for the new century. It's like westward expansion. The effort and journey will spark creativity and imagination. So wrote Dr. Jon Bowersox, consultant for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, 14 February 2000. For the Bahai community, both in North America and throughout the more than 200 countries and independent territories throughout the world, a focus for the 21st century is to build Bahai communities in all the 16,000 clusters on the planet. The task is immense and "throughout the coming centuries and cycles many harvests will be gathered.(TDP, 1977, p.6)

In early 2015, with nearly 80% of the current Plan completed, the House of Justice had already summarized the present task of the Bahá'í community as follows: "their task is to identify what is required for progress to occur—the nascent capacity that must be nurtured, the new skill that must be acquired, the initiators of a fledgling effort who must be accompanied, the space for reflection that must be cultivated, the collective endeavour that must be coordinated—and then find creative ways in which the necessary time and resources can be made available to achieve it.

"The frontier that was opened by the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492, over 500 years ago, is now closed," astronautical engineer Robert Zubrin has argued. "If the era of Western humanist society," Zubrin went on to write, "is not to be seen by future historians as some kind of transitory golden age, a brief shining moment in an otherwise endless chronicle of human misery, then a new frontier must be opened. Humanity needs Mars. An open frontier on Mars will allow for the preservation of cultural diversity and will create a strong driver for technological progress(Robert Zubrin, Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1999. p.123). For the Bahai community in this new paradigm the equivalent of this frontier of Mars, indeed the many frontiers in our universe in the sciences: biological, physical and social, is the new culture of learning and growth and its accompanying pioneering and travel-teaching venture in the decades and perhaps centuries to come.

Of course, Mars is not, in fact, like the American frontier; nor is the American frontier like the Bahai pioneering experience. Mars is 150 million miles away; it's atmosphere is 7 milli-bars of CO2 so that once you arrive there you would die instantly on the surface. It doesn't have any of the qualities that the American frontier had, that is, of individuals deciding, say, in the Old World of Europe or the eastern states: "I'm fed up here. I'm going to sell everything that I own. I'm going to jump on a boat. I'm going to be a poor person in America because this will be better than what I had before." This is the quality of the frontier that does not exist on Mars. The Bahai pioneer is also not your frontierman or cowboy. Each Bahai pioneer has his or her own story. My narrative entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs is but one of these stories.

It is impossibile to fit Mars into paradigms imported from Earth. It is equally impossible to use the wild west analogy. There are no really useful historical analogies and parallels for the Bahai diaspora. Such historical or futuristic comparisons may have some value in helping pioneers take moral responsibility for the complex changes—social as well as biospheric—initiated by terraformation and community building. Pioneers must be more humble about their place in history, must accept responsibility for their actions and yet resist the impulse to stake too large a claim for themselves in history books, must resist the sense of triumphalism--to use a word that has become more current, more popular, in recent years.

One recent article "Can We Go to Mars without Going Crazy?" in the May 2001 issue of Discover magazine argues that "designing and building a sophisticated spacecraft capable of getting to Mars is just the beginning. This is also true of the Bahai pioneer. The society, the community, he is involved in building is just at its beginning. The ultimate challenge NASA faces may be building a tiny computer that can psychoanalyze astronauts and keep them from going nuts.(Weed, 38). The ultimate challenge the Bahai faces is the building of a community that is part of the new Bahai paradigm of learning and growth. The whole question of getting all that we want in life, part of the pioneir-frontier drive is simply unrealizable. The desire to realize one's hopes in the frontier as a pioneer can be both deconstructive and self-destructive. It is not a place of guarantees.

There is often a lean provision for the devotion the Bahai brings to the challenge. Like the experience of Noah, there are often weeks and months of never-ending dark. The challenge is not for the timid, the vainly pious, the pusillanimous of spirit, the overwrought. The voyage is a long one with unseasonable rains and a long wait for the salient dove to bring the living twig.(White, Pebbles, p.71). The investment of the Bahai in the promise of the pioneering journey on the frontier to make him a whole and powerful citizen often will simply ensure that he remains split and inadequate. It's a basic condition of Bahai life to have ones identity and sense of self challenged to the hilt. When a Bahai buys into an a-historical fantasy, a view of Bahai life that is not imbued with true understanding of the pioneering-frontier life, he or she may become somewhat pathetic hoping to undergo an experience from which, due to some deliberately built-in defect, he will remain excluded. Everyone is called but few are chosen. Forgetting and forgiving the harsh words that are part and parcel of community experience is not something everyone can do. Being selfless is a goal, and a reality only partially attained in our lives.

I have always seen the Bahai community as a pioneering society. It is a community in which the script has been written and the parts are assigned by its Central Figures and legitimate institutional successors. But it's also an improvisational theater where people can write their own parts, and in which anyone can play a useful part, whether conceived by someone else or by themselves. So, it's a very liberating thing and I think that's what the Bahai community will create in the decades ahead in cluster after cluster. It is a very progressive branch of international, the global, human culture. The highly diversified Bahai community will produce conventions that will be very useful as the international community struggles with the challenges ahead. These conventions and the individual and community inventions, the result of Bahai individual and community ingenuity, will be useful in community after community across the planet. The Bahai community will be an example of a society that places a high value on each and every person because each and every person is precious. But do not expect the process to be easy; do not expect the life to be lived a joy-ride. If you participate to any significant extent beyond being a passive spectator, it will require all you have. In the end, as that founder of psychology William James once wrote: the question will be "to what extent can I give the all that is my life?" What is the measure of your sacrifice of self? Each of us has his or her own limits except for a small handful, a very precious few. Perhaps it is these few who are the movers and shakers of true civilization?!*

From the perspective of those pioneering in to populate the various sized clusters on the planet, prospective frontier places are often spaces of unfulfilled hopes and dreams, like the frontiers in the wild west they are often fantasy spaces of unlimited potential but a potential not to be realized in the first years of pioneering or even the years after much effort has been expended. It is this potential which those who encourage the pioneers, the Bahai institutional marketers of Bahai pioneering-frontier experience, the proponents of frontier community development often exploit to secure the participation of the community.

The Review Office of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States has given me permission to post this work at internet sites like BLO. This work is a multi-genred opus and includes: letters, narrative, poetry, prose-poetry and conceptual material from the social sciences and humanities. The three Parts of this work, of which this is the last here at BLO, are just a start to a many-volumed work, a work that can only be found on the internet and only in part. One day this vast memoir may appear in a hard or soft cover set of volumes, but I am not holding my breath waiting. Indeed, if this work ever does appear on book shelves I shall be long gone into a world where man speaks no more, at least not in the same way he speaks here.

Readers will come to understand the meaning of this broad play of my mind, this reminiscent fieldwork on myself, this way of pointing to who I am, to this self-creation, the more they read the material in this cornucopia. My memory browses and grazes at will stringing apparently dispersed and disordered parts into what is hopefully a fine thread of many colours. It is not the coat of many colours of the long lost Joseph but rather a rough-tough coat with a fine and tender lining. The processes of age have worn down that lining exposing my inner being to all sorts of unanticipated developments that will in the end bring about my demise.

The storms of these epochs have reqired of me a good strong coat to weather the tempest of the times. As I contemplate the past, my past, and write I lose myself under the whole pressure of the spring of my memory proceeding from my most recent revisitings and their associated recognitions. If all goes well I make of the revisiting a veritable hymn of the wonder of it all as the past floods in with its particles of history, with its scrapings of gold dust, of lead and base metals, with its wayward fragments and their meditative extrapolations. I feel a little like the American essayist Joseph Epstein who wrote that "if one wants to be a writer, he must first make himself incompetent in everything else." I strive not to be that bungling in the majority of my pursuits but, as I progress through these middle years(65-75) of late adulthood, the years 60 to 80 as the human development psychologists call these years in the lifespan, I have tried to limit my various pursuits however competent or bungling I may be in their execution in order to focus on my writing. I find in writing autobiography, poetry or essays, the three major genres of my work, that material for my writing can come from all over the place. For this reason readers may find this memoir not the smooth running course they expected at the start.

So much of my life as a Baha’i has been a life-in-community and this paradigm shift is intended to assist in the process of community building, a process that the House of Justice informed us has only just begun at the outset of this new paradigm shift in the mid-1990s. It seemed to me only appropriate that I would give a few words on the subject of Bahai life in community to the brilliant tactician 'Abdu'l-Bahá who survived one of the most difficult communities and advised us on how to live in difficult communities in our time. Our own communities have been, are and will be challenges for us to live in. For this reason 'Abdu'l-Bahás words, written less than six years before He passed away, in Memorials of the Faithful will be timely.

I can not deal with this relevance in sufficient detail to adequately explore the implications of this book which often gets lost in the avalanche of resources that have become available in the Baha’i community in the last three decades. Suffice it to say: the 77 individuals in this collection of mini-biographical sketches give us every conceivable human type—the sort of diversity which is our life in Baha’i communities and which will be even more so in the years to come within this new paradigm. Abdul-Baha recognizes and describes the infinite variety of types in the new Bahai community he lived in during the years, 1863 to 1915, when He wrote His book. He saw this variety as a delightful thing, a thing to accept, to acquiesce in it and enjoy it. That is our challenge as it was His. For enjoying this diversity and dealing with it effectively in Bahai community life is no easy thing. I have been trying to deal with it in my personal and community life sometimes successfully and sometimes with immaturity, with attachments, sometimes with a type of love that has blindly inclined me to error; and sometimes with dislikes and antipathies which have repelled me away from the truth.

These personal inadequacies, of course, are what one could call colloquially: "the same-old" and "the same old." Or to draw on a French expression: "the more things change the more they stay the same." These personal and community deficiencies are often discussed in my memoir for they are part and parcel of my life but I rarely talk about them and, in the process, name individuals; I don't discuss the difficult people in my life in my autobiography in personal terms; I rarely mention the sources of internal dissension, the names of people who caused me or the community hardship and tribulation. In this sense my autobiography is quite unlike many of those in the modern marketplace which explore individual failings of friends and family to the nth degree. I see such exposure of individuals as a type of gossip and to be avoided like the plague. What is true in writing is also true, a fortiori, in everyday relationships in community life.

While we all go about working out how we will participate in the life of this new paradigm, Abdu'l-Bahás 77 biographies are useful to reread. Abdul-Baha had to deal with some very difficult people as well as enjoy the company of some wonderful souls. Bahaullah, Himself, often responded to major disputes by telling the parties to work it out th.emselves or by declining to comment on the dispute. For you and I this is often the best recourse as well. Bahaullah, it seems to me as I look back at the first three decades of Bahai history (1862/3-1892/3) in what could be seen as the first paradigmatic expression of Bahai community life, exercised what one might call moral suasion. He attempted to persuade; sometimes He issued rather stern counsels or reproaches. But his authority was often, and in the main, moral. His advice and counsel was often ignored more often than we might like to admit. There was a core of very devoted and sincere Bahais, of course, who engaged in an almost court-like etiquette around Bahaullah. But Bahaullah had to deal with the rude, the insolent, the unbalanced, the petty squabblers, the independent of mind, indeed, some very difficult people as did Abdul-l-Baha after Him. One forgets that most Bahais in that first half century, say, 1863 to 1913, were very lightly socialized to Bahai values. As one writer put it with some insight, Bahaullah had more authority among Bahais than many a mujtahid, but it was authority and not power--and it probably worked practically in many of the same ways--persuasion, tacking with the wind, encouraging people to get along.

My main point here, in referring to this first half century of Bahai history and the lives of both Bahaullah and His Son, is that these Central Figures of our Faith often had the kinds of problems we already have and will have within this new paradigm. People in community are the greatest drama in history and in our lives and this drama contains joy and sorrow, tragedy and success, victory and loss. Bahai history is, as John Hatcher has described so well, a metaphor for our own time, our own experience, our own lives, and not some factual and dry details that happened long ago. It throws light on to our paradigm and we are going to need it as we travel along that paradgim's road.

As we go about living and working, teaching and consolidating, serving and building communities in this new Bahai paradigm, we need to be conscious of avoiding what is sometimes called a present-participle existence(drinking, eating, sailing, having fun) and the devastating consequence of the perpetual bombardment of the messages of consumer capitalism. The result is often that many of our memories and ideas are not our own. The result too is that the society we are trying to construct is often not that partnership of the living, the dead and those yet to be born. Rembembering Bahai history, knowing what went before is crucial to building and thinking, feeling and understanding in the present. There is a struggle involved in remembering, in knowing, what happened from 1844 to 1996 and, if one include's Nabil's Narrative, what happened back to the 18th century. If the struggle to remember against forgetting or, worse, not knowing, is won the result will be an achievement of the continuity in which individual and cultural identity is founded. This identity will be part and parcel of the new Bahai culture without which will often be a destruction,a vacuity of thought, of feeling, of tradition and of spirit.


It should be obvious to readers by now that a strong thread of my theme in this analysis of the new paradigm and my experience of it is an emphasis on its continuities with the past; this new paradigm, this new shift, has not been created ex nihilo. It does not in the least imply that we disregard the century and a half of divine guidance which preceded these latest in the long series of fate-laden days. Individual creativeness, collective creativeness, the acquisition of consultation skills, an emphasis on a culture of learning and of growth do not delimit one jot or one tittle, as we used to say, an emphasis on the individual struggle with what you might call the existential realities of life. Life tests which still come our way will always remain opportunistic situations with potential for profound spiritual and moral development and, one might add, opportunities for loss, for failure and disappointment. For all is not about winning and success. Shoghi Effendi pointed the believers time and again toward these quintessential spiritual realities with his very practical and down-to-earth exegesis.

"A persistent and strenuous warfare” indeed, as one writer put it, a personal jihad, is something we all must wage against our “instincts and natural inclinations.” We must engage in a heroic self-sacrifice in subordinating our “own likings to the imperative needs of the Cause of God.” Suffering, matched with endurance are qualifiers of greatness whether one reads Ruhi books, participates in institutes or fasts--or not. The gift of acceptance seems to be a gift not given to all. The acceptance of life and its difficulties is something all of us only accomplish in part. It is one of the many gifts at the table of bounty. We each seem to be given greater and lesser gifts and radiant acquiescence is one of those rarer gifts. If this new paradigm is helpful in finding souls on the planet who exemplify such gifts--and I have no doubt that it will--even if not in my own community or many others, then it will have instilled fresh vitality into this world Faith.

Shoghi Effendi did not waste words on sheer argument, on hairsplittings and disputes, on what is often called casuistry or quibbling, on idle and endless discussions of the superfluous, but emphasized, rather, the writing and discussion of high thoughts which are “the dynamic power in the arteries of life...the very soul of the world.” He knew only too well that the inner struggle we all face is the ultimate battle in life and is not a popular sport to engage in at the best of times. It often requires, as I mentioned above, “the discipline of waging a mental jihad,” writes Jack MacLean, a jihad against illusions that imbed themselves inside the souls of men and often take possession of their very lives, what Baha’u’llah calls idle fancies and vain imaginings, insatiable appetites and delusions which, by their very nature, cannot satisfy nor appease the hunger, cannot fulfil their tacit and often not-so-tacit demands of the ego and its appetitive nature. In the world of jihads as in the world of battles, many are lost--and in the case of the kind of jihads that MacLean refers to: they are not engaged in at all. They are just too hard for the average person and as I survey my own life that incapacity includes me a great deal of the time if I am honest with myself.

It seems to me, in retrospect, that what are sometimes called the interregnum years, the years between the passing of Shoghi Effendi and the election of the Universal House of Justice, were themselves part of a wide paradigm shift, a shift that occurred during the two decades, 1952/3 to 1973/4, in the international Bahai community. Beginning with the Holy Year 1952/3 and the Ten Year Crusade and lasting to the end of the first plan of the House of Justice in 1974, this new world religion was transformed from a global community of about 200 thousand, 90 percent of whom lived in Iran, to over one million in some 120 countries. This five-fold increase in numbers was without doubt one of a number of contributing factors to that paradigm shift, not the least of which was the transition to the fully institutionalized charisma in a globally and democratically elected, a fully legitimated body at the apex of Bahai administration.

It is not my intention here to describe in any detail or make any general comments on the above paradigm shift as I have done in relation to the shift that took place in the 1920s and 1930s, although the first two decades of my Bahai experience took place in these two decades, two decades which saw a transformation in my own life from the age of 9 to the age of 29, the years of late childhood, adolescence and the first decade of early adulthood. The focus I want to put under the microscope briefly is not that period of time but this most recent shift: 1996 to 2015 and beyond into future phases, stages, episodes and epochs as this new paradigm assumes a much more detailed, institutionalized and comprehensive system of learning and growth for many more millions of people in the decades ahead at this climacteric in history.

I would like to include here a quotation on the matter of authority within the entire set of complex forms on the elected and appointed side of Bahai institutions. Authority resides only in the duly elected institutions. these are the Rulers of the Cause. "The authority to direct the affairs of the Faith locally, nationally and internationally, is divinely conferred on elected institutions. However, the power to accomplish the tasks of the community resides primarily in the mass of the believers. The authority of the institutions is an irrevocable necessity for the progress of humanity; its exercise is an art to be mastered. The power of action in the believers is unlocked at the level of individual initiative and surges at the level of collective volition."(Compilations, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá'í Communities)


In the middle of the then Seven Year Plan from 1979 to 1986, the signs of the crystallization of a public image of the Cause, uninformed but friendly, were becoming evident and the emergence of the Cause from obscurity was becoming more apparent. In my own life I was, at last, emerging from my bipolar disorder with a medication that would take me to new levels of healing, with periodic alterations of medication and concomitant life-styles, for the rest of my life or so it seemed even as I write these words nearly thirty years later. The “early signs of a crystallization of a public image,” in those 1980s were subjected to this fundamental, this paradigmatic, shift just at the time when the Baha’i Faith was emerging from an obscurity in which it had been enshrouded for a century and a half. Of course, the Bahai Faith, being the global religion that it is with communities in some 200 countries and independent territories, did not enjoy this public image everywhere to the same degree and everywhere in the same context. Indeed, this question of public image is far too complex to deal with in this limited space as the emergence of my own life from the quagmire of bipolar disorder, job loss and marital frustrations in which I found myself in the late 1970s. I deal with issues of this nature spread over the 2500 pages of my life-story. I make no attempt to deal with these issues here for they would waylay my themes and particularly my focus on this new culture, this new paradigm.

Still, I would argue that if I could come back in one hundred years, say in 2108, and examine the quarter-century, the years 1983-2008, it would be plainly apparent that the first global public image of the Cause was given its initial crystallization in this twenty-five year period, a period which also saw “the very beginning of the process of community building,” a series of remarkable and dazzling achievements, the awesome tapestry of beauty spreading over the mountainside of God’s Holy Mountain and a stage in an immense historical and institutional process that entered a critical phase in its efforts to canalize the forces of a new civilization. And when the roll is called up yonder and I look back over my own life, these same 25 years, will be seen as a quarter-century in which my own life was transformed, recreated and redefined--leaving me sometimes in a state of ecstasy and at other times in a despair from which I often hoped I could escape from by death. Sadly or not-so-sadly I lacked the courage to end it all and always lived to see another day patched up with medications to give me the partial illusion of a spiritually-based life. But more on this later.

In 1983, the governing body at the apex of the Administrative Order of this Faith, the Universal House of Justice, occupied its permanent seat in an imposing marble building faced with 57 Corinthian columns at the top of an arc-shaped path. The final two buildings, built on either side of the Seat of the House of Justice, were completed in 2000: the Centre for the Study of the Texts and the International Teaching Centre Building. I could expatiate on the many other sources of this early crystallization of a public image in addition to this complex of buildings and gardens on Mt. Carmel. For example, the two new houses of worship, one in Apia in Western Samoa and the other in New Delhi in India, completed in 1984 and 1986 respectively, as well as the vast increase in literature that became available to seekers and to the many interest groups which increasingly dotted the landscape of society helped establish this public image and helped the Bahá’í community at the same time in the creation of a collective identity. In the same way I could expatiate here on the developments in my own life: in writing, in my career, in my family and marital life, in my Bahai community life-and I do as this narrative memoir unfolds in all its labyrinthine complexity.

One central part of this image, this identity, largely below the surface of popular culture where most people spend the vast majority of their time and where much that constitutes public images is born and dies, is the extensive literary productions and publications that have emanated from the Baha’i World Centre. As well as the several important messages, letters and books that have been produced by this institutional trustee of Baha’u’llah’s global undertaking at the apex of the Baha’i Administrative Order: The Promise of World Peace(1985); Baha’u’llah(1992); The Prosperity of Mankind(1995); Century of Light(2001); Letter to the World’s Religious Leaders(2002); One Common Faith(2005), a multitude of statements were published as a result of the work of the Baha’i International Community which focus “on the promotion of a universal standard for human rights, the advancement of women, and the promotion of just and equitable means of global prosperity.”

This latter category, largely subliminal even amongst most of the Baha’is due to the massive increase in print resources especially in the last twenty-five years, but a crucial aspect of the Baha’i public image nevertheless, an image confined to a coterie but spreading out across the planet in many layers of significance and meaning with the infinite number of publics, was accompanied by other manifestations of a public image which I won’t dwell on here, for that is not the purpose of this paper. The burgeoning quantity of literature that has become available in this quarter-century, 1984-2009, has been paradoxically and ironically a contributing factor to both a deepening and clarity of understanding on the one hand and an obscurity and complexity on the other that has made the discussion of many issues fraught with difficulty. That is one of the areas, the motivations, that has given rise to my writing this paper, this extended analysis of this new paradigm of culture and of growth in the Bahai community. And so, too, has the massive quantity of my own writing emerged in this 25 year period but readers can find this topic covered in great detail over these 2500 pages.


Part 1:

In many basic ways the institute process with its study circles and Ruhi materials, with its devotional meetings and childrens and junior youth classes, with its operation in clusters and LSAs and with several other Bahai activities, institutions and processes that have come into a more integrated focus in the last 18 years--are each and all ways and means for all of us to work together in these earliest phases of community building, to learn together and grow spiritually and numerically. This new culture of learning and growth, this new paradigm of action is more than deepening although, like some of the deepening activities that all Bahá’ís are familiar with, it is a decentralized system of locally based group learning. There is no need for me to describe this institute process in detail. It is not my intention in this book for this kind of detail is provided in many other places and sources for Bahais everywhere if they are interested. I do, though, make the occasional overall description of this process becuase this new culture of learning cannot be divercved from the institute process.

At Ridván in 1967, after I had been associated with Baha’i activities for more than a dozen years, the House defined deepening as an expression of our individual and group efforts “to obtain a more adequate understanding of the significance of Baha’u’llah’s stupendous Revelation” and “a clearer apprehension of the purpose of God for man.” But our Baha’i community life is challenged, is summoned, to what you might call a specific application of this deepening process; indeed, we can now be said to be at the very beginning of the process of community building itself. The House of Justice reminded us and made clear that the institute process is not a series of deepening classes. It is rather part of a very wide framework for this community building process. But whether one engages in deepenings or institutes, whether ones lives in large urban agglomerations with thousands of other Bahais or pioneers to remote places with only a few believers or none at all, whether one goes to study classes or writes books, vulnerabilities and propensities to evil, having to deal with ones dark, animalistic heritage, ones lower nature, ones insistent self often seems to be beyond our capacity. But as George Townshend once said: there are mysterious turning points or watersheds and one finds the wherewithal to deal with the test or one does not. Sometimes a battle is won by inches; sometimes failure or defeat results because we simply do not try hard enough; and sometimes this very failure proves to be the next giant step on the path to spirituality. the process is complex and it is not the purpose of this book to deal with this complexity. There is coming to be an immense Bahai literature on this and other subjects for the votaries of this Cause to enlarge their understandings of such matters.

Part 2:

On 9 October 2005 Farzam Arbab defined a training institute as: “an agency for the development of human resources dedicated to the advancement of the process of entry by troops." I discuss the nature and purpose of the institute process, the study circles with the Ruhi materials as their core curriculum, the clusters, the devotional meetings, the children’s classes and junior youth activities from time to time in this book. These topics are in need of a general desciption for our discussion here as I have pointed out above. There are several major sources of explanatory frameworks, of talks by significant Bahá’ís as well as comments by a multitude of Bahá’ís on the internet at many a site, of booklets of materials, of resources prepared by innumerable NSA’s, by clusters and by regional communities/ councils, among other institutional bodies. These sources, taken as a whole, leave no doubt that this institute process is not a spasmodic, uncoordinated process characterized by a series of exertions that lack clarity and single-mindedness. They provide a context for lucidity and precision on a complex and profound process. The extent to which each of us grasps this complex process clearly at any one moment and the extent to which many minds which are not easily satisfied understand this deceptively simple, but in some ways quite profound, process is quite another question.

Our task, my task and yours in the years to, say, the end of the first century of this Formative Age in 2021, is to ask ourselves what we can do to hasten the attainment of the goals of the current plan and, in the process, inscribe our mark on this brief span of time so charged as it is with potentialities and hope. These years will see the first years of the 7th edition of my memoir, a memoir that attempts, among other things, to place the work I do within this new paradigm in focus and perspective. This memoiristic activity is not part of a narcissistic "look at me...look at me" exercise, it simply outlines one person's response to the challenge of this new paradigm. That is all each of us can do is rise to the challenge in our own individual ways.

The catalogue of terms, processes, issues, problems, tasks and goals we are faced with in this new paradigm possesses a vastness that I can only hint at here. Many, if not most, of these tasks and goals existed long before this new paradigm of opportunity arose. Some of them were given greater specificity during this new paradigm--like junior youth programs. Programs are now open to all junior youth, young adolescents between the ages of 11 to 14, regardless of faith. They are increasingly being held at the neighborhood level. The groups help junior youth to develop their moral, ethical and spiritual framework in an enjoyable group setting, facilitated by an older youth or adult, known as an animator. The Universal House of Justice describes junior youth as a “special group with special needs, as they are somewhat in between childhood and youth” (Ridvan 2000 message). Children's classes, junior youth, youth and other programs will be on my spiritual and our community plates until I and most readers here depart from this mortal coil. For, as I have said before, only this time I will say it in French being from the officially bilingual country of Canada: "plus c'est change, plus ca la meme chose." Still, it is difficult for many to appreciate the immense strides in the work with children, junior youth and youth that have taken place in this new paradigm. For someone like myself who remembers the picture in North America in the 1950s and 1960s, and knows from his reading what it was like in virtually all countries in the West in these age-categories of Bahai community life back then, the shift in numbers, focus and systematic program implementation is immense.


Most Baha’is, both young and old, can accept that the future of the Bahá'í community and the driving force behind its growth will be the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program--or JYSEP. What fewer Baha’is can reconcile with is their role within this movement. There are children who become junior youth, and junior youth who become participants, and “older” youth who become the animators that accompany them. And then there’s the rest of us. If you’re a youth in spirit though not in reality, you may feel you are on the periphery of this phenomenon. As we are encouraged more and more to support the youth, to support this Program, it is easy to ask, “But, how?” if you are neither a youth nor part of this Program. It is, of course, never too late to become an animator of a junior youth group, particularly if you are in a cluster, community or neighbourhood, in which the need outweighs the available resources. If, for whatever reason, serving as an animator is not feasible for you, there are still a number of ways you are able to contribute to the JYSEP.

1. Know your product

As mentioned in the Insights from the Frontiers of Learning document……not all the believers, of course, are able to work directly with junior youth groups… Nevertheless, a sound knowledge of the programme has proved to be invaluable for all those engaged in the work of the Plan, since the insights acquired help to shape the discourse with the wider community about the mission of the Faith to contribute to the betterment of the world. Having a sound and thorough knowledge of the JYSEP and being able to articulate this to the wider community will play a significant role in establishing a presence within a neighbourhood, creating an awareness of the JYSEP and its effects, and contributing to a culture, in which junior youth are perceived as active agents of social change.

2. All roads lead to Rome

Coherence among core activities is both an approach and an outcome of effective growth. Pursuing lines of action in a coherent manner by centering activities around a particular point of focus can be a strategic way of achieving organic growth. At the same time, “initiating one activity, can, quite naturally, lead to the emergence of others”3 or enhance already existing activities. A potential offshoot of a junior youth group, for example, may be a children’s class for their younger siblings. The Universal House of Justice states, that “By multiplying vibrant junior youth groups, a community learns a great deal about, for instance, how capable human resources are increased and deployed” and “how capacity for service is raised within cohorts of individuals.”

As junior youth move through the program, they widen the pool of human resources available to a community by becoming engaged in service. There must, therefore, be activities to channel their energies – study circles to participate in, tutors to accompany them, children’s classes for them to teach, junior youth groups for them to animate. The educational process is a community-wide effort and though we may look to the junior youth to spearhead community-building efforts, the community itself will be made up of more than just junior youth: As such, each and every member has a role to play and an equal – though not identical – contribution to make within it.

Supporting the JYSEP may look like supporting your community in general and responding to its varying needs. Assisting a children’s class, starting a Book 1, making regular home-visits, participating in a collective teaching campaign –all these efforts will eventually feed into the advancement of the JYSEP as will the JYSEP mutually advance the efforts of a community.

3. The ornaments of a home are the guests who frequent it.

For every actively engaged junior youth, there will be a parent concerned about their welfare – whether they are members of the Baha’i or wider community. Ruhi Book 5 states that: "An important requirement for maintaining a dynamic junior youth group is building trust and friendship with the parents. Animators need to visit them either before or soon after the junior youth have formed their group and explain to them the purpose of the program. They should continue to visit the parents regularly thereafter, share with them the various themes related to the lives of the junior youth that the program explores…and consult with them about the well-being and progress of their children. Home-visiting parents is something that can be co-ordinated with members of the community. Particularly when animators are younger youth, it is helpful to have a mature adult to accompany them on a home visit to a parent.

4. It’s not what you know, but who you know.

The most difficult aspect of running a junior youth group is starting one. Finding enough participants to form a sizable group is challenging – particularly in the Western countries, where approaching a junior youth you do not know can feel unwise or inappropriate. Using an existing relationship as a starting point can be advantageous. Do you know a junior youth or do you know a family with children of junior youth age? Your contacts may be the greatest contribution you can make to a budding junior youth group.

5.…Okay, and also a bit of what you know.

In Book 5, it asks: "How do you ensure that childish games are not presented as a substitute for arts and crafts and that young people are assisted to gain a true appreciation of “arts, crafts and sciences” that “uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation”? An essential part of the JYSEP is the incorporation of creative endeavours and activities. If you have a particular skill, craft, talent or passion that you are able to share, then facilitating a work-shop in either one or part of a session may be your way of assisting the lateral development of a junior youth.

6. Let deeds, not words be your adorning

Finally, JY groups will always constitute endless logistical considerations: lifts to be organized, food to be prepared, art supplies to be transported, parents to be called, venues to be secured… Offer your home, offer your car, offer your food but more importantly offer your time, your energy and your service because without it, no community can hope to prosper and with it, we can only grow.



Dr. Arbab emphasized the importance of “each individual taking charge of his or her own learning....What is at stake is the level of consciousness achieved, the will created, the desire aroused and the degree to which what is learned is internalized and translated into action.” In the absence of willpower, it hardly needs emphasizing, the most complete collection of virtues and talents is wholly worthless.

Dr. Arbab said much more in his papers, papers I read as far back as 2004 when he came to Australia and in his small booklet 'Lectures on Bahai-Inspired Curricula' published in 1994, a decade before his public talks in Australia. I will add just two of the many sentences that especially impressed me in that excellent series of talks on the subject of: the institute process, learning and growth. “The overall process," he emphasized, "is enormously complex and simplistic ways of approaching it can be counterproductive.” And secondly: “Capability empowers a person to think and act in a well-defined sphere of activity and according to a well-defined purpose.” Perseverance is often difficult; rising above one’s limitations is easier said than done and, since so much of what we are engaged in are processes, the work, the task, the passion of our lives, is and will be forever incomplete, only partially satiated. Insofar as my teaching on the internet is concerned, I feel that this sentence applies very well to me and my work: “Capability empowers a person to think and act in a well-defined sphere of activity and according to a well-defined purpose.” And to each his or her own it must be added. That is only obvious.

In Dr. Arbab's series of lectures published in 1994, containing as they did some of the first published exploratory comments on the Ruhi institute in its most recent dress, a dress it began to assume in the 1990s, emphasized a range of factors in the development of curricula materials: creativity, reflection, consultation and action. As I read these lectures that came into my hands in 2004, ten years later, ten years after their first publication, I was reminded of the discussion of curricula in Bahai educational circles back in the 1960s and 1970s, especially the work of Daniel Jordan and Dwight Allen at the School of Education University of Massachusetts. Those discussions and their work, among the work of others in the field, was for me in those years as a new teacher myself, part of one of my own paradigm shifts in my understanding of education, learning and teaching. Between the year my mother entered the Cause in 1953 and the year I arrived in Tasmania as an international pioneer from Canada in 1974, the Bahai Faith--and my own life--experienced a paradigm shift and a significant part of that paradigm shift was in the world of learning and the cultural attainments of the mind. In one national report in 2007 a national assembly noted a narrowness of focus and an inflexible system of implementation as a result of the new paradigm and not enough personal initiative, innovation, creativity and audacity.

Teaching On-Line

I have been teaching on-line now for more fifteen years, 2000-2015, for most of the time that this new Bahá'í culture has been developing. Any Bahá’í who would like to see some samples of my activity can simply google my name: Ron Price. Placing these two words into one’s google search engine will give the googler access to an array of sites at which I post. But, there are over 4000 other Ron Prices on the internet! It is one of the more popular names in cyberspace.

There is a simple process to ensure that those searching at search engines have the right Ron Price when they are performing their searches at any one of the array of sites under that name. They need to: (a) type the words Ron Price and then (b) type the word Forums, Blogs, or any one of many other words: apologetics, philosophy, religion, history, social issues, psychology, sociology, Bahá’í, Iran, poetry, literature, terrorism, art, media studies, Islam, Christianity, art, music, TV, inter alia. Googlers can also try any one of 100s of other words and see what comes up.

Each Bahá’í who teaches on the internet does their teaching in very different ways. Each Bahá’í has their own style in order to engage with others, their own MO, to use a who-dun-it term, both on and off the internet. I now have several books on the internet which have received a total of several hundred thousand hits.

One of my books is this 650 page analysis of the new Bahá’í paradigm. The book is found at Bahá’í Library Online and can be accessed by: (i) clicking on the ‘By Author’ box at the top of the access page and then (ii) typing the word ‘Price’ into the box. To then access the book in question the reader needs to scroll down to item #47 and click on that item; or go to this link:

I also work with many interest groups associated with mental health. Go to the following link for my book on the subject of mental health, especially bipolar disorder, which I utilize in many different ways at relevant websites on mental health issues: I also have a new website at: which functions as a central hub for my online teaching. More details on this activity are available if required at my email address:


This book in many respects is about marshalling our energies and whatever reflections and actions we can bring to the processes of this paradgim shift at the local and regional levels. This most recent shift is the focus in this book not the other shifts which I comment on briefly in the hope that those comments will increase our understanding of this shift. As each of us does this in their own bailiwick, domain or orbit, these processes will also take place at the local and regional levels elsewhere in their own country and in countries all around the world with continual guidance from the NSAs, sometimes referred to as generals in the army of light. Guidance will also be provided from the Baha’i World Centre from the several appointed institutions and the Universal House of Justice. This Centre in Haifa Israel now has some 700 people working in various capacities as part of the administrative and spiritual focus of an international community. This guidance assists Bahais everywhere in their understanding and in their implementation of the plans and programs in both individual and community lives. In the last two decades the focus, the work, at the BWC, has itself gone through a paradigm shift as I discuss in small part in relation to that triple impulse initiated in the three decades between 1891 and 1921.


Part 1:

This section will contain a discussion of this most recent, and lengthy, message of six pages from the House of Justice to all the world's NSAs. I leave it to readers to read and reread this message, a message which contains a survey of the most recent developments in the new Bahá'í culture to the end of the year 2011. Like all House of Justice messages, it needs to be read in the context of previous messages as well as a knowledge of the wider literature on the Cause. To read a message ex nihilo often depreives a message of a relevant context and places the reader in a bewildering situation, a situation in which he or she is faced with a complex structure whose functions can not be grasped because there is just too much to take in. Ours is an age that seems to require simplistic explanations. Whom the gods would destroy they first make simple, then simpler and even simpler, as one literary critic once observed.

The House of Justice begins by informing all NSAs of the opening of 100s of new clusters due to the movement of homefront pioneers. Given the fact that over half the world's clusters had no Bahá'ís at the beginning of this new FTP in April 2011, this movement of pioneers is a heartening development. It is also a development which will increase in the years ahead as the international Bahá'í community aims to open all, most, or at least the majority, of the world's clusters in the years of this new paradigm, a paradigm which introduced the concept of cluster only at the turn of this 3rd millennium among many other terms and concepts.

Given the difficulties and the challenges, that present themselves to Bahá'ís in small groups, in isolated localities, I will post here a link to the experience of one Bahá'í in a rural area, in a small Bahá'í group. Go to this link for a sad, but all too common an experience: It is not a new experience. Becoming and remaining an active Bahá'í is no easy process and never has been in the more than a century and a half of the history of this Faith. New believers are often tested by their fellow Bahá'ís, by an administration which for many is a strange and complex phenomenon, and by a sea of new literature in an age which has become, for millions, an audio-visual one with print taking second place to what the House of Justice calls a mesmerizing sea of entertainment and what media analysts now call infotainment--for their modus operandi of learning.

Part 2:

This new message from the House of Justice provides guidance to NSAs and their training institutes, in the main, on the implementation of the main sequence of courses in the Ruhi curriculum. This message: reiterates the organizing principle and the purpose behind the Ruhi program; mentions the fact that there will eventually be 18 courses; outlines the current paths to service that exist; discusses the coordination of programs for children and their teachers, junior youth and their animators, as well as adults and their tutors on the one hand and the three month cycles of activity on the other; discusses study circles, Area Teaching Committees, and the 40 sites for the dissemination of learning established by the OSED(Office of Social and Economic Development; outlines in general the educational materials and philosophy, as well as the projected 18 textbooks for junior youth; and, finally, mentions the creation of an international Advisory Board to assist the Ruhi Institute in the preparation and distribution of resources.

In these last years of the second decade of this new Bahá'í culture, this new paradigm is unfolding piece by piece and part by part, agency by agency and program by program, initiative by initiative and enterprize by enterprize---as the elected and appointed branches of the Cause apply the many instruments which are slowly tempered in the crucible of their personal and institutional experience. As these individuals and institutions do this the persecution of their co-religionists in Iran continues day after day and month after month bringing the attention of the world to this new Faith. The capacity needed to employ these instruments with a high degree of coherence and in a pattern of life is slowly being fostered year after year, sometimes with a predetermined path, but often with no predetermined course. Stumbling bocks must be made into stepping stones, as they always had to be in previous paradigms. What is at stake, so often, is not complaince with a set of procedures but the unfoldment of an educational process.(28/12/'10) At a future time, hopefully before the end of this first year of the current FTP in April 2012, I hope to integrate this new message to NSAs into a coherent discussion of the previous messages as well as the wider literature of the Cause. For all the House of Justice messages need to be seen as a comprehensive whole and not as isolated documents existing ex nihilo.


Over the last 18 years the international Bahá'í community has had the opportunity to participate, tutor, and be involved to varying degrees in numerous Baha’i study circles in different parts of the world. There are very good ones, and ones that could use a little work. There are Study Circles that completed the Ruhi book they were working on, and ones that fizzled out before completion. Some were run at an extremely intensive and accelerated pace, and some that took over a year to complete. Some brought people into the Faith, and some weren’t very well received by some of the participants. The fact is that no matter what you think about study circles or what your involvement has been with them over the years, study circles have and continue to revolutionize many Baha’i communities worldwide, helping to change the overall culture of the Baha’i community-and I think for the better.

Of course there’s always room for improvement, and Bahá'í communities are learning through action and reflection while continuously developing and working on improving their ‘posture of learning’. The following are just six of the ways study circles have helped the Baha’i community:

1. Becoming less insular as a community and helping us reach out. Baha’i study circles are not just for Baha’is. By now most Baha’is know that, but reaching out to friends and neighbours to join them in a Baha’i study circle is not easy for everyone, but the fact is that study circles have helped the Bahá'í community to start thinking outside the parameters of the Baha’i community, and they’ve served as a catalyst for many of the Bahá'ís to reach out, invite, and talk about the Faith with others, reminding them of the fact that the Teachings of Baha’u’llah are for everyone, and not just Baha’is, but for the community at large no matter what their beliefs.

2. Emphasis on reading and studying the Baha’i Writings.

Baha’is are encouraged to read and study the Writings, but for those who need a little guidance or a tip or two of what exactly to read, going through the Ruhi sequence of books definitely helps guide many Bahá'ís to the important concepts they should be studying.

Once a person has completed books one through to seven of the Ruhi sequence of courses, they will have read and studied with their study circle a total of 545 quotations from the Baha’i Writings. That’s pretty significant! Although Bahá'ís are enjoined to study the Baha’i Writings, and read the Writings every morning and evening, many do not have the discipline to do this, and so study circles have provided such individuals with a systematic opportunity to deepen in the Writings, and furthermore – as mentioned in the first point--individuals are not just reading the Baha’i Writings, they're reflecting and discussing these quotations and the concepts they present with a group of people who quite often have varying beliefs and understandings.

3. Nurturing a sense of ownership.

Before Baha’i study circles hit the scene, one could argue that many Baha’i communities had developed what could perhaps be classified as a ‘culture of dependency’ on certain individuals in the community. These individuals were often seen as more knowledgable on issues relating to the Faith and its history, so the community would turn to them for all of their Baha’i knowledge, and not turn to the Writings to learn about a topic themselves. For example, Bahá'ís would go to a deepening class based on a certain book or topic, and often the dynamic of the deepening would be a one-way interaction between the speaker and the participants. Sure, there were a few questions here and there, but by-in-large the person holding the deepening would be the person everyone looked to for the answers.

Deepening classes are still valid and they still have a role in community life, but the fact remains that many community members were indirectly (and unintentionally) dis-empowering themselves from delving into the Writings and really internalising and ‘digesting’ the Words of God for themselves. Study circles have countered that culture of dependency now by removing the ‘middle-man’ in a sense, encouraging individuals to deepen in the Baha’i Writings for ourselves, and even charging them with the task of memorizing the quotes found in the Ruhi books. What better way to really internalize them! With approximately 70,000 friends capable of serving as tutors of study circles, I think the culture has definitely changed as a result.

4. Encouraging the Writings to become a part of us through memorization.

In one of Baha’u’llah’s Tablets, He encourages us to memorize the Baha’i Writings: "From the texts of the wondrous, heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages bearing on various instances, so that in the course of their speech they may recite divine verses whenever the occasion demandeth it, inasmuch as these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman.

The Ruhi sequence of courses encourage Bahá'ís to memorize the Baha’i Writings, and they’ve even done a lot of the work for them by hand-picking them. In fact, did you know that between the pages of Ruhi books one through to seven, there are 137 Baha’i quotations we’re asked to memorize? You can already see the result of this emphasis on memorization amongst those who have been involved in the sequence of courses. There has been a significant shift over the last several years of the way in which Bahá'ís are using the Baha’i Writings in otheir everyday speech, and this has had a direct effect on their ability to engage in meaningful and distinctive conversations. Furthermore, by participating in study circles Bahá'ís had to come up with creative ways to memorize these quotes, and this has not only been fun, but it’s helped ensure that individuals do this.

5. A unified vision and systematic action.

In a letter to the to the participants of the 114 Youth Conferences currently taking place around the world, the Universal House of Justice wrote: "The possibilities presented by collective action are especially evident in the work of community building, a process that is gaining momentum in many a cluster and in neighbourhoods and villages throughout the world that have become centres of intense activity. Before the Institute Process was adopted by the entire Baha’i world, we were all doing our own little thing in our our own little corners. Now that we’ve got a structured and systematic ‘road map’, we’re all able to focus our energies with unified vision and action, and this has proven to be extremely practical and powerful. There’s nothing cooler than being able to chat to someone in Nepal, South Africa or Canada and know what they’re talking about when they mention what Ruhi books they’ve completed or are participating in. Especially for those of us who move around a lot as well, you can turn up to a community anywhere in the world and just ‘plug’ yourself straight into the activities.

6. Community building and a focus on service.

Bahá'ís know that service to others is an integral part of our Faith. As Abdu’l-Baha explained: "…all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer." Service is also fundamental to the sequence of courses developed by the Ruhi Institute. As the Ruhi Institute explains: "…the Institute’s main sequence of courses is not arranged according to a series of subject matters, with the specific aim of increasing individual knowledge. The content and order are based, rather, on a series of acts of service, the practice of which creates capacity in the individual to meet the exigencies of dynamic, developing communities. And as also noted above, the enhancement of such capacity is viewed in terms of “walking a path of service”…The acts of service treated in the Institute’s main sequence of courses are intended, then, to establish a dynamic pattern of action that will lead to the sound development of local communities.

The Universal House of Justice explained this in the 2010 Ridvan Message: "More important is that every soul feel welcome to join the community in contributing to the betterment of society, commencing a path of service to humanity…" The recent video from the Baha’i World Centre called Frontiers of Learning provided the community with examples of what community building can look like so that they could reflect on their experiences and learn from them.


In the process many mistakes are and will inevitably be made at the local, the cluster, the regional, the national, the continental and the intercontinental levels, but these mistakes are, for the most part, not serious enough to warrant creating inharmony and raising issues that lead to endless argument, personality conflict and wasting time. The human tendency to take sides and fight about some issue, to challenge and criticize decisions of assemblies, thus presenting a sense of a divided community, is so easy to do. Personality conflicts have been part of Bahai experience since 1844 and there does not appear to be any end in sight for these baleful influences on (a) community life and (b) the expression of energy and harmony at all levels of the Bahai community. Dealing with criticism seems to be part of our lifelong search and labour, in the challenges involved in overcoming estrangement that is the lot of Bahais everywhere. This has always been the case. It was the case in the 1920s and 1930s as well as in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. As the paradigm shifts take place, continuities also take place in the life of the Bahai community and one of these continuities is criticism. I do not want to dwell on other negative aspects of community, life and society experience here, although such discussions are unavoidable in this memoir. In a letter to the NSA of the Bahá'ís of Australia just over two years ago(19/1/'12), the House of Justice point out the problems associated with paternalism, and a sense of superiority which results, that institution emphasizes, "in estrangement. disaffection and exclusion." The elements of an effective organizational scheme, they emphasize, assume a wide variety of forms in a wide variety of circumstances.

I would now like to turn to other continuities in my Bahai community life and the life of the international Bahá'í community since the mid-1990s. In addition, I will deal with some of the shifts in the paradigm of opportunities and activities that I have experienced and that I have observed elsewhere not only in my own region but around the wider world.



Part 1:

With the Five Year Plan(2011-2016) that is now in its 4th year, I would like now to make some comments about my local Bahai Group(Reg) and the new paradigm. We began our devotional meetings in 2003 in this town of 7000 in Tasmania at the end of the Tamar River, five kms from the Bass Strait, an extension of the Great Southern Ocean. Devotional meetings have been one of the three core activities to use the language of this new paradigm. This activity was an initiative of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006). This core activity is now in its eleventh year in our town and will continue until and if our plans change. All the Bahai teaching initiatives in this locality over the previous dozen years(1991-2003) during which there had been resident Bahais had not involved advertised public meetings of any kind. In the decades before we began our devotional meetings in 2003, Bahais had travelled to this locality in various seed-planting exercises, sometimes called travel teaching; quotations and phone numbers had been regularly placed in the major newspaper throughout the 1990s and prayers had been said by the nearby Bahai community for the progress of the Cause in this town. Our community was what has been traditionally known in the global Bahai program of teaching and consolidation, of expansion and pioneering, as an extension goal of a nearby LSA some 50 kms away.

Bahaullah's writings have always forbidden an aggressive proselytism through which many religious messages have been widely promulgated in society. Inviting people to meetings in public places and in private homes, forming relationships with local people in a wide variety of ways one of which is now called Home Visits, joining local interest groups and what might be called a very mild form of proselytism if one wanted to be critical: all this is and has been part of a general policy of establishing small groups at the local level throughout the Baha’i world. The experience of this small Bahai Group that my wife and I joined in 1999, 15 years ago, has followed this normal process of Bahai group initiation, growth and development.

Part 2:

The experience of the Bahai community over many decades in Australia and, indeed, in most western countries where this new Faith has grown, has shown that in most places few people ever come to advertised Baha’i public meetings of any kind, especially since, say, the 1950s and 1960s and the arrival of TV, among other socio-historical and technological changes in the last half century. Passivity, perhaps one of many factors that results in few people coming to public meetings, has been bred by the forces of society and people everywhere, at least in the West,l want to be entertained and led by those who appeal to their often superficial emotions. At Ridvan 2014 the House referred to "the languor of passivity" and, on the other hand, to "freneticism" and "the paralyis of volition" in the context of "exerting an effort" and "the heavenly aid vouchsafed in response."

And so it was that our Bahai Group approached its task of holding advertising devotional meetings with expectations which were not imbued with unrealistic goals thinking we would achieve, if we just tried hard enough, some kind of 'entry-by-troops,' an oft-misunderstood process at the best of times, especially in the first decade of its extensive use, the years 1991-2001. There are rare exceptions, of course, but the patterns of action/activity and response to Bahai initiatives in many areas of the teaching process are as predictable as the sun getting up in the morning and setting at night. One could say this is simply practical realism, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a meagre response or any one of a number of phrases to capture the experience most Bahá’í communities have had in the West in the last several decades.

If intensive programs of growth were to develop; if preconceived notions about the lack of receptivity were to fall away; if a commitment to the process of growth was to be raised to higher levels; if direct teaching was to take place in this oldest town in Australia, it would not be in the form of street teaching or door to door; it would be little by little and day by day--down the track of time as our cluster, our Regional Council and our NSA advanced along their own institutional lines. In our locality of four believers with an average age in the 60s time would tell how this new paradigm was going to evolve.

Part 3:

In our local community we saw these devotional meetings as opportunities to advertise the Cause, to give it a greater public face in the northern half of Tasmania and, indeed, throughout the state. Our energy was directed toward what we felt was a realistic goal. The Faith had been in the north of Tasmania for over half a century and in Tasmania--where a Regional Council replaced a Bahai Regional Office in the early years of this new millennium and a former Regional Goals Committee-for 80 years when we started planning our devotional meetings eleven years ago in February 2003. But the public visibility of the Cause in many of the small towns of northern Tasmania was nil or approached nil. Our intention was to raise the visible profile, so to speak. And this we did.

But other Bahai communities around the world have been more enterprizing and more successful than we have been. Music and the arts have been integrated directly into many development projects, devotional meetings and a wide range of community activities. The practical considerations of integrating the arts into development programs were admirably addressed in a presentation given by Donald Rogers in the 1999 Social and Economic Development Conference, titled “The Use of the Arts in the Bahá’í Community.” If you haven’t already read it, I would encourage you to on the internet. There was an example of a devotional meeting and it was only one of many around the world showing how music and the arts could lend their support to a specific kind of grassroots social development project? In 1999 the Universal House of Justice called on the Bahá’í world to further develop local communities and reach out to the general public by instituting “regular meetings for worship open to all.” The Bahá’ís of Oxnard, California, along with the neighboring community of Ventura, co-hosted a regular public worship program, held in a community center. Their Assemblies jointly decided to enhance the public appeal of these programs by calling on local talents to integrate the arts into the worship services, especially with the use of live musicians. This stirred enthusiasm in the community and attracted a number of seekers. Melbourne Australia has now had a devotional program called "Soulfood" which is similar to this worship program in California and it is eminently successful--certainly more successful than here in my local community. But, Bahais around the world have to work within their capacities, limitations and circumstances as the House of Justice has pointed out more times than I would want to footnote here. In this new paradigm there are more and more initiatives taking place through the use of the arts but not in my home Bahai group.

Part 4:

Getting together to share prayers and writings from the Baha’i faith, from other scriptures and enlightened souls, is a staple of Baha’i life. These devotional gatherings are one of the core activities and all Baha’is are encouraged to not only attend, but to host them. There is no set format or formula for running a devotional, and they run the gamut from organized public events through to informal sharing of prayers and readings around a coffee table. And since there is no particular way that a devotional should be held, it’s open for creativity and inventiveness. Here are some ideas for devotional gatherings as they have taken place in the last decade or so

1. Add a Visual Slideshow for Accompaniment

Beautiful images can be a magical addition to a devotional gathering. PowerPoint presentations can be used to create a slow running slideshow of images which can be projected on to a nearby wall to slowly fade in the background during readings and prayer. A dim room is all that is needed so that the projection really shines. Organizers should make sure it’s all set up beforehand so they don’t have to flail about with any unplanned technical difficulties. Selection of images is absolutely key because you want images that are visually beautiful, interesting and consistent with the gathering. Expect to spend a lot of time finding, choosing and cropping images for your slideshow. And be prepared to cull images that don’t feel appropriate. The last thing you want is everyone getting pulled out of their thoughts to wonder “what the heck is that picture doing there?” Don’t feel you need to create a slideshow of images of Baha’i buildings or gardens. Think outside the box and look for creative, artful images that convey an idea, or abstract enough to just give a visual ambience to the room. The site can provide some wonderful inspiration.

2. Give Attendees a Memento

A common take-away is a copy of the programme so that attendees can continue to reflect on the readings later, or perhaps use them in their own devotions. A series of devotional gatherings can provide attendees with a bookmark with a different virtue written on it. After a few months of attendance those attneding will have a little set of virtuous bookmarks to remind them of what virtue they were supposed to be practicing that month.

3. Live Music Performances

Abdu’l-Baha says that “We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls”. So what more fitting accompaniment to a devotional than music? And when it comes to music, nothing beats a live performance. It can be a bit tricky finding performers, especially if you are organizing just a little get together, but if you can manage it you’ll be glad you did! Of course if you can play an instrument or sing, you need never worry about where to find a performer. Drummers send out energy and inspiration during a Hush Harbor devotional meeting at the New York Bahá'í Center.

4. Find a Special Venue

You don’t need to live somewhere as picturesque as by Sydney’s beaches to have a special venue for your next gathering. Going outdoors generally works well in any sort of natural surrounding when the sun is out and the skies are blue. Alternatively you can make an indoor spot special with the use of some decorative ingenuity. A candlelit late night devotional can be pretty special and very atmospheric. If you go for that sort of thing, just remember to make provisions for the readers to, you know, read! A little torch or reading light does the trick.

5. Run a Guided Meditation

The Guardian Shoghi Effendi has said that “the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling that unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer.” A guided meditation before you begin your devotional is a really lovely way to get participants into a deep prayerful and relaxed state. If you are comfortable leading such a meditation you certainly could do it yourself, otherwise guided meditation CDs and audio tracks can be purchased from most music stores. One of the first times I ever tried meditation was at a little devotional gathering and it was pretty serene. It was about 10 minutes long and played off a CD which the host had. There were only five of us attending and we were seated amongst a whole load of cushions that you could sink into. By the time we began praying I recall feeling very calm and focused. It was lovely!

6. Explore Art and Devotions

Abdu’l-Baha once said that:"All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the Light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvellous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God. Abdu’l-Baha quoted in The Chosen Highway by Lady Blomfield. You might ask participants to meditate on a handful of readings and then work to reflect on them through painting or drawing. You may find some resistance if you have not pre-warned your participants of the plan for your devotional. But assuming you have a group of willing and enthusiastic attendees, this could go down well! If you’ve ever been to, or organized, a devotional that incorporated art, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

7. Create an Experience

Beauty spas are the masters of creating a relaxing experience. Through the use of location, environment, ambient music, beverages, scents and lighting, they put their customers into a tranquil state of being, even before the spa treatments begin. There’s a lot we can learn from this! If you consider the whole devotional experience you can better help your attendees to elevate their minds and spirits by bringing them to the right space to begin prayer and reading. Earlier I mentioned a devotional I attended that incorporated guided meditation. I remember that as soon as we arrived the whole room was setup to feel calming. The lighting was warm, there were rose petals on the doorstep, the room had a light floral scent coming from two candles burning, the room was small and cozy with soft cushions liberally placed, and upon seating we were given a glass of sparkling water with mint and slices of fresh strawberries. Coupled with the guided meditation, it was quite the experience!

8. Theme the Gathering

Themes make parties more awesome, so why not devotionals? When you have a theme, you can make the devotional experience that much more memorable by incorporating elements of the theme into everything. Imagine a devotional gathering reflecting on the life of Baha’u’llah where everything is set up to evoke images of Iran. You could have a slideshow of historical imagery, beautiful Persian music playing ambiently when guests arrive, a special Persian sweet for each guest as they sit, readings could be printed on paper with a Persian design embellishing it, and so on. There are lots of themes you could run with too! The theme ‘Refreshed’ could be a devotional where everything is cool, refreshing and invigorating. The theme ‘Nature’ should be an easy one, as would be ‘Light’. You could do a devotional on the theme of ‘America’ or ‘Paris’ with readings from Abdu’l-Baha’s trips there. Or you could tackle themes like ‘Oneness’ or ‘Woman’ which might be a little trickier but all the more rewarding for it! Theming your gathering is definitely taking your devotional gathering to the next level, and really combines many of the earlier ideas of creating an experience around your gathering. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but the results will be worth it!


Being aware of my capacities and incapacities empowered me to think and act in a well-defined sphere of activity and according to a well-defined purpose, but outward results as defined by an increase in membership at the local level have still been non-existent. Community building as a process the Bahais were told was at its very beginning in the mid-1990s at the start of this new paradigm. More than a decade and a half after the House of Justice said we were at the very beginning of community building, this still seemed to be the case and I'm sure this sense of beginningness, if one can call it that, will continue to be the case for many decades to come in many, if not most Bahai localities around the planet. In our locality, the oldest town in Australia(1804) with a Bahai history going back two decades we were still taking our first steps or so it seemed. Our community came to define a home visit(HV) as an opportunity to enter into a deep conversation on spiritual matters. It has been my experience now, after seven years of engaging in HVs, that when the visit is clearly just a social call in which: (a) the Faith is not even be mentioned and (b) there is no real engagement with the person in any serious/intimate conversation then that visit does not come into the category HV.

There is a type of educational process, a type of serious dialogue, in which the teacher is clearly building a path to a direct discussion of the Cause, a path he has followed before--and in my case a path in which I have been engaged over many years and decades--and this gives shape to the individual and collective activities that come under the rubric HV. After five decades of firesides, of people coming to the homes of Bahais, HVs took the Faith to others. It reversed the direction; people no longer had to come to the Bahais--although firesides continued. The menu of activities for Bahais to engage in had clearly broadened in this new paradigm.

I would like to say a few things about the interchange that takes place in these HVs. Any serious content, any objective discussion, is engaged in for the sake of sociability. The content is a means to liveliness, harmony and common consciousness in which all can participate alike, all can give to the group. The ability to change topics easily and quickly is crucial to the flow of conversation. The individual, the person making the HV, functions as part of a collective for which he lives and from which he derives his values. But life must emerge in the flux of a facile and happy play of interaction. A deep spring of beliefs feeds the realm of interaction but it must be erected in an airy realm of feelings and attractions, convictions and impulses and not become a lifeless schematism, a serious prove-your-point and win-the-day, form.

The serious person derives from the sociability a feeling of liberation and relief. Seriousness is sublimated,diluted and the heavy content reverberates only dimly since, as Simmel puts it, its "gravity has evaporated into mere attractiveness." There is an art to conversation in these HVs and much of the advice of Abdu'l-Bahá, Dr. Johnson and Kahlil Gibran is relevant here; for example, Kibran writes that: "Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity." I will add to this subject at a later date.(The Sociology of Georg Simmel, Chapter 3, Collier-MacMillan, NY, 1964,p.93.; and H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu'l-Bahá, George Ronald, 1971, p.27) There are also practical realities, questions of how much social interaction each person can cope with, how much time he has, indeed, a myriad factors that relate to how many HVs in which a person can engage.

Devotional Meetings(DMs) have now taken place, as I say above, once a month for nine years in our Bahá'í community of six members. Advertising has included: (a) ads in the print and electronic media--on four radio stations, two TV stations and in two newspapers; (b) 35 posters/month and a total now of over 2100 in the 40 shops in town in which we put posters; (c) 100 fliers/month giving a total now of 10000(discontinued in Jan 2010); and (d) two special Tasmanian internet sites among many non-Tasmanian sites. The total cost of all of the above is: $20.00/month.($10 for a rented country Women’s Association room; $8.00 for one of the newspaper ads and $2.00 for the paper, ancillary materials, petrol, oil, water and wear and tear on clothes, vehicles and our psyches, inter alia)Note: in 2009 the DMs moved into one of the two homes of the Bahais.

It is this advertising that lets people in our Baha’i locality of 7000, and the wider Tasmanian community of about 500 thousand, know that Bahais dot the Tasmanian landscape. Advertising in the 8 different mediums/media and 13 different individual outlets, and more than half a dozen internet sites, through the repeated exposure every month, through systematic and regular information bites, has created a definite public profile for this Bahai Group and, more generally, for the Bahai Faith. This profile is of a friendly but largely undefined group, a group with multi-focused worthy causes, internationalist, tolerant, but only understood superficially not in any depth. Our DMs accomplish many things in the long road out of obscurity and the exercise, we felt, should not be underestimated.

We have been asked to take part in this core activity and we have done so to the best of our ability--well, one can always do better, I suppose, at least theoretically. Our aim is not to build a large concentration of adherents nor even to concentrate on numbers, membership and conversion in any sense. Our entire thrust is to: (a) plant seeds and let people know that the Bahai Faith exists in this region; (b) provide the opportunity for the population to find out about this new Faith through as many channels as possible: by phone, on the internet, by meetings in public and private, by the powerful medium of advertising in a variety of forms/channels and through the relationships each of us have with others.


I think the best line from the TV program1 I watched last night was: “it is important for each of us to have the courage to fail.” Fear and superstition in the general public slowed the progress on open-heart surgery, heart transplants and the use of artificial hearts in the field of cardiovascular surgery and medical pioneers like the ones shown this evening simply ignored the opposition in the public domain to their work.

In the years 1944 to 1953 pioneers like Dwight Harken, John Gibbon and Walton Lilleher were three of the major founding fathers of the field of cardiovascular surgery, a field that is arguably just as old as I am: 65 years. Lillehei, with five university degrees in his pocket, completed the first successful surgical repair of the heart. He was 35 and the date was September 2, 1952. He was the first person to look inside a beating heart, which beats 100 thousand times a day and four litres of blood per minute. On May 6, 1953, John Gibbon performed the world's first open-heart procedure under extra-corporeal circulation.-Ron Price with thanks to Dwight Harken in “Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery,” SBS TV, 8:30-9:30 p.m. 13 January 2009.

During this same year, from October 1952 to October 1953, the Baha’i community celebrated a Holy Year marking the Centenary, the hundredth anniversary, of the Birth of the Revelation, the first intimations of the glorious Mission, of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith in the Siyah-Chal in Teheran. This event in the international Baha’i community was the anniversary of an epoch-making period from 12 October 1852 to 12 December 1852, unsurpassed from a Baha’i perspective, by any episode in the world’s spiritual history outside Baha’i history. This Holy Year also saw the dedication of the Mother Temple of the West, the holiest in all the Baha’i world in Chicago on 2 May 1953, an event which marked the inception, again from a Baha’i perspective, of the Kingdom of God on earth and the appearance in the world of existence of “a most wonderful and thrilling motion.”2 In 1953 gilded golden tiles were placed on the dome of the Shrine of the Báb. This was the last unit of that shrine and symbolized the consummation of the greatest enterprize undertaken at the World Centre of this Faith. The year 1953 also saw the inauguration on 21 April 1953, of a ten year world spiritual crusade, the third stage of the first epoch of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’is Divine Plan during which my parents and I became members of the Baha’i Faith in Canada. -Ron Price with thanks to ‘Abdu’l-Baha in God Passes By, Shoghi Effendi, Wilmette, 1957, p.351.

I was only in grade four back then and
just beginning my baseball-years-career,
a fleeting period and my ice-hockey life;
my adolescence and life in a little town
in a little house in a little world with its
birthday-parties, TV programs, endless
indulgences, straight lines at school and
pretty little girls marked: don’t touch!!!

My mother accepted an invitation to a
home of one of those conspirators who
drank from one of those same wells the
ones that could be found, by then----all
around the planet. Not dismayed were
these co-conspirators by headlines they
called to their witness; they carried the
answers like neat balls of coloured yarn,
familiarly handled, spun of truth and in
their ready-made dresses, sensible shoes.

How did my mother get caught in their
web back then when Kruschev was on
his way to the top and a Holy Year was
giving a wonderful and thrilling motion
its kick-start, a kick-start to the Kingdom
of God on earth—and no one really knew?

How did she get caught in their web when
This brutal, bloody and dangerous history
of surgery developed so rapidly because
men were not afraid to fail and so, too, we
refined inheritors, spiritual descendants, of
the dawnbreakers must not be afraid to fail
as we go about teaching the seekers among
our contemporaries year after year with only
discouragingly meagre results dealing as we
do with the fear and superstition of masses
who have no idea of the healing message we
bring as they sink deeper into a slough of
despond and as they do battle with phantoms
of a wrongly informed imagination, ill-equipped
to interpret the social commotion everywhere.

Ron Price
9 January 2009

Before passing on to another theme, I would like to briefly comment on one of the developments during this paradigm, a development described by Abdul-Baha in "one of the most vital institutions of the world" Bahá'í community: the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar which weds service and worship. It is the centre of one of the community-building features of this new culture. There are many letters and messages from the institutions of the Cause in relation to a series of temples around the world, and I leave it to readers to try to grasp some of the essential features of the first Houses of Worship in several clusters around the world, Houses of Worship which extend those which have been built in the 20th century.


And so I write, not so much to tell the story of Baha’i history, of the Baha’i community, for that has been told many times. I write as a means of seeking my own understanding, of finding my own voice and, in the process, it is my hope that others will benefit not so much by my example, my insights and views, although I like to think there are some insights in this book that have contemporary relevance, but more from the tone and manner of this book and the sense of encouragement I hope it provides and which I trust results from an honesty about my battles and struggles. If I let others know of my struggles, perhaps others will find the courage to fight their battles when the chips are down. If they know of my trials and despairs, perhaps they will approach their own with a sense of practical realism and not unrealistic hopes and impractical aspirations that so often lead, in the end, to embittered spirits and discouragement which eats at men’s souls.

Turning to the teachings, they may be able to overlook the peculiarities and attitudes of others, inevitably to be found in community, and also come to slowly acquire the skills and the personal meanings, the capacity, that will enrich their own lives and help them cope with the failures and loss they experience as part of their own lives. Beginning with the writings of the Central figures and the battles They had to deal with and continuing over more than a century and a half with a genre of writing that has dealt with the struggles of individual Bahais, this encouragement of the type I refer to here can now be found in many sources both in Bahai literature as well as the religious and philosophical literature on other paths. Such literary sources can be inspirational. And, of course, there are many stories of the experience of others in other communities around the globe available in the mass media which are often even more inspirational and often speak more directly to people's experience.


There has been, for more than a century and a half, a great silence on the part of most of my fellow believers when it comes to autobiography, memoirs, life-writing, accounts of their experience and that of their community. There has been an equal silence, a gap, an abyss, which I find fascinating, between the outer self, in some ways a fictitious but certainly a social, on-stage, person whom I and others carry partly like a mask about the world and a secret, inner, self. This is not due to any lack of self-reflection. I have intended to write of both these worlds in several genres: poetry, narrative and, of course, diaries. In some ways the interface between these two worlds is immensely complicated, always much more than can be recovered, revealed and understood and much that can never be remembered or written down.

Not taking offence and not giving it also creates and requires many silences in life and depends on a diplomacy that one gets lots of practice at implementing if one is to avoid argument and dissent, an intellectual contradiction to those who would be unifiers of the children of men. If one is not to give offence it is often better that one keep one's real opinions to oneself. If one is not to take offence the avoidance of verbal lance and parry and punitive rebuttals is useful but difficult. Autobiography and its epic nature as expressed in my poetic prose helps me overcome these silences--at least partly. There are many difficult lines to walk in life if those lines are to be useful to others. In writing memoirs the writing of useful lines is also difficult if one is to publish words that are more than dry bones. Not taking and not giving offence, is just one of the more demanding challenges the traveller is faced with obstacles at every turn.

I want to release pent up emotion and give expression to my deepest thoughts but also avoid the dangers in excessive but genuine self-revelation, sometimes called confession. At the same time I want to free myself from my present cotton-wool reality and the potential remoteness of this autobiographical record of mine. This can be done in the context of this new culture of learning, but it is not easy. War-babies and baby-boomers, as well as generations X,Y and Z, all face the challenge of, the encounter with, the spiritual malaise and the disasters of the age. How was one to transmute one’s transitory experience, with its dross of egotism and animus; how was one to refine away through, what Toynbee called some ‘tragic catharsis’(V.3, p.296); how as one to deal with the public catastrophes which overtook society in the 20th and 21st centuries.



Suffering ceases to be suffering when it has found a meaning wrote Victor Frankl in his now famous book Man’s Search For Meaning. These words of Frankl were quoted by Elizabeth Rochester in her long, fascinating and intellectually stimulating letter to Canadian international pioneers over twenty-five years ago. I think Frankl is partly right; sadly, many never find a meaning to their suffering. Since all of us struggle with suffering, our own and the world’s, in one way or another all our lives, the meaning of the suffering eludes millions. It is important for the generations who are experiencing this new paradigm in its earliest stages to be highly cognizant of the multitude of spiritual verities that previous generations of Bahais, perhaps as many as six if one defines a generation as a twenty-five year period, have come to experience and understand and which stand available in primary and secondary literature as well as on cassette tapes, CDs and videos to help illuminate their paths.

As the philosopher Nietzsche once wrote: lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard. Many of the deeds, much of the history of this Cause over more than a century and a half is coming to light in the years of this new paradigm. It is coming to light in a quite new and relevant context. Finding the relevancy of Bahai history, the Bahai narrative and its metaphorical nature is one of the aims of the millions of interpreters, one of the many goals in the multitude of individual searches and journeys. As this new culture of learning continues in the years ahead knowledge and understanding will multiply many fold. As students of the Cause ponder Bahai texts in their study circles, as they read them in their devotional meetings; as youth, junior youth and children commit some of them to memory; as the institute process translates the understandings gained into action and as Bahai institutions and its agencies take the lead in the many relationships with the wider society, this new paradigm will advance and develop in the decades ahead.

The generations being exposed to this new paradigmatic experience are building on six generations who have been exposed to the lightning and thunder of this new Revelation. Udo Schaefer, quoting from The Dispensation of Bahaullah, writes: "Whatever is latent in the inmost of this holy cycle shall gradually appear and be made manifest, for now is but the beginning of its growth and the dayspring of the evidences of its signs." This new paradigm provides yet another opportunity for the further evidences of this growth. A relevant aphorism here might be: opportunity without capacity produces stress or, if you prefer, capacity without opportunity produces stress. This new paradigm provides everyone with opportunity and each person can channel their capacity, be it a thimble-full or a gallon-measure, into some serving to the Cause, somewhere in this all-encompassing paradigm. Such is my take, my particular way of looking at it, as the 15th year of its operation and gradual implementation is about to open in April 2010.


I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon, two of my favourite historians, acquired their initial inspiration for what became their life’s magnum opus, their epic: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. Epic histories, epic literature and epic journeys had been part of my reading for over forty years by the late 1990s. Epic histories, epic literature and epic journeys are part of the literary culture, the culture of learning of all Baha’is who can read and who take the Baha’i history and its teachings seriously. The Baha’i story, the religious narrative and the vision of this Cause is nothing, if not epic. Much of my writing is and was a hybrid incorporating the social, the physical and biological sciences as well as literature and poetry. My writing gradually developed what I came to see as an epic quality.

My writing and this book has also developed what the historian Polybius emphasized in his Oecumenical History(Book 1 chapter 4): a unity of events. This unity seems to have been imposed upon me by my attempt at a similar unity of composition. There is a single direction and a single goal Polybius wrote in relation to his age and, for me, this is also the case in this modern age, in this paradigm. There is also a divine irony in human affairs, in the daily life of the Bahai community which I cannot ignore. In addition, the Bahai writings have given me an intimation of the divine presence informing my fragment of this mysterious universe. By strenuous intellectual communion and intimate personal intercourse the Bahai writings can communicate a love of beauty and of knowledge like a light caught from a leaping flame(Plato's Letters, No.7). Finally, in listing some of the relevant factors in the production of this work, one can not ignore the role played by the changes and chances of the world and human limitation as well as what might be called those mysterious dispensations of Providence.

In 1997-1998, in the first half of the Four Year Plan(1996-2000), I began to think of writing a personal epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning; this particular poem with its ten page beginning is still a work in progress and has not got beyond those ten pages. But by September 2000 I began to envisage my total prose-poetic output in terms of an epic since, by then, I had written several million words of prose-poetry and prose across a number of literary genres. As the efflorescence on Mt Carmel and its tapestry of beauty began to unfold, I felt my writing pregnant with meaning, at least for me if not for others. The sheer size of my epic work in its several genres, it seemed, made the concept of my total oeuvre as epic a natural one. I imposed, then, by sensible and insensible degrees over a period of years, the epithet--epic--on this great swath of my writing as it sat in my computer directory.


In the year 2000, after I had crossed the bridge from that 20th century, I began saying Alla'u'Abha 95 times a day. The enactment of the ritual provisions of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas referring to the obligatory prayers, fasting and dhikr by the House of Justice's announcement to the Bahá'í world on 28 December 1999. This has been, as far as I know, the only enactment made by the Universal House of Justice which I can discern as constituting an act of legislation during the first 15 years of this paradigm. All my days in the 20th century had come and gone and now I was on the internet at thousands of sites and in published books. I was able at last to attract receptive souls to the Cause more than ever before or so it seemed to me as clear as the sun shining in the sky. As the unfolding magnificence of the Terraces began to capture public attention and as a sense of dynamic transformation and a coherence of vision and activity began to give to my mind and heart and their expectations a certain chronology for the future of my own activity---I began to see how I could make my own mark and make it quite specifically in the teaching work and in this new paradigm.

The idea of a paradigmatic shift, a new culture of learning and of growth, had come to take on a whole new meaning for me as the 1990s unfolded, as I crossed that bridge into the new millennium. My writing began to become a medium for teaching in a way it had never done before. The early years of the new millennium and the first two of many decades in the context of this new culture of learning and of systematic action had opened-up new avenues of teaching for this Bahai now in his late adulthood. My writing required the avoidance of distractions and a sense of mission, as the House emphasized in that same 2007 Ridván message; about this there was little doubt in my mind. Deepening had always been synonymous to me, among other things, “with a process of having spiritual meaning infused” into my life. And now that infusion found expression in the written word par excellence, my own written word and its focus was on teaching and consolidation, on the expansion of the Cause and the consolidation of the community I had been involved with in one way or another since the earliest years of my life, my late childhood, the years 9 to 12 years old.

“One of the best medicines,” Daniel Jordan one of the Causes great teachers in the last half century once wrote, “for reducing anxiety is having perceptions which make sense out of all the events going on about us.” I found this circling round, this mental circumambulation process and these comparisons with the works of others did just that; not all anxiety was eliminated, of course; but the work, my work, could go on, in gusto, by leaps and bounds. My learning and writing-time was in seclusion, solitary; it required a deepened aloneness and it found a new clarity. But, given the fact that I was interacting with more people than ever before in a direct teaching capacity in cyberspace and not in real space, as one could put it, I felt that my work was not escapist. My work did take place in a condition of solitariness and solitude, but it also found a social and intellectual intimacy that provided a real source of human happiness. My work also found a source of what might be called internal processes of integration for what had been many disintegrating factors and experiences in my life. Readers who want to follow-up on these disintegrating experiences can read my bipolar story, my chaos narrative as I call it, at this site.


I have often felt in recent years that the burden of value, as that fine writer Anthony Storr puts it in his book Solitude, with which we are at present loading interpersonal relationships is too heavy for those fragile craft to carry. But this is a separate subject too extensive to deal with here. I would recommend readers follow my comment here on Storr's book, on his many analyses of modern society and the nature of the human beings who come across our path in the expanding universe of the Bahai culture of learning and growth.

I began to make comparisons and contrasts with a number of other writers and poets, both ancient and modern, and the epic works that flowed from their pens. I found such exercises useful in order to throw light on the nature, the context and purpose of my own work. As Bahiyyih Nakhjavani emphasized in her writing our “greatness rests not in ourselves, but in our capacity and desire to circle around the great.” In addition to circling round the great souls in our Faith, through prayer and entreaty, through contemplation and reading, I found comparisons and contrasts between my own work and the works of other writers and poets, already acknowledged in the literary world, the social sciences and the humanities, for their significant contributions, provided a fertile base of insight into my own literary endeavours.

I will include here some comparisons and contrasts between my opus and that of some historians and the poetic opus of Ezra Pound and Walt Whitman, although I found William Wordsworth and Shakespeare(or whoever wrote those plays and sonnets) among many others whom I refer to in many of my prose-poems were also helpful by processes of analogical thinking, processes which are valuable tools in life's journey of the intellect. This may sound somewhat pretentious to some readers. Perhaps it is. The value of these comparisons in illuminating my own literary efforts to serve the Cause during these years of a paradigm shift or, perhaps more accurately, a gradualist or even a multi-paradigmatic shift in the life of the Baha’i community and my own life, were extensive, enriching and serendipitous.

The intensity and extent of this new form of action, of teaching the Cause, on a new plane--the internet--has been made possible by the employment of the written word, by an immense variety of methods of expression and varying types of response to the written expressions of others. I no longer had to focus on direct, personal, face-to-face, interaction, although I did not give this up in my many home visits. Necessity or perhaps circumstances, or Providence, had taught me an alternative method of creating works of literary art on the one hand and simple written exchange on the other. This method was more etherial, a criterion of growth in civilizations Toynbee argues, and it seemed to me much more effective: wider in range and deeper in penetration. The influence of soul on soul that I had experience in the years 1959 to 1999 always seemed narrow, superficial and bounded by the confines of the personal and institutional relations through which I was operating. I found, in writing, that my human action was transmuted into perception, thought, feeling and imagination, transcending at the same time the limits of time and space and winning its way into a field that extended to infinity.

I felt compelled, by the turn of the new millennium, in the first decade of the implementation of this new paradigm, to limit my field of action, to change my role, in what might be called practical community affairs due to the infirmities of my bipolar disorder(google: RonPrice BPD) and due also in order that I could focus on a field of action in which, as Lucretius put it, I was able to pass "far beyond the flaming walls of the world and traverse throughout in mind and spirit the immeasurable universe."(Toynbee,V.2, p.289) I participated in these first years of the new paradigm in both an etherial communion with posterity as well as in my short and narrow-verged life of the flesh with its inevitably transitory experience, its dross of egotism and animus. I do not feel I am finding my life by losing it, as some of the more enthusiastic of my coreligionists might put their story. With the poet Shelley I feel no need to "boast of my mighty deeds" if, indeed, any of my deeds are and were mighty.


It is difficult to see my writing as a mighty deed written as it is from the comfort of my home and study and in the leisure of these years of my retirement. I was able to transmute, find relief from, indeed, heal the wounds from what seemed like a lifetime of different kinds of tests and difficulties, different experiences of private and spiritual malaise into works of art, into what might become an ageless and deathless human experience as some of the written words of artists can be. The periodic experiences of malaise in my life-narrative were not characterized by stings of conscience as I looked back from these years of my retirement. Any long range benefits from this writing would be a bonus on top of the present teaching value that my writing has for the Cause.

As I say and I must emphasize, I am not trying to assuage the stings of my conscience due to sins of omission and commission, although perhaps I should, perhaps I do so unconsciously. I find my identity, indeed, I sink my identity day after day into a world of study, writing and thought as I try to transmute into creative thought my energies which had for so many long years been engaged in the practicalities of life. The writings of my religion and of the many thinkers ancient, medieval and modern are like an ambrosia which, in the evening of my life, I feel born to eat, as I try to apply my literary output to the overwhelming experiences, the titanic forces and upheavals, of my age and the panorama of my times.

Time, of course, would tell whether these latter-day literary contributions of my late middle age and these early years of late adulthood would be not just an ephemeral tour de force but, rather, a permanent contribution to knowledge, an everlasting possession, a triumph of spiritual ambition, as was the case of the historian Thucydides' great history of the Peloponnesian War. In the meantime as time decides such an eventuality, I can enjoy the climate of northern Tasmania which, unlike the climate of California, is not too uniformly stimulating and, as the historian Ellsworth Huntington argues in his Civilization and Climate, is sufficiently diverse but not too violently hot or cold as in some of the other places I have lived over the decades.(see pp.225-6)

For many a long year I have come to identify intimately and seriously with the Plans and programs of the Bahai community. Since the close of the Ten Year Crusade this Faith has occupied the centre-piece-stage of my life's trajectory and aspirations. The struggles of this Cause were my struggles although, in recent years, I have come to take a more detached view of the processes. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the challenge of teaching this Cause for several decades without any significant, indeed only a meagre, response in those areas where I lived, have contributed to my taking up the pen in these hours of mental retreat. This, I have little doubt is an appropriate response to the external vicissitudes of my life, my bipolar disorder. It is the best alternative to endless talking and listening which I am unable to take part in any way for more than very short periods of time--less than perhaps two or three hours--without some ensuing exhaustion. Those wanting to know the medical cause of this exhaustion can google, as I say elsewhere in this book: Ron Price, BPD.


In my lifetime the titanic forces unleashed by the revelation of Bahaullah were shaking the world to its depths as they had done in the generation of my parents and grandparents before me. The movement toward a lesser peace was proceeding with a speed that was as fast as it was obscure. When I came to write in these latter years I was able to obtain a marvellous tranquillity and serenity of mind after a peripatetic life filled to overflowing with people, problems and the demands of employment, family and community from wall to psychological wall--and inspite of some of the rigours of my life which I discuss in that detailed googling exercise to which I refer above.

My day to day life has come to possess a regularity and studiousness not unlike Immanuel Kant's(1724-1804). His daily walks and academic routines took him nowhere outside his Prussian town but his thought radiated to the four corners of the earth. In the last ten years my writing has radiated to the many corners of a cyberspace world but my fame is measured in nanoseconds among the 156 million internet sites. This inconspicuous manifestation of my literary work has resulted in more teaching activity than in the previous four decades, 1959 to 1999, of my Bahai life--as I have indicated elsewhere in this book. I feel that I am now serving this Cause more effectively than I have in all the other more active parts of my life and, due to the infirmities of my body, it is unlikely that I will be sucked into the turmoil of practical affairs from which I have been extricated now for more than a decade.

Like the poet Dante(1265-1321) who was driven to withdraw from his native city, who experienced many problems in love and life and who wrote his lifework--the Divina Commedia--in the last seven years of his life, I too have withdrawn but in a different way than Dante did. My hopes for the world and my society have not been extinguished as Dante's were, but both he and I were freed to engage in our literary work, freed from the trammels of time and space. In his case that freedom resulted in his ageless and timeless masterpiece and, in my case, my new found freedom brought more literary work in the teaching field than I ever could have imagined at the outset of this new paradigm when the growth of websites on the planet was just beginning. It brought a spiritual voyage into my innermost thoughts in order to return to my community with a series of writings which were seeds for a teaching and consolidation activity, a new form of community service and social activism, beyond my highest hopes at earlier stages in my life.

Unlike the poet Ezra Pound’s epic poem Cantos which had its embryo as a prospective work as early as 1904, but did not find any concrete and published form until 1917, my poetry by 2000 had come to be defined as epic, firstly in retrospect as I gradually came to see my individual prose-poetic pieces as parts of one immense epic opus; and secondly in prospect by the inclusion, as the years went by, of all future prose-poetic and prose efforts. Such was the way I came increasingly to see my literary anchorage in epic form, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in quite specific and overt degrees of understanding and clarity from 1997 to 2000 just as this paradigmatic shift was beginning to take off in the Baha’i community as the last years of the twentieth century came to a close and the new millennium was on the horizon.


This concept of my work as epic, with the gift of good and industrious hours, began, then, in 1997, after seventeen years(1980-1997) of writing and recording my poetic output and after five years(1992-1997) of an intense poetic production of over 500 pieces per annum coming out of my poem factory. The beginning of this quite intense period of poetic production synchronized with that “auspicious juncture in the history” of the Cause, the Holy Year of 1992/3, when that “rampant force,” that “quickening wind,” that “ventilation of modes of thought” and that encouragement to take time for inner reflection and for a rendezvous of our soul with the Source of our light and life” was on our radar screens, so to speak, due to the Ridván message that year. We were all informed on 21 April 1992 that the Universal House of Justice would “not forget to supplicate at the Holy Threshold” in order that the Blessed Beauty “from His retreat of deathless splendour” might fill our souls with His “revivifying breath.” I liked this idea; of course one can never be sure that what is filling our souls is His reifying breath or the many idle fancies and vain imaginations that abound in our society and fill our minds to overflowing with trivia, the allurements of immense insignificance and what the Bahai literary critic Geoffrey Nash once called the candy-floss entertainment world suited for ten year olds.

In 1997 after five years and some 2500 prose-poems sitting in my computer directory and in plastic booklets with crenelated tubes for bindings, this epic work began to take on form. What I had written between 1992 and 1997 dealt with a pioneering life of thirty-five years, a Baha’i life of thirty-eight years and an additional six years when my association with the Baha’i Faith was due to my mother’s interest, when I was still a child and junior youth. In those early years in the 1950s, this new Faith was seen more as a Movement in the public eye than a world religion in spite of the Guardian’s efforts to dispel this anachronistic, inaccurate, view. That earlier emerging paradigm was, in 1953, at about the same stage as this current paradigm shift was in 1996.

In December 1999, just after retiring from full-time employment, I forwarded my 38th booklet of poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library(BWCL). The BWCL had 38 booklets of poetry for each year of my pioneering venture, 1962-1999. I entitled that 38th booklet Epic. I continued to send my poetry to the BWCL until 30 December 2000. By the time of the official opening of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab on 21 May 2001 I had sent over 5000 poems to the BWCL. Perhaps this exercise of sending out my poetry to the BWCL, among other libraries in the Baha’i world, was part of a desire for some connective tissue to be threaded into the warp & welf of the literary work of this international pioneer. Perhaps I felt my poetry, which had had a transforming affect on the animate and inanimate features of my homefront, international and changing pioneer life, needed to have other homes, other kindred spaces, beside my own head. The affective kernel or centre of my life was Mt. Carmel, the Hill of God, the Terraces and the Arc which were just being completed. This Place had been the cynosure of my life for my entire adulthood. Was it unreasonable that I wanted my poetry to be in the library in Haifa? Perhaps. Perhaps it was sheer presumption.

Did my writings deserve a place beside whose of the Central Figures of my Faith? Recognition of this Revelation is not and has not been an easy matter for the majority who here of it for the first time, at least this is the case in Western countries and in Canada and Australia where I have lived for over sixty years. If most of those to whom I have tried to teach this Faith since the 1950s probably regarded the Bahai writings(if they were ever to get so far as to actually read them)as strange, queer, flowery, typically oriental, far too poetic and unsuitable for the West; if the language of our time, the language that fills magazines, newspapers and most novels is impoverished and emotively undernourished, in some ways it is not surprising that most of my contemporaries in Canada and Australia had difficulty coming near to this Cause. And there were many other reasons. The recognition of truth is often associated with a series of requirements which demand quite a bit from everyday man. Would my writing make it any easier? All of this, of course, is essentially tangential, to the focus of this book and I shall leave these complex questions and these subjective statements about the Bahai writings, which I hope do not offend some of my coreligionists, unanswered for now.

This lengthening work of my poetry and prose, which I now refer to as epic, evinces a pride, indeed, a veneration for the historical and cultural past of this new Faith. This history provides me with a metaphorical, mythological, base of meaning in my life. A significant part of my confidence and hope, my vision for the future of humanity, derives from the history and the teachings of a religion which I believe has an immensely important role to play in the unfolding application of the principle of the political and religious unification of the globe to human welfare in what is, has been and will be, a long and tortuous planetization process.


There is also a practical use of my writing to local, quite personal and private associations that I give expression to in this work of poetry and prose. This work may turn out to be yet one more of the many means that currently exist, I sometimes mused as I wrote, of putting youth and adults in this new Cause in touch with the great citizens, the models and the noble deeds of the past, inspiring them with more personal, more succinct, blends of the historical, psychological and sociological aspects of their religious heritage as Baha’is. However local my efforts were, though, the core of my inspiration, both in my writing and in the derivation of my religious enthusiasms, found their origins in a spiritual, an international, perspective. I did not measure the viability and significance of my writing, my literary work, by its local reception. Nor did I measure it entirely by its teaching and consolidation function. As Paul Lample point out in his talk on 'Learning and the Unfoldment of the Bahá'í Community' in 2008 one's "scholarly work does not have to justify itself on the basis of whether it contributes to the current goals of the Five Year Plan. It is valid in its own right; it is an area of endeavour in which we have to engage."

The local strength of the Cause wherever I had lived in some 35 houses and 22 towns in my life was, for the most part, not a visible one in either the public eye or the eye of many of my fellow believers. I did not measure the religion I belonged to, what was still considered by many to be but a new religious movement, by its local strength and reception. “The bona vide context of this Cause,” as Will van den Hoonaard put it in the last sentence of his survey of the first fifty years of Baha’i history in Canada, is provided by “the advent of instant travel and international communication.” The fundamental context of the Bahai Faith is international; it is the axis of the oneness of humanity. As I have been writing in the last twenty years, I often felt as if I was there in Haifa at the Bahai World Centre. This was especially true thanks to cinema, video, DVD, cassette-tape, CD, photography, hi-fidelity sound systems, a print and electronic media which had been sensibly and insensibly transforming the world into a neighbourhood before my very eyes in the last half of the 20th century and in this new millennium. Indeed, much of history and life in contemporary society, its content and context, were being restored, recreated, illumined and revitalized before my intellectual eyes. The Tablet of Carmel itself is full of allusions, symbols and metaphors which enrich and enhance the meaning systems of the individuals in the Bahai community everywhere. I had been trying to memorize this Tablet for over twenty-five years and many of its sentences and passages had become a part of my inner life. But again, these comments are somewhat tangential to the thrust of this book.

While millions upon millions were “ill-equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet, “ as they listened to “the pundits of error” and sank “deeper into a slough of despond,” I felt inspired by a vision, a culture of learning and a sense of authentic guidance all of which propelled what I felt was a constructive literary endeavour. Not having to do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination and their troubled forecasts of doom, I was able to proceed with unabated action to make my mark at this crucial turning point in history. This is not to say, of course, that I see the solutions to the world's problems as simple and that I have an angle on the world's complexities which puts me in an all-knowing position. I am more than a little aware that we all only understand in part and prophesy in even lesser part. Human consciousness is simply inadequate to fathom the world's complexity.

The disproportion between the complexity and our inadequate consciousness is becoming more and more flagrant. Human experience and reason, without an orienting aid for human behaviour and existential questions, is no longer a sure guide to social relations. These relations are simply so complex, so differentiated and human experience so specialized, complicated or incomprehensible that it is very difficult to find common symbols to relate one experience to another. Part of the function of this new paradigm is to provide another stage in the orienting structure that is the Bahai community. Udo Schaefer explores this theme and the spiritual bankruptcy of democracy very effectively in his book the Imperishable Dominion. It is crucial, but quite a complex exercise, to keep these ideas in mind as we go about our experience of this new paradigm of growth in the Bahai community. Little by little and day by day is an aphorism we all need to keep squarely in front of our intellectual perspectives, in front of our eyes and in our minds to counter the immense complexity of it all and to help us keep our noes to the proverbial grindstone with the joy that is essential and that we need if we are to keep us going day after day and year after year.



My writing journey in this last dozen years has coincided with a process, a paradigm shift, that was taking place in the religion I had belonged to for decades. This writing journey of mine has been, and I anticipate it continuing to be, an activity that I trust is helping to create memorials and monuments with an international ethos. Perhaps, I sometimes muse, these prose-poems possess a resolution, a perspective, a vision that might be indispensable to others in performing the duties of a type of global citizen of the future. Perhaps this literary work will also serve, so my musings continue, as a dedication, as a form of natural piety, not so much my own, but a dedication and a piety by which the present would become spiritually linked with the past in the minds of others who read what I wrote.

I liked to see my work as an extension into the sphere of nationhood and even internationalism. Wordsworth saw his autobiographical poetry this way. His poetry was part and parcel of his desire for continuity in his own life and in the lives of others— "The Child is father of the Man; / And I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each by natural piety." In writing it is useful to have some overriding ethos, some structure of purpose and meaning, some explicit intention and definition of ultimate concern. Rollo May calls the totality of a person's orientation to the world--intentionality. We mould and remould our world in the process and this is done, he argues, in the context of meaning and commitment. This new paradigm is nothing if not yet another form of Bahai commitment, the structure within which willing and wishing take place. Intention is a turning of one's intention toward something. And language is my way of conceiving it--hence this book which gives expression to my potentialities and indeed my very consciousness.

The man who governs his life by consciousness, by the use of the rational faculty and the cultural attainments of the mind has a completeness, writes Leach, and he can powerfully assist others. This has certainly been the case for me in the years of this new paradigm. But not everywhere and with everyone. One must accept one's limitations and in my case they are many and various. But I am the private artist with a public function. All is not seriousness; there is also frivolity and play on the internet; indeed, it is just about compulsory in many places. There is also a need for accuracy and being methodical, persistence and continuity in so many discussions which seem to never end. The internet is a flowing fibre of teaching opportunities. Like so many things in life in relation to the Cause, arising to serve in some capacity is important, but there needs to be a permanent arising to stay. Endurance and persistence often is acquired at the cost of loneliness and suffering. Each of us has their own capacity to suffer. We are not all made of the same stuff in spite of appearances to the contrary. There is the inward pioneer and the outward one and they often have very different complexions.


Part 1:

As this new Cause has grown and matured in the more than a century and a half since 1844, there has been an integrated, organic, a humanistic outreach as it went about affirming in many ways, in its social and spiritual teachings, the continuity, the progression of past, present and future. In the many countries and the multitude of groups where Baha’is have played their parts as individuals and as communities, they eschewed militarism, imperialism and aggressiveness in the world around them. They went about celebrating and commemorating the cultural, national, international and individual achievements of members of their Faith and of the groups and individuals of whatever background and description they were a part. This is not to say, of course, that harsh words never arose among all the millions of Baha’is, nor that violence and abuse did not erupt from time to time in the myriad of relationships that constituted the Baha’i community.

As Baha’u’llah emphasized on the first page of his Book of Certitude, though, one must not, indeed cannot, measure this Cause by the behaviour of its adherents. Again, I have made this point before in this book, but I make it again due to its cruciality in this whole process. Baha’is aim and try but do not always achieve; inharmony and misunderstandings are part and parcel of any group of people, any paradigm.

In order to maintain and foster their identity and independence as well as their international spirit of solidarity, Baha’is have tried to sink deep into the recesses of the hearts & minds of others—for this aspect of their daily life, this intention in their interpersonal relationships, is and has been part of their ethic and ethos for decades. This process has taken many forms. But, one cannot have deep and meaningful relationships with everyone; a certain degree of anonymity is essential, indeed inevitable, in a modern mass society or our spirits would burn up in a short time. For me, one of these forms of both intimacy and anonymity has been this literary work of mine. Since 1997 I have defined this literary form, my work, as epic. The whole notion of community building and what it means to have community has just begun within the period of this new paradigmatic shift, this new culture of learning. Coincidentally, this has taken place with the origin an growth of my epic literary opus. I am only commenting on this concept of community in this part of my book as a tangential part of the overall theme. But I would like to say more about my writing and about meaningful relationships for it is this which has been at the core of my own paradigm shift, a shift that has been the crucial enabling factor in my own teaching work virtually all over the planet where people have access to the internet.

Part 2:

Over the past few decades, The Universal House of Justice, the elected international body which guides the work of the global Bahá’í community, has outlined a vision of action for Bahá’ís that includes a number of separate but interrelated “core” activities: the gathering together of friends for the purpose of sharing prayers and reading writings of various religious traditions, the intentional study of the sacred writings of the Bahá’í Faith, programs for the spiritual education of children, and groups designed to allow pre-youth to explore themes of spiritual import and engage in service activities together. Given the importance of these core activities to the overall efforts of the Bahá’í community, it seems prudent to discuss a concept that The Universal House of Justice describes as one of the primary impetuses behind all of these activities: engaging in “meaningful and distinctive conversations” with our friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and co-workers.

So what exactly does it mean to engage in “meaningful and distinctive conversations”? Why is it so important to do so? And what are some ways we can become more mindful of our everyday speech? While this idea has received special emphasis from The Universal House of Justice in its recent messages, in many ways this concept has been discussed by all of the central figures of the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’u’lláh in particular has a number of passages in which he describes the importance of speech. The following passage is one of the most interesting of Bahá’u’lláh’s descriptions:"Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. (Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 172)

I cannot even begin to comprehend exactly what Bahá’u’lláh means when He says that every word is endowed with a spirit. But even so, it is clear that our speech has a powerful influence on the hearts and minds of those around us. It for this reason that Bahá’u’lláh frequently discusses the deleterious effects of the more negative forms of speech. In different places He describes the tongue as a “smoldering fire” and encourages us to refrain from idle talk and gossip. (Falen D’Cruz has an excellent post in Bahá’í Blog on backbiting for those interested in a more thorough treatment of this topic). But engaging in meaningful and distinctive conversations requires more than simply refraining from gossip and backbiting. In other words, one can say that refraining from negative speech is a necessary but not a sufficient precondition of such conversations. From my perspective, these conversations require us to pay attention to both the substance of our discussions as well as the method by which we delivery what we have to say. From my perspective, all of this is part and parcel of my writing as it has flowered in the last two decades in cyberspace.

Part 3:

I find many of the Faith’s teachings on the latter point particularly interesting. I think we often assume that those who speak with the greatest passion, conviction, and unflinching resolve are the most influential in conversations. However, Bahá’u’lláh tells us that the truly wise and enlightened should primarily speak …with words as mild as milk and with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station. (Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 172) Even if we are having conversations with people whom we vehemently disagree with on whatever the topic may be, engaging in fierce debates and verbal sparring matches rarely results in the promotion of mutual respect and understanding that can serve as the foundation of collective and unified action.

Similarly, the Bahá’í Faith teaches us that we should be particularly mindful of the beliefs and capacity of those we are engaged in conversation with. As Bahá’u’lláh states: Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 176) Even the teachings and principles of the Bahá’í Faith were only gradually revealed to society as our collective capacity to understand certain ideas developed over time, so we should remember this fact when discussing spiritual topics with those whose beliefs may be significantly different than ours. There is no point in trying to convince someone of an idea that they are not ready to consider or able to understand (I hope it’s clear that I’m using “able” here in the sense of their exposure to certain ideas in the past that allows them to engage in particular conversations in the present, rather than their innate “ability” to comprehend). Instead, we should attempt to find points of mutual interest and understanding and begin our conversations there.

Just as we must continue to refine our ability to discuss our ideas in the most effective ways possible, we must also continue to find opportunities to elevate our discussions to the realm of spiritual import. In this sense, engaging in meaningful and distinctive conversations requires us to reframe and re-imagine everyday subjects: to find the profound in the mundane, the significant in the trivial, the unifying in the controversial. One of my favorite passages in the recent messages from The Universal House of Justice made me re-think the way in which I tell people about this amazing Faith that I care about so deeply. I used to believe that my primarily goal should be to teach people about the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, to clearly elucidate its central principles, and to convince them of its truth. The Ridván 2010 message made me look at teaching in a completely new way. In the words of the The Universal House of Justice: " Whether the first contact with such newly found friends elicits an invitation for them to enroll in the Bahá’í community or to participate in one of its activities is not an overwhelming concern. More important is that every soul feel welcome to join the community in contributing to the betterment of society, commencing a path of service to humanity…

This obviously does not mean that we should not tell people about the person of Bahá’u’lláh or inform them of the central principles of His revelation. However, what seems most crucial is that we elevate our daily conversations in order to find others who have similar visions of the most effective ways to spiritually transform our communities. Because people with this vision come from every racial, national, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious background, we should always be attentive to opportunities to engage in meaningful and distinctive conversations.


I had begun then, as I say above, to see all of my poetry and prose somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which drew on a massive body of print or analects, a word which means literary gleanings: a sequence of chapters, poems, pieces of prose-poetry, essays, interviews and books often completely at random but not always so, with themes of adjacent items completely unrelated to each other, again, but not always so. Some central themes recur repeatedly in different parts of my total work, sometimes in exactly the same wording and sometimes with small variations, as they do in Pound’s work. Just as many central themes that had been part of my life for decades as a Bahá’í, recurred repeatedly in the new culture of learning of the Bahá’í community, sometimes with exactly the same words and sometimes with only small variations, so was this true in my writing, my memoir, my autobiography. And it always remains unfinished. And so is this true of the expression in the world of concrete reality of this new paradigm---it is always a work in progress. Indeed, it is a cumulative progress in both its outward and inward aspect. This is its growth, its expansion.

In the main the challenges within this new paradigm do not impinge from the outside but they arise from within and the victorious responses to these challenges do not take the form so much of surmounting external obstacles or adversaries, but they are to be found, they manifest themselves, in actions related to an inward self-articulation, self-determination. It is here where the criterion for growth is found. This is also true of the individuals. Their creative acts are an expression of their inward development from inchoate activity, from various forms of frenetic passivity, psychic anarchy and unorganized centrifugal tendencies to effective, psychic order and central control.

As it says in John xii, 32, in the process of this creativity they “draw men unto them” and “this is why they have come into the world.”(John xvi, 28) Living lives for remote and mighty ends is part of the life of people in this new Baha’i paradigm as it was in the old. There is always the inert uncreative and unresponsive mass of one’s kin and one’s kind even if one enjoys the companionship of a few kindred spirits. The majority of the members of society at this stage are inevitably left behind.

The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and, in its current and published form, written between 1922 to 1962, is, as I say, a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of the great mass of my poetry, prose and prose-poetry. The initial concept of my poetry as epic, though, came long after I was first influenced by poetry, long after I began writing poetry as far back as the winter of 1980 when I kept my first poem in a file, possibly as far back as 1962 at the very start of my pioneering life when I first remember writing poetry and possibly all the way back to the 1950s when I joined the Baha’i Faith and when in 1953 my mother, also a poet, became a Baha’i. The view, the concept of my work as epic began, as I have indicated, as a partly retrospective exercise and partly a prospective one.


The epic journey that was and is at the base of my poetic opus, then, is not only a personal one of fifty-eight years going back to 1953, the time when my first steps in the realms of this new faith-belief took place; and the time when my firmer belief, commitment and reflection came along in my lifespan by the early 1960s. My epic literary road was and is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, which had its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history find their origin: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences.

Generally, the goal or aim of my work and the way my narrative imagination is engaged in this epic is to attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life and the lives of my contemporaries, as far as possible. I have sought and found a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference mixed with certainties of heart and spirit. Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic seems to me centred in Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives as well as, as the great historian of the Renaissance Jacob Burkhardt put it: “man suffering, striving, doing, as he is and was and ever shall be.”


My prose and poetry, my epic, my religion and my society, are all engaged in an epic adventure, a crisis, a process, of epic magnitude that has to do with heroism and deeds in battle of contemporary and historical significance and manifestation. If we each want to be in contact with, in touch with, our reality, any reality we need to understand its purpose. This is what will infuse our own, our personal, epic narrative, with meaning and help us in this time of crisis, this climacteric in society. As Mr H.G. Wells divined by intuition at the turn of the 20th century Western Civilization was rushing down a steep place into the sea. At the turn of the 21st it appears to be nearly in the sea. We are indeed, in one of those ‘Times of Troubles’ as the historian Toynbee called them. They often last for centuries and they precede a Universal State.(A Study of History, V.4, p.4)

My work and my life, the belief System I have been associated with for over half a century, involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause I have been identified with as it has expanded across the planet in my lifetime, in the second century of its history. Sometimes that journey is lived in solidarity and sometimes in a solitary, alone, state, keeping one's distance from events, maintaining the peace of mind necessary for listening to one's deeper self. Though opposites, solidarity and solitude are part of this new paradigm as they always have been part of the Bahai life since the first paradigm shift on 23 May 1844.

This journey also involves my society and its new historical and social context in my time, my four epochs over the post-war years and into this new millennium as well as the emergence in recent decades, if not centuries, of a very complex set of moral ideas some conceived against custom and vested interests with no commonality, just by individuals with their own mythogenic private zone. Some of these ideas reinforce a sub-group of traditional religious and moral interests; some of them are part of the new definers of social reality in the electronic media; and some have a strong base among a very wide range of interest groups, idea systems, meanings and individual behaviours.

This journey of mine and its commitment must accept that along the way I may often be wrong; I may often do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing. There is a crucial dialectic between certitude and its sense of absolute conviction and perplexity and doubt. There is also a profound joy in the realization that one is helping to form the very structure of a new world. As I have gone about writing this book in recent years, and writing my autobiography in the last quarter century, I sense some inexplicable divine spark which has been kindled into flame. The stars in their courses cannot defeat the achievement of the vision of this Faith I have been associated with for nearly 60 years. I trust my efforts will contribute their small part to the attainment of the goal of the human endeavours of my coreligionists.(The Bible, Judges, v, 20)

The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, is found here in my rendition of this Baha’i epic. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in my inner life as much, if not more, than in my external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. Indeed, if I am to make my mark at this crucial point of history, it will be largely in the form of this epic literary work which tells of nearly 50 years of pioneering: 1962-2011 and a pre-pioneering decade that constituted most of the Ten Year Crusade: 1953-1963. The mark each of us makes finds its origins in our inner life and private character and the extent to which they mirror the teachings of this new Faith. This is the only mirror and mark worth making. In some ways we are only too well aware of the quality of our inner life and in other ways we are often blind to its reality.


More importantly, though, the part I play, the mark I leave, is as an individual thread in the fabric and texture of the Baha’i community in its role as a society-building power. This is true for all Baha’is as they attempt to find their place, to weave their thread, to define their role in the overall texture and substance that is this emerging world Order. The larger epic, the meta-epic, around which the epic of my life, indeed all our lives, is centred, finds its strength in the authenticity of the interpretation and exemplification of a religious canon. And each of us has his or her own epic, our own marathon journey, for many decades of living. For this life, this living, is indeed a marathon, at this climacteric of history, the last stage, the tenth stage as Shoghi Effendi called it in 1953-—and it is all within the context of the legitimate interpretation of the Baha’i canon and its authenticity. It is also part of the context, now, of a new culture of learning, a new paradigm shift in Baha’i community life.

The Bahá’í Administrative Order is something all Baha’is play a part in on a multitude of fronts “whether in serving it or receiving from it.” In their efforts to practice the teachings and be living examples all Baha’is are part of this new Order and this “moral aspect cannot be over-emphasized.” This Order should not be characterized by a membership which resembles a passive congregational community nor should it be one with only a lip-service to lofty principles. Decision-making is by a group, a consultative based system and is not the prerogative of learned or ambitious individuals; and this process requires for its success the skills and principles outlined by Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. They are skills and principles not easy to acquire and apply. They often require a brilliant inventiveness, keen perception and discrimination and a high order of intelligence. They require encounter and absorption. In many ways the Baha’i method is the antithesis of how current political and religious communities are organized and run with their hierarchical, patriarchal and authoritarian practices. Encounter and absorption, engagement and intensity can be found in various degrees, manners and styles of commitment. The process requires all we have and, in this work, not only do we encounter our world, but we prepare our souls for the world of light beyond this nether sphere.

As the Universal House of Justice announced, as far back as 1975, the process of building the Arc on Mount Carmel “will synchronize with two no less significant developments-the establishment of the Lesser Peace and the evolution of Bahá'í national and local institutions.'' These institutions, these places of group-decision making and increasingly refined consultative skills are one of the critical places in which this culture of learning will manifest itself in the decades and centuries ahead—and this community building process has just begun, has just taken off in our time. These processes are often slow and obscure in their manifestations. The processes involved in the Lesser Peace also have their critical domains where equally slow and often equally obscure processes of development are taking place.

My own life, my own epic, within this larger Baha’i epic, had its embryonic phase in the first stage of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan, 1937-1944, the first of three phases leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 as the last year of my teen age life was about to begin and as, most importantly, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel regarding “that blissful consummation” when Divine Light shall flood the world from the East to the West. Little did I know, of course, at the time. That is often the case that we simply have no idea just where we are in the great process that is history. We come to understand ourselves and our world retrospectively.

In 1963 “a unique victory” was won and that victory has been consolidated in the years since then. A process of consolidation has also gone on during what is now more than half a century(1963 to 2015), and this consolidation has been especially apparent during these paradigmatic years of this new culture of learning. It is a consolidation of what the German sociologist Max Weber called an institutionalization of charisma, a term he used as part of his sociology of religion that he developed in the years before the Great War to end all wars. This unique victory is part of this new epic journey: for me, for the Baha’i community and for humankind.

It is hardly surprising that the Administrative Order is described as a theocracy. It is after all the internal order governing a religious community. If theocracy is defined as rule by the institutions of the religious order, any self-governing religious order is by definition theocratic. The Methodists and Quakers are internally theocratic in this sense, since they hope and have faith that the church, as part of the body of Christ, will be guided (through its elected system) by God. This is not the same as ‘theocracy’ in the political sense, which is the kind of government that was attempted in Iran after 1979, a government in which the persons and institutions of the religious order either control or replace the organs of the civil government. In this, which is the usual sense of ‘theocracy,’ the Bahai teachings are decidedly anti-theocratic, since they forbid and condemn this usurpation of the power that God has granted to the Kings and Rulers. Still, it is not the purpose of this book to deal with the complexities of the form of governance in the centuries ahead from a Bahai perspective. As Shoghi Effendi so eloquently put it on the last page of his The Promised Day Is Come: "Not ours, puny mortals that we are, to attempt to arrive at a precise and satisfactory understanding of the steps which must lead a bleeding humanity.....from its calvary to its ultimate resurrection.


A tempest seems to have been blowing across the world's several continents and its billions of inhabitants with an incredible force for decades, for over a century and since the emergence of this latest paradigmatic variant on one long Bahai paradigm, the tempest has been blowing with increasing force yet again, a force much more complex than the one that brought two world wars. It is a force that is now raging in every corner of the world even where people seemingly live in peace and comfort. I would hope that this literary construction and analysis of what I see as an epic community design that has been put in place over the last 15 years, will be of use to others as this tempest continues to blow.

Indeed this tempest is showing no signs of cessation. I would like to think that what I write here will help others translate their potentiality into actuality--a process that Alfred North Whitehead called concrescence. Whitehead also said that each of us is engaged in a process of shaping the welter and often chaotic experience of our thought and emotion into "a consistent pattern of feelings." But I have no idea whether what I write will be of help to others or not. In this exercise of mine I am quite aware that there are no guarantees for myself or for others. One writes in faith and hope. One provides the energy and one follows the guidance available in this Cause, as far as one is able within the limits of ones incapacity as Abdul-Baha once expressed the concept of one’s failings to act and to do. And consistency of feeling is a lifelong battle and consistency is achieved only in the context of inconsistency. My capacity, our capacity, to experience our world is what Whitehead calls "feeling" and it is these feelings--and thoughts--which I must shape into a pattern that increases my awareness and the effectiveness of my participation in this new paradigm which will be with me--and us--for the rest of our lives.

I want to express beauty in addition to wholeness, a different kind of beauty than the painter or musician, to achieve a symmetry by means of infinite literary chords and discords, showing all the traces of the mind’s passage through the world; and to achieve in the end some kind of whole made of shivering and many coloured fragments. The wholeness comes from putting events into words. This is for me a natural enough process but, however natural, this type of literary flight of the mind is not so easily achieved. It is a worthy and difficult objective to attain, not unlike a literary aim of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers Virginia Woolf who held the view that “in much of our conscious life we are separated from reality because we are surrounded by a protective covering of appearances, of cotton wool.” Her aim was not so much to tell a coherent story but to convey moments of being, an aim that developed right from the memoir that was her first piece of writing in 1908. Her greatest pleasure, she said, was to put the severed parts of her life together on paper, in words. To Virginia Woolf, and to me, we are these words, this work of literary art. These words are the result of our living and acting in community. And so is this true of all of us not just those like Virginia Woolf and I, both of whom have a bipolar disorder. Each in our own way, as we all go through this culture of learning: we try to put our life together in this complex world, this age of transition, these darkest hours before the dawn.

I trust, too, that my epic work is not only a sanctimonious, openly pious, exploration of literary, practical and life-narrative themes, but also and simultaneously a self-questioning of these themes and forms, actions and motivations. What I write should not be seen as fixed and final, but what has been a lifelong attempt to polish and not pontificate, a work in progress that tries to guard against blind and idle imitation as well as against narrowness, rigidity and intolerance--tendencies toward fundamentalist habits of mind--in my own spiritual path and in the paths of others. What I write reveals some of the decisive moments in my life, moments in my inner world, moments which were, and usually remain, private. Some of the decisive moments in my society and my religion are also surveyed but not in any detail since: (a) they can be found described elsewhere in books that now fill many a space in libraries and great quantities of cyberspace and (b) the focus of this book is not, in the main, my autobiography, although some of it is found here.


From time to time in this book I make a special reference, a special drawing, on the thoughts and writings of others. The first here is Hugh Kenner.


In 1997 Hugh Kenner(1923-2003), a Canadian literary scholar, critic and professor. gave the annual Massey Lecture in Canada. Kenner pointed out that the greatest paradigm shift in Western Civilization in the last thousand years has been from a Eurocentric, Christocentric, tradition centred, civilization to a gradually evolving global civilization with no special political and moral centre in a universe of infinite space and time. It is this phenomenon, this shift, that the following poem tries to speak to, of, about. For in some ways the shift the Baha’i community is going through could be said to be yet another part of this greater shift, one of the many paradigm shifts in what has been the dynamic, complex and changing nature of the Baha’i community and its history.

I have my own Grand Tour now,(1)
my elsewhere community,(2)
my journey through what I know
to what I have yet to learn;
and when the war is over
I will go home.

There are no more Colosseums
or Roman Forums & education

takes me down different paths

past other Alps, another Paris,

some other Channel en route to

my salvation & the praise of my

Lord---& finding out who I am,

Some absorption to make me…

someone else, discover impulses

of deeper birth which come to me

in solitude. The harvest of a quiet

eye, random truths around me lie.

In these verses I impart what broods

and sleeps what in my own heart and

mind still keeps.

In the meadows of His nearness

I try to roam to get some clearness.

For the Grand Tour is my own creation

and can’t be found on any tourist guide,

only in my own world where I now abide.

(1) In the eighteenth century the Grand Tour was the trip from some place in western civilization through Europe to Rome. This is no longer the Grand Tour. We all make our own now.
(2) We all have what Hugh Kenner calls ‘elsewhere communities’, places we travel to and things we do and think to find out who we are. The traveller absorbs this ‘elsewhere community’ into himself to become what defines him throughout life. Part of this new paradigm in the Baha’i community is this elsewhere community, a community the Baha’i defines himself in by being immersed, as far as he is able, in the community of the Greatest Name.


I discuss in the following paragraphs some of the poet Ezra Pound(1885-1972) an American expatriate poet and critic, and a major figure in the early modernist movement. This controversial figure and author of the longest epic poem of the twentieth century was intent on developing an ideal polity for the mind of man. This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested the menacing fluidity, the indiscriminate massiveness, of the crowd, the mass of humankind. The polity that is imbeded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime, over some four epochs of the Baha’i Faith’s Formative Age, has been one that has grown so slowly at the local level where my efforts have taken place and where the groups I have worked in and with have been small.

At the same time, and over these four epochs(1944 to 2012) I have become more and more impressed with what is for me this “ideal polity." It is a global polity that is slowly spreading to every section of the world. As my experience of the Bahai polity and the Baha’i polity itself became more seasoned, more mature, more developed, it has come to "flood my consciousness" as the decades have seen my lifespan head into late adulthood. I could expatiate on this System and how it deals with the essential weaknesses of politics, weaknesses pointed out so long ago by Plato and Aristotle and which continue in their myriad forms to this day. That is not the purpose of this book, although I have expatiated on the subject matter of this polity: (i) occasionally as a crucial part of the content of this culture of learning, and (ii) a great deal in my poetry.

As the “series of soul-stirring events” that celebrated the completion of the Terraces on Mount Carmel were coming to their climax in the 1990s, that ideal polity of mind that I referred to above experienced a new, a fresh impetus, what might be called a type of spiritual springtime of auspicious beginnings. They were beginnings that went back as far as the early 1980s when the permanent seat of the Universal House of Justice on what Bahais call the Mountain of the Lord was completed and the occupation of the International Teaching Centre and the Centre for the Study of the Texts took place. A creative drive, a revolutionary vision, a systematic effort were all part of a culture of learning which was emerging in the 1980s and it implied the slow emergence of that paradigmatic shift that was foreshadowed by the House of Justice, as I say above, as early as 1988. This shift became a more visible reality as the 1990s turned the corner into the new millennium.

My style, my prose-poetic design, is like Pound’s in so far as I use juxtaposition, history and much in the western intellectual tradition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Like Pound, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was “the historical.” It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain ground from the novelists; my reclaiming job is to tell of the history of the epochs I have lived through from a personal perspective, from the perspective of the multitude of traces both I and my coreligionists have left behind. This reclaiming process, I must emphasize, is a personal one. In many ways the events of my time don’t need reclaiming for the major and minor events of these epochs both within and without the Baha’i community are massively documented in more detail than ever before in history. The reclaiming process is one of seeing the meaning in the evening of my life of what happened in my personal life, my society and my religion in the earlier decades of my lifespan.

Perhaps, though, in the same way that Pound’s work was, as the poet Alan Ginsberg once expressed and defined Pound’s work, “the first articulate record and graph of a man’s mind and emotions over a continuous fifty year period,” my epic may provide a similar record and graph. Unlike Pound, though, I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future with a distant vision of the oneness of humanity growing in the womb of this travailing age. I see humankind on a spiritual journey, the stages of which are marked by the advent of two Manifestations of God in the 19th century, at one of history’s many climacterics. The nature of the universe, it seems to me, points to something deeper and beyond itself. The universe has, as the philosopher and statesman J. C. Smuts once wrote, “a trend, a list. It was an immanent Telos. It is making for some greater whole.”(Holism and Evolution, 1927, p.185)

My “articulate record” is so different than Pound’s both in process and content. The contrast with Pound is worth stating for it throws light on what I am attempting to do. Pound’s world, like Woolf’s, was “all in scraps and fragments” and he attempted in his Cantos, that longest poem to which I referred to above, what some see as quintessentially an autobiography, to document the uncongeniality, the conflict, of the modern world. All that is and was solid, as Marx said, had melted into air by the decades that both Woolf and Pound were writing and all that was holy had been profaned. It was then, in these decades, that the new Baha’i paradigm of non-partisan politics, of its Bahai Administration, the nucleus and pattern of a new Order found its embryonic form.

That melting, that dissolving, process of the old order continued into my time. Individuals tied too closely to that old order were and are being rolled up as a new order is being spread out in a process of parturition and rupture that is often subliminal and with an imminence of a new bloom as history goes on in its “disastrous quest for meaning.” The centre had, indeed, not held or, as Frederick Glaysher states for “it had never really existed; it was only a fallacious structuring principle.” But a new centre of the holy had clearly emerged in my time even if it had just stuck its head above the ground and even if it was recognized by only one thousandth of the human population of this planet. It is this authentic structuring principle, this new centre and a sense of the holy associated with it that informs this autobiographical work and informs the work and activity of Baha’is at this new stage of this paradigmatic process.

The fifty+ year period, 1963 to 2015, in which my life and my Faith has been guided by the first full institutionalization of the charismatic Force that had come into the world a century before in the person of Bahá’u’lláh, has been one of the most enriching periods in the history of this Cause. This Cause had always been, for me, a culture of learning. I had for many a long year taken “deep satisfaction from the advances of society” and “had seen in them the very purpose of God.” These things, too, had been part of the culture of learning that had been in my life since the 1950s with the Guardian always providing the exegesis, the light of interpretation, that was a recipe for action, for understanding and meaning in my life—and then, after 1963, with the House of Justice providing a continuance of this divine and infallible exegesis.


To turn to another poet, Walt Whitman(1819-1892), an American poet, essayist and journalist, let me make some more comparisons and contrasts that hopefully will illumine my epic work and the epic work we are all involved with in this new global religion. Those who are familiar with Whitman’s poem Leaves of Grass may recall that his poetic work attempts to merge both the writer and his poetry with the reader. In the same way that Pound’s work provides a useful comparison and contrast point for me in describing and analysing my epic, so is this true of Walt Whitman’s poem. His poem expresses the theory and practice of democracy; mine expresses quite a different polity: the theory and practice of a new Order, a new System, what some call a democratic theocracy. I try to merge myself with the reader but, I am more inclined to the view that, like Pound, I do not achieve this desirable goal. In my case it is for different reasons than Pound, reasons which would require too extensive an explanation to go into here.

Whitman’s poem is, among other things, an embodiment of the idea that a single unique protagonist can represent a whole epoch. This protagonist can be looked at in two ways. There is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While I feel it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even attempt, to represent an entire epoch or age, this concept of a private/public dichotomy is a useful one, a handy underlying feature or idea at the base of this epic poem. Learning as a mode of operation requires, as the House of Justice emphasizes again and again, "that all assume a posture of humility, a condition in which one becomes forgetful of self, placing complete trust in God, reliant on His all-sustaining power and confident in His unfailing assistance, knowing that He, and He alone, can change the gnat into an eagle, the drop into a boundless sea."

I also like to think that, as I have indicated above, this experience, this poetry, this epic work, is in some ways part and parcel of the experience of many of my coreligionists around the world as their experience is part of mine, even though my work has an obvious focus on my own experience; and their lives and activities have an obvious focus on them. Paradoxically, it is the personal which is the common in so far as it recognizes the existence of the many in the one. In my own joy or despair and in and through this epic work entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs I express a shared experience; I write of that which others have also experienced. Such is my aim, my hope, at least one of my many ultimate desires in composing both this book and my 5 volume autobiography, some of which is found in this book on the new Baha’i paradigm.

In my poetic opus, my epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, I like to think that, with Whitman, the reader can sense a merging of reader and writer. But I like to think, too, that readers can also sense in my epic a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become. There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history’s experience, at least as far back as the 1840s, if not as far back as the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in N.E. Arabia in the decade before those halcyon days of the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath in the Jacobin Terror.

There is much more than verse-making here in my autobiographical opus. My work is not the Leaves of Grass or the Cantos. My epic is not one long poem. I use these works of these now famous poets for comparative purposes, as I say, to throw light on my own writing. I have no hesitation in making what Donald Kuspit calls identitarian claims for my poetry and my prose. My writing in all its forms expresses my identity; Kuspit emphazes what he calls the idiosyncratic artist and it is the very idiosyncrasies of the artist that make him convincing and give him credibility in our postmodern era. Yes, Mr. Kuspit, but I might add, only to a few.

As idiosyncratic artist and author, poet and publisher, I create my own cosmology, my own identity, an identity which is a mosaic of true and false, real and unreal. I pursue a sense of artistic and human identity in a situation where both I and my literary guidelines are idiosyncratic. My epic is a radically personal one as, indeed, all individual epics are. Epics aim to establish both conscious and unconscious communication between individuals. The identities of those who write the epics often confuse their egotistic pride with self-respect and honour. Their emotions are often expressions of their attempts to locate the source of their irritations outside themselves in external reality and who, like this writer, are caught up with “the allurements and the trivialities of the world without, and of the pitfalls of the self within.” I have found the writing of this epic journey, in this epic literary form, a mystery.

As yet there has been no commentary on my total oeuvre by any observer or critic. I would be happy to wait until after my passing; indeed I would be happy to wait even unto eternity. I leave the response in the hand of God, so to speak, with those mysterious dispensations of that watchful Providence.


The magnitude of the ruin that the human race had brought upon itself and its catalogue of horrors, a ruin the Guardian had described in a passage I had read as far back as the late 1950s, has been at the centre of my life, my civilization and the religion I have been part and parcel of for decades. The culture of learning that was put into special focus in the mid-to-late 1990s made me conscious of this reality more than ever and I knew, again as the House pointed out, that humanity appeared “desperate to believe that through some fortuitous conjunction of circumstances it could bend the conditions of human life into conformity with its desires.” The vision that had been at the centre of my Faith, a revolutionary vision, helped me create a reality which again helped me create the world in which I lived. For, as that long-time secretary of the NSA of the USA Horace Holley once said, and as I repeat for the second time in this book for emphasis, “vision creates reality.” This vision has been an important part of the more reflexive, introspective nature of my experience in the two epochs during which this paradigm has been institutionalized. Vision, values, beliefs and attitudes are all indispensable means of acquiring any historical knowledge at all. But, of course, there are no guarantees.

This paradigm provides what might be called an ideal framework, a pure form, a social construction, an ideal-typical construct, an action-oriented overview which the Bahais aim to achieve in the practical, real world but often, if not always or for the most part, never achieve. The framework is put into practice, is realized, is achieved in practice, in the conceptual imaginations, in the visionary frameworks, in the many-sided models of community. This framework is an important and useful tool for analysis for the body of the believers. It comprises as a total paradigm what might be called a conceptual utopia within which meaningful action is placed in a context of practical material and community life.

The focus, for the believer, is on the interplay of meaning and the conditions of action and an important part of this interplay is the creative aspect of human action. Meaning for the individuals concerned is an outcome of the creative activities in the changing historical circumstances. Meaning emerges from the relations between the actors and it emerges in the context of a new normative order from a charismatic Source. In some ways this context is much the same as it has always been. As the French say: "the more things change the more they stay the same." As one critic put it: the new paradigm seems to me just a movement of the deckchairs with most of community activity remaining the same. I’m sure this is the case for many Baha’is. In other ways, the changes are significant and equivalent to a new paradigmatic community construct.

Functioning as a medium of self-identification, the Bahai epic-narrative can provide individuals with an expression, an example, a source for an increase in energy and an increase in courage. This increase generates intentionality, a willingness and a desire to act. For all of us the desire to act in ways that are part of this new paradigm is essential. This action is in turn an experience of mastery that comes from dealing with life and it can contribute to a sense of identity, of authentic selfhood and intimacy in a postmodern society where authenticity and intimacy are important survival tools. For many, though, it must be recognized that there is no desire for such intimacy. Such individuals often prefer withdrawal from commitment and community involvement. Not everyone is blessed with what one writer called a socio-hormone. Many want to withdraw from what they, and T.S. Eliot, see as “the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is modern history.” Indeed, the sound of this withdrawal, if it could be measured, is deafening and it has complex roots which this book cannot examine in any depth. The failure to achieve a sense of community intimacy is a major source of people's alienation and their rootlessness in society. And this alienation cannot always, not frequently, be overcome. For still others withdrawal leads to return. Withdrawal and return become a rhythm. This topic has been dealt with in Bahai literature and I leave it to readers to follow the literary journey down its labyrinthine paths.


Part 1:

My writing, my poetry, contains within it, in page after page, an expression of, an identity with what has been and is now the ruling passion of my life: the Baha’i Faith, its history and teachings. This Faith seems to have wrapped itself over the landscape of my life and filled my being over these nearly fifty years of a pioneering life. Indeed, I have come to see myself with an increasing consciousness, as a part of, one of the multitude of lights in what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called a “heavenly illumination” which would flow to all the peoples of the world from the North American Baha’i community and which would, as Shoghi Effendi expressed it “adorn the pages of history.” Of course, this vision must be perpetually remade and adjusted like a hat. It must be placed in a perspective that is not a pretentious covering for the self and not a self-consciousness that is some sense of self-glorification and aggrandizement. But it is a vision of self that attempts to place within the context of my daily life an action-oriented mentality that dramatizes my intentions. These actions become, or such is my aim, the visible concomitant of an invisible process within me.

My story is part of that larger story, the first stirrings of a spiritual revolution, which at the local level has often, has usually, indeed, just about always, seemed unobtrusive and uneventful as far as the wider world of public significance is concerned, at least where I have lived and pioneered, growing not unlike Christianity as it did against a background of the Augustan system “half hidden, along the foundations of society.” But my inner journey is also, in basic ways, an expression of this larger journey. As John Hatcher writes in closing his helpful article on this process:

“In this inner dimension, spirituality becomes a sort of dialogue between the human soul and the Divine Spirit as channelled through the Manifestation. It is within this subjective, but nevertheless real, dimension of inner spirituality that one finds all the passion, the exaltation of spirit, as well as the terrible but somehow precious moments of despair, of utter helplessness and defeat, of shame and repentance. It is here that one learns with the deeply certain knowledge only personal experience can bestow, that the ultimate category of existence, the absolute and transcendent God who guides and oversees our destiny, is an infinitely loving and merciful Being.”

The narrative imagination, then, that is at the base of the Bahai epic and my own epic poetry needs to be seen by readers in the context that Hatcher describes above. As far as possible I have tried to make my own narrative: honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, intelligible, knowledgeable, part of a new collective story, a new shared reality, part of the axis of the oneness of humanity that is part of the central ethos of the Baha’i community. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative and poetry, of letters and essays, of notebooks and photographs, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Baha’u’llah exhorted me to do in Hidden Words, but with the help of many others.

Part 2:

My aim is not to rise in a Bahai community hierarchy or to become part of a necessary and inevitable bureaucracy of Bahai institutions on the appointive and elective sides of this Faith or in the everyday life of a local, cluster, regional, national and international community. But I do want to be part of this new society until my dying days. It is a new society already in the making, a society in which there is already concerted action toward a single goal, a map for the journey and not just vague sentiments of good will, however genuine. It is a society with explicit agreement on principles which require coordinated action. But it is not easy and it is not simple. My task is as a part of this new religion, this new community, this organization that is not competing with other religions but is a social force with a very special, perhaps even unique contribution to make to the aims of global peace and unity of our planet.

My aim as a poet and publisher, a writer and editor, a journalist and independent scholar, a husband, a father and a grandfather as well as a retired teacher and lecturer, tutor and adult educator, taxi-driver and ice-cream salesman--is to be a source of social good and serve my society within the limits of my incapacity, as Abdu'l-Bahá once put it. The liberal spirit, the sense of freedom, in the Bahai community is not a liberalism which, in many ways, is but a vast argument about the extent, the limits, of bureaucracy. It is a liberalism, a structure of freedom which has as its context, its framework, a Bahai administration, a framework of a new Order of action for our age. It has more similarities with the liberalism of John Stuart Mill, but it would be utterly misleading to attempt to compare this Order with any of the diverse systems of thought conceived by the many minds of men throughout history, ancient or modern. And this question of freedom and authority is far too complex to deal with here in any proper and comprehensive fashion in the middle of this book.

In the process of living, I leave behind me traces, things in your present, dear reader, which stand for now absent things, things from the past, from a turning point in history, one of history’s great climacterics. The phenomenon of the trace is clearly akin to the inscription of lived time, my time and that of my generation, upon astronomical time from which calendar time comes. History is “knowledge by traces”, as F. Simiand puts it. And so, I bequeath traces: mine and those of many others I have known, those of a particular time in history. Sometimes I think that these traces amount to a voluminous anatomy of self about which there is a very questionable value; at other times I think these traces are so intimately linked with the emergence of a new religion, a new Order with the very future in its bones, that there is an inner thrill and excitement that is difficult to keep in the form of a moderate expression.

But however I see these traces, Hatcher’s words that I have quoted above ring true and they offer a perspective on what is part of my aim, my goal, my process and what is the content of this work. These traces must be seen within a “subjective but nevertheless real dimension of inner spirituality” where I find “all the passion, the exaltation of spirit, as well as the terrible but somehow precious moments of despair, of utter helplessness and defeat, of shame and repentance.” This is true for all of us as we cultivate this culture of learning. I raise my voice here as one person but what I write applies, it seems to me anyway, to millions of my fellow believers.

Part 3:

In the years since the sense of my total oeuvre as epic was first formulated, that is more than a decade ago in the period 1997 to 2000, I have been working on the 2nd to 6th editions of my prose narrative Pioneering Over Four Epochs. In these last ten years, September 2001 to September 2011, this narrative has come to assume its own epic proportions. It is now 2600 pages in length and occupies five volumes. It is one of the many extensions, one of the many facets, parts and parcels, of the larger epic of my total oeuvre that I have described above and which had its initial formulation form from September 1997 to September 2000 at the outset of this new Bahai culture.

After some 18 years then, from 1997 to 2015, nearly all the years of this new paradigm, I have extended my epic, my world of prose memoir, of narrative autobiography. I also completed in that same period a 300 page study of the poetry of Roger White which was placed on the Juxta Publications website in October 2003. It was entitled: The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White. The first edition of my website in 1997, also entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, became a second edition on May 21st 2001 two days before the official opening of The Terraces on Mt. Carmel on 23 May 2001. My website is now 17 years old and is in its fourth edition. My old website(2001 to 2011) contained some 3000 pages and 450,000 words and was, for me, an integral part of this epic. The 4th edition of my website is the central matrix for several million words spread over cyberspace.

There are so many passions, thoughts, indeed so much of one’s inner life that cannot find expression in normal everyday existence. Much of my poetry and prose, perhaps my entire epic-opus is a result of this reality, at least in part; my literary output is also a search for words to describe the experience, my experience, of our age, my age and the religion I have now been associated with since DNA was discovered and Kinsey’s Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female was published both in 1953. In 1953 another one of those Bahai paradigms I have already mentioned was beginning as were new paradigms in the secular and scientific worlds. My total oeuvre of words in several genres could be said to be part of my very psycho-biological-philosophical self. My poetry and prose allows me to release surplus, excess, energy and an abundance of thought and desire which I am unable to assimilate and give expression to in my everydayness and its quotidian realities. This entire work is an expression of thoughts, desires, passions, beliefs and attitudes which I am unable to find a place for amidst the ordinarily ordinary and the humanly human aspects of everyday life. This literary epic adorns the ordinary; it enriches my everyday experience, as if from a distance.


Suffering ceases to be suffering when it has found a meaning wrote Victor Frankl in his now famous book Man’s Search For Meaning. These words of Frankl were quoted by Elizabeth Rochester in her long, fascinating and intellectually stimulating letter to Canadian international pioneers over twenty-five years ago. I think Frankl is partly right; sadly, many never find a meaning to their suffering. Since all of us struggle with suffering, our own and the world’s, in one way or another all our lives, the meaning of the suffering eludes millions. It is important for the generations who are experiencing this new paradigm in its earliest stages to be highly cognizant of the multitude of spiritual verities that previous generations of Bahais, perhaps as many as six if one defines a generation as a twenty-five year period, have come to experience and understand and which stand available in primary and secondary literature as well as on cassette tapes, CDs and videos to help illuminate their paths.

In 1997-1998, in the first half of the Four Year Plan(1996-2000), I began to think of writing a personal epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning; this particular poem with its ten page beginning is still a work in progress and has not got beyond those ten pages. But by September 2000 I began to envisage my total prose-poetic output in terms of an epic since, by then, I had written several million words of prose-poetry and prose across a number of literary genres. As the efflorescence on Mt Carmel and its tapestry of beauty began to unfold, I felt my writing pregnant with meaning, at least for me if not for others. The sheer size of my epic work in its several genres, it seemed, made the concept of my total oeuvre as epic a natural one. I imposed, then, by sensible and insensible degrees over a period of years, the epithet--epic--on this great swath of my writing as it sat in my computer directory.

The advent of instant travel and international communication has made the fundamental context of the Bahai Faith international; it is the axis of the oneness of humanity. As I have been writing in the last twenty years, I often felt as if I was there in Haifa at the Bahai World Centre. This was especially true thanks to cinema, video, DVD, cassette-tape, CD, photography, hi-fidelity sound systems, a print and electronic media which had been sensibly and insensibly transforming the world into a neighbourhood before my very eyes in the last half of the 20th century and in this new millennium. Indeed, much of history and life in contemporary society, its content and context, were being restored, recreated, illumined and revitalized before my intellectual eyes. The Tablet of Carmel itself is full of allusions, symbols and metaphors which enrich and enhance the meaning systems of the individuals in the Bahai community everywhere. I had been trying to memorize this Tablet for over twenty-five years and many of its sentences and passages had become a part of my inner life. But again, these comments are somewhat tangential to the thrust of this book.


A.I often mention Arnold Toynbee in this book

This book, as of 5/4/'15, has a total of 280,000 words and 790 pages(font 16; 680 pages font 14). It is found in two documents at BLO: Parts 1 and 2.

B.Other Baha’i Writers on Some Aspects of the New Paradigm

Tom Price, an inspirational speaker, gave 3 talks and they are found at this link:

End of Document at BLO

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