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On the rise and evolution of a world Bahá'í community in the 20th century, and new paradigms for community building.
Unfinished first draft of a paper presented at Landegg University, 2002.

Legacies and Prospects:
Baha'i Community Building Yesterday and Tomorrow

by Ismael Velasco

The conclusion of the twentieth century, the Universal House of Justice tells us, provides Bahá'ís with "a unique vantage point". It allows us to observe what they designate as the "convergence" between the profound changes that took place in the world in that period, and the emergence from obscurity of a globally unified and unifying Bahá'í community.1 The focus of the present faltering reflection will lie on the latter process, the rise and evolution of a world Bahá'í community in the 20th century. Standing on the promontory of the hundred years that closed, we may inquire not only into what lies behind us, but what may lie ahead of us in the global enterprise which is the legacy bequeathed to us by the labours of those gone before us. The purpose is to locate the historic moment in which we find ourselves, at this juncture between the Century of Light and the new millennium. Among the luminaries that shed brilliance on this memorable trajectory, we remember especially today the indefatigable Amatu'l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanum, who believed so much in the vision of the Rabbani Chair of Bahá'í History, that she personally contributed $10,000 to its establishment, in her own name, in the name of her father, Sutherland Maxwell, and in the name of her mother May Maxwell, whose very company, 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote, developed the soul.

Concepts of Community

In considering the emergence of a Bahá'í community, we are confronted with the meaning of community itself. The word community occurs 130 times in Century of Light. An "untidy, confusing, and difficult term"2, according to Jaqueline Scherer writing a thought-provoking monograph in 1972. If anything the concept of community has become even more confusing and untidy in the three intervening decades, as the entropic pulls of globalisation, social dislocation, and technological advance have eroded time-honoured markers in localities around the world. George Hillery's common-sense definition of community as a collection of "persons in social interaction within a geographic area and having one or more common ties"3 seems in retrospect increasingly inadequate. The bonds of place, of creed, and even of family have become more and more fluid (more and more fragile) in the tumultuous period which Hobsbawn designated the Age of Extremes and the Bahá'í writings boldly call the Century of Light.

Already Scherer in the early 1970's was emphasising the destabilising influence which the modern potential for mobility, - social, psychological and geographical - has had on traditional geographic communities, making place a far less determinant factor of identity.4 And while traditional views of community involved an expectation of more or less significant numbers, Scherer questioned the importance of size as a criterion for defining community, conceiving of a grouping of as little as six people potentially functioning as a community.5 Rather, for Scherer, first and foremost, "community represents a particular set of social relationships."6 She considered the "essentials" characterising the distinctive social relationships that make up a community as: "a 'core of commonness' or commonality that includes a collective perspective, agreed upon definitions, and some agreement about values." Members "are committed to the community to the extent of identifying directly or indirectly with the whole."7 Scherer's definition of community demonstrates striking and perhaps unexpected 'family resemblances' (to invoke the later Wittgenstein) to the earliest English usage of the word.

Etymologists, those fond genealogists of language, trace the literary emergence of the English word "community" as far back as the fourteenth century, to the proud if tenuous histories of John Barbour (the irreducible Scotsman credited with fathering Scottish literature), and to the radical mother-tongue Christianity of Wycliffe, whose ecclesiastical subversions anticipated Luther by a century.8 Barbour and Wycliffe introduced the word 'community' as a noun denoting a body of people associated by common status or pursuits. By the fifteenth century, Middle English had deepened the word 'community' further to denote common character. Thus community came to evoke not only an objective sociological relationship, but a psychological dimension as well, an inner likeness.

Where Scherer's definition and the early usage of the word 'community' resemble each other most significantly is precisely in this marrying of the inner and the outer aspects of togetherness, making of physical or even social proximity (as in Hillery's definition) at most but half the equation of community.

The American psychiatrist and popular author M. Scott Peck goes even further in emphasising the qualitative over the spatial and quantitative aspects of community, defining community as:

"a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some commitment to 'rejoice together, mourn together' and to 'delight in each other, make others' condition our own.'" 9

Of the word "community" Dr. Peck writes:

"We apply it to almost any collection of individuals - a town, a church, a synagogue, a fraternal organisation, an apartment complex, a professional association - regardless of how poorly those individuals communicate with each other. It is a false use of the word." 10

For Peck therefore, 'community' is a prescriptive word, one that seeks not merely to describe, as Scherer and Hillery, existing forms of community, but to actively cultivate a particular ideal of community life. In this Peck is heir to a long tradition of community dreaming. Indeed the very irruption of the word community into the English language had at its root impassioned re-visionings of community. Barbour's great achievement was an extended, ardent poem that gave birth to Scottish literature, the romance of Robert the Bruce, which built, as Benedict Anderson would say, an "imagined community"11 around the chronicle of the very recent unification of a fiercely independent Scotland by the eponymous bandit-nobleman turned king. Wycliffe likewise is remembered for his radical questioning of contemporary ties of creed and sovereignty in the name of a higher vision of community, championed in passionate tracts and in his revolutionary vernacular translation of the Bible. Thus, throughout the ages, communities have been not merely social spaces we inhabit, but also destinations we envision and anticipate, and the literature of community has encompassed both descriptive and prescriptive formulations.

Bahá'í Community Building in the Century of Light

Against this broad canvass of perspectives on community, the Bahá'í vision and experience of community begins to reveal its distinctive colours. In Century of Light the point of departure for a discussion of Bahá'í community development is located in the love-song that was the relationship between the Bahá'ís of Persia and 'Abdu'l-Bahá:

"Day after day, month after month, from a distant exile where He was endlessly harried by the host of enemies surrounding Him, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was able not only to stimulate the expansion of the Persian Bahá'í community, but to shape its consciousness and collective life. The result was the emergence of a culture, however localized, that was unlike anything humanity had ever known...

"In the society and culture the Master was developing, spiritual energies expressed themselves in the practical affairs of day-to-day life. The emphasis in the teachings on education provided the impulse for the establishment of Bahá'í schools-including the Tarbiyat school for girls,11 which gained national renown - in the capital, as well as in provincial centres. With the assistance of American and European Bahá'í helpers, clinics and other medical facilities followed. A network of couriers, reaching across the land, provided the struggling Bahá'í community with the rudiments of the postal service that the rest of the country so conspicuously lacked. The changes under way touched the homeliest circumstances of day-to-day life. In obedience to the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, for example, Persian Bahá'ís abandoned the use of the filthy public baths, prolific in their spread of infection and disease, and began to rely on showers that used fresh water.

"All of these advances, whether social, organizational or practical, owed their driving force to the moral transformation taking place among the believers, a transformation that was steadily distinguishing Bahá'ís - even in the eyes of those hostile to the Faith-as candidates for positions of trust.... the Master single-handedly created of the Persian Bahá'í community a brilliant demonstration of the social development the Cause could produce"12

Here we see the description of a pattern of community life distinguished by a unique and generative spiritual culture, generating material, human and spiritual progress, as advocated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to the immortal Laura Barney in Some Answered Questions. Instructively, the catalyst of this transformation is said to be the community's loving and wholehearted response to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's guidance, and the consequent actualisation of the power of the Covenant.

The emergent Bahá'í community in the United States at that time taught us further lessons about the distinctive meaning of Bahá'í community:

"The relationship between the individual and the community has always been one of the most challenging issues in the development of society. One has only to read, even cursorily, accounts of the lives of the early Bahá'ís in the West to become aware of the high degree of individuality that characterized many of them, particularly the most active and creative. ...It is equally clear, however, that the wide range of expression and understanding among them did not prevent them or their fellow believers from contributing to building a collective unity that was the chief attraction of the Cause. As the memoirs and historical accounts of the period make clear, the secret of this balancing of individual and community was the spiritual bond connecting all believers to the words and example of the Master. In an important sense 'Abdu'l-Bahá was, for all of them, the Bahá'í Cause."13

So we learn not only that the vigour of our unity is to be measured in the diversity of our individualities, but also that the key to reconciling the very real tensions that arise from this diversity not only of background but above all "of expression and understanding" of the Faith, is, again, the animating spirit of the Covenant, our focus on and love of the Centre of the Cause, whose guidance transcends and melts our differences.

If the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave the Bahá'ís an insight into the power of the Covenant to bridge the gulf of diversity and release the potential for collective spiritual and social development; the leadership of Shoghi Effendi taught us two key insights. The first was the necessity to incarnate the spirit of the Faith in a visible and distinctive Administrative Order, itself indispensable to the fulfilment of the millennial dreams and visions of the promised Day of God embodied in the Bahá'í ideal of a new World Order to usher in a new World civilization. The second related insight was the progressive unfoldment of that Order in history, and the consequent indispensability of vision, urgency, and patience.

The combination of these twin insights resulted in the welding together of a disparate and loosely knit global Bahá'í community into a single organism, to the extent that even under the impact of the Guardian's passing, in the absence of a successor and lacking for the first time in its history a focus of ongoing divine guidance, the Bahá'í world retained its unity, accomplished its goals, and achieved in the fateful and fated year 1963, prophesised by Daniel, what Century of Light designates the first global democratic election, of the shining point of unity and guidance, our beloved Universal House of Justice. The achievement is staggering. There were 36 local assemblies in existence in Persia at the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and the similarly embryonic institutions in the rest of the world were fewer still. No National Spiritual Assemblies were in existence at that time. "fifty-six National Spiritual Assemblies, including the forty-four new bodies called for and successfully formed during the Ten Year Crusade, brought into existence the Universal House of Justice."14

The next phase in this process involved making our globally scattered community globally representative. Under the inspiration of the Universal House of Justice, the Bahá'ís experienced unprecedented growth and development in the ensuing two decades. The process of institutional development continued. This diversification and multiplication of the individuals, families and institutions who are the basis of Bahá'í community, did not, however, translate into the emergence of Bahá'í communities that could meet the needs of their members and be self-generating. It gave rise to the questions that emerge where the raising up of institutions gives way to the task of building genuine communities. As Century of Light clarifies:

"Determined efforts were made to respond to the guidance of the World Centre that expansion and consolidation are twin processes that must go hand in hand. Where hoped for results did not readily materialize, however, a measure of discouragement frequently set in. The initial rapid rise in enrolment rates slowed markedly in many countries, tempting some Bahá'í institutions and communities to turn back to more familiar activities and more accessible publics.

"The principal effect of the setbacks, however, was that they brought home to communities that the high expectations of the early years were in some respects quite unrealistic. Although the easy successes of the initial teaching activities were encouraging, they did not, by themselves, build a Bahá'í community life that could meet the needs of its new members and be self-generating. Rather, pioneers and new believers alike faced questions for which Bahá'í experience in Western lands - or even Iran - offered few answers. How were Local Spiritual Assemblies to be established - and once established, how were they to function - in areas where large numbers of new believers had joined the Cause overnight, simply on the strength of their spiritual apprehension of its truth? How, in societies dominated by men since the dawn of time, were women to be accorded an equal voice? How was the education of large numbers of children to be systematically addressed in cultural situations where poverty and illiteracy prevailed? What priorities should guide Bahá'í moral teaching, and how could these objectives best be related to prevailing indigenous conventions? How could a vibrant community life be cultivated that would stimulate the spiritual growth of its members? What priorities, too, should be set with respect to the production of Bahá'í literature, particularly given the sudden explosion that had taken place in the number of languages represented in the community? How could the integrity of the Bahá'í institution of the Nineteen Day Feast be maintained, while opening this vital activity to the enriching influence of diverse cultures? And, in all areas of concern, how were the necessary resources to be recruited, funded, and coordinated?"15

What triggered this intense soul-searching was, Century of Light explains, "The fact that the Bahá'í message was now penetrating the lives not merely of small groups of individuals but of whole communities". It was also as a consequence of the changed paradigm represented by the building of local Bahá'í communities as opposed to local Bahá'í institutions that made social and economic development inseparable from teaching and consolidation, as had been and remains the case in Iran. We began to understand in the 1980's that social and economic development activity were a distinctive and indispensable stage of Bahá'í community building. We were soon to learn, too, that Bahá'í socio-economic development gave rise to distinctive development paradigms, as demonstrated by the Bahá'í community of India.

It is to this period, then that our first worldwide experiments in building communities began, and Century of Light highlights the examples not only of India and Iran in this field, but also of Ethiopia, former Zaire, Uganda, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Liberia.

At the same time under the twin mandates of influencing the processes towards world peace and defending the Cause from oppression, our engagement with society grew in the area of external affairs, a development that became integral to the process of Bahá'í community building in the course of the wave of acute repression that swept Iran in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and in the massive proclamation and external affairs campaign revolving around the Universal House of Justice's powerful appeal, The Promise Of World Peace, which offered for the first time the Bahá'í community as a model for study and emulation.

These developments, coupled to the growing maturation of the local and national institutions of the Faith, ushered in the Fourth and now the Fifth epochs of the Formative Age, with their new focus on process; on training and development of human resources, on systematic action, and, on this foundation, of true community building on a global scale.

It becomes apparent, then, that in sociological terms, the Bahá'í community falls into what Scherer described rather unfelicitously as a synthetic community: "an attempt to build and develop a community consciously and deliberately."16 Unlike communities into which we are born, or communities with an established history into which we merely enter, synthetic communities involve a conscious effort at community building. The Bahá'ís are engaged in just such a venture, on an epic scale, for the very raison d'etre of the Bahá'í community is precisely to engender, in Scherer's definition cited earlier, a 'core of commonness' or commonality that includes a collective perspective, agreed upon definitions, and some agreement about values... [A] context for personal integration" of truly global scope.

A New Paradigm for Bahá'í Community Building

We are yet to identify what we Bahá'ís mean by community, what it is that should be the end product of the sacrifices of the Century of Light, and of the current yielding of our hearts to the Slayer of lovers. What, in the light of our experience so far and under the impact of a Revelation that altogether transforms the current conceptions of humanity, is the Bahá'í meaning of community? The answer is perhaps most clearly and most directly articulated by the Universal House of Justice in their message to the Bahá'í world for Ridvan 153:

"A community is ...a comprehensive unit of civilization 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."17

This definition is both descriptive, and prescriptive. It describes a "comprehensive unit of civilisation", emerging from the interaction of three key constituents (individuals, families and institutions) originating and encouraging "systems, agencies and organisations". The majority of local Bahá'í communities, and many national Bahá'í communities are really, from this description, at most embryonic entities, with very crude systems, agencies and organisations in place, a limited number of individuals and families, and few institutions to speak of beyond a Local Spiritual Assembly and the Nineteen Day Feast.

Nevertheless, the fourth and particularly the fifth epochs of the Cause (1986-present) are witnessing a sea-change in this area, as local communities generate a broad infrastructure of "systems, agencies and organisations" arising singly and collaboratively from the individuals, families and institutions in the area. I refer of course to the development of study-circles, mostly focused around individuals; community schools and children's classes, mostly revolving around families (Bahá'í and others); devotional meetings which are seeds of local Mashriqu'l-Adhkars; ever evolving training institutes; and where these elements are in place, socio-economic development projects, as outlined in the letter written by the Universal House of Justice to the Counsellors of January 9, 2001. 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.

The new area growth programmes called for by the Universal House of Justice in that same message should be understood within this broad perspective. Beyond aiming at an increase in individual enrolments, these programmes are designed to build, for the first time in history, a global network of vibrant local Bahá'í communities, with a range of distinctive systems, agencies and organizations in place taking localitues to a new stage beyond the global network of LSA's which we have achieved so far.

But in saying that the call of the day requires building a global network of local "Bahá'í" communities, the word Bahá'í makes the usage of community distinctive. For the definition gifted to us by the Universal House of Justice is not merely descriptive, but also prescriptive. It consists, yes, of a unit made up of individuals, families and institutions originating and encouraging systems, agencies and organisations (nothing uniquely Bahá'í about that). But for this community to be worthy of the Most Great Name, it must, further, be "working together with a common purpose for the welfare of people both within and beyond its own borders". So the communities we are building in this Five Year Plan, and for the twenty years that follow at least, are not simply communities, but altruistic communities.

Moreover, they are not inward looking, concentrating on the welfare of people within their borders, but also beyond their borders. This illuminates the focus of the Five Year Plan on home-front pioneering, area clusters, and area growth programmes. Clearly, again, the aim is not merely to generate an increased flow of individual enrolments or fill-up vacant LSA spaces, but also, to instill into the emerging communities of the fifth epoch a sense of interdependence, whereby a given community will work organically and inherently for the welfare 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 we also belong and with whom we systematically interact and build community.

The borders the new Bahá'í communities are expected to cross are, furthermore, not merely geographical, but also, and most challengingly, of identity. It is crucial, again, to notice this outward-looking emphasis in the systems, agencies, and organisations we are called to build in this new Epoch. Our key building labour in the Century of Light, the 19 Day Feasts, LSAs, and Bahá'í funds through which the Ark of God has been erected on Mount Carmel, were designed exclusively for Bahá'ís. The new key agencies, institutions and organisations we are building are, explicitly, not for Bahá'ís only.

Thus we are told that the purpose of our children's classes is not the education of Bahá'í children, but the Bahá'í education of children. Our study circles are meant to include both Bahá'ís and their friends in their number. Our devotional meetings are not to be designed for or focused exclusively on Bahá'ís, anymore than the services at our great Bahá'í Houses of Worship are. Like them, they are meant to be gifts of the Bahá'ís to the world at large, and an integral part of a vision of community that inherently incorporates the Other.

"O ye lovers of this wronged one!" exclaims 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness."18

"In every dispensation, 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."19As a personal orientation, this is an outlook that Bahá'ís have been cultivating since Bahá'u'lláh first attracted a company of god-intoxicated lovers (ashiqan) to the Abode of Peace, near the banks of the Tigris. We find this perspective in a letter written in 1867 by the Bahá'í community of Baghdad to the United States Congress petitioning support against the oppression of the Persian and Ottoman empires, at a time when religious segregation remained a fact upheld, institutionalised and sustained by religious belief. The letter was delivered to the Secretary of State William H Seward, immersed in dreams of grandeur that drove him to finally purchase Alaska in the course of that same year, even as the Union struggled to rebuild the country after the carnage of the Secession. It is not known whether that former cabinet colleague of Lincoln and master of political intrigue read the exotic letter, telling of "...a perfect, wise and virtious [sic] man [Bahá'u'lláh?]" Who "appeared in Persia, he had knowledge of all religions, laws and knew the history of wise men, kings and the rules of nations; he saw that the people oppose, hate and kill, abstain and [are] afraid to mix with each other. Nay, they consider each other unclean, though they are all human beings, having different and numerous religions, and that the people are like unto sheep without a shepherd - That learned and wise man wrote many works containing the rules of union, harmony and love between human beings, and the way of abandoning the differences, untruthfulness, and vexations between them, that people may unite and agree on one way and to walk straightforwardly in the straight and expedient way, and that no one should avert or religiously abstain from intercourse with another, of Jews, Christians, Mohammadans and others. That wise man revealed himself till he appeared like the high sun in midday"

The embrace of the other is thus a long-standing Bahá'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, erecting and maintaining at great personal cost a basic infrastructure of thinly resourced administrative bodies - not having the luxury of looking very much outside. This sacrificial labour, however, was the essential prerequisite for building the "systems, agencies and organisations" which will enable what we have always called "local Bahá'í communities" to truly become, and for the first time, "comprehensive units of civilisation". This profound shift, described by our Supreme Body as "a new paradigm of opportunity" has required from us, and continues to call for, what that "last refuge of a tottering civilization" called "a new mindset" and "a change of culture".

Purpose and Significance of Bahá'í Community Building

However, it is also important to recognise that, as a fundamental process, the labour of community building is not a new endeavour for us. On the contrary, it is a quintessential part of being a Bahá'í since the earliest origins of the Bahá'í community in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Dawnbreakers, after all, embodied the spiritual process indicated by the Universal House of Justice in their above-cited description of Bahá'í community as "a composition of diverse, interacting participants that are achieving unity in an unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress."

""Most of those who surrounded Bahá'u'lláh," wrote Nabil ... "exercised such care in sanctifying and purifying their souls, that they would suffer no word to cross their lips that might not conform to the will of God, nor would they take a single step that might be contrary to His good-pleasure." ...The joyous feasts which these companions, despite their extremely modest earnings, continually offered in honor of their Beloved; the gatherings, lasting far into the night, in which they loudly celebrated, with prayers, poetry and song, the praises of the Bab, of Quddus and of Bahá'u'lláh; the fasts they observed; the vigils they kept; the dreams and visions which fired their souls, and which they recounted to each other with feelings of unbounded enthusiasm; the eagerness with which those who served Bahá'u'lláh performed His errands, waited upon His needs, and carried heavy skins of water for His ablutions and other domestic purposes ...these, and many others, will forever remain associated with the history of that immortal period"20

We see this community generating orientation also in the nucleus of the future European community; born of the love for 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the heart of the glorious May Maxwell, whose memory sweetens our discourse:

"Bahá'í World Firesides"?

Such stories are not merely inspiring, they are crucial to what it means to build a Bahá'í community today, and provide an indispensable lens through which to understand the efforts of the last century. For Shoghi Effendi linked the "efficacy" of the "instruments" we fashion, the institutions, systems, agencies and organisations of our communities, to the spirit of those breakers of the dawn, writing:

"For upon our present-day efforts, and above all upon the extent to which we strive to remodel our lives after the pattern of sublime heroism associated with those gone before us, must depend the efficacy of the instruments we now fashion — instruments that must erect the structure of that blissful Commonwealth which must signalize the Golden Age of our Faith."21

The Bahá'í vision of community thus harmoniously integrates the structural approach of sociologists of community; the personal and interpersonal approach of psychiatrists; and the visionary approach of artists, idealists and revolutionaries, embedding all three perspectives on community in the transformative context of the Day of God and the oneness of humanity.

The significance of our labours is therefore breathtaking. We are not merely building local Bahá'í communities in our clusters and localities, but we 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".

Our degree of awareness about the nature and significance of our task, allows us to work towards this vision not merely consciously but, crucially, in a systematic manner. The pattern of our evolution is not dictated by accidents of geography or language, but by an understanding of organic growth, a focus on process, and vast stores of inspiration and guidance.

The achievement of a world-wide Bahá'í community made up of diverse individuals and families and a global infrastructure of local administrative institutions, has enabled us, in this second half of the second Bahá'í century, to turn our attention at long last from the building up the Administrative Order, to the birthing Bahá'u'lláh's New World Order. Of this opportunity previous generations have been deprived, as Shoghi Effendi himself testifies:

"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."22

It is now, in this second half of the second Bahá'í century, that our work entails, as unveiled by our beloved Guardian, the ushering in, on a global scale, of the first stirrings of Bahá'u'lláh's new World Order. The last one hundred years saw the raising up of a wide-ranging network of basic administrative and spiritual instruments of community building. The task that faces us today is building a wide-ranging network of comprehensive units of civilisation that, patterned on sublime heroism and working to a common purpose, promote the welfare of those within and outside their borders, achieving unity in a collective pursuit of spiritualisation and social progress. It is to fulfil with all our hearts the very purpose of our creation, as proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh:

"All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization."23


Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities, London, 1991.

Bahá'í World Centre, Century of Light, Commissioned by the Universal House of Justice, 2001.

Berger, Peter L., From Sect to Church: A Sociological Interpretation of the Bahá'í Movement. Ph.D., New School of Social Research, 1954.

Bramson-Lerche, Loni, "Some Aspects of the Development of the Bahá'í

Administrative Order in America, 1922-1936." In Studies in Babi and Bahá'í

History, ed. M. Momen, pp. 255-324. Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1982.

Cox, Harvey, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. London: SCM Press, 1965.

Hampson, Arthur, The Growth and Spread of the Bahá'í Faith. Ph.D.,University of Hawaii: 1980.

Hasall, Graham, "Review of Community Histories edited by Richaard Hollinger", The Bahá'í Studies Review, vol. 5, number 1 (1995). London: Association of Bahá'í Studies (English-Speaking Europe).

Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age of Extremes,

Huddleston, John, The Earth is but One Country. London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976.

Johnson, Vernon E., An Historical Analysis of Critical Transformations in the Evolution of the Bahá'í World Faith. Ph.D., Baylor University, 1974.

Poplin, Denis, Communities: A Survey of Theories and Methods of Research. New York: Macmillan Company, 1972

Rabbani, Ruhiyyih, The Priceless Pearl. London, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1969.

Redfield, Robert, The Little Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.

Scherer, Jaqueline, Contemporary Community: Sociological Illusion or Reality? London: Tavistock Publications Ltd., 1972.

Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1990 (1937).

— — —, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh - Selected Letters. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1991 (1938)

— — —, God Passes By. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, n.d., n.p. (1944).

Smith, Peter, The Babi and Bahá'í Religions: From Messianic Shi'ism to a World Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Smith, P. and Momen, M., "The Bahá'í Faith 1957-1988: A survey of Contemporary Developments", Religion, volume, number 19. ?: Academic Press Limited, 1989

Smith, M. and Lample, P., The Spiritual Conquest of the Planet: Our Response to Plans. Riviera Beach: Palabra Publications, 1993

Warburg, Margit, "Growth Patterns of New Religions: the Case of Bahá'í", in New Religions and the New Europe, chapter 11, ed. Robert Towler. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1995.


    1 UHJ, Century of Light, foreword.

    2 Scherer, p.1

    3 Qtd. in Poplin, p.9

    4 Cf. Scherer, ch. 2, esp. pp.13-15

    5 Ibid., ch. 3, passim.

    6 Ibid., p.37

    7 Scherer, p.122f.

    8 Cf. Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

    9 Peck, p.59

    10 ibid.

    11 Cf. Anderson, passim.

    12 Bahá'í World Centre, Century of Light, pp. 10-11, p. 40

    13 Bahá'í World Centre, Century of Light, p. 24

    14 Bahá'í World Centre, Century of Light, p. 81

    15 Bahá'í World Centre, Century of Light, pp.101-102

    16 Scherer. pp.120-121

    17 Universal House of Justice to the Bahá'í World, April 21, 1996

    18 Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 24

    19 Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 20

    20 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 134-135

    21 Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 98

    22 Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America 1932-46, pp. 96-7; letter 15-JUN-46, "God Given mandate".

    23 Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 215

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