Baha’i Meets Globalisation: A New Synergy?

A diverse set of Baha'is

When we look at pluralism in internal Baha’i practice, we have to distinguish between cultural pluralism,including racial pluralism, and other aspects of pluralism. As for cultural pluralism, Baha’i communities contain relatively high proportions of people who were born in another country or have lived long-term in another country, and almost all national Baha’i communities have a spread across the locally relevant variables, whether that be language, ethnic identity, class or religious background. Baha’i authors consistently advocate cultural pluralism. In our visual age, Baha’is have made an icon out of photographs and videos of groups of culturally diverse people. Such images are an important part of Baha’i socialisation and missionary work. Michael McMullen’s description of the World Congress as “global Baha’i dramaturgy” is a good example (2000: 3). Pilgrimage to the Baha’i holy places in Israel also reinforces the sense of global identity.Some Baha’i authors have accepted cultural pluralism, while rejecting religious pluralism. Horace Holley, an extreme example, is against any form of social diversity. He says:

Baha’u’llah stood at that major turning-point of social evolution where the long historic trend toward diversity in language, custom, civil and religious codes and economic practices came to an end, and the movement was reversed in the direction of unity. The human motive in the former era was necessarily competitive. The human motive in the new era is necessarily co-operative (1976: 135-36).

This is a good illustration of the conservative instinct, since Holley wants to turn history back in its course, from society to a simple community, using religion to do so. As for religious diversity in particular, he says that

... the worldly conception of tolerance between conflicting creeds and sects is not unity – it is merely agreement to disagree. ... Without unity of faith and agreement on ... the laws and principles which come from God ... there can be no political nor economic unity.

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David Hofman says that “The strength of an organic society depends upon the unity of its millions of diversified individuals in a common ideology” (1960: 56). More recently, McMullen has said that “Baha’is feel that this global solidarity will come about through adherence to a common ideology and recognition of a common global authority ... i.e., the Baha’i Administrative Order (2000: 4, see also 112). Huschmand Sabet writes “It is a fatal fallacy to believe that a civilisation for mankind might be built up on a plurality of fundamental values” (1986:76). Moojen Momen also considers a common ideology to be necessary to social unity. His concept of the role of religion in society is explicitly drawn from the past when “It was religion that was the cohesive force within the society.” Apart from its nostalgic ring and present impossibility, this would leave religion with a shrinking role at best. A global society that is held together by our need for one another and by the global nature of economics, politics and science has less and less need for religion or ideology as cohesive forces. Durkheim was able to perceive the cohesive function that religion had in past societies precisely because, in his own society, it no longer had that function. So a Durkheimian approach will hardly help us in thinking about the role of religion in the new world order.

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