Baha'i studies

Digitizing the diaries of E. G. Browne

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Digitisation Project of the Edward Granville Browne diaries. Cambridge 2013.

Edward Granville Browne (7 February 1862 -- 5 January 1926), born in Stouts Hill, Uley, Gloucestershire, England, was a British orientalist who published numerous articles and books of academic value, mainly in the areas of history and literature. His works are respected for their scholarship, uniqueness, and style.

The scholarly value of his works was acknowledged both during his lifetime and even more, after his death. He gained a professorship at Cambridge University. Much of his publications are related to Persia (modern day Iran and western Afghanistan), either in the fields of history or Persian literature. He is perhaps best known for his documentation and historical narratives of the Bábí movement as relayed by Count Gobineau. He published two translations of Bábí histories, and wrote several of the few Western accounts of early Bábí and Bahá'í history. His professorship at Cambridge was, however, of the Arabic language, with the full title 'Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic'.

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Did you know MU’s Ellis Library has one of the top Baha'i book collections?

Robert Almony stands by the collection of books on the Baha'i Faith at MU's Ellis Library. Almony started an endowment to keep a steady flow of books coming about 10 years ago. Credit: FAVS photo by Heather Adams

Robert Almony spent a year and a half researching the Baha’i Faith trying to disprove its teachings to a friend before accepting the religion as his own.

“I started to investigate it initially to ‘save’ her from this weird religion she was looking into,” Almony said.

That experience eventually led him to buy books about the Baha'i Faith for Ellis Library at MU.

“I wanted to have students, if they became interested, to have some access to finding out about the Baha’i Faith,” Almony said.

About 10 years ago, he set up an endowment to keep the books coming continuously. Over time, the library acquired so many that among research libraries, it had the third largest collection of Baha'i books in the country – just behind Harvard and UCLA, Almony said.

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Religion in the Contemporary World: A Sociological Introduction

Religion in the Contemporary World: A Sociological Introduction, p. 177-8:

The Baha'i faith, which arose in an Islamic context, shows some similarities to these two Christian movements [Quakers and Unitarians]. Baha'is profess that women and men are equal. They embrace science and education. They lack a professional priesthood and formal rituals. They are pacifists. Like Muslims, they are averse to other-worldly asceticism, and specifically forbid the monastic life. They give responsibility to local congregations within a worldwide administrative framework. They are opposed to racism, prejudice and superstition, and claim to be undogmatic.

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Despite their progressive credentials, it is even less clear than in the case of Quakers and Unitarians that Baha'is can respond to all the challenges brought by feminism. Although the Baha'i faith presents itself as non-doctrinaire, it is shaped by divine revelation and divinely inspired authoritative scriptures. For example, despite the movement's commitment to gender equality, women are not permitted to stand for election to the Universal House of Justice, the faith's nine-man supreme governing body. Baha'u'llah's successor, Abdu'l-Baha, issued a definitive ruling on the exclusion of women, while promising that its rationale would be revealed when the time was ripe. That time is yet to come.

The Baha'i faith is, at root, conversionist. It engages in rationally planned missionary programmes in pursuit of its vision of a universalist religion uniting all humanity. It does not tolerate plural membership, and does not take part in rainbow alliances with campaigning pressure groups. Its scriptures prescribe premarital chastity and monogamous heterosexual marriage, and proclaim the sacred duty to bear children. Baha'i couples require the consent of all their living natural parents before they can marry. Baha'is are supposedly not prejudiced against homosexuals, because Baha'i teachings 'take account of human frailty and call for tolerance and understanding in regard to human failings' (vvww.bahai.org). The faith opposes divorce, and takes a conservative stance on abortion and euthanasia. Crucially, the movement has little warrant to amend any of these principles, since the role of the Universal House of Justice is to promote the faith, not to modify it. As society changes, the Baha'is risk being left behind in a posture that will seem less and less progressive. In this respect it is probably not gender roles, but sexuality, that poses the sharper challenge to Baha'i culture.

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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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Feminism, Men and the Baha'i Faith

{josquote}The main aim of this section on feminism and the Bahá'í Faith is to prepare Bahá'í scholars as well as the larger Bahá'í community for the inevitable encounter that I think must occur between the Bahá'í Faith and feminism.{/josquote}

The topic of this paper is, broadly speaking, gender issues in the Bahá'í Faith. This paper approaches the subject in two ways; firstly by looking at feminism and the Bahá'í Faith, and secondly by looking at men and the Bahá'í Faith. The two parts of the paper are quite distinct, but they are inter-related and hopefully they balance each other.

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