Maybe there ARE more Baha'is than Jews in South Carolina!

Mark Silk

Earlier this month, I took exception to a Washington Post map purporting to show the second largest religious tradition (after Christianity) in each state of the Union. A significant number of them were wrong, I claimed, because they relied on the inflated estimates of religious bodies rather than on telephone surveys of individuals.

None of the purported “seconds” was more surprising than the Bahá’í Faith in South Carolina. How could this rather obscure 19th-century world religion, with a total claimed U.S. population of 174,00, have more adherents in the Palmetto State than Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism?

Well, it turns out there’s a good answer to that question. In the early 1960s, national leaders of the faith began making a concerted effort to reach African Americans in the South. By the early 1970s, teams of Bahá’ís (themselves mostly African-American) were going door-to-door in rural South Carolina and Florida, preaching their message of the unity of God, humanity, and all religions, and proclaiming their founder, Bahá’u’lláh, as the return of Christ. (Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the most recent in a succession of divine messengers — including Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha — who established a religion appropriate to their time and place.)

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