The Ruhi Problem

Despite repeated assurances that “entry by troops” was just around the corner, the numbers of Baha’is worldwide has remained about the same for over a decade. In the United States, the number of active Baha’is has probably declined. Although worldwide numbers of Baha’is grew rapidly in some developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s, many of these new Baha’is did not remain active, and drifted back to their traditional religious and cultural belief systems. Evidence for this partly comes from the numbers of Local Spiritual Assemblies, which is arguably the best way to evaluate the presence of a functioning community. As it turns out, LSA numbers have actually dropped in Africa, Asia, South America since the 1980s.

In response to this situation of low growth and poor community development, the Universal House of Justice requested all national communities to develop their human resources through systems of systematic training and group study. The intention was to enthuse Baha’is to teach more and develop their community life, which would in turn attract new converts to the religion. And importantly, it provided new converts with a system of learning, so they would not drift away from the religion after their initial enthusiasm.

{josquote}The Ruhi-system is treated tantamount to a revelation from God. It is perfect and suitable, nothing to change about it: it just needs to be implemented. If it doesn´t work, it´s not the material that´s wrong. We were just too dumb to use it.{/josquote}

So since 1996, the House of Justice has requested all national communities set up “training institutes.” These institutes use a decentralized system of locally based group learning, “study circles”, which are led by a trained tutor. Study circles are supposed to develop the “spiritual insights, knowledge, and skills” that are needed for the large-scale growth of the Baha’i community. Baha’i communities, encouraged by institutions such as the International Teaching Centre, have used the “Ruhi” books as the curriculum for these study circles. Currently, there are seven such books: “Reflections on the life of the spirit,” “Arising to serve,” “Teaching children’s grade 1,” “The Twin Manifestations,” “Teaching children’s grade 2,” “Teaching the Cause,” “Walking together on a path of service,” and Baha’is are encouraged to complete them all in a consecutive fashion.

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