ASSOCIATE
Newsletter of the
 
Association for Bahá'í Studies
(English-Speaking Europe)
 
Issue 11, 1993
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—— Contents ——

Letters from the Universal House of Justice

Bahá'í Scholarship
Electronic mail
Materials Review
"The Bahá'ís"
Press Watch
The Gods of the Future
New World Disorder
Events
ABS(ESE) Annual Conference Report
Religious Studies SIG Seminar (July 1993)
Other News
E-mail Network for Students

Views expressed in this Newsletter should not be taken as necessarily reflecting those of the Association for Bahá'í Studies (English-Speaking Europe) or of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom, or as an authoritative statement of Bahá'í belief.

Association for Bahá'í Studies (English-Seaking Europe), 27, Rutland Gate, London SW7 1PD, United Kingdom.


LETTERS FROM THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE


Top Next

Bahá'í Scholarship

The House of Justice advises you not to attempt to define too narrowly the form that Bahá'í scholarship should take, or the approach that scholars should adopt. Rather should you strive to develop within your Association respect for a wide range of approaches and endeavours. No doubt there will be some Bahá'ís who will wish to work in isolation, while others will desire consultation and collaboration with those having similar interests. Your aim should be to promote an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance within which will be included scholars whose principal interest lies in theological issues as well as those scholars whose interests lie in relating the insights provided by the Bahá'í teachings to contemporary thought in the arts and sciences.

A similar diversity should characterise the endeavours pursued by Bahá'í scholars, accommodating their interests and skills as well as the needs of the Faith. The course of world events, the development of new trends of thought and the extension of the teaching work all tend to highlight attractive and beneficial areas to which Bahá'í scholars might well direct their attention. Likewise, the expansion of the activities of the Bahá'í International Community in its relationship with United Nations agencies and other international bodies creates attractive opportunities for scholars to make a direct and highly valued contribution to the enhancement of the prestige of the Faith and to its proclamation within an influential and receptive stratum of society. As the Bahá'í community continues to emerge inexorably from obscurity, it will be confronted by enemies, from both within and without, whose aim will be to malign and misrepresent its principles, so that its admirers might be disillusioned and the faith of its adherents might be shaken; Bahá'í scholars have a vital role to play in the defence of the Faith through their contribution to anticipatory measures and their response to defamatory accusations levelled against the Faith.

(23 January 1991 on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an institution.)


Electronic Mail

To Individual Bahá'ís in the United States.

Dear Bahá'í Friends

Your letter and its enclosure on teaching the Faith through participation in electronic conferences were received on 13 November 1988 and were referred by Mr. Hugh Chance to the Universal House of Justice, which has instructed us to convey the following comments.

The House of Justice sees no objection to the utilisation of electronic forums for personal teaching activities. Indeed, it feels that developing communications systems will, in time, present numerous opportunities for dissemination of information about the Faith, including initiatives to be undertaken by Bahá'í institutions.

It feels that your National Assembly has been wise in suggesting the use of quotations to minimise personal interpretations in presenting the tenets of the Faith. Given the relative anonymity of this form of teaching, the House of Justice would further encourage you to remain mindful of the potentially large audience which the forums involve and of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's counsel to "be wary of disputation". In this connection, we are instructed to provide the following quotation from a letter dated 29 November 1937, written on behalf of the beloved Guardian to an individual believer.

" ... refrain, under any circumstances, from involving yourselves, much less the Cause, in lengthy discussions of a controversial character, as these, besides being fruitless actually cause incalculable harm to the Faith. Bahá'u'lláh has repeatedly urged us not to engage in religious controversies, as the adepts of former religions have done. The Bahá'í teacher should be concerned above all in presenting the Message, in explaining and clarifying all its aspects ... He should avoid all situations that, he feels, would lead to strife, to hair-splitting and interminable discussions."

The House of Justice was pleased to learn of this new teaching effort and of the transmission of "The Promise of World Peace" to various forums. You may wish to contact the office of the National Teaching Committee to obtain recommendations concerning other materials which might be posted to the forums, when appropriate, and to inquire about the availability of electronic documents which may be available for this purpose.

(Department of the Secretariat, 8 December, 1988.)


MATERIALS REVIEW


"The Bahá'ís"

(Office of Public Information of the Bahá'í International Community, published by the Bahá'í Publishing Trust of the UK, 1992)

"The Bahá'ís" is a beautifully produced magazine that introduces the Bahá'í Faith to a general audience. Its advantages are obvious - its imaginative and attractive use of photos and graphics, its crisp and clear prose, its comprehensive guide to all aspects of the Faith. Particularly impressive is how it demonstrates the way Bahá'ís manifest their faith in socio-economic development initiatives.

Its section headings draw on familiar themes in Bahá'í introductory literature such as Bahá'í history, Bahá'í social principles and Bahá'í teachings on world order. An area of possible improvement is to address some of the highly relevant and contentious issues that prevent many people today from taking religion seriously. For instance, there is little discussion of the crucial question of why religion has any role at all to play in the development of individuals and society. The loss of a personal religious faith in many parts of the world has been partly a consequence of religion suppressing individual freedom, stifling the independent use of reason, and the lack of a reasonable explanation for all the suffering in the world in the face of an All-Powerful and Benevolent Creator. Sections on the importance of reason, freedom within the Bahá'í administrative order, the principle of work as worship, the issue of minority rights would have added to the usefulness of this magazine. The section headings, "Unity in Diversity" and "Toward the New World Order", are phrases that have been so overused recently that their meaning has been rendered virtually meaningless.

The section on "How Bahá'ís view other religions" (p. 37) only deals with part of the relationship between the world religions and the Bahá'í Faith. It consists mainly of an account of how Bahá'u'lláh fulfils the prophecies of other religions. So a Christian, for instance, might get the impression that the Bahá'í approach to Christianity is that Bahá'u'lláh fulfils the promises of the Christ's return. The problem with this is that it may have the effect of alienating many Christians by confronting them with the stark realisation that the most important event in history has passed them by. It would seem that a more balanced and constructive approach is Shoghi Effendi's in "The Promised Day is Come" (pp. 109-110), where he states that central to the relationship between these two religions is the Bahá'í belief in the divine origin of Christianity, the Sonship and Divinity of Christ, the divine inspiration of the Gospels, the mystery of the Immaculacy of the Virgin Mary, etc. Complementary to this is the explanation given in "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh" of the aim of the Faith, which is to widen the basis, restate the fundamentals, reconcile the aims of the revealed religions, etc. (see pp. 58, 114). Combining these two approaches can be used for all the world religions and would more likely lead to common ground, a start to the process of building bridges between Bahá'ís and the communities of the other world religions.

In an otherwise well written section devoted to some of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on individual morality, the section heading states that the moral standards of the Faith "are uncompromising" (p. 31). The word "uncompromising" conjures up notions of Victorian standards of morality or the harsh punishments of the state religions in the past. However it could be argued that Bahá'í morality is more normative than "uncompromising" - that is, Bahá'ís aim to acquire spiritual qualities and our lives are a process of working toward attaining perfect standards of moral rectitude. Shoghi Effendi¨s emphasis in "The Advent of Divine Justice" on the significance of a rectitude of conduct and freedom from racial prejudice would add to this section.

Throughout "The Bahá'ís" graphs and pictures intelligently complement the text, but there are two instances where they do not. They both concern the status of women in Bahá'í community. The section on "Women: unambiguous equality" (p. 27) has a graph below the text illustrating the percentage of women on the National Spiritual Assemblies continent by continent, which ranges between 20-37%. However commendable this graph is for its honesty, some explanation is needed for the discrepancy between theory and practice. The section entitled "A matter of faith" (p. 44) on the ineligibility of women to serve on the Universal House of Justice explains that women serve on all other administrative institutions of Faith. Next to this text is a photo of the N.S.A. of Zaire - 8 men and 1 women. Maybe a photo of an N.S.A. with more women members would make the point more obviously that the Bahá'í administrative system aims to reflect the make-up of the community.

The bibliography on the last page is a useful addition. However, it is slightly surprising that it fails to mention Balyuzi's outstanding Bahá'u'lláh, Smith's The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions - the best academic introduction to the Faith (or the excellent shorter version, The Bahá'í Religion), and The Violence-Free Society by Danesh.

Seena Fazel


PRESS WATCH


The Gods of the Future

Time Magazine predicts in a special issue on the century ahead that in 2092, a religious revival will have been secured around the world. "Science established the current age of Faith, re-creating the Creator. Nowadays, only the fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' The question now becomes which God: the amorphous Soul of fashionable cults, the antiseptic First Principle of science, or the personal God who still inspires awe and personal commitment?" Among the popular forms of belief include the no-demand faiths of the New Age movement will rise in popularity but a few religious movements will suffer a significant decline, "The colourful creeds from olden times are tiny or extinct, among them Bahá'í, One-Faith, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Hemlockite death cult". Islam will have problems, according to the article, from the lack of free intellectual discussion, the secularisation of its youth, and the lack of contribution from its women. (Time Special Issue, "Beyond the Year 2000," Fall 1992, p. 61)

The Economist approaches the question of the future of religion differently. Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University argues that the Islamicisation of the West will lead to an unexpected pattern of alliances with conservative Christians: "Most immediately, in the perennial Kulturkampf between faith and secularisation, the growth of Islam will fortify the side of faith - the side that many cultural conservatives in the West have allied themselves. . . many Muslims of Third World origins staunchly support vouchers for private school tuition and an array of key 'family values' issues, including opposition to abortion, pornography, homosexuality and sexual promiscuity".

He also sees that Islam is poised to undergo significant internal changes - an Islamic reformation that seeks to develop "a new, more humane, version of sharia based on new interpretations of Islamic texts. . . Islam will remain Islam: but the transformation of Islamic tradition cannot long be deferred." (The Economist, "The Future Surveyed", 11 September 1993, pp. 42-3)

The present Islamicisation of Britain was the subject of a series of articles in The Times recently. Prompted by the unprecedented number of conversions to Islam, which have accelerated since the Rushdie affair, Lucy Berrington in the 9 November 1993 issue went to discover why it was attracting so many British people.

Among the contributory factors are comparative religious education, the recent interest generated in the media, conversion of women through marriage to Muslim men, and the desperate plight of Western society. The rising tide of crime, family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction in the West have led some "to admire the discipline and security of Islam". Many converts are disillusioned Christians, disconsolate with the behaviour of the Church and "unhappy about the concept of the Trinity and the deification of Jesus". Arguably, the most interesting group of converts are the "self-confessed idealists who did not go looking for religion but found an irresistible appeal in Sufi mysticism, which they describe as 'the pearl of Islam'" (p. 11). Would such seekers find the same appeal presented to them in Bahá'í introductions?


New World Disorder

Michael Ignatieff has written an essay in The Sunday Times (Culture Supplement, 7 November 1993, pp. 2-3) entitled "Ugly face of a new world order". He reminisces on the moments in 1989 when the Berlin wall came down and crowds across Europe cheered the collapse of communist regimes. "I thought, like many people, that we were about the witness a new era of liberal democracy and a new order of free nations. We soon found out how wrong we were. For what has succeeded the last age of empire is a new age of violence. The key narrative of the new world order is the disintegration of nation states into ethnic civil war; the key architects of that order are warlords; and the key language of our age is ethnic nationalism". He argues that this nationalism has taken two forms. The first is civic nationalism, which applies to most Western countries. Civic nationalism maintains that the nation should be composed of all those who subscribe to the nation's political creed, regardless of race, colour, gender, language or ethnicity. It envisages the nation as a community of equal citizens, patriotic and sharing political practices (democracy) and values. In contrast, ethnic nationalism declares that an individual's deepest attachment are inherited, not chosen. "It is the national community that defines the individual, not the individuals who define the community". Consequently it tends to be authoritarian, maintaining unity by force rather than consent.

Ignatieff's analysis of the rise of ethnic nationalism is that it fulfilled a need for protection amidst the chaotic disruption of Eastern and Central Europe. The ethnic groups in these countries had no experience in conciliating their disagreements by democratic means and therefore resorted to violence and force as their arbiter. Nationalist rhetoric swept through these countries because it provided "warlords and gunmen with a vocabulary of opportunistic self-justification. In the fear and panic that swept the ruins of the communist states, people began to ask: so who will protect me now? Ethnic nationalism provided an intuitive answer: trust those of your own blood." Wherever nation states disintegrate, these warlords emerge: in former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Somalia, northern India, Armenia, Georgia, Ossetia, Cambodia." With their car phones, faxes and exquisite personal weaponry, they look post-modern, but the reality is early medieval."

Michael Walzer of Princeton University argues that this nationalism, however much the concern of journalists, will not attract the attention of political theorists: "nationalist militants are too parochial, too doctrinaire, too self-absorbed and often too nasty to capture the theoretical imagination". Over the next decades political scientists, Walzer believes, will focus on above and below the nation state - transnational formations of different sorts and in civil society. On the former, the questions they will attempt to answer include: How can different transnational arrangements be justified? What precise form should these arrangements take? How democratic should they or can they be? What protections should they provide for state or national interests and/or for individual rights? Civil society, in contrast,is "a realm of fragmentation" made up of churches, ethnic groups, social movements, voluntary associations, unions, professional bodies. He predicts that the future will see the increasing influence of groups making up an international civil society - bodies whose work necessarily takes them beyond the borders of their own nation, such as Greenpeace, Amnesty and Oxfam. Their success lies in that "they do not aim at converting men and women to a world religion or a totalising politics. If they hope for salvation, it is of a partial and particular kind: save the earth, save the ozone, save the whales, and so on." (The Economist, "The Future Surveyed", 11 September 1993, pp. 57-60)

Press Watch items contributed by Seena Fazel.


EVENTS


ABS(ESE) Annual Conference Report

Over 140 Bahá'ís attended the Annual Conference of the Association for Bahá'í Studies (English-Seaking Europe). The theme of this year's Conference was "Shoghi Effendi Remembered" and included a number of presentations on the life and works of the beloved Guardian. Philip Hainsworth and Farid Sabour recounted their fascinating recollections of meeting Shoghi Effendi in the Holy Land. David Hofman gave an inspiring survey of the key themes in his writings, and Riaz Khadem explored the salient features of his life. In the afternoon, a number of simultaneous events were held. A tour of the places associated with 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi was offered, as was a seminar on social and economic development in South America held by Dr. Farzin Rahmani. A group of students brainstormed in the afternoon on the challenges and prospects for Bahá'í Societies. They resolved to network information and ideas on electronic mail (see below).

A report of the regional Conference in South Wales will follow in a later issue.


Religious Studies Special Interest Group Seminar, July 2-4, 1993.

Around twenty Bahá'ís from the United Kingdom and abroad attended the above-mentioned seminar held over the weekend of July 2-4, 1993 in the Bahá'í Centre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Following some general discussion about Bahá'í scholarship internationally, Stephen Lambden (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) delivered a paper about an enigmatic verse of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, "The Significance of a line of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'i in The Most Holy Book: '...the mystery of the Great Reversal in the Sign of the Sovereign' ". There followed an open discussion on the current state of Bahá'í scholarship and Bahá'í publications led by Wendi Momen and Robert Parry. Jack McLean (Canada) presented his Propositions on Method that led to a detailed discussion of aspects of Bahá'í theology. Seena Fazel (Edinburgh) discussed and dismissed the inclusion of the Bahá'í Faith within the category of 'new religious movements in his paper "The Bahá'í Faith and New Religious Movements". This was followed by Khazeh Fananapazir's (Edinburgh) "Some Notes on the Islamic Background on the Bahá'í Doctrine of the Manifestation of God". Moojan Momen (Northill) presented the results of recent research into "Myth and the Formation of Religious Ideas in Early Shi'ism", and Peter Smith (Thailand) gave a paper on "Human Rights and Individual Liberty". To end the weekend's procedures a paper was read on behalf of Chris Buck (Canada) which presented some challenging propositions about the possibility of unacknowledged Manifestations of God, "Native Manifestations of God in Canada: A Test Case for Bahá'í Universalism".


OTHER NEWS


E-mail Network for Students

An e-mail network for Bahá'í students has been established by the Department of Student Affairs of the European Bahá'í Youth Council. This would serve as a discussion forum, enable the co-ordination of resources for university activities, promote academic study of the Faith and form a communication link between the Bahá'í students of Europe. The advantages of e-mailing are numerous: it is instantaneous, free of charge at universities and colleges of higher education, and accessible in most universities in Western Europe and North America. The network is called EBSAN, which stands for European Bahá'í Student Association Network, and you can apply to join it if you send your name, place of study or work, and home address to the following e-mail address on Internet:

ebsan-request@cd.joensuu.fi

This network enables users to send a letter to a special e-mail which will automatically send this letter to everyone who has joined the network (including the sender who can then discover whether his/her letter was successfully sent). The system is already operational and when there are sufficient number of users in the network, maximum benefit can be derived from its users. However, it is imperative that to protect this network from junk and nonsense mail, no one apart from users should obtain this address.

If you have any problems, contact Seena Fazel at:

Seena@uk.ac.ed.castle.

Eastern European memberships

The Association for Bahá'í Studies (English-Speaking Europe) has decided to donate 20 free annual memberships to people of capacity in Eastern Europe who are not Bahá'ís but would welcome receiving Bahá'í publications. We would be grateful if any members who know of such people pass on their names and addresses to us at ABS(ESE), 27 Rutland Gate, London, SW7 1PD, UK.


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