Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff
I was recently asked to write a foreword to a Portuguese translation to my Short History of the Baha’i Faith — first published by Oneworld almost 20 years ago now in 1996. This set me thinking how I would summarize the developments in Baha’i Studies over that period. Not an easy task, I think.
When I first became involved in Baha’i Studies in the 1970s, the number of people interested in the academic study of the Babi and Baha’i Religions was tiny and it was easy to keep track of new publications and conference presentations. The situation is very different today, and to list and read all the new research has become a formidable task as the number of researchers has increased dramatically.
Let me make a few provisional comments on developments as I see them in the hope that others will comment and help build up a more comprehensive picture.
1. Online materials. One of the most important developments in Baha’i Studies over the past few decades has been the emergence of the internet. This has enabled a vast amount of relevant materials to be posted on line as well as facilitating the formation of a wide range of discussion groups. Both materials and groups vary enormously in quality.
One major source site remains Jonah Winter’s Bahá’í Library Online (http://bahai-library.com/) which is an invaluable collection of materials. This was developed from 1996 onwards and assumed its present form in 2003 (See http://bahai-library.com/about). The BLO also provides useful links to other online sites and blogs (http://bahai-library.com/links/). Also of note is the H-Bahai site (http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/), with its materials such as ‘Documents on the Shaykhi, Babi and Baha’i Movements’ (http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/docs/docs.htm), and — of quite monumental importance, the recent digital republishing of the Iran National Baha’i Archives (INBA) (http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/index/diglib/INBA.htm).
Individual websites are numerous, and include those of Stephen Lambden (http://www.hurqalya.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/) and Moojan Momen (http://www.momen.org/relstud/index.htm), both of which contain a mass of Baha’i Studies related material. Many academics post updates of their research work on the website Academia.edu, and site’s index to research interests includes one on Baha’i Studies (http://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/Bahai_studies).
There are many relevant articles in Encyclopedia Iranica, some of which are accessible online (http://bahai-library.com/series/Encyclopaedia%20Iranica).
Like most academics, I am always skeptical about the quality of material on Wikipedia — some articles are good, some are awful, and unless you are an expert in the topic it is easy to be misled by its apparent facticity. This said, there are some useful Baha’i-related articles on Wikipedia, but they are not consistently academic and an orthodox Baha’i bias is often discernable (An easy way of checking is to look at the list of sources and references for a particular article — if obvious academic sources are absent then the article is suspect) (for links see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Bah%C3%A1%27%C3%AD_Faith).
2. The ‘Institutional/Independent’ divide. In my article on ‘Babi and Baha’i Studies’ in my Concise Encyclopedia of the Baha’i Faith (Oneworld, 2000), I opined that there were two distinct trends in Baha’i Studies — an ‘orthodox’ one supported by the Baha’i institutions and and an independent one that is quite deliberately academic in orientation. The two trends are not irreconcilable, of course — the leading Baha’i Studies journal, the Baha’i Studies Review began as a publication of the British Association of Baha’i Studies, but the divide is still evident, and often colours work related to Baha’i Studies. It is of note that the Wilmette Institute (an official Baha’i organ in the USA) now offers an increasing range of more academic courses in addition to its traditional focus on Baha’i deepening — including for the first time in 2013, a course on ‘Understanding Baha’i History’ which dealt explicitly with a number of academic works on Baha’i Studies (for the WI see https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wilmette-Institute/231078683582384?fref=ts).
3. Areas of development. Two major recent developments have been the increasing number of major works on Babi beliefs (including the recent work of Todd Lawson, http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415495394/), and the beginnings of serious work in English on the Iranian Baha’i community (notably Dominic Parviz Brookshaw and Seena Fazel’s book on The Baha’is of Iran (Routledge, 2008). Hopefully, more will follow. Our knowledge of the Babi movement has also been greatly increased by the enormously wide-ranging work of Ahang Rabbani (http://bahai-library.com/author/Ahang%20Rabbani) as well as the recent historical study of the Nayriz by Hussein Ahdieh. Sen McGlinn provides the most up-to-date news on contemporary persecution of Baha’is in Iran (http://sensday.wordpress.com/).
Most scholarly studies of the Baha’i writings remain ‘orthodox’ in approach, as with the work of the Irfan Colloquia (see http://bahai-library.com/series/Irfan), and academic studies by Juan Cole (Modernity and the Millennium:The Genesis of the Bahá’í Faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East. New York: Columbia UP, 1998) and Denis MacEoin (The Messiah of Shiraz: Studies in Early and Middle Babism. Leiden: Brill, 2009) remain enormously controversial within Baha’i circles.
Of individual Baha’i communities outside of Iran, the early American Baha’is have continued to attract scholarly attention, particularly in the work of Robert Stockman (http://rsmd.net/research), whilst Australia has been well covered by Graham Hassall,
Of sociological studies of Baha’i developments, in addition to my own now ancient The Babi and Baha’i Religions: From Messianic Shi’ism to a World Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 2008), the most comprehensive study is Margit Warburg, Citizens of the World: A History and Sociology of the Baha’is in Globalization Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2006).
4. And now? This is a brief overview of what seem to me to be some of the most important recent developments in Baha’i Studies. I hope others will offer comments and their own ideas of what they feel are the most significant developments. In particular, I hope that there are those who feel inspired to undertake the arduous work of compiling a detailed bibliography of all modern academic work on Babi and Baha’i Studies (‘modern’ here being everything since the 1970s — see my encyclopedia article cited above).