Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff
Peter Smith. An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008 [xxvi, 229 pp.].
This is a short academic introduction to the Baha’i Faith aimed at students of comparative religion at university or upper high school level. It is divided into three main sections dealing with (i) Babi and Baha’i history; (ii) Baha’i beliefs; and (iii) aspects of Baha’i life. These is also a chronology, a select bibliography, and lists of recent leading Baha’is.
Part I on history deals with the Babi Movement in mid-19th century Iran; the rise of the Baha’i Faith under its prophet-founder Baha’u’llah; the periods of leadership of Baha’u’llah’s eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha (1892-1921), his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1922-1957), and at the present time the elected Universal House of Justice (1963-). Each of these chapters provides a brief summary of the writings and ideas of each of these leaders, together with a survey of the main elements and events of their respective leaderships and consideration of questions of organization and authority.
There is also a chapter on Baha’i expansion worldwide, with what was originally a movement of Islamic origin which was essentially confined to the Middle East coming to embrace a global following in almost every country in the world (North Korea appears to be the only country without any Baha’is), and with Baha’is now drawn from a great diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds, such that they may reasonably claim to be a small-scale ‘world religion’ (with at least 5 million followers).
Part II deals with the main aspects of Baha’i belief. It surveys the major Baha’i texts and their authority as sources for Baha’i belief and practice, and then examines four substantive areas of Baha’i belief:
-i. The idea of divine knowledge and guidance – including the Baha’i concept of God and the distinctively Baha’i doctrine of the ‘Manifestations of God’ – a series of divine messengers, including the founders of most of the major world religions; the doctrines of ‘progressive revelation’ and the Covenant; and Baha’i understandings of good and evil and the use of reason and the intellect.
-ii. The Baha’i teachings on being human – including summaries of the Baha’i notions of the soul and the importance of spiritual education, the nature of suffering, death and the afterlife, and of rationalism.
-iii. Baha’i attitudes to other religions and the Baha’i concept of all the major religions being part of a single divine faith.
-iv. Baha’i social teachings and the Baha’i vision of a New World Order, in particular, the Baha’i views of the need for world peace, social order and justice, the advancement of women, education and socio-economic development.
Part III examines aspects of Baha’i life. This comprises five chapters:
-i. The ‘spiritual path’, and its implications for personal morality and social relations.
-ii. Membership of the Baha’i community and the application of Baha’i law in such areas as prayer, fasting, marriage and family life, burial, and involvement in public life.
-iii. The structure and functioning of the Baha’i administrative system, including the principle of consultation.
-iv. Aspects of Baha’i community life, including a description of the Baha’i calendar and holy days; pilgrimage; and houses of worship.
-v. Baha’i activities and the wider world, including Baha’i teaching and pioneering; social involvement – such as promoting the advancement of women and education; and learning and scholarship.
The book ends with some final comments about the place of the Baha’i Faith and the Baha’i global community in relationship to the modern world and the processes of globalization and secularization.