Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Intellectual Life of the Bahá'í Community

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Intellectual Life of the Bahá'í Community

Article excerpt

It is a great honor for me to be presenting the Balyuzi Lecture at this year's ABS Conference.1 The presence of Douglas Martin in this gathering is a source of immense joy. I hope I am not mistaken in thinking that, on such an occasion, I might take advantage of the kind and forgiving mood of the audience and allow myself the luxury of disorder. What you are about to hear is not a well-organized lecture but a series of scattered thoughts-my own musings on the nature and challenges of the intellectual life of the Bahá'í community.

To begin, I should say that a part of me tends to dismiss my concern with the intellectual life of the community as unnecessary. "Why belabor an obvious and straightforward matter?" insists a voice within me. It is in the very nature of the Bahá'í community for its members to pursue education. Look at our history. Well established Bahá'í communities tend to enjoy a notably high level of educational achievement. Bahá'í families give the highest priority to the education of their children, and as the community grows in size, Bahá'ís will move to the forefront of every imaginable field of human endeavor. The clarity of mind they have acquired from a profound knowledge of the Writings, their own upright characters, and their love for truth will enable them to gain unprecedented insights into reality. Gradually, more and more talented Bahá'ís in each field will begin to collaborate with one other and together will advance the frontiers of knowledge in their areas of expertise.

I should hasten to say that actually I have no problem with this narrative. I am certain that the process as described has been unfolding for some time and will continue to gain momentum. But the question I feel impelled to pose is: Shouldn't there be more to the intellectual life of the Bahá'í community than what this simple narrative depicts? Are we not supposed to do something more?

On the long road from obscurity to the establishment of the Order of Bahá'u'lláh, we have reached the point at which the Bahá'í Faith is being accepted as a world religion alongside other major religions. What is more, in country after country, a growing number of people have formed a high opinion of us as good people with admirable ideals, and-much to the credit of the approach we are taking to community building-they are even beginning to appreciate our contributions to the life of society. This is a truly great accomplishment, one of which we should all be proud. Looking at the small and rather obscure community that we were not long ago and then at what we are today, we cannot but bow our heads in gratitude before Bahá'u'lláh and praise His handiwork.

But we know that this is not the end. The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is not intended to culminate in some kind of friendly competition with other religious movements and reach a prestigious place alongside them. And as far as our intellectual accomplishments are concerned, we cannot ignore the fact that if we were to follow the ways of the world we would be far behind everyone else for the longest time. We will certainly be justified in celebrating the accomplishment of any Bahá'í who reaches prominence in a given field, but we will have to remember that for each such individual, many religious communities, as well as agnostics and atheists, will have hundreds, if not thousands, of people at the same or higher level of prominence. So it really does not make sense for us to engage in a game of numbers and prestige; we need to look deeper into the dynamics of the Bahá'í community's intellectual pursuits. For me, the real issues have to do with the content of our thoughts, the nature of our questions, and the validity and relevance of our answers to the profound challenges facing humanity as it emerges from adolescence. Prominent or not, what do those of us engaged in intellectual pursuits have to say that deserves to be heard? Clearly we have a great deal to say when we present the Faith to various audiences, but what I am asking is not about our presentations of the Faith and its ideals; my concern is with our contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the many fields of human endeavor and, finally, to the advancement of civilization itself. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.