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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Abdu’l-Baha speaks – in bilingual format

Posted by Sen on June 1, 2018

My latest book is out, from Leiden University Press (click to order (please)).

The title is Principles for Progress. Essays on Religion and Modernity by `Abdu’l-Baha. It is 400 pages, most of them in bilingual Persian/English format. This is the third bilingual book in modern Iranian Studies that I have done, and the second for the Iranian Studies Series. The works in this volume are three of Abdu’l-Baha’s socio-political essays: The Secret of Divine Civilization, Selections from A Traveller´s Narrative and The Art of Governance. There is about 80 pages of introduction outlining the historical setting and the authors and actors that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha knew. There are also translator’s notes on various textual issues, where a short footnote would not suffice, and an index.

This book presents three of the works of Abdu´l-Baha dealing with social and political issues that deserve to be taken more seriously as contributions to reformist literature in the Islamic world during the period leading up to Iran´s Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911). It is intended for general readers, scholars in the field of Persian intellectual history and students of Persian political and religious history.

The failure to reach a modus vivendi between religion and politics has been the major cause of Iran´s aborted modernity, which has continued for more than a century past its first tragic failure at the end of the Constitutional Revolution. Those Iranian intellectuals who are coming to regard the relationship between church and state as the central question to be resolved in Iran may well be willing to examine again what Baha´u´llah and Abdu´l-Baha were saying on this topic in the period leading to the Revolution.

At the same time, in Iran and around the world, doctrinaire secularism has given way to an awareness that religions are part of our cultures, and neither religion nor culture is destined to wither away in a march towards progress enlightened by scientific consciousness. Public intellectuals must therefore consider how to preserve the gains of modernity and secularism in societies that are becoming post-modern and post-secular, in which the death of religion anticipated by the pioneers of modernism no longer looks likely. They may want to study Abdu´l-Baha´s proposals for a pious, progressive and pluralist society, and the example he gives us of how a religious leader can contribute to fruitful movement in that direction.

In addition to presenting the first parallel text translations of these works, the Persian texts have notes on variants in the manuscript sources. The findings confirm the general reliability of the published versions of the texts, and reveal an author who carefully checks and corrects his own works at publication, so far as possible. But there are also variants, as Abdu’l-Baha amended his own texts at each publication.

In the case of A Traveller´s Narrative, this is the first translation to be based on Abdu´l-Baha´s corrected text, published in Bombay, rather than the earlier version given to E.G. Browne. Differences between these, and some other parallel texts, have been footnoted. The work has also been redated, Browne having been mislead by an internal reference which did not mean what he thought it meant.

A Traveller´s Narrative has suffered from being evaluated as a source on Babi-Bahai history. In that respect, it is far from the best source available. I have treated it rather as an introductory book on the Bahai Faith, written by an authoritative and early author. Its structure, dealing first with history and then with teachings, is similar to Esslemont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era. My theory is that it was probably written in the weeks just before Browne visited Akka, with the intention of giving it to him and asking him to publish it. Thus the immediate audience is Browne, which required a simple Persian style and dealing with some Babi questions he was interested in, while the ultimate audience was readers, mainly in Iran, of Browne’s Persian edition.

As for The Art of Governance, this is the first hard copy translation, although an earlier version of my translation was published online in the H-Bahai series Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha’i Texts, vol. 7, no. 1 (March, 2003), and translations by Dreyfus and Cole have been circulated.

The Secret of Divine Civilization is available in a translation by Marzieh Gail, which is good but suffers somewhat from her lack of familiarity with the actual and proposed reforms in Iran that Abdu’l-Baha writes about, from the relatively limited research tools available to a translator of her time, and from her not knowing about most of the sections that Shoghi Effendi had translated. The title, incidentally, was given to the work by Shoghi Effendi, whose partial translation is masterly.

I don’t know of any plans to make parts of the book accessible in Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature, so I have made images of a few pages to give an impression. The first is from the general introduction, much of which is devoted to the intellectuals and political actors that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha read, met, and corresponded with.

Then I have included a page of Persian text with notes on textual variants, a page from the translator’s notes, and a page from the translation.

5 Responses to “Abdu’l-Baha speaks – in bilingual format”

  1. Alison Marshall said

    Congratulations Sen. You have made another groundbreaking contribution to Baha’i scholarship. May your life continue to be blessed with such wonderful productivity and service. Clearly, a person does not need to be a member of the Baha’i community to have a stake in the future of the Cause.

  2. Sen said

    Actually, I’ve just put up a coat-hook where people can hang their findings. I’ve pointed out how variable a single tradition can be in the Behar al-anwar, and why, and I’ve described what sort of thing we are looking for – a copy of the Behar al-Anwar contemporary or older than Baha’u’llah’s time. And I’ve done the scan of a single manuscript, which turned out to be so similar to the printed editions that — considering also its location in the library in Tehran — it may even be the original on which the printed editions are based. If other Bahais scholars will keep the issue in mind, and check any manuscript versions they find (and report negative results here), perhaps one day we will have an actual answer to the question of what source Baha’u’llah was using. The laurels go to whoever finds it ~ sen

  3. Alison Marshall said

    Actually, I was commenting here on your book, which is just out, not on your work on the Behar.

  4. Sen said

    [ embarrassed emoticon ]

  5. Alison Marshall said

    lol 🙂

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