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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Scholars in the Bahai Community 2

This is the second posting to Talisman on 18 March 1996, included in the email archive because it has been selectively mis-quoted. I post it here so that readers can see that what was going on was actually a responsible discussion among people devoted to the development of Bahai studies, about the necessary infrastructures, in the context of the UHJ’s encouragement for Bahai Studies Associations, and the announced Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, to be established at the World Centre.



> Good scholarship needs support for salaries, books, scholarships
> for students, conferences, publishing subventions, etc.


I’ll take one of each, please.

I expect the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts will begin as an office annex, and I wouldn’t expect it to be a very important institution in Baha’i scholarship for some time to come. It may well act like the N.American Baha’i Studies Association, absorbing and channeling intellectual energies and keeping scholarship safe (not that I’m criticizing the personnel there, I think this was just what it was set up to achieve). Moreover, I think that research facilities which are dependent for funds on elected institutions will not be in a position to develop their own character and will run the risk of having their budgets cut when there is a big building project to finance or a shortfall in donation[s]. So it seems more likely that the key institutions at the world level and at the national level will grow out of something like the Haj Mehdi Arjmand foundation, which is achieving a great deal already – or my own pet project of a college for Baha’i students and scholars at Leiden (ta da, trumpets off-stage) which is only lacking $300,000 or so (donation or interest-free loan) to get under way. Contact me for the account number.

We should be looking at the way the Azhar University in Cairo came to occupy such a position, or for that matter how the Babylonian Rabbis came to have such respect that Jews from Spain were sending their questions for resolution. In neither case was there an official appointment as an arm of administrative institution, so far as I know. My sense is that we start with excellence and the academic infrastructure I listed, and out of that develop the pre-eminent libraries, seminaries, universities and so forth. When the El-Azhar publishes an official (ie collective university) opinion, as it did a few years ago on the Baha’i Faith, this carries tremendous weight, but I don’t think anyone appointed the university to this position or that any outside body has decreed how the Azhar should go about formulating its opinions.

In short, I don’t think we should be looking to the elected institutions to achieve the vision of Baha’u’llah and `Abdu’l-Baha, regarding the role of the learned and divines, for us. It would even be normal for there to be a degree of tension and jealousy between the elected organs and the incipient organs of the divines and the house of worship. Is not something of the sort, between elected and appointed arms of the administrative order, hinted at in the Universal House of Justice’s letter of May 94 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States?

In my [previous] posting I used a section from Baha’u’llah which referred to the learned and the divines. It’s from Gleanings LXVI, which is apparantly taken from the Suriy-i-Muluk. Dariush has asked me if I could indicate what words are used for the ‘learned’ and the ‘divines’ and what the differences may be. I don’t have the Suriy-i-Muluk and am in any case not up to the task, so could one of the Arabists help here?


Short link to this page:

Related content:
Compilation on the learned
What is theology, and what’s it good for ? (2008)
The knower as servant (response to Paul Lample) (2008)
Knowledge: project or process? (2009)

and in the email archive:

Scholarship and review in the Bahai community (1990)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 1 (1996)
Foreword to ‘Church and State’ (2005; see the section on the limits of theology)
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theology 2005-10-17
Theology 2005-10-21
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theologians, the learned and the wise (2006)
Theology 2006-02-13
Theology 2007-01-01
Theology 2008-06-03
Church, State, experts, consensus (Oct. 2009)
Theology – a defence (2009)
No Clergy?” (2009)
Theology 2009-10-00
Bahai Studies and the academic study of religion” (2010?)
Method and focus in my Church and State (2010?)

One Response to “Scholars in the Bahai Community 2”

  1. Sen said

    Extract from a letter in Persian by Shoghi Effendi, to the Spiritual Assemblies of Iran.

    The responsibilities of the members of the Spiritual Assemblies …
    …… They [Bahai Writings] urge them to make detailed inquiry into the various branches of contemporary learning — arts and sciences alike — and to concentrate their attention on serving the general interests of the people; to deepen themselves by attentive study of the sacred Texts, and to apply the divine guidance they contain to the circumstances, needs and conditions of society today; to refrain from entering into the tangled affairs of political parties and to have neither concern for, nor involvement in, the controversies of politicians, the wranglings of theologians or any of the ailing social theories current amongst men.

    They finally exhort them to be sincerely obedient, in both thought and word, to the laws duly enacted by the government of the realm, and to distance themselves from the methods, concepts and ill-grounded arguments of extreme traditionalists and modernists alike; to accord honour, veneration and respect to — and endorse the efforts of — exponents of the arts and sciences, and to esteem and revere those who are possessed of extensive knowledge and scholarly erudition; to uphold the right of freedom of conscience; and to abstain from criticizing and disparaging the manners, customs and beliefs of other individuals, peoples and nations.
    (30 January 1926 to the Spiritual Assemblies in Iran, translated
    from the Persian)

    (Compilations, Scholarship, p. 7)

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