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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Theology – 2005-12-03

From: Sen & Sonja
To: XX,
Subject: UHJ letter Nov 14 2005
Date sent: Sat, 03 Dec 2005

> Since such a person does not accept that Baha’u’llah forbade any
> form of clergy, they do not accept the covenant and therefore cannot
> be accepted as a Baha’i. They then remain a non-Baha’i and can
> claim to be theologian, but not from within the Baha’i Faith.

Theologians and clergy are two different groups, like doctors and
biologists or truck drivers and brain surgeons. To say that one is a
theologian does not imply any claim to be one of the Learned, or any
suggestion of being a clergyman, or any claim to be one of the Rulers
(to have religious authority). A theologian is simply someone who
studies the scriptures and teachings of a religion from within –
nothing more is implied. In Bahai-speak, we talk about ‘deepening’
which is a beautiful metaphor but not one I could use in a university
dissertation – the ordinary term is theology.

Although some Bahai theologians have studied theology formally (Abu’l-
Fadl, Ishraq-Khavari, Michael Sours, Jack McLean), others have not —
Julio Savi for instance is the doyen of the Bahai theologians who are
writing at present, but I do not think he has a university
qualification in theology. Neither do I, strictly speaking — I have
half a degree in Christian theology, and a full degree in Islamic
studies but from a science-of-religion perspective, not a theological
perspective. I may have some of my authors in the wrong category, but
that’s beside the point — the point being that a piece of paper does
not make a theologian, and the lack of it does not prevent you
studying the Bahai scriptures and teachings and sharing what you find
with others.

The overlap between theologians and clergy is only that, in the
religions that have a clergy, the trainees are required to study some
theology. So when I studied at Holy Cross seminary, many of the
students were trainee priests, of whom only one that I know of chose
to become a theologian — the rest went into the priesthood. A third
of my class in Christology, for instance, were women. That is, they
were students studying Catholic theology, but with no possibility of
any role at all in the priesthood (being Catholic women). Obviously I
also had no possibility of being either a Catholic or Bahai clergyman,
not being Catholic, and because the Bahai have no clergy. That did not
stop me and the women studying theology and, if we wished, going on to
be theologians. Likewise, there are many religious groups apart from
the Bahais that do not have any clergy, such as the Quakers. But there
are Quaker theologians.

I hope this clarifies things.


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)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 2 (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
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?)

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