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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Theology 2008-06-03

This was on Bahai Rants, but I can’t find the URL
Subject: theology thread
Date sent: Tue, 03 Jun 2008 16:17:30 +0200


My two bits, for what’s its worth, is that theology is a field of
study, and an approach to studying it. Not objectively, but with a
commitment to the religion concerned.

Theology is not the same thing as “scholarship” or even Bahai
scholarship, it is one small part of Bahai scholarship.

To say somebody is a scholar is to say they have a certain
proficiency and expertise, or perhaps an academic job. I have never
called myself a scholar, I am a student. I study, and write about,
theology, ergo I am a theologian, just as someone like Ian Kluge, a
Bahai who teaches philosophy, calls himself a Bahai philosopher. That
does not mean that he is a good philosopher, or that I am a good
theologian. These words refer only to fields of study, not to any

There are in fact a number of Bahais who write and teach Bahai
theology: you can take a course in Bahai theology at the Wilmette
institute, and there’s Jack MacLean, Julio Savi, Juan Cole, Udo
Schaeffer, Hushmand Sabet and no doubt many more.

What Bahais call “deepening” is called “theology” at a university. If
you do it with good evidence, critically, systematically, and in
dialogue, it may even be accepted at the university as a legitimate
field of study (and more important, it may actually contribute to the

Ideally, theology has nothing to do with an ecclesiastical hierarchy.
As I have said in an earlier comment, theology and power have to be
kept separate. It is not theology that has harmed religious
communities in the past, but the endorsement or enforcement or
condemnation of one particular theology, by those in power. In the
Bahai Faith, learning and expertise are not required for membership of
the elected or appointed bodies, and the administrative and doctrinal
functions in the community are separated, so *especially* in the Bahai
community there should be no excuse for confusing the study of
theology with ecclesiastical prerogatives. There are simply no
ecclesiastical prerogatives to be had.


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
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theologians, the learned and the wise (2006)
Theology 2006-02-13
Theology 2007-01-01
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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