JRH Special Issue on Baha’i

JRH Special Issue on Baha’i

Christopher H. Hartney (co-Editor, Journal of Religious History) writes with excitement about the December 2012 special issue of the Journal of Religious History on Baha’i.


Very well known in Baha’i Studies circles, Professor Todd Lawson of the University of Toronto (The Crucifixion and the Qur’an, 2009) suggested to the editors of the Journal of Religious History that a special edition be published on various aspects of the history of the Baha’i Faith. The result of his persistent editorial efforts over the last two years has been an outstanding insight into this field creating an essential tool for the ongoing scholarly examination of this canonic new religion.

The special edition opens with an on the ground examination of the rise of the Baha’i Faith out of Babism in Isfahan by Moojan Momen. The usefulness of this article comes in the way the author highlights the patron lines and family prestige that lay behind the growth of a faith system seen as a sacrilegious innovation by the Muslim clerics of Isfahan; clerics who sought to do all they could to contain its growth, including a series of bloody persecutions. Omid Ghaemmaghami places the growth of the Baha’i Faith in the wider context of Islamic millenarianism and in doing so has produced a detailed analysis of the motivations that lay behind that growth. His article will prove fascinating also to students of millenarian and Twelver Shi’ite studies. Communications were essential to the rise of the new faith and Farzin Vejdani expertly assesses the creation and distribution of early texts and newsletters that enabled the faith to spread. His article ‘Transnational Baha’i Print Culture’ examines how printing houses throughout South and West Asia enabled the Baha’i Faith to increase the reach of its ideas, many of which were quite radical for the time.

 One radical dimension of the faith that repays study is the Baha’i focus on education for girls. Siyamak Zabihi-Moghaddam presents a valuable sketch of the rise of Iranian girls’ schools in the article ‘Educating Girls in Early Twentieth Century.’ Outside of Iran, the Baha’i Faith needed to adapt to other cultures and encourage its followers to adapt to the ideals of the new faith. This process then became more complicated with the death of its charismatic leaders and the bureaucratization of lines of authority. In her article, Lynn Echevarria (‘How Routinization Became a Saving Grace for the Baha’is’) examines how the management systems devised by Shoghi Effendi during the Twentieth Century had a deep impact on the lives of American Baha’is. Continuing the theme of Baha’i interaction with American culture Christopher Buck poignantly highlights the work Baha’is carried out in developing an interracial movement in the United States before World War II. He concentrates in particular on the ideas the great black thinker W. E. B. Du Bois developed in relation to the new faith; ideas that were not, in the end, completely favourable.

In this edition Graham Hassall continues his careful and cumulative study of the Baha’is in Australia, compiling a narrative history that covers the movement from 1947 to 1963. In a similar way 

Anthony A. Lee examines the Baha’i Faith and seeks to explain its phenomenal growth of the movement in the British Cameroons during the period 1952-1962 when many Baha’is also held membership of Christian movements. Finally, Mina Yazdani delves into the dark dimensions of inter-religious hatred in ‘The Islamic Revolution’s Internal Other: The Case of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Baha’is of Iran’, where it becomes clear that some of the unity of the Iranian revolution in 1979 was based on a fear, hatred and demonization of the Baha’is as religious ‘other’ by Khomeini.

So, in an edition that is clearly about the Baha’i Faith, we also have a collection of articles that provide much new information on Black Studies, the examination of women and education in Iran, Australian and Cameroonian religious history, and so on. Todd Lawson has collated an excellent historical investigation into compelling aspects of the Faith’s history, and, we should note, provides a most readable overview of the religion in his brief introduction. It is in all respects an edition to be recommended.