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Academic Irrelevance or Disciplinary Blind-Spot? Middle Eastern Studies and the Bahā'i Faith Today*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 March 2016

Ismael Velasco*
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh

Extract

In the discussion that follows, I propose to inquire into some of the assumptions that may underlie the disciplinary paradigm of Middle Eastern, and particularly Iranian, studies, making this an interpretive essay on a neglected aspect of the field, rather than a research article as such. Nevertheless, I harbor hopes of stimulating discussion and bringing something of a fresh perspective to bear on a subject which, it is generally acknowledged, lies at the very edge of the Persianate tradition of religious innovation, and consequently at the margins of the academic efforts to understand and explain it: the life and legacy of the Iranian prophet-founder of the Bahā'í faith, Mirza Huseyn Ali “Bahā'u'llāh” (1817-92). The questions I will pose are in essence three: why is the religious innovation wrought by Bahā'u'llāh considered marginal by the majority of scholars of the Islamicate world? What does this attitude tell us about the conceptual boundaries within which these same scholars labor? And do these boundaries reflect the limits imposed by the evidence itself or do they reflect the limitations of the contemporary disciplinary paradigm?

Type
Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Middle East Studies Association of North America 2001

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References

page 188 note 1 For the most thorough, up to date, and accessible collection of online bibliographies on Babi and Bahā'i studies see http://www.bahai-library.org/resources. It supplements William, P. Collins, Bibliography of English-Language Works on the Babi and Bahā'í Faiths, 1844–1985(Oxford: George Ronald, 1990). See also the solid collection of both published and 'grey' academic literature on the Bahā'í faith elsewhere in the same site.Google Scholar

page 190 note 1 Kathryn, Babayan, Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran (forthcoming).Google Scholar

page 190 note 2 Baha'u'llah, , Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, (London: Bahā'i Publishing Trust, 1978), p. 59.Google Scholar

page 190 note 3 On the links between the Persian heterodox tradition and the Babi Faith see Abbas, Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844–1850 (Cornell University Press, 1989), chapters 1–2.Google Scholar Also Babayan, , Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs, conclusion.Google Scholar

page 191 note 1 Moojan, Momen, “Iran,” article found on http://bahai-library.org/encyclopedia/iran-history.html. This is the most thorough overview of Bahā'i history in Iran to date and includes provincial accounts. See also his paper on “The Social Basis of the Babi Upheavals in Iran: A Preliminary Analysis,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 15 (1983): 157–83.Google Scholar Of relevance too is Peter, Smith, “A Note on Babi and Baha'i Numbers in Iran,” Iranian Studies 15 (1984): 295301.Google Scholar

page 193 note 1 Chris, Buck, Symbol and Secret (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1995)Google Scholar, chapter 5. Although Buck does not cover it, the crucial bond in the chain linking the Babi and Bahā'i faiths to Islam is early Shaykhism. The theological linkages are explored by Vahid, Rafati, “The Development of Shaykhí Thought in Shí'í Islam,” The Bahā'i Faith and Islam: Proceedings of Symposium, McGill University, March 1984, ed. Heshmat, Moayyad (Ottawa: Bahā'i Studies Publications, 1990).Google Scholar Also Amanat, , Resurrection and Renewal. Of relevance too is Mangol, Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (Syracuse, 1982), pp. 3786.Google Scholar

page 193 note 2 Susan, Stiles–Maneck, “The Conversion of Religious Minorities,” Journal of Baha’i Studies 3.3(1991).Google Scholar

page 194 note 1 Mirza, Abu'l–Fadl Gulpaygani, Letters and Essays, 1886–1913, trans. Juan, R. I. Cole (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1992).Google Scholar

page 194 note 2 Juan, R. I. Cole, Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Bahā'í Faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East (Hew York: Columbia University Press, 1998).Google Scholar This work is particularly valuable in exploring Bahā'u'llāh’s political thought in a broader Middle Eastern context, shedding light on the relevance of intellectual and political currents in the Ottoman world to Bahā'u'llāh’s political thinking. See also Cole’s, Iranian Millenarianism and Democratic Thought in the Nineteenth Century Middle East,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 24 (February 1992): 126.Google ScholarPeter, Smith takes a sociological perspective on Babi and Bahā'í millenarianism in “Millenarianism in the Babi and Baha'i Religions,” Millennialism and Charisma, ed. Roy, Wallis (Belfast, 1982), pp. 231–83.Google Scholar Also important is Moojan, Momen, “The Baha'i Influence on the Reform Movements of the Islamic World in the 1860s and 1870s,” Baha'i Studies Bulletin 3.2 (1983): 4765.Google Scholar

page 194 note 3 Resurrection and Renewal.

page 194 note 4 Mangol, Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1982).Google Scholar

page 195 note 1 See Nazila , Ghanea-Hercock, “A Review of Secondary Literature in English on Recent Persecutions of Bahā'ís in Iran,” Baha’i Studies Review 7 (1997) for the most thorough and up to date review of the theme. Also found at http://bahai-library.org/articles/hercock.persecution.htmlGoogle Scholar

page 195 note 2 While it is true that many of these sources are difficult to access, much is available. The groundbreaking work of the H-Bahā'í section of Humanities Net (H–Net) in making a wealth of primary sources available on–line goes a long way towards filling earlier gaps. See Arabic and Persian Texts Related to the Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Movements, at http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~bahai/index/diglib/arapub.htm. Other collections of unpublished sources exist in academic libraries worldwide, in private hands, the Bahā'í–sponsored Afnan Library in London, and, of course, at the Bahā'í World Centre.

page 195 note 3 A notable exception is Farzaneh, Milani's Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992).Google Scholar See also Negar, Mottaheddeh's paper from the perspective of cultural studies, “Ruptured Spaces and Effective Histories: The Unveiling of the Babi Poetess Qurrat al–‘ Ayn Tahirih in the Gardens of Badasht,” H–Bahai Occasional papers on Babi and Bahā'í Studies 2.2 (February, 1998),Google Scholarhttp://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~bahai/bhpapers/vol2/ruptured.htm. Of broader relevance is the discussion of Qurrat al–‘ Ayn Tahirih as a paradigm of Bahā'í womanhood in Women in the Bahā'í Faith,” Religion and Women, ed. Arvind, Sharma (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994).Google Scholar

page 197 note 1 Benedict, Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso Books, 1991).Google Scholar

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