The Growth and Spread of the Bahá'í Faith

Hampson, Arthur
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 1980]
Since its beginning in 1844, the Baha'i Faith has spread to all parts of the non-Communist world. At first, the religion was confined to Persia and Iraq where Shi'ah Islam is dominant, but after Baha'u'llah (Prophet-founder of the religion) was banished to distant parts of the Ottoman Empire the movement was able to penetrate many areas of the Sunni world as well. In 1893 the religion was transmitted to North America from where, over a period of six decades, a vigorous campaign of global dissemination was undertaken. By 1953, the religion was well established on all continents; thereafter, global diffusion proceeded from a number of widely distributed centers of the religion rather than from just the two older core areas (Persia and North America). The Baha'i Faith has always pursued an expansionist policy consisting of three main strategies: numerical increase, geographical dispersion, and compositional diversity of the membership. In the early years, growth was generally encouraged by the charismatic leaders of the religion, but from 1919 on expansion was directed by definitive and authoritative plans embodying the three main strategies for growth. These plans have become broader and more detailed in the past few decades so that today Baha'i expansion is guided by very precise objectives for increasing the numbers and kinds of believers and for insuring that they are widely dispersed. The objective of this research has been to describe and account for the growth and spread of the Baha'i Faith. The religion has been considered as an innovation, and its dissemination has been viewed as a consequence of its internal structure and decision-making patterns. It was found that a strong and centralized leadership has facilitated diffusion, that religious beliefs have favored dissemination efforts, and that policy and planning have successfully directed Baha'i expansion. At the same time, the staging and direction of Baha'i expansion frequently has been influenced by attitudes, conditions, and events lying outside the direct control of the Baha'i movement. For example, in its early years the religion was geographically confined by its cultural context and religious roots while later on political conditions frequently influenced where the movement could and could not become established. In general, physical, social, and economic distance have inhibited diffusion, but aggressive dissemination policies and ambitious growth plans have greatly weakened the force of these traditional resistors to diffusion. Between 1893 and 1953 North America was the main geographic source of Baha'i expansion. Within this area, growth was substantial but not constant. In the first few decades there were alternating periods of growth and decline and only after the 1920s did the religion begin to increase its membership at a steadily accelerating rate. The capacity of the movement to enlarge appears to have depended on unanimous acceptance of religious authority; growth proceeded regularly whenever the leadership and the administrative order were recognized by all Baha'is, but diffusion was curtailed whenever these repositories of religious authority were questioned by a part of the religion's membership. Throughout the twentieth century, Baha'i growth in North America has been dependent on conversions; natural increase has always been a minor source of expansion. Continent-wide dissemination of the religion has relied heavily on migration of believers, usually from large urban centers containing Baha'i concentrations to other locations where believers have been few or absent. This pattern has been strongly encouraged and has resulted in a highly dispersed Baha'i community, a condition which also exists at the global level.
PhD University of Hawaii at Manoa 1980
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 491–505).
Bahai Faith, Bahai Faith history, Bahaism, geohistory, Bahai diffusion, religio-cultural isolation
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