2. Functions of Bahá’í Scholarship

2.1 Promotion of Human Welfare

From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

The Great Being saith: The learned of the day must direct the people to acquire those branches of knowledge which are of use, that both the learned themselves and the generality of mankind may derive benefits therefrom. Such academic pursuits as begin and end in words alone have never been and will never be of any worth. The majority of Persia’s learned doctors devote all their lives to the study of a philosophy the ultimate yield of which is nothing but words.

(“Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas”, p. 169) [21]

True learning is that which is conducive to the well-being of the world, not to pride and self-conceit, or to tyranny, violence and pillage.

(From a Tablet, translated from the Persian) [22]

From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

The primary, the most urgent requirement is the promotion of education. It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward. The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance. Today the mass of the people are uninformed even as to ordinary affairs, how much less do they grasp the core of the important problems and complex needs of the time.

It is therefore urgent that beneficial articles and books be written, clearly and definitely establishing what the present-day requirements of the people are, and what will conduce to the happiness and advancement of society. These should be published and spread throughout the nation, so that at least the leaders among the people should become, to some degree, awakened, and arise to exert themselves along those lines which will lead to their abiding honour. The publication of high thoughts is the dynamic power in the arteries of life; it is the very soul of the world. Thoughts are boundless sea, and the effects and varying conditions of existence are as the separate forms and individual limits of the waves; not until the sea boils up will the waves rise and scatter their pearls of knowledge on the shore of life….

Public opinion must be directed toward whatever is worthy of this day, and this is impossible except through the use of adequate arguments and the adducing of clear, comprehensive and conclusive proofs. For the helpless masses know nothing of the world, and while there is no doubt that they seek and long for their own happiness, yet ignorance like a heavy veil shuts them away from it….

It is, furthermore, a vital necessity to establish schools…. If necessary, education should even be made compulsory. Until the nerves and arteries of the nation stir into life, every measure that is attempted will prove vain; for the people are as the human body, and determination and the will to struggle are as the soul, and a soulless body does not move.

(“The Secret of Divine Civilization”, pp. 109–110; pp. 111–112) [23]

From a Letter Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi

The news of the co-operation of the Bahá’í young men and women in Montreal, their establishment of a group for study and discussion, the sane and sober expression of their methods as expressed in the programme you had enclosed, and their thoughtful and enthusiastic outlook upon the future, all these have helped to create the liveliest hopes and the deepest satisfaction in the heart of our Guardian. It is indeed with no little pleasure that he welcomes the active co-operation of his young friends in Montreal, and he sincerely trusts that with an adequate study of the proper teachings and their spiritual significance coupled with a sufficient knowledge of the problems and perplexities that the world is beset with, you will be able to render great services to the Cause and therefore to humanity.

(20 March 1929 to an individual believer) [24]

From a Letter of the Universal House of Justice

The further emergence of the Faith from obscurity is reflected in distinctive ways. In learned circles, in reference works and in the media, the Faith is increasingly being referred to as a “principal” or “major” world religion…. The exposure of influential segments of the public to Bahá’í ideas in such areas as peace, the environment, status of women, education and literacy, has induced a response which increasingly calls upon the Bahá’ís to participate with others in a range of projects associated with governments or with non-governmental organizations.

Moreover, such exposure is creating in the public mind the realization that the Faith has answers to current problems and thus the expectation that the Bahá’í community should take a more active part in public affairs….

…Bahá’í projects of social and economic development have greatly multiplied and brought much credit to the community in the examples of the power of group initiative and voluntary consultative action that have been set in numerous places…. Some projects have been so distinguished in their achievements as to be given public notice through the citations and awards of governments and international non-governmental agencies.

(Riḍván 1992 to the Bahá’ís of the World) [25]

2.2 Defence of the Faith

From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

If any man were to arise to defend, in his writings, the Cause of God against its assailants, such a man, however inconsiderable his share, shall be so honoured in the world to come that the Concourse on high would envy his glory. No pen can depict the loftiness of his station, neither can any tongue describe its splendour. For whosoever standeth firm and steadfast in this holy, this glorious, and exalted Revelation, such power shall be given him as to enable him to face and withstand all that is in heaven and on earth. Of this God is Himself a witness.

(“Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh”, section CLIV) [26]

From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

The second of these spiritual standards which apply to the possessor of knowledge is that he should be the defender of his faith. It is obvious that these holy words do not refer exclusively to searching out the implications of the Law, observing the forms of worship, avoiding greater and lesser sins, practicing the religious ordinances, and by all these methods, protecting the Faith. They mean rather that the whole population should be protected in every way; that every effort should be exerted to adopt a combination of all possible measures to raise up the Word of God, increase the number of believers, promote the Faith of God and exalt it and make it victorious over other religions.

(“The Secret of Divine Civilization”, p. 41) [27]

From Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi

Shoghi Effendi was delighted to hear of your conversation with Sir …. How much he hopes to have such scholars obtain a true understanding of the spirit and teaching of the Cause and arise to dissipate that veil of misconceptions that is prejudicing the mind of the scholars in the western world. The Cause is in great need for such competent and spiritually minded men who after a thorough study of the Movement would share with the world the fruit of their labours.

(11 March 1929 to an individual believer) [28]

There is an answer in the teachings for everything; unfortunately the majority of the Bahá’ís, however intensely devoted and sincere they may be, lack for the most part the necessary scholarship and wisdom to reply to and refute the claims and attacks of people with some education and standing.

(25 September 1942 to an individual believer) [29]

2.3 Expansion and Consolidation of the Bahá’í Community

From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Pure souls, such as Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl, upon him be the Glory of God, spend their nights and days in demonstrating the truth of the Revelation, by adducing conclusive and brilliant proofs and expanding the verities of the Faith, by lifting the veils, promoting the religion of God and spreading His fragrances.

(From a Tablet, translated from the Persian) [30]

From Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi

We had heard through various channels the wonderful way your children had grown to speak about the Cause in public. Shoghi Effendi’s hope is that they will, the three of them, become able and devoted speakers on the Cause and subjects akin to it. To do this properly they will need a firm foundation of scientific and literary training which fortunately they are obtaining. It is just as important for the Bahá’í young boys and girls to become properly educated in colleges of high standing as it is to be spiritually developed. The mental as well as the spiritual side of the youth has to be developed before he can serve the Cause efficiently.

(28 November 1926 to an individual believer) [31]

The university training which you are receiving at present will be of immense help to you in your efforts to present the Message in intellectual circles. In these days when people are so sceptical about religion and look with so much contempt towards religious organizations and movements, there seems to be more need than ever for our young Bahá’ís to be well equipped intellectually, so that they may be in a position to present the Message in a befitting way, and in a manner that would convince every unbiased observer of the effectiveness and power of the Teachings.

(5 May 1934 to an individual believer) [32]

Young men and women in the Faith must be deep and thoughtful scholars of its teachings, so that they can teach in a way that will convince people that all the problems facing them have a remedy. They must grasp the Administration, so that they can wisely and efficiently administer the ever-growing affairs of the Cause; and they must exemplify the Bahá’í way of living. All this is not easy—but the Guardian is always encouraged to see the spirit animating such young believers as yourself. He has high hopes of what your generation will accomplish.

(12 May 1944 to an individual believer) [33]

If the Bahá’ís want to be really effective in teaching the Cause they need to be much better informed and able to discuss intelligently, intellectually, the present condition of the world and its problems. We need Bahá’í scholars, not only people far, far more deeply aware of what our teachings really are, but also well-read and well-educated people, capable of correlating our teachings to the current thoughts of the leaders of society.

We Bahá’ís should, in other words, arm our minds with knowledge in order to better demonstrate to, especially, the educated classes, the truths enshrined in our Faith.

(5 July 1949 to an individual believer) [34]

From a Letter Written on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice

The Universal House of Justice … regards Bahá’í scholarship as of great potential importance for the development and consolidation of the Bahá’í community as it emerges from obscurity….

(3 January 1979 to participants in an academic seminar) [35]

2.4 Contribution to Scholarly Development

From Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi

He was very happy to hear from you, and to see with what keen appreciation and interest you are studying the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. One could truly say that the longer one studies them, the more one finds in them. They are the very essence from which thinkers and scientists and humanitarians of the future will derive inspiration and guidance for their work.

(10 December 1942 to a Bahá’í summer school) [36]

Regarding the advice you requested from him concerning what studies you should specialize in with a view to teaching in the future: He would suggest either History, Economics or Sociology, as these are not only fields in which Bahá’ís take a great interest but also cover subjects which our teachings cast an entirely new light upon. Your knowledge would be of use to the Cause in teaching it in the future, and you could also perhaps introduce the Bahá’í ideas into your lectures as an educator.

(13 March 1944 to an individual believer) [37]

From Letters Written by or on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice

You are already a qualified practitioner in your field, and no doubt you give advice on the basis of what you have learned from study and experience—a whole fabric of concepts about the human mind, its growth, development and proper functioning, which you have learned and evolved without reference to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Now, as a Bahá’í, you know that what Bahá’u’lláh teaches about the purpose of human life, the nature of the human being and the proper conduct of human lives, is divinely revealed and therefore true. However, it will inevitably take time for you not only to study the Bahá’í teachings so that you clearly understand them, but also to work out how they modify your professional concepts. This is, of course, not an unusual predicament for a scientist. How often in the course of research is a factor discovered which requires a revolution in thinking over a wide field of human endeavour. You must be guided in each case by your own professional knowledge and judgement as illuminated by your growing knowledge of the Bahá’í teachings; undoubtedly you will find that your own understanding of the human problems dealt with in your work will change and develop and you will see new and improved ways of helping the people who come to you. Psychology is still a very young and inexact science, and as the years go by Bahá’í psychologists, who know from the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh the true pattern of human life, will be able to make great strides in the development of this science, and will help profoundly in the alleviation of human suffering.

(6 February 1973, published in “Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968–1973” (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976), pp. 111–112) [38]

As the Bahá’í community grows it will acquire experts in numerous fields—both by Bahá’ís becoming experts and by experts becoming Bahá’ís. As these experts bring their knowledge and skill to the service of the community and, even more, as they transform their various disciplines by bringing to bear upon them the light of the Divine Teachings, problem after problem now disrupting society will be answered….

Paralleling this process, Bahá’í institutional life will also be developing, and as it does so the Assemblies will draw increasingly upon scientific and expert knowledge—whether of Bahá’ís or of non-Bahá’ís—to assist in solving the problems of their communities.

In time great Bahá’í institutions of learning, great international and national projects for the betterment of human life will be inaugurated and flourish.

(21 August 1977 on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) [39]

Indeed, let them [the Bahá’í youth] welcome with confidence the challenges awaiting them. Imbued with this excellence and a corresponding humility, with tenacity and a loving servitude, today’s youth must move towards the front ranks of the professions, trades, arts and crafts which are necessary to the further progress of humankind—this to ensure that the spirit of the Cause will cast its illumination on all these important areas of human endeavour. Moreover, while aiming at mastering the unifying concepts and swiftly advancing technologies of this era of communications, they can, indeed they must, also guarantee the transmittal to the future of those skills which will preserve the marvelous, indispensable achievements of the past. The transformation which is to occur in the functioning of society will certainly depend to a great extent on the effectiveness of the preparations the youth make for the world they will inherit.

(8 May 1985 from the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’í Youth of the World) [40]

The House of Justice recognizes that the questions you raise, concerning the offer of newly enrolled professionals to share their views with the Bahá’í community, are of vital and timely importance, especially as the Faith emerges from obscurity and increasing numbers of professionals from all walks of life are attracted to its Teachings. The process of integrating these experts into Bahá’í communities as well-grounded believers and tapping their potential as promoters and supporters of the Cause will require patient and loving guidance by Bahá’í institutions. A great challenge will be to avoid undue disruption of this process of integration by abandoning such persons to the insensitive attitudes still present in communities not yet broadly diverse or accustomed to dealing with all ranks of society.

Scholars and professionals are well accustomed to encountering new facts in the course of their research which require them to adjust previous thinking on various aspects of their discipline. In the case of their deepening in the Teachings of the Faith it naturally takes time for them to study and absorb so many new concepts. They must be assisted to acquire, as quickly as possible, profound knowledge of the Teachings. Gradually this knowledge will shed new light on their previous views. At the same time, Bahá’í communities will need to develop greater tolerance toward ideas that may not coincide with their current understanding, and remain open to new insights….

Newly enrolled professionals and other experts provide a great resource for the development of Bahá’í scholarship. It is hoped that, as they attain a deeper grasp of the Teachings and their significance, they will be able to assist Bahá’í communities in correlating the beliefs of the Faith with the current thoughts and problems of the world. In some instances Bahá’ís of a particular profession have come together in special conferences or organized themselves into an association for this purpose. This also allows them to support one another as Bahá’ís and to take advantage of their professional status to promote the interests of the Faith. Current examples of professional associations of this type are the Bahá’í Justice Society and the Bahá’í Medical Association, both in the United States. Special encouragement should therefore be given to believers of unusual capacity to consecrate their abilities to the service of the Cause through the unique contribution they can make to this rapidly developing field of Bahá’í endeavour.

(18 April 1989 on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly) [41]

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