100 Years of the Bahá'í Faith in Europe

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100 Years of the Baha'i Faith in Europe by Graham Hassall and Seena Fazel Published in Baha'i Studies Review 8:3 pages 35-44 Abstract This paper provides a brief overview of the first 100 years of the Bah�'� Faith in Europe. It discusses the growth and the distinctive aspects of this community, with emphasis on external affairs, the role of women, and Bah�'� studies. It suggests certain challenges ahead, concluding with the important role that European Bah�'�s have still to play in shaping an em
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  100 Years of the Baha'i Faith in Europeby Graham Hassall and Seena FazelPublished in Baha'i Studies Review 8:3 pages 35-44AbstractThis paper provides a brief overview of the first 100 years of the Bah' Faith in � �  Europe. It discusses the growth and the distinctive aspects of this community,with emphasis on external affairs, the role of women, and Bah' studies. It � �  suggests certain challenges ahead, concluding with the important role thatEuropean Bah's have still to play in shaping an emerging global Bah' culture. � � � � THE BAH' COMMUNITY IN EUROPE is 100 years old. Although reports of Bb � � � �  persecutions appeared in the European press from 1845, and Bah'u'llh resided on � �  European soil in 1863-8 in the course of his final exile to Palestine, it was notuntil 1898 that the first Bah' group was established in Europe.(1) From small � �  foundations in Paris, Bah's from Europe have distinguished themselves in many � �  ways in the international Bah' community. This article will survey some of the � �  unique features of this regional community, and review some of its distinctivecontributions to the development of the Bah' Faith. We discuss to what extent � �  the Bb's prediction in 1850 that Europeans would come over to his religion (2) �  has been realised.OverviewReligious identity has always been important in Europe, but it has often resultedin conflict. The tumultuous socio-political and religious conditions experiencedby the peoples of Europe this century have provided many contexts for theemergence of the European Bah' communities. In western Europe, liberal societies � �  moving toward conditions of post-Christian secularism were tolerant of newreligious movements, but not necessarily moved by them. In the south, Catholictraditions remained strong in Italy and Spain, while in Greece, the orthodoxChurch retained the people's allegiance, in culture and belief. The nations ofnorthern Europe were arguably more open to religious change, possibly aconsequence of their experience of religious innovation during the Reformation.From the second world war until recent times, the states of eastern Europeremained inaccessibly wrapped in communist control, and, officially, atheisticdoctrine.In such circumstances, Bah' communities were started by individuals, who formed � �  small groups that later matured into organised Bah' communities. At its � �  beginnings in the 1900s, activity focussed on Paris, where May Bolles (later MayMaxwell) introduced the Faith to such notable Bah's as Agnes Alexander, who took � �  it to Hawaii, Japan and Korea; Thomas Breakwell, an early English Bah'; � �  Hippolyte Dreyfus, the first French believer; and to such expatriate Americans asLaura Clifford Barney, Juliet Thompson, Marion Jack, and Sydney Sprague. MaryThornburgh-Cropper also heard about the Faith in Paris (from Phoebe Hearst who wason her way to see 'Abdu'l-Bah in Palestine) and became a Bah' in 1898. Upon her � � �  return to England, she told her friend Ethel Rosenberg about the religion.(3) LadyBlomfield and her daughter heard of the Faith in 1907 in Paris from BerthaHerbert, who later married Horace Holley. Holley was another significant Bah' � �  who first heard of the Faith in Paris. A major impetus to the presence of thecommunity was given between 1911 and 1913, when 'Abdu'l-Bah visited Switzerland, �  France, Germany, Hungary, England, and Scotland. A 1925 list of leading localBah' Centres included the European communities of Paris, Switzerland, Austria, � �  Italy, and Sweden. It listed no fewer than 26 Foreign Bah' Centres in Germany, � �  compared to three in England and two in Switzerland.(4)The first two national spiritual assemblies (NSAs) in Europe were formed in theBritish Isles(5) and in Germany and Austria, both in 1923. Intensive efforts weremade to re-establish the communities following the devastation of the second worldwar.(6) No other national body was formed until Italy and Switzerland in 1953. Bythe end of the Ten Year Crusade in 1963, another fourteen had been established  (France in 1958; Austria in 1959; Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands,Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Italy all in 1962).(7) No further national Bah' institutions were formed until the NSAs of Iceland � �  and Ireland were established in 1972, followed by Greece in 1977, Cyprus in 1978,and the Canary Islands in 1984. The collapse of communism permitted revival in the1990s of Bah' communities throughout countries of the former Eastern Bloc. The � �  first local spiritual assembly (LSA) since the second world war in eastern Europewas elected on 21 March 1990 in Cluj, Romania. National bodies were soonestablished in Romania (1991), Czechoslovakia (1991), Russia, Georgia and Armenia(1992), Albania (1992), the Baltic States (1992), Bulgaria (1992), Hungary (1992),Poland (1992), Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova (1992), and Slovenia and Croatia(1994).(8) Armenia, Georgia, and Belarus all elected separate NSAs in 1995,followed by Moldova in 1996, and separate NSAs for the Czech and Slovak Republicswere formed in 1998. A national assembly was also established in Sicily.Europe in the Bah' writings � � A number of European monarchs received letters from Bah'u'llh,(9) and Shoghi � �  Effendi links the downfall of virtually all of them to their failure to heed hiscounsel. Shoghi Effendi refers to Europe as the cradle of a highly-vauntedcivilization, as the torch bearer of liberty and the mainspring of the forces ofworld industry and commerce. (10) But it is also a materially highly advanced yetspiritually famished, much tormented, fear-ridden, hopelessly-sundered,heterogeneous conglomeration of races, nations, sects and classes. (11) ShoghiEffendi's question remains as relevant today as when he wrote it: Will it beAmerica, or will it be one of the nations of Europe that will seize the torch ofDivine Guidance from Persia's fettered hands and with it set the western worldaflame? (12) In particular, a clear theme in the Bah' writings is the importance � �  of Germany. 'Abdu'l-Bah lavished praise on a country which would surpass all �  other regions, (13) and lead all the nations and peoples of Europe spiritually, by virtue of its spiritual potentialities and geographical situation.(14)GrowthBah' communities in Europe tend to be smaller than those in countries of � �  comparable size in other continents. In mid-1997, there were an estimated 104,000Bah's in Europe, more than Oceania (73,000) but less than the other continents. � � (15) The proportion of Bah's in relation to the total population, however, is � �  only 140 Bah's per million population - the least of all the continents, and 9 � �  times less than the world average. Africa has around 20 times more Bah's per � �  population, and Oceania and North America each have about 17 times more. In termsof institutional development, there are far more LSAs in 1997 in Asia, Africa, andthe Americas (3897, 4053, and 3520 respectively) than in Europe (958).(16) A moreaccurate indicator of the level of grassroots Bah' activity is probably the � �  number of LSAs per million population: Europe has more LSAs per million population(1.3) than Asia (1.1). Oceania has 27.7 LSAs per million, Africa 5.3, and theAmericas 4.4. In terms of growth, the only continent with an increase in thenumber of LSAs since 1992 has been Europe (2.5% annual growth from 1992-97), andEurope and Oceania were the only continents to grow between 1986-92 (2.8% annualgrowth in Europe).(17)Most of this growth was generated by the re-establishment of the Faith in centraland eastern Europe. This may have been anticipated by Shoghi Effendi who commentedon how the people there were much more receptive. (18) In the late 1990s, the twolargest Bah' communities are Albania (13,000 Bah's) and Romania (7,000). The � � � �  countries with the most Bah's per million population are Albania (4029), Iceland � �  (1345), Luxembourg (983), Portugal (605), Cyprus (529), Romania (308), Ireland(175) and Norway (173).(19) Iceland leads the table for LSAs per million (34)followed by Luxembourg (27), Cyprus (8) and Ireland (6).(20) The countries withthe smallest Bah' presences, excluding the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, � �  are Italy (1.1 LSAs per million), France (0.6) and Greece (0.6).Three things are notable in this sort of demographic overview. The first is thatthe Faith has a strong presence in the islands of Europe. This is partly a  consequence of their small size, and also due to the emphasis placed in promotingthe Faith in the islands of Europe by 'Abdu'l-Bah and Shoghi Effendi. The larger �  size of Bah' communities in islands even extends to large ones such as the � �  United Kingdom (58 million), which has around three times the number of Bah's � �  and LSAs per million than countries of similar size in Europe. Second is the roleof immigration. Although the Faith has grown steadily in most western Europeancountries, sociologist of religion Margit Warburg has concluded from detailedstatistical analysis that the recent growth of Bah's in Europe is as much the � �  result of immigration as it is of recruitment of new believers. (21) The arrivalof Persian Bah's throughout the nations of Europe was stimulated by two � �  historical phases: the pioneering efforts in the World Crusade (1953-63) andflight from Iran following the 1979 Islamic revolution.(22) The third feature thatis highlighted in these statistics is the impressive growth of the Faith inIceland. What makes Iceland so special? It is one of the smallest countries inEurope, with only 270,000 people. Immigration is not the reason for its relativelylarge size - in 1997, there were only 12 foreign Bah's in Iceland, of which 2 � �  were of Iranian background.(23) Warburg explains the difference culturally, inthat the Icelandic are more likely to innovate religiously than other Nordicpopulations.(24)Distinctive featuresAlthough the Bah' Faith has not had rapid numerical growth in Europe, other � �  signs of its progress are apparent. Women have played a distinctive role in theFaith's development, amidst traditionally patriarchal cultures and religions; someof the foremost scholars of the Bah' Faith - professed believers and otherwise - � �  have come from Europe; and the European communities have contributed greatly, overan extended period of time, to public awareness of the religion, and to theprotection of the Iranian Bah' community. Other distinctive contributions are � �  being made by individuals in the fields of music and the arts. A small number areworld famous, such as Bernard Leach, the pre-eminent potter of this century, whowas the first craftsperson to receive the British Companion of Honour.(25) Europehas led the Bah' world in the field of publishing, and the UK alone publishes � �  nearly half the English-language books on the Faith. Also important are theefforts of European Bah' youth, of such organisations as the European Bah' � � � �  Business Forum and the Associations for Bah' Studies (English, French, German, � �  Italian and Russian speaking), and European pioneers, living in places as farafield as Africa, the Pacific, and the Caribbean. In terms of institutionbuilding, a couple of examples are notable. The Africa Campaign to establishBah' communities in Africa was spearheaded by the British Bah's in the 1950s � � � �  and thereafter. The re-establishment of communities in eastern and central Europeafter the collapse of the Soviet Union was largely led by European Bah's. Europe � �  has also seen a high degree of cooperation between different nationalinstitutions. This was first seen with the European Teaching Committee of 1946,and more recently in the work of the European Bah' Youth Council. The spread of � �  the Faith throughout Europe, from the largest countries to the smallest islandgroups, is itself a unique characteristic of the Bah' community, rarely � �  achieved, if at all, by other religious communities.The role of womenWomen have played the predominant role in the establishment of the Faith inEurope. North American Bah' women pioneers were involved in establishing the � �  early communities of Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway andthe United Kingdom. Marion Jack's sacrificial efforts to establish the Faith inBulgaria were legendary, and much admired by the Guardian. Martha Root's travels,particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, informed many prominent persons of thereligion and some of them became Bah's, such as Queen Marie of Romania. Shoghi � �  Effendi placed great significance on Queen Marie's conversion, as she was thefirst monarch to become a Bah'.(26) What made these foreign women so successful � �  in spreading the Bah' message? In the case of Denmark, Warburg has argued that � �  their success was due to the Danes being attracted to their cultural style -  emancipated, independent, and idealistic in much the same way as Africans wereattracted by the power of European Christian missionaries, by their literacy andculture of modernity.(27)The European publicCertain aspects of European Bah' history are notable. There are a number of � �  firsts: in 1845, The Times of London included the first mention of the Bb � �  movement in the west. The first public mention of the Bb religion is thought to � �  be by Matthew Arnold, a writer and critic, in 1871 at the Birmingham and MidlandInstitute, while the first public presentation on the Bb-Bah' Faiths was by � � � �  Edward Granville Browne at the Literary Society of Pembroke College, Cambridge, in1889, and shortly after at the Essay Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Browne quotedBah'u'llh's words, Ye are all the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one � �  branch, in a lecture at the South Place Institute, London, in 1890.An interesting theme in European Bah' history is its role in diplomatic work, � �  especially on behalf of the persecuted Iranian Bah's. This may be said to have � �  commenced with European diplomats who sought relief for persecuted Bbs. The � �  British were instrumental in safeguarding 'Abdu'l-Bah's life during the first �  world war. By the 1920s this work was manifest in the work of the InternationalBureau Bah' headed by Jean Stannard in Geneva. In 1924 and 1936 papers � �  presented on Bah' themes at large multi-faith conferences raised the profile of � �  the Bah' Faith significantly.(28) � � Following the Iranian revolution, parliaments and non-governmental organisationsthroughout Europe joined the efforts of the European Bah' communities to halt � �  the persecution of the Iranian Bah' community.(29) In the early 1980s the � �  European Parliament, the European Human Rights Commission, and several Europeannational parliaments passed resolutions condemning the actions of the Iranianregime.(30) Despite the high level of recognition that accompanied thesedevelopments, however, there are still degrees of uncertainty in the public mind.In some instances, the Faith continues to be reported as a sect. (31) TheCommission on Security and Cooperation in Europe has highlighted recently [a]nalarming trend towards religious intolerance in Europe ... over the past severalyears, as exemplified by the investigations carried out by the French, Belgian andGerman parliaments into the activities of minority or belief groups. TheCommission explains how these parliaments have instituted investigations into dangerous sects, and that the Belgian and French parliaments have listed as dangerous groups independent evangelical Protestant churches, Catholiccommunities, Bah', Jehovah Witness, and Hasidic Jews. (32) � � Bah' studies � � European scholars have observed the progress of the Bah' Faith from the time of � �  its origins. A number of orientalists who were not themselves Bah's became � �  students of the new religion. Prominent amongst them was Edward Granville Browne,himself attracted to its study by Gobineau's 1865 book, Religion et philosophiesdans l'Asie centrale. M. Gabriel Sassi gave an address on the Bah' religion at � �  the Paris Exposition of 1900. A.L.M. Nicolas, who had been first interpreter atthe French legation at Tehran, published several early translations of Bah' � �  writings.(33) In 1948, renowned historian Arnold Toynbee observed that the Bah' � �  Faith was amongst the new religions having the potential to establish a newcivilisation.(34)As the Bah' community emerged, so too did a number of its scholar members. The � �  Hands of the Cause in the British Isles were all distinguished scholars:Esslemont, Townshend, Ferraby and Balyuzi. Other scholars included Dreyfus andBausani. An attachment to learning has also been a characteristic of Bah' � �  communities as a whole. The German Bah's, for example, were producing five � �  Bah' journals by the 1920s.(35) The present generation, which the House of � �  Justice highlights include[s] outstanding scholars of the Faith, (36) havemaintained this momentum, and much of the current work is channelled throughvarious Associations for Bah' Studies in Europe. Looking at who is most often � �  cited by others, the most widely used method to assess an individual's impact in a
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