Baha’is Elect New National Spiritual Assembly Members

With Ridvan comes the National Baha’i Conventions as Baha’is everywhere around the world elect their new National Spiritual Members. Due to a systematic incumbency bias, the “new” NSA’s are more than likely exactly the same as the “old” NSA. That certainly is the case in North America.

US NSA members 2012

In the US, the delegates at the 14th Baha’i National Convention elected the following members (in descending order of votes):

Kenneth E. Bowers
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull
David F. Young
Muin Afnani
Juana C. Conrad
S. Valerie Dana
Fariba Aghdasi
Erica Toussaint-Brock
Robert C. Henderson

These were the same 9 individuals who were on the NSA previously. To illustrate just how much incumbency controls these elections, the first 5 members received the same order of magnitude of votes as last year (Kenneth E. Bowers the most, Jacqueline Left Hand Bull next, and so forth).
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Ridvan Message 2012 from the Universal House of Justice

This year’s Ridvan message from the Universal House of Justice is notable for the announcement of several building projects for local and national Houses of Worship. The House of Justice notes that as the process of entry by troops is advanced enough to merit the construction of a national Mashriqu’l-Adhkar in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Papua New Guinea.

According to the House of Justice, the construction of the Temple in Chile and these new houses of worship mark the “Fifth Epoch of the Formative Age of the Faith”.

As well, several local Houses of Worship will be built in select localities. These should be familiar to Baha’is if they have been keeping up with the news of international teaching successes. A document from 2008, “Attaining the dynamics growth: Glimpses from ?ve continents” prepared by the International Teaching Center outlined several of these localities.

Among them: Bihar Sharif in India which is a predominantly rural area with 1200 villages each with 1000 average population. Matunda Soy and Tiriki West clusters in Kenya were noted for their achievements in the 2008 Regional conference as part of the international Five Year conferences. A personal Baha’i blog from Tiriki West cluster offers a bit more detail. Another locality with this distinction is Norte del Cauca in Colombia which is the site of the original Ruhi courses.

ruhi norte del cauca

Battambang in Cambodia was the site of a regional conference in 2009 with Baha’is participating from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Finally Tanna in the Pacific island of Vanuatu will also be a site for a local house of worship.

The Ridvan message is below:
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Is Your Baha’i Community Growing?

bahai community growth

For a very long time the official estimate of the size of the Baha’i worldwide community has been 5-6 million. This is the figure often cited in media, as was the case in the recent CBS religion special: “What They Believe: Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha’is”.

Reputable sources more recently have cited anywhere between 7.9 and 5.5 million. Unfortunately, official figures are not released by the Baha’i World Center. The various national statistics are aggregated but for reasons unexplained these figures are not shared publicly.

Estimating the size of any religious organization accurately is challenging. The Baha’i Faith is by comparison easier to measure because of the requirement to officially declare membership. As well, Baha’i administrations within every community keep accurate voting records which can be used to approximate community membership very closely.

Perhaps more importantly, the growth rate of the Baha’i Faith is also murky. Several decade old sources put the growth rate at the top of fastest growing religions. However, more recent data seems to show a stagnation or at least a slow down in the growth rate. As well, had this growth rate continued, the 20 year old statistic of “5-6 million” would now be 8 million instead.
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What They Believe: Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha’is a CBS Interfaith Special

CBS aired an interfaith religion special called “What They Believe: Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha’is“. This program is part of a Religion & Culture series from CBS and the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission (IBC). You can watch the 30 minute program at CBS:

CBS Special Hindu Zoroastrian Bahai

As the title suggests, the program introduces these three lesser known religious traditions of Hindus, Zoroastrians and Baha’is among an American audience. For Baha’is, the program is well timed as it coincides with the centenary celebrations of Abdu’l-Baha’s trip to the US and will dovetail with these efforts to raise general awareness of the Baha’i Faith there.

Hindus:
Anand Venkatkrishnan, a second-generation immigrant from India talks about the importance of action and how faith is more about what you do than what you believe. The program also visits Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam (Hindu Temple) where Mysorekar a abhisheka ceremony is performed.

Zoroastrians:
We meet Roshan and Rohinton Rivetna who moved to the US to find themselves isolated from their faith community. Slowly they established a new 700 member community and their son, a second-generation American Zoroastrian serves his faith as an architect designing temples combining tradition and modern designs. Since Zoroastrians must marry other Zoroastrians, the small size of the worldwide community (only 125,000) presents a challenge.

Archives Building: Image of Bahaullah
Baha’is:
The Wilmette Temple features prominently as a Baha’i landmark and symbol. Several Baha’is including S. Valerie Dana, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States (and an officer, Deputy Secretary) are interviewed.

After a brief introduction of the Baha’i Faith, Scott Conrad, the Project Manager of the Baha’i Temple’s new Welcome Center, and architect for the US Baha’i National Center shares the history of the mother temple of the West. Two members of the Baha’i National Communications Office, Glen Fullmer & Ellen Price, also participated in the production.

Abdul-Baha in America Centenary Celebrations

The international Baha’i community has been preparing for the centenary celebration of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to the West for more than two years. Every single community, large or small, will in some way observe the historic visit.

abdulbaha lincoln park chicago 1912

Not surprisingly, the largest celebrations are happening in the US. Below is a list of some of these:

The US Baha’i community has created a beautiful new website to aggregate and organize information on these events: Abdu’l-Baha in America 1912-2012

From there you can follow the city by city travels of the Master, read press clippings and see photos of the people and places. Here’s a gallery of photos of Abdu’l-Baha. They also have a list of events commemorating the centenary in major cities (Chicago, Washington, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia).

239 Days in AmericaThere are also several multi-media and social media initiatives. One of the most intriguing is called “239 Days in America” which will chronicle Abdu’l-Baha’s itinerary on an hour by hour basis through twitter (@239Days) and using facebook‘s new timeline feature. Their website will also feature more in depth feature article.

239 Days in Ameica is the collaborative effort of Rob Sockett, Jonathan Menon and Caitlin Shayda Jones. Follow the Master along 100 years in the past using either twitter, facebook or their own website.

Kathleen Holmlund has created another website to document Abdu’l-Baha’s travel to the West. It too will feature daily reports of the activities of the Master and His travels. You can view the entries based on the country: US, UK, France, and other countries.

journey west abdulbaha

The Journey West” is another group initiative with the same purpose as the other projects mentioned already. As well as stories and pictures of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to the West, it also features a podcast reading of the many talks Abdu’l-Baha gave in churches, halls and people’s homes.

The blog “Abdu’l-Baha’s Journey in America” may be stylistically simpler and more humble than the previous online projects but it makes up for that by the sheer volume and quality of its content. Anne Perry has been writing consistently since April 2011 and has done a fantastic job describing the visit on a daily basis as well as showcasing the many individuals that Abdu’l-Baha came in contact with.

To complement the online travel journal, along with her husband Tim Perry and Bahram Jalalizadeh, Anne has also been working on a film documentary titled Luminous Journey. It has yet to be released but you can watch a short trailer at the previous link.

luminous journey documentary

Another great resource to learn more about Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to the West (it involved much more than just the US!) is from wikipedia. Rainn Wilson has also published an interesting article: The Titanic’s Forgotten Survivor.

Finally, to finish off the list, I wanted to share with you an article written by Sen McGlinn which addresses the often misunderstood and therefore controversial quote of Abdu’l-Baha from one of His talks in America: Abdu’l-Baha and the African tribe.

And don’t forget, Kalimat Press is celebrating the event by providing their customers with a special gift on Baha’i books.