LA Class Newsletter [#29]

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My Notes:
This LA Class newsletter is interesting because it contains the research of Ms. Loni Bramson-Lerche. A quick search on the internet found this paper she wrote in “Studies in Babi and Baha’i History”, titled: Some Aspects of the Development of the Baha’i Administrative Order in America.

She presents her preliminary research resultson Horace Holley, NSA secretary and in his era, the most prominent member of the American Baha’i community. I had already read from other Baha’i theologians that Holley played a pivotal role, as secretary of the NSA, in forming the community and making decisions. The impression given was that he had an autocratic streak. But what Ms. Bramson reveals is even beyond this.

The newsletter also contains information about an upcoming Baha’i Studies seminar to be held in Cambridge, UK.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70′s class . . .

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[private home address]
Hermosa Beach, California 90254
August 3, 1978

Newsletter
Vol. III, No. 7

Dear Friends,

Well, much to everyone’s surprise yet another issue of the class newsletter is being sent out. The study group is still on shaky ground, however, especially where finances are concerned. This mailing will use up our last few dollars. Our mailing list has grown quite large and of course, subscribers outside of the United States have not (so far) been asked to pay. Since we do not know how many issues of this newsletter will see the light, we are reluctant to ask for more subscriptions. But, if any of you out there (especially the overseas folks) would like to make a voluntary donation to our worthy cause, please send same to the above address made out to Anthony Lee. Otherwise, we are broke.

Baha’i Studies Seminar, Cambridge — Sept. 30 – Oct. 1

The last page of this newsletter reproduces information on the Seminar on Baha’i Studies organized by some English Baha’is doing academic work on the Baha’i Faith which will be held later this year. You will note that you may obtain a copy of the seminar report (notes on the proceedings) for just 50p (about $1). We hope that many of our readers will take advantage of this opportunity and that some of you will even be inspired to attend in person. Remember, air fares are cheap nowadays!

LONI BRAMSON’S PRESENTATION

At our last class we had the pleasure of having Loni Bramson give a presentation on her work on her doctoral dissertation and her research is the National Baha’i Archives in Wilmette. Ms. Bramson has been a pioneer to Belgium for the last four years. She is currently studying at the Catholic Univerity of Louvain, majoring in contemporary history. Her dissertation will be on the history of the Baha’i Faith. She is focusing on the early years of the Guardianship, from about 1921 to 1937. It will be concerned with the transformation which Shoghi Effendi wrought in the Baha’i community during those years and the opposition which he faced within that community. Before coming to Los Angeles, Ms. Bramson spent two weeks during research in Wilmette.

Ms. Bramson explained to the class that it seems that within the last two or three years Baha’i Studies in Europe has really begun to take off. She named several Baha’is and one or two non-Baha’is who are doing academic work on the Baha’i Faith in England, France, Austria and elsewhere. She estimated that there may be ten scholars now doing graduates work on some area of Baha’i Studies. She pointed to the two seminars which have been held at the University of Lancaster (under the direction of Peter Smith) and the one whcih will soon be held at Cambridge. The hope is that these seminars, sponsored by academic institutions will help to give Baha’i Studies a “stamp of academic approval.”

Ms. Bramson also noted that there has been a revival of interest in the Babi Faith generally in academic circles. Recent books written by non-Baha’is have dealt with this subject extensively. Our speaker expressed the hope that these developments would one day lead to the teaching of courses on the Babi and Baha’i Faiths at major universities around the world.

Anthony Lee suggested that there may not be a real upsurge of Baha’i Studies in Europe, but rather an upsurge in communication between scholars doing this kind of work. He guessed that there must be more Baha’is doing academic research on aspects of the Faith in the United States than there are in Europe, but that the American scholars are lamentably out of touch with one another.

Dr. Amin Banani asked for a definition for a definition of “Baha’i Studies.” Loni responded that she felt that anyone doing graduate or post-graduate research at a university on some aspect of the Baha’i Faith was involved in Baha’i Studies. This is a loose term which applies to a wide area.

At this point, Dr. Banani asked an interesting and pointed question. How do the Baha’is who are presently studying the Faith on an academic level in Europe see themselves, especially in relation to earlier Baha’i scholars? How do they see the work that they are doing in relationship to the work which has gone before, for instance the work of Mirza Abu’l-Fazl [Ed. alt. spelling Mirza Abu'l-Fadl]? are they continuing in a tradition or are they starting a new tradition?

Loni replied that she felt that the scholars studying today were aware of the past and saw themselves in some way carrying on a tradition. However, Anthony Lee objected that he felt that Baha’is studying the Faith in Europe today very much saw themselves as a new breed. Though they may be aware of the scholarship which has gone before, they see themselves as distinctly different from Baha’i scholars of the past… more detached, more “scientific”, perhaps, more “objective”. They are not acting as apologists for the Faith, but as detached academics.

Loni admitted that she could not speak for the other Baha’is studying the Faith in Europe, but that her work at least is something new. There has been no academic work or serious research done on the Ministry of Shoghi Effendi. One reason that she picked that field was that it is untouched.

Dr. Banani was asked to clarify his point. He replied that he felt that the consciousness of any group of intellectuals who see themselves as breaking new ground must include their own relationship to the past. Part of any ?scientific method” must be a firm knowledge of the intellectual history of one’s field. He wondered how equipped present Baha’i scholars are to see themselves in the history of Baha’i scholarship? Can they really see where they stand? Others objected that it really may not be fair to ask where present scholars stand in relation to history? Does anyone know where he stands? Can he see himself that clearly? And besides, it is probably too soon to say.

Our speaker explained that one reason that Baha’is have been drawn to enter Baha’i Studies on an academic level is their desire to rid the Faith of misinformation which is commonly passed around and believed Baha’is. She explained that she was partially motivated by that reason. For instance, Baha’is often say that there is no ritual or dogma in the Baha’i faith. But, this is simply untrue. There is plenty of both. [Ed. Hand written note: ?Can’t say this unless you define terms! SR]

One class member wondered if there are really major adjustments to be made in our understanding of the Baha’i Faith. Are Baha’i scholars really liable to change the way we look at things, say, fifty or hundred years from now? Several Baha’is thought that the answer is decidedly ?yes?. Moreover, they maintained, the whole Baha’i Faith is changing. After all, the way Baha’is say the Faith fifty or one-hundred years ago has changed drastically.

Ms. Bramson pointed out that one of the problems with doing work on the Faith at a Catholic University is the lack of supervision and assistance from professors. Both of her supervisors are Catholic priests who, know next to nothing about the Baha’i Faith. They have simply left her alone and she has had to seek guidance from within the Baha’i Community. Even here there is little help.

Dr. Banani suggested that is probably better for Baha’is to take up Baha’i Studies after they have already obtained a higher degree in some other field. There is a general lack of supervision and sympathy on the part of one’s superiors. Beyond this there are positive hindrances. Most non-Baha’i scholars will be suspicious of the motives and objectivity of any Baha’i who is studying his own religion, scientific method notwithstanding. After one has proved himself in a neutral field, then he can enter the arena of Baha’i Studies with firm academic credentials.

Ms. Bramson explained to the class that her work had gone through a number of stages. She first intended to do a doctoral thesis on the history of the Faith during the stewardship of the Hands of the Cause —1957-1963. She wrote to the House of Justice concerning this matter and they wrote back to her suggesting that she not use this as the topic of her thesis. They gave no reason. The Rouse also expressed concern that she was going to do work on the Faith at such an eminent Catholic University and asked her to work closely with her LSA and the Counsellor for her area. Loni said that she is happy that she did not pursue her topic on the Hands of the Cause since she feels that too little time has elapsed to give us a proper perspective on those years.

Ms. Branson introduced the class to the work which she had done in the National Baha’i Archives by reading a statement which was presented to the government by the Baha’i community shortly before the turn of the century and recorded in the United States Census of 1900. The statement made it clear that one could be a Baha’i and still be a member of another church or religion. It said that the Faith had no organization of its own, but that it as spread through meetings called ?Assemblies? which were open to all who wished to attend. This statement was repeated in the U.S. Census of 1920, apparently with the permission of the Baha’is.

Our speaker explained that the Faith was in this unstructured state at the time that Shoghi Effendi became the Guardian and that he transformed the community into something else. She is interested in studying the history of this transformation — how it came about, what ideas had an influence on Shoghi Effendi, what internal opposition he faced, etc.

At this point some members of the class cautioned against too great an emphasis on the unstructured nature of the Baha’i Community before 1921. They pointed out that the statement published by the Census Bureau was written only six or seven years after the Faith had been introduced into this country and when the believers were still fuzzy about its true nature. It cannot really be used as a statement of the Baha’i situation in 1920, regardless of whether or not it happened to be reprinted. The class recalled the report on Peter Smith’s paper on the history of the American Baha’i Community which was given at an earlier class meeting, (See Vol.. III, No. 5.) Smith noted that there had always been a faction of the Baha’i Community which was interested in organization and structure. It was true that there was also a part of the community opposed to organization, but Abdu’l-Baha had Himself given approval for a substantial transformation in the community by the time of His ascension. So we cannot say that Shoghi Effendi was doing something entirely new when be began to construct a uniform administrative order for the Faith.

Loni acknowledged that this is true. She further noted that her research indicated that the two factions of the Baha’i Community —- the organizers and the anti-organizers — continued to exist until about 1940. By then almost all of the Baha’is had accepted the need for an Administrative Order and acknowledged its importance.

Our speaker explained that most of her research in the National Archives consisted of a study of the letters of the National Spiritual Assembly to the Guardian. These were written by Horace Holley. The letters are organized up to about 1940, so that is as far as she could go. Loni explained that Horace Holley played in the early years, carried on an extensive, almost personal, correspondence with the Guardian in the early, formative years of Baha’i Administration. She said that she was deeply impressed by the important role which Horace Holley played in the development of Baha’i Administration. It seamed to her that many of the ideas end institutions which later became part of the Administrative Order were first suggested by Holley to the Guardian. The Guardian then picked up on then ideas refined and modified them and made them part of the Baha’i Faith.

Loni cautioned that her research findings were only tentative. She has not had a chance to study her notes or to really develop firm ideas yet. In any case, her impressions were extremely interesting and useful.

Loni explained that the Archives facilities at the National Baha’i Center are still quite small. By no means is everything there organized for use by researchers. Only one archivist is employed there, Mr. Roger Dahl. When Loni was there he was in the process of organizing the papers of Agnes Parsons.

She was able to use some materials in the Archives, but unable to see other things. The files of the International Goals Committee are closed to researchers, for instance, probably because they contain personal information about pioneers – The minutes of the National spiritual Assembly are not open. Neither are the letters of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly, primarily because they are not yet organized. Loni noted that the personal papers of Horace Holley collected in Wilmette are extremely sparse, primarily because most of his correspondence was carried on as the secretary of the National Assembly.

AND, ANOTHER LETTER FROM PETER SMITH:

?Humble apologies for once again writing to your esteemed journal with comments on your presentation of a paper given by myself. This time it’s concerning the Vol. III, No. 5, May 1979 issue.

?The account is generally fine but the comments on early Baha’i factionalism grossly overstate my argument. Whilst the larger communities of Chicago and N.Y. were often badly divided by cliquishness, even they were not characterized by completely mutually antagonistic groups. The situation was one of fluidity. There were cliques and there ware tendencies towards division, but there was also co-existence and a fair degree of tolerance. The sense of common identity as followers of ?Abdu’l-Baha overrode much of the division. In Chicago, where the situation was probably worst, the crunch came in 1917/18 with the allegations of Covenant-breaking and the resultant departure of one of the ?factions’ from the community. In the smaller communities the situation was more straightforward and united — after all, there are difficulties involved if a group of less than 20 people are divided into ?5 or 6 mutually antagonistic groups.’

Advance notice: The next Lancaster seminar will be in 1979 — provisional date, April 6-8. Those wishing to attend must complete a three minute intensive training programme in how to be English (We tried to convert Tony when he was over here but I notice he’s still saying that everything is ?cute’) and send a blank cheque to a numbered Swiss bank account.?

THE NEXT CLASS

The next class will he held on Sunday, August 27th at the home of Anthony Lee, [Ed. Personal address follows]. The speaker will be Mrs. Betty Conow who will make a presentation entitled, ?Hierarchies, Analogies and the Degrees of Reality: A Model.?

She explains her topic in these words:

?Any serious attempt to ?explain’ Reality must make use of certain mental constructs, such as metaphors and similes, analogies, and in the more ambitious attempts, theoretical models. The use of hierarchic order in General Systems Theory is, in many ways, a composite of all of them. (For comparisons, think of Set Theory, Carl Hempel’s ?Covering Law,’ Aristotle’s ’Greate Chain of Being,’ and ?Abdu’l-Baba’s ?Kingdoms of God.’). A model is offered to the class, based en ?Abdu’l-Baha’s, for approximating Truth, for making statements about the ?really real,’ and which demonstrates the inadequacies of traditional logic to encompass Ultimate Reality. It’s the old saw about the part trying to extrapolate the whole.’ We have to reverse the logic process. My argument is that only the Divine Teachers have knowledge of the Whole, or of the Divine World, which our created phenomenal world mirrors. By using a model, we can establish the correspondences which exist, and discover that there is only one Reality, but that it is seen and interpreted according to where the observer is positioned in the universal hierarchic order.?

So, everyone be there. August 27th at 3:00 P.M. at Tony’s house. We can see what we can make out of this.

[Ed. Supplemental information re the then upcoming Baha’i Studies Seminar]

BAHA’I STUDIES SEMINAR
CAMBRIDGE
30 September — 1 October, 1979
PROVISIONAL PROGRAMS

Saturday, September 30th

I. Morning Session, introduced by Peter Smith

JUSTIFICATION FOR BAHA’I STUDIES

Suggested Topics:
Are different areas more justifiable than others at present? Are there areas into which it may not be appropriate to enter now?. How can we justify the use of sensitive biographical arid other material?

2. Afternoon Session, introduced by seo5n 1(omen

METHODOLOGY OF BAHA’I STUDIES

Suggested topics:
?Baha’i’ or ?academic’ standards? Possible variations in approach between Baha’i and non-Baha?i scholars? Discussion of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith. Methodological problems in cases of cooperation between Baha’i and non-Baha’i scholars. Double standards in Baha’i and non-Baha’i work? Linguistic style and its bearing on method. The use of confidential archives of LSA’s, NSA’s, etcetera

Sunday, October 1st

3. Morning Session, introduced by Denis MacEoin

RELATIONS BETWEEN BAHA’I SCHOLARS AND THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY

Suggested topics:

Prejudice against scholarship and its removal. Attacks on scholars — what measujres can be taken for protection? The responsibility of scholars to other believers. The review of scholarly works for publication. The role of scholars in fixing limits on the growth of myth and legend in popular Baha’i historiography.

4. Afternoon session

WORK. IN PROGRESS

Suggested Topics:
Progress reports from individuals. Sharing ideas and problems. The production of a bibliography. Difficulties in obtaining materials in various languages. International coordination of efforts. Oral and manuscript history projects. Concrete proposals for future developments Establishment of an International Institute for Baha’i Studies.

BAHA’I STUDIES SEMINAR
CAMBRIDGE

30 September — 1 October, l97

BOOKING FORM

It is hoped to provide accommodation, possibly in College guest rooms at King’s and/or John’s, for those taking part. A limited amount of accommodation in private homes may be available to those booking early. The sessions will, it is hoped, take place in a suitable roan at either King’s or John’s College- There are several cheap but excellent restaurants (largely catering for students) in the city, and it is proposed that we eat at one of these. Those arriving on Friday evening should proceed to the MacEoin’s flat, [Ed. personal address and phone number]. It is suggested that a party go for dinner to a good restaurant (probably Strudel’s) on the Saturday evening. Please fill in the form below, placing a cross against, those items which are applicable.

Baha’i Studies Seminar, Cambridge, September—October, 1978

( ) I plan to attend the seminar or. both days (Registration fee ?1)
( ) I plan to attend the seminar on Saturday only (Fee ?1)
( ) I plan to attend the seminar on Sunday only (Fee ?1)
( ) I shall be unable to attend
( ) I shall require a copy of the seminar report (Charge 50p)

( ) I wish to join the party for dinner on Saturday evening

Please return the completed form to: Denis MacEoin, 961, King’s College, Cambridge by Wednesday 23rd. at the Latest. kny queries or requests for extra forms should be directed to the seine address.
The registration fee includes a 50p charge for the seminar report. Please enclose a cheque or postal order for the appropriate amount.

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Related Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.