In a recent discussion we looked at the question of growth in Baha’i communities. While it may be relatively easy to calculate the size and growth rate of an individual Baha’i community from the regular annual reports which show new enrollments, resignations, and deaths, coming up with an accurate aggregate national number is not so easy.
I know of no National Spiritual Assembly which shares this information in their annual reports. An alternative source is the government census data, as Steve pointed out in the comments section of that previous article.
In the US unfortunately we do not have access to census data because Public Law 94-521 prevents the US Census Bureau from collecting such information. So we must rely on third party or academic sources.
One such source is the Religious Congregations & Membership Study. The 2010 results of this study are shown below:
From it we can learn a few interesting facts: Most Baha’i communities are located in large cities or metropolitan areas. There is an almost complete penetration of US geographically with very few counties without a Baha’i presence. The West and East coast has high concentrations of Baha’is with central US states having less concentration. And for the most part there has been no major decadal change in Baha’i US population, with new declarants balancing losses.
South Carolina along with Arizona and New Mexico seem to be ‘hotspots’. Another source confirms South Carolina as the state with the highest per capita Baha’i population:
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.
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
Juana C. Conrad
S. Valerie Dana
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).
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.