Bahá'i World Centre, seen from the perspective of the history of the religions

By Per Akerdahl

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #14
Bahá'í Centre: Manchester, England
July 4–6, 1997
(see list of papers from #14)

    One reason for building religious centres is their function as symbols of the visions of that faith. A building or group of buildings has not only a practical function, but it has a message to people. This is true for any building and it is certainly true for religious buildings. The central buildings of a religion must carry all the symbols necessary to fulfill its function. It must be able to symbolize the full spectra of that religion and especially to become the outer symbol of God himself for generations to come.

    In the Bahá'í Faith, Mount Carmel is the Centre of the World - the Axis Mundi, as well as the administrative centre and the spiritual centre. If the international centre of a religion can manage to carry all these functions and also to be a living symbol of vision, this is no doubt of great importance to that religion. There are large numbers of examples to be studied. To the Catholic church, the administrative and spiritual centre is Rome, but the Centre of the World does no longer exist as a living concept. To the Muslims, the centre of the world is Mecca, the spiritual center is also Mecca, but there is no common administrative centre. In Judaism, the temple, which was the Centre of the World, the spiritual centre and the administrative centre, is destroyed and gone for two thousand years. The only remaining part is one of its walls. Many other religions are parts of the same pattern, showing that these centres are of major importance to each religion.

    Organized religion has a multitude of dimensions and to study all of them in one paper is not possible. Those three dimensions that are brought to the forefront in this paper is the need for the individual to come closer to God, the spiritual dimension, to accept the World Order of God, symbolized by the Axis Mundi, and to accept the authority of a divinely appointed administration. If this is to be, it is necessary that the individual is given a vision that he can integrate these three dimensions. This vision must be so clear that he can relate his beliefs and his life to it and to be able to bring this vision constantly to life. In order to do this, he needs other pictures, even clearer, that can symbolize the vision. This has been the need of men all through the history and answers the question why organized religion always carries so many symbols.

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