New Age Movement and the Bahá'i Faith

By Zaid Lundberg

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

published in Lights of Irfan, volume 1, pages 69-80
under new title
"The New Age Phenomenon and the Bahá'í Faith"
© 2000, ‘Irfán Colloquia

republished in Bahá'í Faith and the World's Religions,
© 2005, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    Although the New Age Movement (NAM) has been promulgated by its adherents and has been severely attacked by the Evengelical Churches during a few decades in this century, the NAM has only recently caught the attention of various scholars of religion. Some have noted that it is basically a western and perhaps postmodern phenomenon while others state that it has "surpassed" and out-dated Christianity as a worldview in the West. What is especially questionable is that some authors have identified the Bahá'i Faith as part of the New Age Movement. One possible explanation for this identification is perhaps that the NAM has been admittedly problematic to define and study. Yet, certain areas have been identified as the NAMs salient characteristics, e.g.: millennialism, holism and healing, eclecticism and syncretism, monism and pantheism, consciousness and paradigm, evolution and reincarnation.

    Although it is possible to identify a variety of similarities and differences between the NAM and the Bahá'i Faith, such comparisions or correlations do not establish any causation or historical influences. More importantly, when one compares some of the most central tenets of the NAM: its theology, cosmology, ontology, soteriology, and especially its view of reincarnation, it becomes increasingly evident that the NAM and the Bahá'i Faith stand far apart and that the latter is more akin to the ancient prophetic religions.

    However, the NAM and the Bahá'i Faith do not only differ on the theoretical levels but also in their origins and organisational structures. The NAM is loosely structured and has been defined as a "meta-network"; hence it has no common founder or established origin, no holy canon, no unifying doctrine, no common mythology or ritual. The Bahá'i Faith, on the other hand, claims a new and unique revelation from God, revealed by two prophet-founders; it has a holy canon, a unifying doctrine, and it contains relatively few myths or rituals. In this respect, the Bahá'i Faith more resembles the classical religions rather than the NAM.

    Although the Bahá'i Faith does contain quite a few commonalities with the NAM - especially the concept of the emergence of a New Age - such parallels should be traced to the historical-, religious- and geographical contexts of the Near- and Middle East, rather than in 19-20th century Europe or America. Hence, scholars of religion who identify the Bahá'i Faith with the contemporary phenomenon of the NAM have failed to understand its religious origin and context, and its rather obvious similarities with the classical religions.

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