Buddy, Can You Spare a Paradigm?:
The Bahá'í Faith and the New Age Movement
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #15
Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, USA
August 9–10, 1997
(see list of papers from #15)
"Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of fellowship and friendliness," is the counsel given to Bahá'ís by Bahá'u'lláh. In the midst of shifting world views in our increasingly pluralistic society, this becomes an even greater challenge for the Bahá'í community as it is confronted with the truth claims an ever-growing number of so-called new age belief systems and practices.
While the New Age Movement cannot be properly called a world religion, it can rightly be called a worldwide religious movement. Drawing on a wide variety of established faith traditions as well as admitting the truth of continuing divine revelation in various forms and modes, the movement is marked by a distinct lack of any particular doctrine, prophetic figure or practice. Like a guest at a spiritual smorgasbord, one may choose or reject any of the items offered, returning for seconds or thirds or moving on to try some other spiritual morsel. Some adherents choose one, perhaps two, particular beliefs that seem to satisfy their spiritual hunger while others move from one belief or practice to another, never fully satisfied. .
Through an examination of the Bahá'í understanding of Covenant, Administrative Order, and the radical changes effected spiritually, physically, and psychologically within society through the advent of the Manifestations of God, in this instance the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, this paper explores the relationship between the Bahá'í Faith and the New Age Movement. Addressing the issue of the Bahá'í Faith itself as new age and syncretistic, raised by many critics, it proposes instead that the Bahá'í writings serve not only to make sense of new age beliefs and practices, but offer the necessary theological framework by which these beliefs and practices will increasingly play an integral role in the revolution of values and spiritual awareness necessary for the establishment of a "New World Order" and "an ever-advancing civilization." Further, it suggests that as the Bahá'í Faith continues to be recognized as an emerging global religion, and as rigorous Bahá'í theological scholarship continues, students and scholars of religion will be afforded a new "lens" through which to view the progressive nature of religion, resulting perhaps in a clearer understanding of that amorphous movement called "new age."
Finally, it asks the question: What should Bahá'ís learn from the new age movement? To "consort" means to "associate with" some person or group of persons. The challenge for Bahá'ís, then, is to find areas of agreement with "new-agers," while maintaining a distinctive Bahá'í faith and practice in daily life, and to this end, the paper concludes with some of the writer's observations on this subject.
Paul S. Dodenhoff attends Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Over the past two decades he has studied and practiced a wide variety of religious traditions, including Christian Fundamentalism, Zen Buddhism, and an assortment of New Age practices. He became a Bahá'í two years ago after reading the "Tablet of the True Seeker" while studying the Sufi philosopher Ibn al-'Arabí. He plans to pursue the Ph.D. program at Drew University in American Religious History, concentrating on twentieth-century religious movements.
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