The Bedrock of Bahá'í Belief:
The Doctrine of Progressive Revelation
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #22
August 27–29, 1999
(see list of papers from #22)
According to Ninian Smart, the doctrinal dimension is (together with the experiential, mythic, ethical, ritual, and social) a major dimension of any religion. Thus, it is arguably true that doctrinal studies (usually known as "systematic theology," or "dogmatism") are crucial for understanding and developing a Bahá'í theology. Compared to the other world religions, the Bahá'í Faith has, on the one hand, very meager mythical and ritual dimensions, but on the other hand, it has quite elaborate doctrinal, ethical, and social dimensions.
With regard to the doctrinal dimension, it is Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán, which, according to Shoghi Effendi, occupies a position "of unsurpassed preeminence among the doctrinal ... writings of the Author of the Bahá'í Dispensation." More importantly, Adib Taherzadeh writes that the Kitáb-i-Íqán has "unfolded the pattern and disclosed the meaning of progressive revelation." It is also especially noteworthy that 'Abdu'l-Bahá, during his travels to Europe and North America, enumerates a set of various Bahá'í principles (one being "the oneness of religion"), and that Shoghi Effendi, more specifically and repeatedly, states that "the fundamental principle which constitutes the Bedrock of Bahá'í belief" is "the principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final." But, since the doctrinal dimension of the Bahá'í Faith has only recently been emphasized in Bahá'í scholarship, it is only natural the principle of progressive revelation should have remained largely unexplored, and it is therefore important to take notice of Jack McLean's words, that:
... there is still no major scholarly work in Bahá'í perspective on this most vital theme [the oneness of religion], which along with the oneness of humanity, is the most distinctive and characteristically Bahá'í teaching. Neither is there yet any major scholarly work on progressive revelation, one of the grand themes of Bahá'u'lláh's preeminent doctrinal work the Kitáb-i-Íqán.The purpose of this paper is therefore to: 1) introduce the doctrinal dimension of religious studies--especially the function of doctrine, 2) investigate the Bahá'í usage of the technical term "progressive revelation," 3) analyze whether the principle of progressive revelation can be evaluated as a central Bahá'ídoctrine, and 4) survey the process of "doctrinalization" in Bahá'í history.
Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá'í Theology, p. xv
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