Uniting Space and Time:
Ritual and the Bahá'í Faith

By Moojan Momen

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #111
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 30 – July 3, 2012
(see list of papers from #111)

    The Bahá'í Faith has very few communal rituals. There is almost no structure or set form to the regular meetings of the community or to such ceremonial occasions as weddings and funerals. Furthermore, there are textual instructions in the authoritative texts of the Bahá'í Faith that prohibit the creation of a clerical class and the development of rituals over time. If the ritual is an essential part of religion, then what substitutes for ritual in the Bahá'í community? To answer this question, this paper goes back to Durkheim's functionalist ideas that ritual creates the boundaries between the sacred and profane and also creates a sense of awe and an experience of the community as a living reality, thus reinforcing the sense of unity and strengthens the community.

    With regard to the first of these functions, in fact the boundaries between the sacred and the profane are deliberately blurred in the Bahá'í Faith and all of space and time potentially sacralized. With regard to the second of these functions, if Durkheim's analysis is correct, ritual is not essential to religion in itself but on account of the unity and reinforcement of the sense of community that it creates. When we come to consider the Bahá'í Faith, there are a number of other factors that create unity. First, there are doctrinal factors such as the doctrine of the Covenant. Second, there are psychological factors such as a common vision (oneness of humanity and world unity). Third, there is the camaraderie of working together to achieve that vision - a common pathway along which all Bahá'ís are travelling. In all, these factors appear to be sufficient to substitute for the function of ritual in the Bahá'í Faith.

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