Preliminary Contemplation on What May Be Considered as a Bahá'í Theology

By Shahla Mehrgani

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #118
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 30 – July 4, 2013
(see list of papers from #118)

    Basic beliefs are probably the main source for particular social actions and interactions. Therefore, it is necessary to understand these basic beliefs and insights to be able to interpret and understand those actions and interactions properly.

    Theological studies used to be among the first areas of religious education in previous religions. Bahá'í Faith has not yet produced a systematic body of knowledge known as Bahá'í theology. It seems that almost the time has come to ask ourselves, why?

    This paper is not supposed to sketch out the substance of Bahá'í theology, which is a huge task in its own right. It intends to explore the ways that Bahá'í scholars have proposed and indicated Bahá'í theology. This research may be regarded as a primary attempt in sociology of knowledge and religion rather than theology per se. It discusses the following questions:

    1. Will Bahá'í theology be proposed and designed in classic frameworks such as the theology of the previous religions? In other word: is Bahá'í classic theology possible?
    2. What are the key features of the Bahá'í theology?
    3. How can Bahá'í theology become possible?

    Bahá'í theology may be identified, explored and proposed not just from Bahá'í writings and by intellectual struggles, but through social actions and interactions of everyday life among all Bahá'í believers. Some of the features of the Bahá'í theology:

    1. Pluralism vs. Exclusivism
    2. Relativism vs. Absolutism
    3. Apophatic vs. Kataphatic
    4. Rational and disenchanted vs. Enchanted and mythological
    5. Developing vs. Accomplished
    6. Pragmatic vs. Dogmatic
    7. Subjective vs. Objective
    8. Existentialism vs. Determinism

    What we can derive from the expositions of Bahá'í scholars could be summarized as follows:

    • Bahá'í writings are supposed to give the criteria for practice and action
    • The word of God is the criteria for knowledge and cognition
    • The believer is in interaction with "the others" and him/her self, and can evaluate his/her experience and knowledge through rationality and mind.
    • Bahá'í theology is beyond just reading and understanding the Bahá'í writings, it requires experiencing these writings through social actions and interactions. As far as it is a product of experience, it can be varied from time to time and location to location. And while the world is changing, its requirements are changing as well. Hence, we have to be ready to forget and give up our old beliefs and establish new ones in accordance with the changing world. Therefore, Bahá'í theology is always under construction and deconstruction.
    • Bahá'í theology is not for reading and discussion among the intellectuals and elites; on the contrary, it is for practice and to live our lives in accordance with. Our realization of it is also affected by our social interaction requirements.
    • Everyday life is as a laboratory to test and evaluate our understandings and interpretations of Bahá'í theology as well as construction, reviewing and deconstruction of it.
    • Bahá'í theology, thus does not claim dogmatism and absolutism, it is as much relative and plural as other aspects of the faith and is based on practice rather than theory.
    • As the nature is a manifestation of His creative Name, every single effort in science is regarded as an effort in cognition and recognition of Bahá'í theology.
    • Bahá'í theology is creative, not only because it is disenchanted and interpreted and explained by the official interpreters of the faith, but also because it is under construction by actions and interactions of a massive range of cultural backgrounds of believers all around the world.
    • Nevertheless, Bahá'í theology is not banal and vulgar, because it is necessary for Bahá'ís to be knowledgeable in history, Holy Bible, Holy Quran, at least basic philosophy, and literature to be able to understand Bahá'í writings at the first stage and then practice them in their daily life.
    • This theology can be identified as an empirical and experimental theology.

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