The Last Refuge:
Fifty Years of the Ministry of the Universal House of Justice

By Shahbaz Fatheazam

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #121
Louhelen Bahá'í Center: Davison, Michigan, USA
October 10–13, 2013
(see list of papers from #121)

published in Occasional Papers, volume 3
© 2015, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    This paper focuses on the emergence of the Universal House of Justice and studies the experience of the Bahá'í world community with its supreme body since its inception. As a corollary, the organizational structure of Bahá'í polity and its special vision of politics and government is also examined highlighting the connection between the institutional and the cultural and how the influence and durability of institutions is a function of the extent to which they are inculcated in political actors at the individual or organizational level. To this end, cognitive scripts, moral templates and personal perceptions are used liberally.

    The task is made difficult by the limitations imposed by: (a) our intellect which is not fixed but always relative to the culture, ideas, arts and sciences, of the times. It needs aging before it is potable and safe; (b) the absence of precedence which raises the problem of how to move the information we have gathered into any form of conceptual framework — a set of concepts that are easy to understand and that can travel' — i.e. are truly comparative across systems — and can thus be related to the political process in various societies and to which all people may easily connect; and (c) the very contemporary nature of a complex subject so closely rooted to the present with no proper distance that our proximity to the passage of time brings us too close to and perhaps even too much part of the events to make proper historical judgements compounded by how little we know about what is yet to happen in an institution whose provisions and implications are yet to be unveiled.

    We also underline the importance of how the evolution of any religious community rests on its ability to analyze its institutional set-up and how the constitution of the international governing body of the Bahá'í Faith is necessary to its viability quite apart from the need to maintain a healthy interaction between masses and leaders whose outcome must match, as closely as possible, intended results, assured only by man's willingness or ability to live within the structure of authority.

    This paper was also presented at session #116, and later published as a stand-alone book in 2015, The Last Refuge: Fifty Years of the Universal House of Justice.