Sacralizing the Secular:
The Proclamatory Aqdas as a Response to Modernity

By Christopher Buck

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #5
Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, USA
March 31 – April 2, 1995
(see list of papers from #5)

    The preeminent Bahá'í scripture "The Most Holy Book" exhibits a certain textual and ideological extensibility through the phenomenon of "re-revelation"-a term coined by Taherzadeh (Revelation 4:372). This study will examine the Tablet of Glad-Tidings (Lawh-i-Bishárát) as an extension of the Most Holy Book for purposes of proclamation. A source-critical study of the Glad-Tidings discloses that most of the fifteen Glad-Tidings (there are actually twenty-one stated principles) are located in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the rest in supplements to the Aqdas. The Glad-Tidings functioned in a way analogous to a press release. Internal evidence for the proclamatory intent of the Glad-Tidings is found in Bahá'u'lláh's address: "0 people of the earth!" (TB 21). Circumstantial evidence is also found in Bahá'u'lláh's dispatch of this Tablet to two leading scholars: Cambridge Orientalist Edward Granville Browne (1891) and to Russian Orientalist Baron Victor Rosen (1892).

    Twin processes are operative in the Tablet of Glad-Tidings: (1) Religious Reform--the desacralizing (abrogation and prohibition) of certain Christian, Islamic, and Bábí practices: and (2) Sacralization--the rendering sacred certain secular values (assimilation of "civic virtues") as part of the Bahá'í response to modernity. At the end of the Lawh-i-Bishárát, Bahá'u'lláh actually characterizes the Glad-Tidings as divine legislation ("laws and ordinances"). Through the agency of the "proclamatory Aqdas," Bahá'u'lláh set in motion a sacralization process through spiritualization of "civil religion" at its finest, refinement and systemization of emergent "global values" and the sacralizing of secular power in the interests of world reform. Of the Bahá'í Faith, Ninian Smart wrote: "It is an example of a spiritual revolution which intuitively recognized the global state of world culture before its time and gave religious preparation for this unified world" (The World's Religions, p. 480).

    The Lawh-i-Bishárát will thus be examined in three dimensions: (1) its function as a "Proclamatory Aqdas";(2) its Aqdas and Aqdas-related contents in the context of "re-revelation"; (3) the text as a response to modernity.

    See a continuation of this discussion in the author's later articles Tablet of Glad-Tidings as a "Proclamatory Aqdas" and Bahá'u'lláh's Bishárát (Glad-Tidings): A Proclamation to Scholars and Statesmen.

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