Birth and Early Development of Spiritual Assemblies in North America:
A Study in the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha

By Robert Stockman

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #72
Louhelen Bahá'í School: Davison, Michigan, USA
October 6–9, 2006
(see list of papers from #72)

    The development of spiritual assemblies in North America started in 1899, just a few years after the same process was initiated in Iran. The early American Bahá'ís based their organization on four sources: (1) the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, which was available in crude English translation by 1900; (2) Tablets from `Abdu'l-Bahá; (3) organizational principles that were standard in American culture; and (4) advise from Persian teachers, some of whom probably represented oral instructions from `Abdu'l-Bahá. `Abdu'l-Bahá's policy in the period up to 1912 appears to have been highly flexible, giving the Americans broad leeway on such matters as sizes of governing bodies, the frequency of their election, and the way they were elected and organized. As a result, they drew on and creatively combined the other three sources of guidance, and elements of their synthesis eventually found their way into the administrative order shaped by Shoghi Effendi. `Abdu'l-Bahá's several dozen Tablets to Americans, because they are easily accessible, and are usually dated, provide extensive information about His approach to organization in this period.

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