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Old 04-06-2010, 06:20 AM   #1
Mr Ron Price
 
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The process of review

Baha’i novels, or to put these two words in a more accurate context--novels written by Bahá’ís--are not simply the result of an author's idiosyncratic intentions but are the product of the collective activity of Bahá'í gatekeepers who work within the constraints of the Baha’i publishing industry. This industry works under the guidance, the authority, of elected National Bahá'í institutions. These gatekeepers must attend to the sensitivities of Baha’i institutional policies, policies that have been framed over the decades by an organizational framework and principles of operation that are part of the Bahá'í doctrines themselves.

Bahá'u'lláh Himself outlined the features of the Administrative Order of the Bahá'í Faith, and the authority structure of this Faith lies behind the gatekeepers in relation to any published fiction. The role of these gatekeepers is to keep a vigilant watch over the content of the printed matter on behalf of those Bahá'í administrative institutions that they serve and on behalf of the audience for which the books are intended. In resolving the tension between the Bahá'í Faith’s institutional policies and intentions as well their several literary-imperatives on the one hand and the literary proclivities and personal desires of writers who are also Baha’is on the other, the gatekeepers of Baha’i publishing maintain the general conventions that shape the popular Baha’i evangelical, intellectual and literary aesthetic.

Interpretive analyses of fiction written by Baha’is tend to examine the content of fiction and often neglect to account for the social and institutional factors that influence its production. Since fiction written by Baha’is is the product of the collective activity of the increasingly extensive and world embracing culture industry of the Bahá'í community, the content of fiction must be understood as more than simply the product of an author's idiosyncratic intention. There is a social-institutional context for Bahá'í publishing and the arrangements made by Bahá'í institutions in making symbolic elements of Bahá'í culture available to a wider public affect the nature and content of the elements of culture that are produced. This is really only saying the obvious. But this publishing pattern is slowly changing with the world of cyberspace in these first decades of the new paradigm of learning and growth in the Bahá'í international community.

Taking into consideration the roles of gatekeepers, the influence of the audience, the conventions of the genre, and the nature of the popular intellectual Baha’i aesthetic provides a more comprehensive explanation of the content of Baha’i fiction. In resolving the tension between institutional intentions as well as industry imperatives and the preferences of writers, gatekeepers construct conventions that: (a) reflect institutional policies, (b) guide the production of fiction and (c) influence the formation of a popular evangelical and intellectual Baha’i aesthetic.

The task of regulating the content of Baha’i fiction, for want of a better term, rests upon the reviewing committees established by each National Spiritual Assembly(NSA) in the Bahá'í international community. The primary producers and distributors of the fiction: the authors, editors, and booksellers do not function as gatekeepers. This role is solely that of the reviewing committees working under the aegis of their respective NSAs. Since the religious aspects of a novel written by a Bahá'í mark it as unique in the world of fiction generally, the remarks I am making here concentrate on how gatekeepers conscientiously uphold the primarily pastoral function of such fiction and maintain the Bahá'í community's boundaries within an essentially secular and pluralistic form of popular culture. And, as I say, this world of gatekeeping is undergoing a radical shift on the internet.

The mission of the Baha’i publishing industry
correlates with its dual function: to entertain
and to inspire—within a context of a full and
frank, legitimate framework of authority, the
very structure of freedom for our age, moderate
freedom that guarantees the welfare of the world—
until just the other day when the world-wide-web
changed the whole ball-game on our big planet.

The predictability of popular fiction is a chief
factor in the novel's ability to bring enjoyment
to a reader..this includes familiar plot structures
and, more often than not, happy endings with a
construction of characters with whom readers can
and do identify. All this enhances the entertainment
value of fiction. Novels also function as a form of
escapism for Bahá'í readers in much the same way
that novels provide escapism for secular readers.

Baha’i readers may be escaping from the demands
and stresses of everyday life and escaping to a safe
and confirming imaginative world. In these & many
other ways fiction for Baha’is is an enjoyable way of
experiencing the world. Such entertaining differs from
secular fiction in two primary ways: it must be written
from a Baha’i perspective, and it must adhere to a
correspondingly confined popular Bahá'í aesthetic
and inspiration which encompass areas of intention
reinforcing the faith of the converted, witnessing to
the unconverted, and providing sophisticated and
literary explorations of our complex human condition.

Such fiction is intended to strengthen and validate the
faith of readers through the reader's identification with
the characters. Such fiction is written to challenge a
reader's faith, but rarely do such novels challenge
religious, social, cultural, or political boundaries set
by the reviewing committees because doing so will
simply result in the book not getting past the reviewing
committee. But, as I say, this is all changing on the web.
The uniqueness of such fiction is found in its perspective:
it mediates knowledge about the world indirectly; its very
purpose is not found in its capacity to increase any of the
reader's conceptual framework—but so much more........

What the reader learns from these novels is in the realm
of the education of his sensibility, not in the increase of
his conceptual equipment. Reading fiction involves
aesthetic apprehension: the submersion of readers into
a fictional reality and the openness of the reader to what
is presented therein, a quiet contemplative act, a learning
experience that proclaims its relevance to life in subtle
but significant ways. Reading fiction, therefore, is an
aesthetic experience that communicates knowledge
about the world indirectly via aesthetic modes........

Apprehension can occur as the result of the author
intentionally communicating Bahá'í messages, yet
in other instances fiction communicates subsidiary
and unintended messages that are often an implicit
consequence of writing from a Baha’i worldview.
Because of the many possible meanings associated
with Baha’i myths and symbols, readers can interpret
symbols in a variety of ways, and so writers intrinsically
incorporate unintended and subsidiary messages along
with their intended message. The interpretation by the
readers of unintended messages often surprise authors
and editors—but not much yet—because the writing of
novels, of fiction, for Baha’is and others by Baha’is has
only just begun---just the other day it seems in this new
culture of learning and growth—this Bahá'í paradigm!!(1)

(1) For more ideas on this subject go to: (a) Jonathan Cordero, “The Production of Christian Fiction,” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Volume 6, Spring 2004 and (b) Barney Leith, “Bahá'í Review: should the “red flag” law be repealed?” BAHÁ'Í STUDIES REVIEW, Volume 5.1, 1995.

Ron Price
6 April 2010

Last edited by RonPrice; 04-06-2010 at 06:21 AM. Reason: to correct an apostrophe
 
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Old 12-09-2014, 08:55 PM   #2
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reflect institutional policies, (b) guide the production of fiction and (c) influence the formation of a popular evangelical and intellectual Baha’i aesthetic.?
 
Old 12-09-2014, 10:35 PM   #3
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Wait, even fiction must be reviewed? What?!
 
Old 12-09-2014, 10:43 PM   #4
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that's not right is it?

usually these things are taken out of context. Surely this is only for books dealing with Baha'i subjects.

I have been published and have been an editor and probably will do so again. I'm not planning on sending non-Bahai manuscripts anywhere but the publishers desk and hope they give me money for it.
 
Old 12-09-2014, 10:57 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noogan View Post
that's not right is it?

usually these things are taken out of context. Surely this is only for books dealing with Baha'i subjects.

I have been published and have been an editor and probably will do so again. I'm not planning on sending non-Bahai manuscripts anywhere but the publishers desk and hope they give me money for it.
I guess my impression is that if a work of FICTION (which in my mind should be where the most freedom is given to express "unpopular" opinions) even remotely touches on Baha'i themes or concepts then it can be reviewed? And what happens if they then decide to use a non-Baha'i publisher? Does it still go through review?
 
Old 12-10-2014, 10:20 AM   #6
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A little bit of research goes a long way.

Lights of Guidance - Baha'i Authors/Writers

“It is not the practice of the World Centre to review the writings of individual Bahá’ís intended for publication. As you know, Bahá’í authors, writing about the Faith, are requested to have their work approved for publication by the National Spiritual Assembly of the country where such work is published. There is no objection whatever, to your submitting your manuscript to a non-Bahá’í firm, provided that the approval of the manuscript by the National Assembly is first obtained.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, December 10, 1981)



As far as I understand it from reading the quotations on the Aqdas Project page, and other sources, the process for review is specifically for media dealing with Baha'i related issues. This would be necessary I suppose in situations where an article could affect members of the community in the nations where they live.

But it still leaves some questions.

The difficulty is now what constitutes publishing? More people, if they had the whim, could read our posts on this forum than could have read almost any printed journal on earth at, say, December 10, 1981. Does that make us all authors? If someone wants to make a youtube video discussing the House of Worship, does that have to go through review?

Shastri Purushotma did a fantastic article on the new House of Worship in Chile, a few days ago on Huffington Post. As an online journal (and as the husband of a journalist) I know they typically call for articles rather quickly when they want something like that. You typically don't get weeks to write up your piece, then wait for an NSA to stamp it approved. So while I see WHY this is done, I wonder how exactly does this work in the 21st century?
 
Old 12-10-2014, 12:17 PM   #7
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Is there any guideline on works of fiction however, which definitely work differently than other academic or journalistic pieces?
 
Old 12-10-2014, 12:26 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmilingSkeptic View Post
Is there any guideline on works of fiction however, which definitely work differently than other academic or journalistic pieces?
I don't think there is any requirement for a Baha'I author to seek approval for a work of fiction published by a non-Baha'i company, particularly if it does not refer to the Faith at all.

If the fictional characters happen to be Baha'is it might be a good idea, as that could be a gray area.
 
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