Baha'i Faith

Scholarship

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Overview
A Compilation Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice
Extracts
  • The Station of Scholarship
    • Importance of Knowledge and Learning
    • Characteristics of the “truly learned”
    • Scope of “Bahá’í Scholarship”
    • Appreciation of Scholarship
  • Functions of Bahá’í Scholarship
    • Promotion of Human Welfare
    • Defence of the Faith
    • Expansion and Consolidation of the Bahá’í Community
    • Contribution to Scholarly Development
  • General Principles and Guidelines
    • Spiritual Foundation
    • “Useful” Sciences
    • Attitudes of the Scholar
    • Methodological Issues
    • The Covenant
The Station of Scholarship

Importance of Knowledge and Learning
From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

Knowledge is one of the wondrous gifts of God. It is incumbent upon everyone to acquire it. Such arts and material means as are now manifest have been achieved by virtue of His knowledge and wisdom which have been revealed in Epistles and Tablets through His Most Exalted Pen—a Pen out of whose treasury pearls of wisdom and utterance and the arts and crafts of the world are brought to light.

(“Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas” (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988), p. 39)

Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world…. In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him. Thus hath the Tongue of Grandeur spoken in this Most Great Prison.

(“Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas”, pp. 51–52)

From the Writings and Utterances of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Make every effort to acquire the advanced knowledge of the day, and strain every nerve to carry forward the divine civilization….

Included must be promotion of the arts, the discovery of new wonders, the expansion of trade, and the development of industry. The methods of civilization and the beautification of the country must also be encouraged; and also to be inculcated is absolute obedience to the Government and total avoidance of any trace of sedition.

(From a Tablet, translated from the Persian)

…I most urgently request the friends of God to make every effort, as much as lieth within their competence, along these lines. The harder they strive to widen the scope of their knowledge, the better and more gratifying will be the result. Let the loved ones of God, whether young or old, whether male or female, each according to his capabilities, bestir themselves and spare no efforts to acquire the various current branches of knowledge, both spiritual and secular, and of the arts.

(From a Tablet, translated from the Arabic)

All blessings are divine in origin, but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research, which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. Even sovereignty has its limitations and overthrow; this is a kingship and dominionwhich none may usurp or destroy. Briefly, it is an eternal blessing and divine bestowal, the supreme gift of God to man. Therefore, you should put forward your most earnest efforts toward the acquisition of science and arts. The greater your attainment, the higher your standard in the divine purpose. The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision, whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the callous and indifferent mind is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions and happenings. He studies the human body politic, understands social problems and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without this basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore, seek with diligent endeavour the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal.

(“The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912” (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 50)

From a Letter Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi

…Bahá’u’lláh considered education as one of the most fundamental factors of a true civilization. This education, however, in order to be adequate and fruitful, should be comprehensive in nature and should take into consideration not only the physical and the intellectual side of man but also his spiritual and ethical aspects.

(9 July 1931 to an individual believer)

Characteristics of the “Truly Learned”

From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

Happy are ye, O ye the learned ones in Bahá. By the Lord! Ye are the billows of the Most Mighty Ocean, the stars of the firmament of Glory, the standards of triumph waving betwixt earth and heaven. Ye are the manifestations of steadfastness amidst men and the daysprings of Divine Utterance to all that dwell on earth.

(The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraph 173)

The Great Being saith: The man of consummate learning and the sage endowed with penetrating wisdom are the two eyes to the body of mankind. God willing, the earth shall never be deprived of these two greatest gifts.

(“Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas”, p. 171)

Know thou that he is truly learned who hath acknowledged My Revelation, and drunk from the Ocean of My knowledge, and soared in the atmosphere of My love, and cast away all else besides Me, and taken firm hold on that which hath been sent down from the Kingdom of My wondrous utterance. He, verily, is even as an eye unto mankind, and as the spirit of life unto the body of all creation. Glorified be the All-Merciful Who hath enlightened him, and caused him to arise and serve His great and mighty Cause. Verily, such a man is blessed by the Concourse on high, and by them who dwell within the Tabernacle of Grandeur, who have quaffed My sealed Wine in My name, the Omnipotent, the All-Powerful.

(“Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas”, pp. 207–208)

Consider, how can he that faileth in the day of God’s Revelation to attain unto the grace of the “Divine Presence” and to recognize His Manifestation, be justly called learned, though he may have spent aeons in the pursuit of knowledge, and acquired all the limited and material learning of men? It is surely evident that he can in no wise be regarded as possessed of true knowledge. Whereas, the most unlettered of all men, if he be honoured with this supreme distinction, he verily is accounted as one of those divinely-learned men whose knowledge is of God; for such a man hath attained the acme of knowledge, and hath reached the furthermost summit of learning.
(“The Kitáb-i-Íqán” (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983), pp. 145–146) [10]

From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

…there are those famed and accomplished men of learning, possessed of praiseworthy qualities and vast erudition, who lay hold on the strong handle of the fear of God and keep to the ways of salvation. In the mirror of their minds the forms of transcendent realities are reflected, and the lamp of their inner vision derives its light from the sun of universal knowledge. They are busy by night and by day with meticulous research into such sciences as are profitable to mankind, and they devote themselves to the training of students of capacity. It is certain that to their discerning taste, the proffered treasures of kings would not compare with a single drop of the waters of knowledge, and mountains of gold and silver could not outweigh the successful solution of a difficult problem. To them, the delights that lie outside their work are only toys for children, and the cumbersome load of unnecessary possessions is only good for the ignorant and base. Content, like the birds, they give thanks for a handful of seeds, and the song of their wisdom dazzles the minds of the world’s most wise….

…the happiness and greatness, the rank and station, the pleasure and peace, of an individual have never consisted in his personal wealth, but rather in his excellent character, his high resolve, the breadth of his learning, and his ability to solve difficult problems….

For every thing, however, God has created a sign and symbol, and established standards and tests by which it may be known. The spiritually learned must be characterized by both inward and outward perfections; they must possess a good character, an enlightened nature, a pure intent, as well as intellectual power, brilliance and discernment, intuition, discretion and foresight, temperance, reverence, and a heartfelt fear of God. For an unlit candle, however great in diameter and tall, is no better than a barren palm tree or a pile of dead wood….

An authoritative Tradition states: “As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord. It is then the duty of the people to pattern themselves after him.”

(“The Secret of Divine Civilization” (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990), pp. 21–22; pp. 23–24; pp. 33–34)

From Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi

In connection with the question as to whether Bahá’ís should be familiar with the different sciences and branches of study, Shoghi Effendi wishes me to inform you that both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have given a very high position to men of culture and knowledge and Bahá’u’lláh says in one of His Tablets that respect shown to such people is incumbent upon all Bahá’ís. Furthermore there is no doubt that familiarity with different branches of study widens one’s point of view and we can then understand and realize the significance of the Bahá’í Movement and its principles much more.

(14 December 1924 to an individual believer)

The Cause needs more Bahá’í scholars, people who not only are devoted to it and believe in it and are anxious to tell others about it, but also who have a deep grasp of the Teachings and their significance, and who can correlate its beliefs with the current thoughts and problems of the people of the world.

(21 October 1943 to an individual believer)

Scope of “Bahá’í Scholarship”

From a Letter Written on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice

At this early stage in the development of the Faith, it would not be useful to propound a highly restrictive definition of the term “Bahá’í scholarship”. In a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice to an Association for Bahá’í Studies recently, it is stated that:

The House of Justice advises you not to attempt to define too narrowly the form that Bahá’í scholarship should take, or the approach that scholars should adopt. Rather should you strive to develop within your Association respect for a wide range of approaches and endeavours. No doubt there will be some Bahá’ís who will wish to work in isolation, while others will desire consultation and collaboration with those having similar interests. Your aim should be to promote an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance within which will be included scholars whose principal interest is in theological issues as well as those scholars whose interests lie in relating the insights provided by the Bahá’í teachings to contemporary thought in the arts and sciences.​
A similar diversity should characterize the endeavours pursued by Bahá’í scholars, accommodating their interests and skills as well as the needs of the Faith. The course of world events, the development of new trends of thought and the extension of the teaching work all tend to highlight attractive and beneficial areas to which Bahá’í scholars might well direct their attention. Likewise, the expansion of the activities of the Bahá’í International Community in its relationship with United Nations agencies and other international bodies creates attractive opportunities for scholars to make a direct and highly valued contribution to the enhancement of the prestige of the Faith and to its proclamation within an influential and receptive stratum of society. As the Bahá’í community continues to emerge inexorably from obscurity, it will be confronted by enemies, from both within and without, whose aim will be to malign and misrepresent its principles, so that its admirers might be disillusioned and the faith of its adherents might be shaken; Bahá’í scholars have a vital role to play in the defence of the Faith through their contribution to anticipatory measures and their response to defamatory accusations levelled against the Faith.​

Thus, there should be room within the scope of Bahá’í scholarship to accommodate not only those who are interested in theological issues and in the historical origins of the Faith, but also those who are interested in relating the Bahá’í Teachings to their field of academic or professional interest, as well as those believers who may lack formal academic qualifications but who have, through their perceptive study of the Teachings, acquired insights which are of interest to others….

The House of Justice wishes to avoid use of the terms “Bahá’í scholarship” and “Bahá’í scholars” in an exclusive sense, which would effectively establish a demarcation between those admitted into this category and those denied entrance to it. It is clear that such terms are relative, and that what is a worthy scholarly endeavour by a Bahá’í, when compared to the activities of those with whom he is in contact, may well be regarded as of vastly lesser significance when measured against the accomplishments of the outstanding scholars which the Faith has produced. The House of Justice seeks the creation of a Bahá’í community in which the members encourage each other, where there is respect for accomplishment, and a common realization that every one is, in his or her own way, seeking to acquire a deeper understanding of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and to contribute to the advancement of the Faith.

(19 October 1993 to an individual believer)