Bahá’í What?

Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois Photo by Ron Lynch

One of the reasons I love ethnomusicology is its interdisciplinary nature. In order to write an ethnography on the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival, I drew on history, religious studies, and anthropology to gain a clearer picture. This morning, I’m offering some brief background on the world religion that inspires the annual festival I studied.

The Bahá’í Faith was founded in 1863 Iran by Bahá’u’lláh, whose monotheistic world religion is now one of the most widespread in the world. Today, I’ll focus on the religion’s journey to the West. In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son, visited North America for 239 days, a sojourn which sustained a fledging Bahá’í community in the United States. Leader of the Faith since his father’s passing in 1892, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had frequently corresponded with America’s early Bahá’ís, and as early as 1903, granted the Chicago community permission to construct a Bahá’í House of Worship for the North American continent. This very site has hosted the devotional concerts performed by the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival for the last seven years (Garlington 2005:89). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to Chicago centered around that house of worship; in April, he attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the temple site (Garlington 2005:16). A social media documentary traces each day of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels in America, a journey centered around sharing his father’s teachings of unity and social justice in gatherings across the country. Not only did ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ensure the continuation of the United States Bahá’í community, but also made possible the construction of Wilmette, Illinois’s stunning Bahá’í House of Worship, both of which are necessary precursors to the creation of the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival. 

In the less than 200 years that the Bahá’í Faith has been established, the religion is far from set in ritual, and thus, how it informs community identity remains an unfolding process. Currently, scholars have the opportunity to study Bahá’í culture as it materializes. While accounts from the first centuries of the world’s great religions are largely lost to history, the Bahá’í Faith has access a plethora of primary sources that aid in understanding its foundations, as suggested by the previous Bahá’í origins summary. Now, as these formative years continue, Bahá’ís themselves are active sources. My ethnography utilized the chance to take notice as the Bahá’í world faith unfolds.

Liza

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