Bahá'í Faith in North America
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The Bahá'í Faith is a diverse and widespread religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in the 19th century in Iran. Bahá'í sources usually estimate the worldwide Bahá'í population to be above 5 million. Most encyclopedias and similar sources estimate between 5 and 6 million Bahá'ís in the world in the early 21st century. The religion is almost entirely contained in a single, organized, hierarchical community, but the Bahá'í population is spread out into almost every country and ethnicity in the world, being recognized as the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity. See Bahá'í statistics.
- 1 United States
- 2 Canada
- 3 Mexico
- 4 Central America
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
The first mention of events related to the history of the religion in the United States appears to be the 1845-6 echo of the Nov 1845 London Times story relating events of the Báb upon return from pilgrimage, which Bahá'ís hold as a direct precursor akin to the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. In America this was printed in April 1846 in the Boon Lick Times based on an article in the NY Mirror. A mention in 1850 followed. The first academic paper on the religion was a letter written to the American Oriental Society which was holding its meeting in Boston and the library of materials was held at the Boston Athenæum. The letter was originally published as part of the minutes of the Society in The Literary World of June 14, 1851, as an untitled entry whose first quote is "notice of a singular character, who has for some years past played a prominent part on the stage of Persian life" dated February 10, 1851 by Dr. Rev. Austin H. Wright. It was subsequently also published in a Vermont newspaper June 26, 1851. In 1867 Bahá'ís near Baghdad petitioned the United States for relief from persecution. In 1893 Rev. Henry Harris Jessup addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago with the first mention the Bahá'í Faith itself in the United States - and published in the Chicago Inter Ocean and manuscript. In 1894 Thornton Chase became the first American Bahá'í. Others soon followed.
Development of early community
A significant presence of Bahá'ís developed around what later came to be called the Green Acre Bahá'í School founded in 1894 and attracting Bahá'ís to it after Sarah Farmer joined the religion in 1900. In 1906 a government census reported through a scholar that there were 1280 Bahá'ís in 24 places among 14 states and in 1909 the first national convention was held with 39 delegates from 36 cities. Star of the West was the first large periodical production in the country beginning in March, 1910.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, while head of the religion, visited the United States and Canada, ultimately visiting some 40 cities, to once again spread his father's teachings. He arrived in New York City on 11 April 1912. While he spent most of his time in New York, he visited many cities on the east coast. Then in August he started a more extensive journey across to the West coast before starting to return east at the end of October. On 5 December 1912 he set sail back to Europe. During his nine months on the continent, he met with many well known people as well as hundreds of American and Canadian Bahá’ís, recent converts to the religion.
After his last return to Palestine `Abdu'l-Bahá mentioned various lands around the world that the religion should be introduced to and referred to World War I and qualities of those who seek to serve the religion. This took the form of a these series of letters, or tablets, to the followers of the religion in the United States in 1916-1917; these letters were compiled together in the book Tablets of the Divine Plan. They were translated and presented on April 4, 1919, and published in Star of the West on December 12, 1919.
While the first Bahá'í House of Worship of the Americas began taking form in Chicago, national institutional development of the religion shifted to Green Acre for some decades. The Star of the West was replaced with the Bahá'í News in 1924. The first National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1925 after years of increasing organizational development. See Statistics on National Spiritual Assemblies.
Shoghi Effendi, head of the religion after the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá, wrote a cable on May 1, 1936 to the Bahá'í Annual Convention of the United States and Canada, and asked for the systematic implementation of `Abdu'l-Bahá's vision to begin. In his cable he wrote:
Appeal to assembled delegates ponder historic appeal voiced by `Abdu'l-Bahá in Tablets of the Divine Plan. Urge earnest deliberation with incoming National Assembly to insure its complete fulfillment. First century of Bahá'í Era drawing to a close. Humanity entering outer fringes most perilous stage its existence. Opportunities of present hour unimaginably precious. Would to God every State within American Republic and every Republic in American continent might ere termination of this glorious century embrace the light of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh and establish structural basis of His World Order.
Following the May 1 cable, another cable from Shoghi Effendi came on May 19 calling for permanent pioneers to be established in all the countries of Latin America. The 1936 religious census conducted by the United States government revealed 2,584 Bahá’ís and in 1944 every state in the nation had at least one local Bahá’í administrative body called a Spiritual Assembly, and about 4,800 Bahá'ís. During that period the Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada appointed the Inter-America Committee to take charge of the preparations for international pioneers. During the 1937 Bahá'í North American Convention, Shoghi Effendi cabled advising the convention to prolong their deliberations to permit the delegates and the National Assembly to consult on a plan that would enable Bahá'ís to go to Latin America as well as to include the completion of the outer structure of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. In 1937 the First Seven Year Plan (1937–44), which was an international plan designed by Shoghi Effendi, gave the American Bahá'ís the goal of establishing the Bahá'í Faith in every country in Latin America. In 1937 there was essentially no presence of the religion from Central America south, and eleven states and provinces in the US and Canada had no Bahá’ís at all; thirty‑four lacked spiritual assemblies. With the spread of American Bahá'ís in Latin American, Bahá'í communities and Local Spiritual Assemblies began to form in 1938 across the rest of Latin America. Goals were then advanced for Europe following World War II and then Africa. Circa 2000 nearly 17 percent of US Bahá'ís still reported still being international pioneers, while some 35 percent indicated homefront pioneering experience inside the United States to places the religion had not previously had a presence. In April 1953 the Bahá'í House of Worship (Wilmette, Illinois) was formally dedicated.
Bahá’ís in the United States numbered almost 7,000 by 1956. By 1963 membership exceeded 10,000, and were increasing by about 1,200 per year. Though there are instances of encounters between Native Americans and the Bahá'ís Faith early in its history in America, the Bahá'í Faith and Native Americans began to host council meetings on the progress of the religion starting in the 1960s and progress among Indian nations, and across Indian peoples across the continents and projects such as Bahá'í radio into the 1980s.
In December 1999, the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States stated that out of approximately 140,000 adult (15 and over) members on the rolls, only 70,000 had known addresses. The American Religious Identity Survey (ARIS) conducted in 2001, with a sample size of 50,000, estimated that there were 84,000 self-identifying adult (21 and over) Bahá'ís in the United States. The Association of Religion Data Archives estimated there were some 525,000 Bahá'ís in 2005 however statistics in Feb 2011 show 175,000 excluding Alaska and Hawai'i.
Although a majority of Americans are Christians, Bahá'ís make up the second-largest religious group in South Carolina as of May 2014[update]. And based on data from 2010, Bahá'ís were the largest minority religion in 80 counties out of the 3143 counties in the country. While early fictional works relating the religion occurred in Europe a number of them have appeared in the United States since the 1980s, sometimes in mass media - see Bahá'í Faith in fiction.
Outside the mainland
Alaska is unusual in that it is not an independent nation, recognized by the United Nations, and yet has a National Spiritual Assembly. Its specific statistics are not published, and are often not broken out in non-Bahá'í statistics of the USA in general. There are currently about 1500 Bahá'ís in Alaska.
The Bahá'í community in Hawai'i had its origins when Hawaiian-born Agnes Alexander, who became a Bahá'í in Paris in 1900, returned to the islands in 1901. Similar to Alaska, the Bahá'ís of Hawai'i have an independent National Spiritual Assembly from that of the USA, though it is itself one of the 50 United States. Independent statistics have not been published.
The Bahá'í Faith in Greater Boston, a combined statistical area, has had glimpses of the religion in the 19th century arising to its first community of religionists at the turn of the century. Early papers on the precursor Bábí religion by Dr. Rev. Austin H. Wright were noted, materials donated, and lost, and then other scholars began to write about the religion. The community began to coalesce being near to Green Acre, founded by Sarah Farmer, who publicly espoused the religion from 1901. From then on the institution would progressively be associated with Bahá'ís - a place where both locals and people from afar came to learn of the religion, and who officially took over controlling interest from 1913. Leaders rising to national prominence with a national level of organization soon arose after `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, traveled through the area for about 40 days and across the United States for some 239 days. Most prominent were Harlan Ober, William Henry Randall, and Alfred E. Lunt, who served in events in the Boston area, Green Acre boards, and national institutions of the religion. In addition to national leaders in the religion, a number of notable individuals joined the religion and were increasingly visible – such as Urbain Ledoux, James Ferdinand Morton, Jr., Nancy Bowditch, and Guy Murchie. The community moved from beginning to host public meetings to systematically support a presence in a Center in Boston with services and presentations on the religion. Starting about the 1950s and broadening into the 1960s there was wider recognition of the Bahá'ís themselves. Sometimes this took the form of noting their persecution in Morocco and then Iran and other times noting local concerts and fairs with their participation. The modern community, albeit a tiny fraction of the wider population, is present in some concentrations and thin areas throughout the greater Boston area. Over the last couple decades, it has been systematically pursuing programs of neighborhood community building activities of study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups, and devotional meetings among the activities and observances of the religion.
The Bahá'í Faith in South Carolina begins in the transition from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement but defines another approach to the problem, and proceeded according to its teachings. The first mention in relation to the history of the religion came in the 1860s in a newspaper article. Following this the first individual from South Carolina to find the religion was Louis Gregory in 1909, followed by individuals inside the state. Communities of Bahá'ís were soon operating in North Augusta, Columbia and Greenville struggled with segregation culture through the 1950s externally and internally. However, in the 1969-1973 period, a very remarkable and somewhat unsustainable period of conversions to the religion on the basis of a meeting of Christian and Bahá'í religious ideas established a basis of community across several counties - notably Marion, Williamsburg, and Dillon, served by the Louis Gregory Institute and its radio station WLGI but also across the wider area. That community continues and has gathered news coverage as part of the second largest religion in South Carolina.
Prominent US Bahá'ís
Outside the religion in general society prominent Bahá'ís have been social and civic leaders Alain LeRoy Locke, Patricia Locke, Dorothy Wright Nelson and Layli Miller-Muro, entertainers Seals and Crofts, Dizzy Gillespie, Rainn Wilson, Andy Grammar and among academics Suheil Bushrui, and Dwight W. Allen. See List of Bahá'ís for many other Bahá'ís that have Wikipedia articles about them, and more generally Category:American Bahá'ís. Such prominence does not connote authority or priority within the religion but simply a degree of public recognition. William Sears was a sports commentator and television personality, and Louis Gregory a was prominent African-American lawyer, and both become prominent inside the religion as Hands of the Cause and Locke and Nelson were elected to the national spiritual assembly.
The Canada 2011 Census National Household Survey recorded 18,945 Bahá'ís. The Canadian Bahá'í Community, according to its official website consists of some 30,000 members across approximately 1200 communities throughout the 13 Canadian Provinces and Territories. According to the same source, the Canadian community is quite diverse: "There are French-speaking and English-speaking Bahá'ís, and more than 18% of Canadian Bahá'ís come from First Nations and Inuit backgrounds; another 30% are recent immigrants or refugees."
The Canadian community is one of the earliest western communities, at one point sharing a joint National Spiritual Assembly with the United States, and is a co-recipient of `Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan. The first North American woman to declare herself a Bahá'í was Mrs. Kate C. Ives, of Canadian ancestry, though not living in Canada at the time. Moojan Momen, in reviewing "The Origins of the Bahá'í Community of Canada, 1898–1948" notes that "the Magee family... are credited with bringing the Bahá'í Faith to Canada. Edith Magee became a Bahá'í in 1898 in Chicago and returned to her home in London, Ontario, where four other female members of her family became Bahá'ís. This predominance of women converts became a feature of the Canadian Bahá'í community..."
Statistics Canada reports 14,730 Bahá'ís from 1991 census data and 18,020 in those of 2001. However the Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated almost 46,600 Bahá'ís in 2005.
The Bahá'í Faith in Mexico begins with visits of Bahá'ís before 1916. In 1919 letters from the head of the religion, `Abdu'l-Bahá, were published mentioning Mexico as one of the places Bahá'ís should take the religion to. Following further pioneers moving there and making contacts the first Mexican to join the religion was in 1937, followed quickly by the first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly of all Latin America being elected in 1938. With continued growth the National Spiritual Assembly was first elected in 1961. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated almost 38,000 Bahá'ís in 2005.
The Association of Religion Data Archives estimates there were 7,776 Bahá'ís in Belize in 2005, or 2.5% of the national population. If correct, the Association of Religion Data Archives' estimates suggest this is the highest proportion of Bahá'ís in any country. Their data also states that the Bahá'í Faith is the second most common religion in Belize, followed by Hinduism (2.0%) and Judaism (1.1%). However the 2010 Belize Population Census recorded 202 Bahá'ís out of a total population of 304,106, yielding a proportion of 0.066%, not 2.5%.
The history of the Bahá'í Faith in Panama begins with a mention by `Abdu'l-Bahá in the book Tablets of the Divine Plan, published in 1919; the same year, Martha Root made a trip around South America and included Panama on the return leg of the trip up the west coast. The first pioneers began to settle in Panama in 1940. The first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly of Panama, in Panama City, was elected in 1946, and the National Spiritual Assembly was first elected in 1961. The Bahá'ís of Panama raised a Bahá'í House of Worship in 1972. In 1983 and again in 1992, some commemorative stamps were produced in Panama while the community turned its interests to the San Miguelito and Chiriquí regions of Panama with schools and a radio station. The Association of Religion Data Archives estimated there were some 41,000 Bahá'ís in 2005 while another sources places it closer to 60,000.
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