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.
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 - this was printed in April 1846 in the Boon Lick Times based on an article in the NY Mirror. A mention in 1850 followed. 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. 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 WWI 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.
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. 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 despite major pioneering goals overseas. In Apr 1953 the Bahá'í House of Worship (Wilmette, Illinois) was formally dedicated.
In December 1999, the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States stated that out of approximately 140000 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 169,130 members on record, excluding Alaska and Hawai'i.
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 Baha'is 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 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.
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.
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- Bahá'í World Statistics
- adherents.com – A website about religious adherents of numerous faiths
- adherents.com – Specific compiled stats on Bahá'í communities