By Shahrzad Sabet

Shahrzad Sabet is Co-Director of the Center on Modernity in Transition (COMIT) and a Fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. A political scientist, her research spans a variety of disciplines including philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and economics. Her current book project proposes a reimagined universalism that reconciles the oneness and the diversity of humankind. She has held positions at Princeton University, the University of Maryland, and Harvard University, where she received her PhD.

 

Humanity is gripped by a crisis of identity, as various peoples and groups struggle to define themselves, their place in the world, and how they should act. Without a vision of shared identity and common purpose, they fall into competing ideologies and power struggles. Seemingly countless permutations of “us” and “them” define group identities ever more narrowly and in contrast to one another. Over time, this splintering into divergent interest groups has weakened the cohesion of society itself.1Universal House of Justice, letter to the Bahá’ís of the World, 18 January 2019. On humanity’s crisis of identity and the principle of human oneness, see also: Universal House of Justice, letter to the Followers of Bahá’u’lláh in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1 November 2022.

—The Universal House of Justice

 

The “crisis of identity” described by the Universal House of Justice is one of the defining features of the present moment. Questions of identity and belonging have surged to prominence in recent years, finding expression in virtually every aspect of collective life. As the forces of our decidedly global age challenge the boundaries, both literal and figurative, that define group identities, the secure sense of belonging these identities have traditionally supplied is increasingly frustrated or lost, resulting in confusion, insecurity, conflict, and ever more forceful assertions of difference. Paradoxically, even as the need for a deeply felt sense of human oneness has grown more obvious, categories of “us” and “them” have multiplied and become more salient around the globe.

Confronted with humanity’s crisis of identity, some thinkers have proposed the reimagination of national identity. A newly enlightened and capaciously inclusive form of nationalism, they suggest, can provide a shared context of belonging within which various narrower identities and attachments can be reconciled.2For example, see: Amy Chua, Political Tribes: Group Instincts and the Fate of Nations (New York: Penguin Press, 2018); Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018); Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal (New York: Harper, 2017); Yascha Mounk, The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and What We Can Do About It (New York: Penguin Press, 2022). But solutions rooted in national identity, or in other familiar concepts such as liberal democracy, are struggling to resolve the crisis.

From the perspective of the Bahá’í teachings, the solution to our crisis of identity lies in the genuine and deeply felt recognition of human oneness. Specifically, the Bahá’í writings suggest that only a collective identity3As social psychologists explain, identity is a (self-)categorization that holds significant emotional meaning, typically entailing thick ties of empathy, solidarity, belonging, and love. Ties of identity thus differ from other, more cerebral or emotionally thin bonds of universal human connection such as those that might result, for example, from a rational commitment to the equal moral worth of all persons. See Monroe, K. R., Hankin, J., & Van Vechten, R.B. (2000). The psychological foundations of identity politics. The Annual Review of Political Science, 3(1), 419-447. 2000. rooted in the oneness of humankind can resolve our present crisis and fundamentally relieve the various long-standing tensions that surround it. The previously cited passage from Universal House of Justice goes on to elaborate this point:

“Rival conceptions about the primacy of a particular people are peddled to the exclusion of the truth that humanity is on a common journey in which all are protagonists. Consider how radically different such a fragmented conception of human identity is from the one that follows from a recognition of the oneness of humanity. In this perspective, the diversity that characterizes the human family, far from contradicting its oneness, endows it with richness. Unity, in its Bahá’í expression, contains the essential concept of diversity, distinguishing it from uniformity. It is through love for all people, and by subordinating lesser loyalties to the best interests of humankind, that the unity of the world can be realized and the infinite expressions of human diversity find their highest fulfilment.”4Universal House of Justice, letter to the Bahá’ís of the World, 18 January 2019. On humanity’s crisis of identity and the principle of human oneness, see also: Universal House of Justice, letter to the Followers of Bahá’u’lláh in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1 November 2022.

The notions of identity and human oneness reflected in this passage, and indeed throughout the Bahá’í writings, present a radical departure from the way these concepts are frequently understood in contemporary thought and discourse. Many prominent conceptions of our shared humanity, and in particular, those that emerge from the predominant intellectual frameworks of the West, are widely deemed homogenizing. They are also critiqued for being too far removed from the texture of everyday life to hold any relevance for the communities and relationships to which people immediately belong. The Bahá’í teachings offer a different vision. Far from threatening or contradicting the essential diversity of humankind, the Bahá’í writings suggest that a universal human identity is uniquely equipped to ensure the fundamental security and flourishing of our particular (i.e., narrower) identities, communities, and affiliations. This article considers why and how the Bahá’í expression of human oneness resolves both the collective crisis of identity we currently face and the long-assumed tension between the oneness and the diversity of humankind.

 

Humanity’s Crisis of Identity: Two Underlying Tensions

It would be helpful to begin by more closely examining the crisis itself. Two long standing tensions, or apparent contradictions, underlie humanity’s crisis of identity and complicate its resolution.

The first tension pertains directly to the nature of traditional group identities5In this article, the terms “group identity,” “collective identity,” “social identity,” and “identity” are used interchangeably. See footnote 3 for a brief explanation of what identity entails. themselves. As the philosopher Martha Nussbaum explains in reference to the two-faced Roman god of duality, collective identities are “Janus-faced”: they are characterized by two contrasting aspects in chronic tension.6M. C. Nussbaum, “Toward a globally sensitive patriotism,” Daedalus 137, no. 3 (2008): 78-79. On the one hand, our traditional “bounded” identities—that is, identities that include some and exclude others—are deeply susceptible to instability, conflict, and destructiveness. Whether in the dividing lines of contemporary society or in the most catastrophic injustices of human history, collective identities can reveal an exceedingly ugly face. Observing the tensions that surround group identities, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah declares them “horsemen of the apocalypses from apartheid to genocide.”7K. A. Appiah, The lies that bind: Rethinking identity (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2018), xvi.

On the other hand, the diversity embodied in our bounded social identities is vital. At the aggregate level, various forms of diversity are essential to the strength, stability, and flourishing of social systems.8For example: A. L. Antonio, et al., “Effects of racial diversity on complex thinking in college students,” Psychological Science 15, no. 8 (2004): 507-510; F. Arbab, “Promoting a discourse on science, religion, and development,” in The lab, the temple, and the market: Reflections at the intersection of science, religion, and development, ed. S. Harper (Ottawa: International Development Research Center, 2000), 149-237. Shared identities, furthermore, bind us together in social and moral enterprises, providing a basis for community, collective action, and mutual support. At a more personal and subjective level, our particular experiences and perspectives constitute important parts of our self-concept as human beings: they legitimately yearn for recognition, inclusion, and expression.

This dual nature of collective identity is also suggested in the Bahá’í writings. Shoghi Effendi, for instance, distinguishes unbridled nationalism from a “sane and legitimate patriotism,”9Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah. Available at www.bahai.org/r/895919188 and the Universal House of Justice describes “a love of one’s country that cannot be manipulated” and that “enriches one’s life.”10Universal House of Justice, letter to the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013. Universal House of Justice, letter to the World’s Religious Leaders, April 2002. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá makes this duality more explicit. “[D]ifferences, He writes, “are of two kinds. One is the cause of annihilation and is like the antipathy existing among warring nations and conflicting tribes who seek each other’s destruction … The other kind, which is a token of diversity, is the essence of perfection …”11‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Available at www.bahai.org/r/583780535

These two sides of our traditional bounded identities leave them in a state of chronic tension and instability which has, to date, stubbornly evaded resolution. Social identities are perpetually vulnerable to destructiveness and conflict. And yet, we cannot live without them.

The tension that characterizes bounded identities is amplified by their relationship to forces and movements that are unbounded. Economic globalization in its various forms, the heightened ease of transborder communication, the growing universality of our moral intuitions, the expanding consciousness of human oneness and interdependence more broadly, not to mention the countless interdependencies that propagated a deadly virus across the globe, are all widely thought to threaten the security of our traditional identities and affiliations.12W. Brown, Walled states, waning sovereignty (Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books, 2010); C. Kinnvall “Globalization and religious nationalism: Self, identity, and the Search for ontological security,” Political Psychology 25, no. 5 (2004): 741-767. Put differently: the legitimate yearning for rootedness and belonging is challenged by the porousness, fluidity, and expanded consciousness of an increasingly global age. The insecurity induced by these “universalizing” forces thus results in a more acutely felt yearning for the sense of rootedness traditional identities provide, as well as in the related impulse to bolster the security of these identities by sharpening the boundaries that define them. In other words, as our shared consciousness of the physical, social, moral, and economic space we inhabit as human beings is stretched to include the entire planet, humanity’s collective ambivalence toward its bounded identities both intensifies and becomes increasingly expressed in a second, broader tension between the universal and the particular—between the pull of bounded identities and attachments, on the one hand, and that of universalist forces and aspirations, on the other. This stubborn tension has led the political philosopher Seyla Benhabib to conclude, “Our fate, as late-modern individuals, is to live caught in the permanent tug of war between the vision of the universal and the attachments to the particular.”13S. Benhabib, The rights of others: Aliens, residents and citizens, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 16.

At the heart of humanity’s crisis of identity, therefore, lies a key question: Can humanity’s fundamental oneness be reconciled with its essential diversity? And can such a reconciliation be achieved at the deepest levels of human identity and meaning? The answer proclaimed in the Bahá’í writings, as we have seen, is unequivocally affirmative: it is through the deeply felt recognition of human oneness that the diversity of humankind thrives and finds its highest fulfillment. Why might an identity rooted in the oneness of humankind be uniquely equipped to protect and promote its diversity?

 

Unique Features of an Identity Rooted in the Oneness of Humankind

To begin answering this question, I suggest that a collective identity genuinely rooted in the oneness of humankind is qualitatively different than every other social identity because of at least two distinguishing features. These unique features, in turn, enable a universal human identity to stabilize and empower14Of course, not all identities—and certainly not every aspect of every identity—should be preserved or empowered. Identities (or aspects of them) that cannot be reconciled with the principle of human oneness (for instance, those rooted in racial superiority or in some other form of antagonism toward others) must ultimately be abandoned. On this important point, see also footnotes 32 and 48 below. our particular identities in ways that other overarching affiliations—nationality, for example—cannot.

The first feature that distinguishes an identity rooted in the oneness of humankind is rather obviously that it is non-exclusionary. Insofar as human beings and their communities are concerned, an identity genuinely rooted in our common humanity has no bounds of exclusion or parameters of otherness; it literally has no “other.”15What I wish to do in this article is to move away from the defensive posture that cosmopolitan theorists and other proponents of universalism often take to refute objections, and instead, lean into the notion of non-exclusion to identify its implications. Much has been written to question the possibility and meaningfulness of such a collective identity and, at a theoretical level at least, this skepticism has been ably addressed elsewhere. See, for example, A. Abizadeh, “Does collective identity presuppose and other? On the alleged incoherence of global solidarity,” American Political Science Review 99, no. 1 ,(2000): 45-60. This stands in contrast to all traditional social identities which, by definition, have outsiders, and are thus inescapably bounded and exclusionary.

I hasten to note that a non-exclusionary human identity need not cast humanity in opposition to non-human life on the planet, nor must it entail a sharp separation of human beings from their physical environment, precluding, for instance, the notion that we share a type of oneness with our ecosystem(s).16For an illuminating discussion of this topic, see P. Hanley, Eleven, (Victoria, Canada: Friesen Press, 2014), especially Chapter 12. Indeed, a genuinely non-exclusionary human identity should lead to a deeper appreciation of our broader interdependence, rather than to a destructive anthropocentricism, which is often an expression of the very same attitudes and predispositions that animate the exclusion, oppression, and destruction of human life on the planet.17Hanley, Eleven, 280. See also: Akeel Bilgrami, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014), Chapter 5.

The second distinguishing feature of a genuinely universal human identity pertains to the nature of the commonality on which it is based. Consider that, as scientific studies widely confirm, virtually all other group identities are ultimately socially constructed.18W.C. Byrd, et al, “Biological determinism and racial essentialism: The ideological double helix of racial inequality,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 661, no. 1 (2015): 8-22. This is not to say, of course, that these identities are not real, whether in their objective, material consequences, or in humanity’s subjective experience and valuation of them. It is to observe, rather, that the commonalities in which they are grounded are contingent (i.e., dependent) on a range of social constructs and impermanent socio-historical phenomena, for example, on fluid beliefs about social and biological reality, on the frequently contested details of history, on socially constructed parameters of membership, and tragically, on shared experiences of oppression and injustice.19Given its biological distinctions, one might object that an identity based on gender is an exception to this observation. But a very large proportion of what constitutes gender—our ideas about what different genders are, and how members of each should behave and feel, for example—is socially constructed. As the Universal House of Justice writes in a letter to the Bahá’ís of Iran dated 2 March 2013: “The rational soul has no gender or race, ethnicity or class…” For a related discussion, see also: Appiah, The lies that bind, Chapter 1. In this sense, then, the contingency of other collective identities is inescapable.

Strikingly, more than a hundred years ago, when the socially constructed nature of humanity’s dividing lines was far from obvious, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made these observations explicit. As he explained, “These boundaries and distinctions are human and artificial, not natural and original.”20‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, 23. And elsewhere: “Religions, races, and nations are all divisions of man’s making only …”21‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, 131. Indeed, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá elaborated on the inherent contingency and impermanence of the various identities and affiliations that traditionally bind human beings together:

“In the contingent world there are many collective centers which are conducive to association and unity between the children of men. For example, patriotism is a collective center; nationalism is a collective center; identity of interests is a collective center; political alliance is a collective center; the union of ideals is a collective center, and the prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers. Nevertheless, all the above institutions are, in reality, the matter and not the substance, accidental and not eternal—temporary and not everlasting. With the appearance of great revolutions and upheavals, all these collective centers are swept away.”22‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Place, 14: Tablet to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada.

Drawing on the Bahá’í writings, this article posits that, in contrast to the necessarily contingent basis of all other identities, the basis of a universal human identity need not be socially constructed or contingent. Such an identity, rather, can be rooted in the non-contingent and ultimately investigable reality of human oneness.

This second unique and distinguishing feature of an identity authentically rooted in the oneness of humankind I will call its non-contingency. Specifically, by positing that the basis of a genuinely universal human identity is non-contingent, I take for granted first, that there is something distinctive and non-contingent that only and all human beings have in common;23As this article later discusses, the Baha’i writings offer a spiritual understanding of this human commonality, recognizing it as the human soul. and, second, that the expressions of this human commonality or “core”—expressions in the form, for example, of common yearnings, vulnerabilities, and experiences—are such that human beings, whatever their particular context, can come to recognize that a distinctive and non-contingent human commonality exists.24For the argument that follows to hold, a third premise is also needed, namely, that human beings are able to readily recognize the humanness of another without a widely articulated consensus on the content of our humanity. In other words, there is, or there can be, a reasonably widespread intuitive consensus about who falls within the community of human beings. ,25It is worth highlighting an important distinction between the non-contingent basis of a human collective identity (posited above) and the empirically contingent process whereby any social identity, including a universal one, is formed. To posit that a collective human identity can be rooted in a set of features that are not contingent on socio-historical constructs is not to say that the process through which such an identity emerges and becomes expressed—the process whereby we come to recognize and articulate our oneness and interdependence as human beings, for example, or the process that finally exposes our need for an identity based on this recognition—is not socially, materially, and historically contingent. Indeed, it is precisely the empirical conditions of our time, and the surge of historically contingent forces that shape them, which make the recognition of such a collective identity possible.

Not every possible basis of unbounded human affiliation will meet the criteria of genuine (or authentic) non-contingency. The article returns to this point in various ways below, especially when it considers what constitutes a genuinely non-contingent basis for collective identity from the Bahá’í perspective.

The sections that immediately follow, however, aim to show that when taken together, the two distinguishing features of a universal social identity posited above—that is, its non-exclusionary and potentially non-contingent basis—carry deep and far-reaching implications.

 

A Source of Fundamental Security

What implications follow from the non-exclusionary and non-contingent basis of a collective identity authentically rooted in the oneness of humankind? Consider first that these two features of a universal human identity can yield parameters of inclusion that are immovably all-inclusive—in other words, that are thoroughly stable and safe. In contrast, bounded and contingently grounded identities have parameters of membership that are inherently unstable. Because the boundaries of such identities are exclusionary (by definition, there are outsiders), and because they are contingent and fluid (they are socially constructed and therefore subject to reconstruction), their parameters of belonging are intrinsically susceptible to contestation, redefinition, exclusion, and othering. This threat of exclusion, of course, can come from without (i.e., othering of and by non-members). But significantly, it also comes from within. When parameters of inclusion are intrinsically bounded and contingent, the question of “who belongs?” can never be fully closed: today’s insiders can be cast as outsiders tomorrow. The instability of intergroup relations is thus augmented by the potential precariousness of in-group membership. The current discourse and political rhetoric surrounding many national identities helps illustrate this point. As the narrative of a national identity is recontested and retold, so too are its parameters of otherness redrawn: “Who counts as ‘real’ national and who doesn’t?” has become a strikingly unstable question in recent years, even in long-consolidated nations and democracies.

Thus, when parameters of inclusion are bounded and the basis of belonging contingent, the possibility of external threat is never fully eliminated and one’s claim to internal membership is never fully stable. Only a collective identity that is both genuinely non-exclusionary and non-contingently grounded—that is, an identity rooted in the genuine recognition of human oneness—can deliver a context of fundamental security: one belongs because one is human, full stop.26Identity and security are deeply intertwined concepts across a vast spectrum of disciplines and discourses, including political philosophy and contemporary public discourse. In philosophy, for instance, Charles Taylor’s influential discussion of identity and recognition emphasizes the guarantee of a secure feeling of permanence and continuity, while Avishai Margalit and Joseph Raz argue that the value to one’s identity of membership in a national group is the provision of a sense of security. In another prominent example, Nussbaum worries that the removal of local boundaries might leave “a life bereft of a certain sort of warmth and security.” The link between identity and security also finds concrete expression in many examples of contemporary politics and social unrest. The political rhetoric around “walls” and “wall building” in the United States, which was overwhelmingly articulated in relation to anxieties over collective identity and belonging, is but one recent example. The close connection between social identity and a feeling of security also has deep roots in the study of psychology. One of the key functions of a social identity, according to psychologists, is to satisfy the need for security. See: C. Taylor, “The politics of recognition,” in Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition, ed. A. Gutmann, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 25-74; A. Margalit, et al, “National self-determination,” The Journal of Philosophy 87, no. 9 (1990): 439-461; M. C. Nussbaum, “Patriotism and cosmopolitanism,” Boston Review, October/November (1994); E. H. Erikson, Childhood and society, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1950); A. Giddens, Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern Age, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991).

The distinctive characteristics of a universal human identity, therefore, reveal the possibility of a collective identity that is not only itself uniquely invulnerable to instability and destructiveness, but that is also uniquely equipped to relieve the insecurity and potential destructiveness of all other shared identities and affiliations. In other words, only a collective identity rooted in the oneness of humankind has the potential to deliver a stabilizing context of fundamental security to our particular—and otherwise unstable—group identities.

Empirical research in psychology suggests and substantiates this proposition in notable ways. Two threads of this research are briefly highlighted here. The first shows that a feeling of security (and conversely, the feeling or perception of threat) plays a critical role in constituting the context and nature of intergroup relations. Specifically, a substantial body of research finds that “felt security” relieves intergroup hostility, yielding a posture of empathy, care, and openness to out-groups,27O. Gillath, et al, “Attachment, caregiving, and volunteering: Placing volunteerism in an attachment theoretical framework,” Personal Relationships 12, no. 4 (2005): 425-446; M. Mikulincer, et al, “Attachment theory and reactions to others’ needs: Evidence that activation of the sense of attachment security promotes empathic responses,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81, no. 1 (2001): 1205-24; M. Mikulincer, et al, “Attachment theory and concern for others’ welfare: evidence that activation of the sense of secure base promotes endorsement of self-transcendence values,” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 25, no. 4 (2003): 299-312; M. Mikulincer, et al, “Attachment, caregiving, and altruism: Boosting attachment security increases compassion and helping,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 89, no. 5 (2005): 817-839. while “felt threat” increases intergroup hostility and conflict.28For example: M. B. Brewer, “The importance of being we: Human nature and intergroup relations,” American Psychologist 62, no. 8 (2007): 728-738; M. B. Brewer, et al, “An evolutionary perspective on social identity: Revisiting groups,” in Evolution and social psychology, eds. M. Schaller, et al, (Madison, CT: Psychology Press, 2006), 143-161; L. Huddy, “From group identity to political cohesion and commitment,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, eds. L. Huddy, et al, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 737-773; D. R. Kinder, “Prejudice and politics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, eds. L. Huddy, et al, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 812-851. See also: L. S. Richman, et al, “Reactions to discrimination, stigmatization, ostracism, and other forms of interpersonal rejection: A multimotive model,” Psychological Review 116, no. 2 (2009): 365-383; J. M. Twenge, et al, “Social exclusion decreases prosocial behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92, no. 1 (2007): 56-66; W.A.Warburton, et al, “When ostracism leads to aggression: The moderating effects of control deprivation,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 42, no. 2 (2006): 213-220. Thus, a sense of security is conducive to more caring and empathic relations with those who hold different bounded identities.

A second thread of evidence powerfully complements the first by suggesting that identifying with the humanity of others is associated with markedly higher levels of felt security. For example, in her analysis of in-depth interviews with Nazi supporters, bystanders, and rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, the political psychologist Kristen Monroe found that those who conceived of themselves first and foremost as part of all humankind29K. R. Monroe, Heart of altruism: Perception of a common humanity, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). K. R. Monroe, The hand of compassion: portraits of moral choice during the holocaust, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). experienced distinctively higher levels of felt security.30K. R. Monroe, Ethics in an age of terror and genocide: Identity and moral choice, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). In this study, the rescuers manifested heightened levels of ontological security, while Nazi supporters fell on the other end of the felt security spectrum. It is notable that those who identified with the whole of humankind did so in a deep and profoundly felt way. They shared, in other words, a decidedly thick universal identity. Monroe’s extensive study thus also provides evidence of the empirical possibility of an affectively rich and deeply internalized universal identity. Studies employing different methods offer consistent results. Brain imaging in neuropsychology, for example, reveals that the amygdala—a part of the brain that plays a central role in the experience of fear and aggression—becomes highly active when the average subject is shown faces from different races. But when subjects are first primed to think of people as individual human beings rather than as members of groups, the amygdala does not react.31For example: M.E. Wheeler, S. T. Fiske, et al, “Controlling racial prejudice: social-cognitive goals affect amygdala and stereotype activation,” Psychol Sci. 16, no. 1 (2005): 56-63.

These two threads of empirical research thus suggest that identifying with the oneness of humankind is associated with a greater sense of security, and that a sense of security relieves intergroup hostility and yields a posture of empathy, care, altruism, and openness toward out-groups.

Taken together, these empirical findings begin to substantiate the implications drawn logically from the inclusiveness and non-contingency of a universal source of belonging. An identity based on the essential oneness of humankind detaches bounded identities from the threat of rejection, humiliation, and domination that has forever shadowed them, and from notions of superiority and inferiority that have stubbornly fueled these threats. In other words, by transforming the overarching frame in which difference is situated and perceived—by resituating our particular identities within parameters of inclusion that are thoroughly safe, immovable, and all-inclusive—a universal identity has the potential to fundamentally relieve the seemingly inherent instabilities of our particular attachments, and to resolve the chronic tension or duality that we observed at the outset. An all-encompassing identity can thus deliver the context of genuine and enduring security that has long eluded our bounded social identities.32To be clear, nothing in this argument should be taken to suggest that bounded cultures and identities must remain static or unchanging. To the contrary, a context of deep, all-pervasive security allows our particular cultures and identities to freely change and evolve without causing the feelings of insecurity and threat that often accompany such change. See also footnotes 14 and 48.

 

Beyond Security: Liberating the Particular

The preceding section developed the case that an identity authentically rooted in the oneness of humankind provides a context of fundamental security, stabilizing the tensions that have long shadowed our bounded identities. The implications of a genuinely universal collective identity, however, go beyond just relieving particular identities of their destructive and destabilizing potential. What a context of deep, all-pervasive security delivers is not merely a stable equilibrium of peaceful coexistence, but rather, optimal conditions for the vibrancy and flourishing of particular identities, and of human diversity more broadly.

The idea here might be put this way: when the cost and encumbrance of insecurity and its associated protective measures are removed, on the one hand, and when an open and empathic posture toward difference becomes pervasive, on the other, then uninhibited, constructive, and creative expressions of the particular from all sides become much more probable and robust. In a context of fundamental security, goals of survival and collective self-protection can give way to more generative and constructive goals. In other words, through the felt security and certainty of belonging that an identity rooted in human oneness provides, other identities find not only protection—from their own instability and from the threat of other groups—but also liberation or release from the constraining weight that a context of latent threat has imposed on the expression of their potential. Thus, the deeply internalized consciousness of the oneness of humanity frees our bounded identities both from the threats of instability, hostility, and oppression that have stubbornly shadowed them, and from the countless safeguards and constraints that have been devised to keep these instabilities in check. Far from stifling the diversity of humankind, a reimagined universal human identity can furnish a powerful lubricant for the free expression of diversity on newly constituted terms.

Notably, the relationship between freedom and the recognition of human oneness is emphasized and elaborated in various ways throughout the Bahá’í writings. In one passage, for example, Bahá’u’lláh writes, “If the learned and worldly-wise men of this age were to allow mankind to inhale the fragrance of fellowship and love, every understanding heart would apprehend the meaning of true liberty.…”33Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, 162. In another tablet, Bahá’u’lláh explains more explicitly that “true liberty” will be achieved when identification with and love for the whole of humankind is realized in people’s consciousness.34Bahá’u’lláh, Amr va Khalq Volume 3, 472. Translations from the Persian are by the author and provisional. See also: Nader Saiedi, Logos and Civilization: Spirit, History, and Order in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (Lanham, MD: University Press of Maryland, 2000), 327-328. It is noteworthy that, in that passage, Bahá’u’lláh also characterizes the achievement of such an identity as “the ornament of utmost tranquility,” further associating universal human identity with a sense of fundamental security and freedom.

What comes into focus, then, is a radical and somewhat counterintuitive vision of human oneness that directly addresses the tension between the universal and the particular. The Baha’i writings suggest that it is by liberating the particular through the universal—by releasing, in other words, the particular from the insecurities, instabilities, and oppressive relationships that have constrained it—that a fundamental and enduring resolution emerges.35For a discussion of how this resolution compares to those that have been devised by some contemporary political theorists, see Shahrzad Sabet, “Social Identity and a Reimagined Cosmopolitanism” (paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, 17 April 2021). Paradoxically, it is by leaning fully into a genuine and emotionally rich universalism that the particular thrives, flourishes, and fulfills its potential. Thus, and as the opening passage from the Universal House of Justice indicates, it is through the deeply felt recognition of our fundamental oneness that the infinite expressions of human diversity thrive and find their highest fulfillment.36Pursuing the logic of this argument further also illuminates the reciprocal and mutually dependent relationship between unity and diversity, and the assertion of the Universal House of Justice that “Unity, in its Bahá’í expression, contains the essential concept of diversity, distinguish ing it from uniformity.” Put briefly, a context of oneness not only facilitates the expression of the particular and the fulfilment of its distinctive potential, but the liberated expression of the particular, in turn, ensures that the emergent form of oneness is not uniformity, but rather, unity—that is, the close integration of diverse components which have transcended the narrow purpose of ensuring their own existence and found their highest fulfillment in relation to the whole.

 

Critiques of Universalism and the Distinctiveness of the Bahá’í View

The notions of identity and human oneness reflected in preceding sections present a significant departure from the way these concepts are frequently understood in contemporary thought and discourse, particularly in the contemporary discourses of the West. One of the most powerful and pervasive critiques of universalism—and of a collective identity rooted in the oneness of humankind, in particular—is that it poses a threat to diversity. Skeptics worry that, along a variety of dimensions (e.g., identity, language, culture, geography, institutions, etc.), the ideal of human oneness carries an inherent risk of uniformity. This homogeneity, they further worry, tends to project dominant cultures and identities, and is often propagated through (neo-)imperialistic processes.37O. Dahbour, Self-Determination without nationalism: A theory of postnational sovereignty, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012); A. Kolers, Land, conflict, and justice: A political theory of territory, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Farah Godrej, Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Method, Practice, Discipline, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). The Bahá’í writings, as we have seen, envision a radically different possibility. The concept of oneness that emerges from these writings is not uniformity, but rather, a notion of unity that “contains the essential concept of diversity.” This conception of oneness is also strikingly embodied in the practice of the Bahá’í community. Across the globe, the Bahá’í principle of the oneness of humankind is actively expressed in worldwide community-building efforts that are explicitly “outward looking”38Universal House of Justice, letter to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 30 December 2021.: they are, by definition, open to the full diversity of human beings, including those with other or no religious beliefs.

Another prominent critique of universalism reflects the notion that ideas rooted in our common humanity are overly abstract and disconnected from the concrete texture of everyday experience. While universalist visions might be relevant to questions of directly global or transnational concern (e.g., global governance, “global” poverty, etc.), their relevance to the relationships, neighborhoods, and communities to which people immediately belong is unclear or remote. This is especially true, the argument goes, where collective identity is concerned. In contrast to the intimacy and warmth offered by our traditional group identities, a universal human identity entails a rational commitment to the cold and distant abstraction of human oneness. From this perspective, an identity rooted in the oneness of humankind is too far removed from the texture of everyday life and experience to deliver the color, warmth, meaning, and locality that our other identities provide. A variation on this critique is the now-popularized charge of elitism: if a global, universal, or “cosmopolitan” identity works for anyone, we are told (and can vividly imagine), it works for a small, out-of-touch tribe of frequent-flying elites.39C. Calhoun, “‘Belonging’ in the cosmopolitan imaginary,” Ethnicities 3, no. 4 (2003): 531-568; M. Lerner, “Empires of reason,” Boston Review 19, no. 5 (1994); Nussbaum, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism.”

The Bahá’í vision of oneness and identity also diverges markedly from this view. As the preceding sections have tried to show an identity genuinely rooted in the oneness of humankind transforms the overarching context in which all identities are expressed, reorienting identities and relationships at all levels of society. From the Bahá’í perspective, then, the domain of universalism does not lie exclusively beyond borders, nor is it some distant transnational space inaccessible to the masses. Its domain, rather, is everywhere: it is concrete, immediate, and ubiquitous, encompassing all the textured communities and identities human beings value, whether they hold international passports or not. In this view, the oneness of humankind finds expression as much in the particular, and as much within the bounds of local and national communities, as it does beyond them. Again, this conception of oneness is not only reflected in the writings of the Faith, but also, strikingly, in the practice and experience of the worldwide Bahá’í community across countless cultural settings. In the Bahá’í experience, a universal identity is both directly nourished by and expressed in a range of grassroots community-building efforts that are decidedly local in nature.40For an exploration of Bahá’í community-building efforts, please see the article “Community and Collective Action,” available in the Library.

A directly related and overlapping feature of the Bahá’í conception of human oneness—and of an identity rooted in the oneness of humanity, in particular—is the radical, thoroughgoing, and unprecedented nature of the transformation it entails. Unlike some notable conceptions of universalism, the Bahá’í principle of the oneness of humankind does not simply call for the “universalization” of existing identities, norms, and institutions.41The notable conceptions of universalism referred to here are primarily those that emerge from the school of thought known as “cosmopolitanism” in contemporary Western political theory. For a thorough comparison of contemporary cosmopolitan theory to a view derived from the Bahá’í writings , see Shahrzad Sabet, “Social Identity and a Reimagined Cosmopolitanism” (paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, 17 April 2021). For examples of contemporary Western cosmopolitan thought, see: C. R. Beitz, Political theory and international relations, second edition, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); T. W. Pogge, Realizing Rawls, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); D. Archibugi, The global commonwealth of citizens: Toward cosmopolitan democracy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); D. Held, Democracy and the global order: From the modern state to cosmopolitan governance, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995). It does not, for instance, entail the extension of existing national systems of governance and democracy to the entire globe; nor does it simply call for the expansion of existing schemes of domestic redistribution, or the replication of national collective identities in the global plane. Rather, the Bahá’í conception of the oneness of humanity represents a qualitatively distinct and transformative shift that permeates every level of society, fundamentally reorienting all identities and relationships, and transforming all structures of society. As the Universal House of Justice writes, “the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society.”42Universal House of Justice, letter to the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013. Similarly, this principle “has widespread implications which affect and remold all dimensions of human activity.”43Universal House of Justice, letter to an individual, 24 January 1994.

In other words, far from merely reflecting a linear and incremental expansion of scope from the national to global sphere, the deeply felt recognition of humanity’s oneness represents a fundamentally different and qualitatively unprecedented step in the evolution of humankind. In reference to the revolutionary changes that led to the unification of nations, for example, Shoghi Effendi writes, “Great and far-reaching as have been those changes in the past, they cannot appear, when viewed in their proper perspective, except as subsidiary adjustments preluding that transformation of unparalleled majesty … which humanity is in this age bound to undergo.”44Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, 45. Elsewhere, he explains that the principle of the oneness of humankind implies “a change such that the world has not yet experienced,” “a new gospel, fundamentally different from … what the world has already conceived.”45Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, 42-43.

 

The Risk of False Universalisms

Of course, any proponent of the oneness of humankind must heed a critical warning: humanity shares a long and continuing history of oppressive ideas about the “human.”46For example, see: Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (New York: New York University Press, 2020); Walter D. Mignolo, “Who Speaks for the ‘Human’ in Human Rights?” Hispanic Issues On Line, Fall (2009): 7-24; Rinaldo Walcott, “Problem of The Human, or the Void of Relationality,” The Long Emancipation: Moving toward Black Freedom, (New York: Duke University Press, 2021), 55-58. Indeed, theorists of various kinds legitimately worry that casting our humanity in essentialist terms (i.e., taking for granted that our humanness is constituted by certain universal features, as the premise of non-contingency suggests) risks elevating a particular conception of the human over others, potentially marginalizing non-dominant experiences and opening the door to false, oppressive, and exclusionary ideas.

Adequately addressing these important concerns lies beyond the limited frame of this article. Here, I acknowledge the significance of these concerns and briefly highlight two points that might be developed in relation to them. First, recognizing that a non-contingent basis for a universal human identity exists—a recognition, it should be noted, that countless human beings readily and intuitively evince—does not require an immediate commitment to any particular, fixed, or rigid conception of our shared humanity. Of course, on a biological level, the truth that human beings constitute a single species is a basic fact that few people today deny, and which can serve as a starting point for the recognition of our shared humanity. But to arrive at a fuller and deeper common understanding of human oneness—one that can sustain a richly-conceived collective identity—a process of genuinely open, inclusive, and dynamic inquiry is required. By explicitly positing that the content or definition of a universal human identity must (minimally) include the recognition of its basis as non-exclusionary and non-contingent, we guard against false accounts of the human that violate these parameters—accounts, in other words, that exclude some human beings, or that render their humanity contingent and therefore questionable.47The validity of this point depends on the third premise described in footnote 23, namely, that human beings are able to readily recognize the humanness of another without a widely articulated consensus on the content of our humanity. Or put differently, there is, or could be, a reasonably widespread intuitive consensus about who falls within the community of human beings. This particular formulation of a collective human identity thus creates a safe and stable set of parameters within which genuine dialogue and inquiry into the content and expression of the human can take place.48It also creates a set of parameters within which particular identities and their various aspects can be examined. Not all identities—and certainly not every aspect of every identity—should be protected and empowered. The criteria of non-exclusion and non-contingency helps identify identities (or aspects of them) that cannot be reconciled with the principle of human oneness, and that must therefore be abandoned or recast.

A related point is suggested in the Bahá’í writings. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá proclaims, “[T]ruth or reality must be investigated; for reality is one, and by investigating it, all will find love and unity.”49Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 123. In another talk, He explains:

“The first teaching [of Bahá’u’lláh] is that man should investigate reality, for reality is contrary to dogmatic interpretations and imitations of ancestral forms of belief to which all nations and peoples adhere so tenaciously … Reality is one; and when found, it will unify all mankind … Reality is the oneness or solidarity of mankind … The second teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the principle of the oneness of the world of humanity.”50Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 372.

Clearly, these passages assert the truth of the principle of the oneness of humankind. But by closely pairing that principle with the precept that human beings should actively investigate reality, the truth of human oneness is also rendered a testable hypothesis. Indeed, both the reality of human oneness, and ideas about the various forms and expressions it might take, are investigable propositions. The posture of free and independent investigation enjoined by the Bahá’í writings—that is, the principle that truth must be investigated free from the force of prevailing traditions, habits, and prejudices—both demands a critical interrogation of the (often oppressive) claims, structures, and relationships that bear the false imprint of universalism, and directly negates any assumption that universalism requires the imposition of a particular viewpoint or way of thought. In the Bahá’í view, a genuine recognition of the oneness of humankind can not only survive the free, open, and critical investigation of reality, but in fact, requires it. With the potential pitfalls of essentialism firmly in mind, but recognizing the transformative power that a genuine universalism could hold, the reality of human oneness might be regarded as a hypothesis that deserves the open, rigorous, and investigative posture that the Bahá’í teachings invite.51Relatedly, yet another critique of universalism claims that it threatens the diversity of thought that emerges from free and independent thinking. This critique might go as follows: the creation of national identities required, at best, a moderate manipulation of thought (through the invention and promotion of national mythologies, for example), and at worst, extreme suppressions of free and critical thinking (as in the case of totalitarian forms of nationalism). How much more of this manipulation and suppression would be needed, this critique asks, to bind the whole of humanity, with all its differences, in a collective identity? When we begin, however, from the premise that, unlike nationality, a universal identity need not be socially constructed, a different light is shed on the objection that the consciousness of human oneness depends on the curtailment of free and independent investigation. If one accepts, even as a hypothesis, that human oneness has a non-contingent basis, it follows that a genuinely free and critical investigation of reality—a commitment to truth and truth-seeking—could strengthen the possibility of a deeply internalized universal human identity, not undermine it. See also Nader Saiedi, “The Birth of the Human Being: Beyond Religious Traditionalism and Materialist Modernity,” The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 21, no. 1-4 (2011), 1-28.

 

A Spiritual Conception of Human Oneness and the Ongoing Learning of the Bahá’í Community

Drawing insights from the Bahá’í writings, and engaging prominent strands of contemporary thought and discourse, this article has developed the case that the solution to our collective crisis of identity lies in the genuine and deeply felt recognition of the oneness of humankind. But as the preceding section suggests, important questions remain: What might constitute the content—that is, the non-contingent basis—of a universal human collective identity? Can such an identity take shape and find expression across the vast spectrum of human diversity? And if so, how?

In this connection, the experience of the Bahá’í community and its grassroots community-building efforts present a potentially fruitful case for study. Bahá’í communities, the Universal House of Justice explains, define themselves “above all … by their commitment to the oneness of humanity.”52Universal House of Justice, letter to all who have come to honour the Herald of a new DawnOctober 2019. Significantly, for the Bahá’í community, this recognition of human oneness is a fundamental and defining feature of identity. It is a meaningful and deeply internalized commitment, entailing thick, emotionally rich bonds of genuine solidarity and love.53For a further discussion of why thick bonds of human identity might be highly hospitable to diversity, see Shahrzad Sabet, “Toward a New Universalism,” The Hedgehog Review Online, December 2020. Bahá’ís consciously strive to manifest a love that extends “without restriction to every human being”54Universal House of Justice, letter to the Bahá’ís of the United States, 22 July 2020. and to achieve “a sense of identity as members of a single human race, an identity that shapes the purpose of their lives …”55One Common Faith (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2005), 44.

As alluded to earlier, the radical vision of human oneness that motivates this identity also shapes the practice and experience of the Bahá’í community in important and potentially illuminating ways. First, the Bahá’í expression of unity contains the essential concept of diversity. Second and relatedly, the Bahá’í concept of oneness finds powerful expression in the local and the particular: it assumes a deep confluence between a universal human identity, on the one hand, and a deeply felt sense of local community and belonging, on the other. As such, the Bahá’í principle of the oneness of humankind is actively and systematically expressed in local community-building processes open to the full spectrum of human diversity56In a letter dated 1 November 2022, the Universal House of Justice urges Bahá’ís to demonstrate “that vital Bahá’í attitude of being truly outward looking, sincerely open to all, and resolutely inclusive.” and extending to every corner of the planet. Around the globe, Bahá’ís—and all who wish to join them—are consciously learning how an identity rooted in the oneness of humankind can be cultivated and expressed across a range of breathtakingly diverse communities, identities, and experiences. In light of the two core concerns raised by critics of universalism—namely, that the ideal of human oneness stifles diversity and is detached from the texture and locality of everyday life—the evolving experience of the Bahá’í community presents fertile ground for learning. Additionally, the experience of the Bahá’í community addresses the further critique that universalist projects, in particular those pertaining to social identity, are utopian and unrealizable. The breadth, depth, and wide-reaching resonance of Bahá’í endeavors should at least prompt a reconsideration of this frequently assumed limit of collective human possibility.

Another essential characteristic of the Bahá’í principle of human oneness relates more directly to the basis of a universal human identity and the question of its non-contingency. From the Bahá’í perspective, what renders a universal collective identity truly stabilizing and non-contingent—in other words, what makes it uniquely invulnerable to the tensions, instabilities, and contradictions that characterize other sources of identity—is a spiritual understanding of the human oneness on which it is based. According to the Bahá’í writings, the fundamentally spiritual reality of human beings—the human soul—is not characterized by the contingent traits that define other, bounded social identities. As the Universal House of Justice explains, “An individual’s true self is to be found in the powers of the soul, which has the capacity to know God and to reflect His attributes. The soul has no gender, no ethnicity, no race. God sees no differences among human beings except in relation to the conscious effort of each individual to purify his or her soul and to express its full powers … This truth is directly related to another—that humanity is one family.”57Universal House of Justice, letter to the Followers of Bahá’u’lláh in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1 November 2022. Also illuminating in this connection is the equation of the spiritual and with true freedom in the Bahá’í writings. Even as the spiritual is equated with the universal, the realization of true liberty is equated both with the spiritual (i.e., freedom from the material world of nature) and with genuine universalism, further reinforcing this article’s earlier discussion of liberty. On this and related points, see Saiedi, “The Birth of the Human Being.”

Recall the core argument that, in contrast to all other forms of love and association, the non-exclusionary and non-contingent basis of an identity rooted in human oneness yields a collective identity that is uniquely stable and stabilizing. In more than one passage, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá affirms this idea directly, and explicitly ties the non-contingency of universal love and identity to a spiritual source. For example:

“… fraternity, love and kindness based upon family, nativity, race or an attitude of altruism are neither sufficient nor permanent since all of them are limited, restricted and liable to change and disruption. For in the family there is discord and alienation; among sons of the same fatherland strife and internecine warfare are witnessed; between those of a given race, hostility and hatred are frequent; and even among the altruists varying aspects of opinion and lack of unselfish devotion give little promise of permanent and indestructible unity among mankind … the foundation of real brotherhood, the cause of loving co-operation and reciprocity and the source of real kindness and unselfish devotion is none other than the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Without this influence and animus it is impossible. We may be able to realize some degrees of fraternity through other motives but these are limited associations and subject to change. When human brotherhood is founded upon the Holy Spirit, it is eternal, changeless, unlimited.”58Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 385-386.

Elsewhere, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá characterizes love for the whole of humanity as the one expression of love that is uniquely “perfect” (i.e., free from limits and instabilities) and again, ties this characteristic to the spiritual and the divine. He explains:

Love is limitless, boundless, infinite! Material things are limited, circumscribed, finite. You cannot adequately express infinite love by limited means.

The perfect love needs an unselfish instrument, absolutely freed from fetters of every kind. The love of family is limited; the tie of blood relationship is not the strongest bond. Frequently members of the same family disagree, and even hate each other.

Patriotic love is finite; the love of one’s country causing hatred of all others, is not perfect love!

Compatriots also are not free from quarrels amongst themselves.

The love of race is limited; there is some union here, but that is insufficient. Love must be free from boundaries!

To love our own race may mean hatred of all others, and even people of the same race often dislike each other.

Political love also is much bound up with hatred of one party for another; this love is very limited and uncertain.

The love of community of interest in service is likewise fluctuating; frequently competitions arise, which lead to jealousy, and at length hatred replaces love…

All these ties of love are imperfect. It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love. The great unselfish love for humanity is bounded by none of these imperfect, semi-selfish bonds; this is the one perfect love, possible to all mankind, and can only be achieved by the power of the Divine Spirit. No worldly power can accomplish the universal love.59Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, 36-37.

Spiritual forces and commitments are not only conducive to selfless association and universal love; for many human beings, they are also prime sources of meaning, purpose, and purposeful action. Casting a spiritual light on identity thus reveals a potent connection between the crisis of identity with which this article is concerned, and another pressing crisis confronting humanity, namely, our collective crisis of agency and meaning. Indeed, even as we collectively struggle to find a secure sense of identity and belonging, the yearning for a sense of meaningful agency—that is, the yearning to meaningfully shape our lives, to give purposeful expression to our potential, and to contribute constructively to the communities we inhabit—is also widely frustrated. The experience of the Bahá’í community and the conception of identity on which it is based suggest that the solution to these two crises ultimately converge. A spiritual conception of identity not only attaches an absolute sense of belonging to the condition of being human; it also provides a powerful source of purpose and agency, and a basis for meaningful, transformative action. In the Bahá’í experience, these two expressions of identity—being and doing—are deeply intertwined and often indistinguishable.

The aim of this brief section has not been to demonstrate or adequately develop these ideas. Rather, it has been to highlight how the efforts of the Bahá’í community across vastly different cultural settings might provide illuminating insights into the power and possibility of a universal collective identity and, in particular, into the potential of an explicitly spiritual conception of human oneness.

 

* * *

 

“Humanity,” the Universal House of Justice observes, “is gripped by a crisis of identity…” The Bahá’í writings proclaim that the solution to this crisis lies in a radically reconceptualized vision of human identity and oneness. Specifically, they suggest that a collective identity authentically rooted in the oneness of humankind is uniquely equipped to resolve both the tensions that have destabilized our traditional group identities, and the widely assumed tension between humanity’s oneness and its diversity. Drawing on the Bahá’í writings, and engaging prominent strands of contemporary thought and discourse, this article has developed the case that only a universal human identity can ensure the fundamental security and flourishing of our particular identities, communities, and affiliations. In this view, an identity genuinely rooted in the oneness of humankind represents a qualitatively distinct and transformative shift that permeates all levels of society, that reorients all identities and relationships, and that fundamentally protects and liberates our bounded affiliations from their otherwise inherent instabilities and contradictions. Above all, this article has tried to show that as humanity’s crisis of identity persists and intensifies, the Bahá’í vision of human oneness, and its evolving expression in the community-building efforts of the worldwide Bahá’í community, are worthy of close attention.

By Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is Professor Emeritus of History at Michigan State University. He is author and coauthor of several books on race relations, the African American experience, and the Baha’i Faith.

Once again, as the United States finds itself embroiled in racial conflicts and decades-old struggles for racial justice and racial unity, the Bahá’í community of the United States stands ready to contribute its share to the healing of the nation’s racial wounds. Neither the current racial crisis nor the current awakening is unique.  Sadly, the United States has been here before.1National Advisory Committee Report on Civil Disorders (New York: Bantam Books, 1968). The American people have learned many lessons but have also forgotten other lessons about how best to solve the underlying problems facing their racially polarized society. For decades the country has seen countless efforts by brave and courageous individuals and dedicated organizations and institutions to hold back the relentless tide of racism. Many of these efforts have achieved great outcomes, but the tide has repeatedly rushed back in to test the resolve of every generation after the fall of Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and the historic election of the first African American president.2John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 227-38; Eoin Higgins, “The White Backlash to the Civil Rights Movement” (May 22, 2014), available at https://eoinhiggins.com/the-white-backlash-to-the-civil-rights-movement-1817ff0a9fc; David Elliot Cohen and Mark Greenberg, Obama: The Historic Front Pages (New York/London:Sterling, 2009); Adam Shatz, “How the Obama’s Presidency Provoked a White Backlash,” Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2016. Available at http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-shatz-kerry-james-marshall-obama-20161030-story.html

During some of America’s worst racial crises, the Bahá’í community has joined the gallant struggle not only to hold back the tide of racism but also to build a multiracial community based on the recognition of the organic unity of the human race.  Inspired by this spiritual and moral principle, the Bahá’í community, though relatively small in number and resources, has, for well over a century, sought ways to contribute to the nation’s efforts to achieve racial justice and racial unity.  This has been a work in progress, humbly shared with others. It is an ongoing endeavor, one the Bahá’í community recognizes as “a long and thorny path beset with pitfalls.”3Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, Available at www.bahai.org/r/720204804

As the Bahá’í community learns how best to build and sustain a multiracial community committed to racial justice and racial unity, it aspires to contribute to the broader struggle in society and to learn from the insights being generated by thoughtful individuals and groups working for a more just and united society.

This article provides a historical perspective on the Bahá’í community’s contribution to racial unity in the United States between 1912 and 1996. The period of 1996 to the present—a “turning point” that the Universal House of Justice characterized as setting “the Bahá’í world on a new course”4Universal House of Justice, from a letter dated 10 April 2011 in Extracts from Letters Written on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Individual Believers in the United States on the Topic of Achieving Racial Unity (Updated Compilation 1996-2020), [7],5. Available at https://greenlakebahaischool.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/compilation-uhj-on-race-unity-1996-2020.pdf One aim of this extraordinary period from 1996 to the present has been to empower distinct populations and, indeed, the masses of humanity to take ownership of their own spiritual, intellectual, and social development. A future article will look at the impact of this latter period on the approach to the racial crisis in the United States. Recent articles on community building and approaches to building racial unity in smaller geographic spaces provide valuable insights about developments during this period. and increasing its capacity to contribute to social progress—is still underway.  During the past twenty-five years, the Bahá’í community’s capacity to contribute to humanity’s efforts to overcome deep-rooted social and spiritual ills has advanced significantly, and a subsequent article will focus on the implications of this distinctive period on the community’s ability to foster racial justice and unity.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Visit: Laying the Foundation for Racial Unity, 1912-1921

The Bahá’í community’s first major contribution to racial unity began in 1912 when ‘Abdul’-Bahá, the son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), visited the United States. His historic visit occurred during one of the worst periods of racial terrorism in the United States against African Americans. According to historians John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, “In the first year of the new century more than 100 Negroes were lynched and before the outbreak of World War 1 the number for the century was 1,100.” 5Franklin and Moss, 282. In 1906, riots broke out in Atlanta, Georgia, where “whites began to attack every Negro they saw.”6Franklin and Moss, 283. That same year, race riots also occurred in Brownsville, Texas.7Franklin and Moss. Two years later, in 1908, there were race riots in Springfield, Illinois.8Franklin and Moss, 285. And in 1910, nation-wide race riots erupted in the wake of the heavyweight championship fight between Jack Johnson (Black) and Jim Jeffries (White) in Reno, Nevada, in July of that year.9Matt Reimann, “When a black fighter won ‘the fight of the century,’ race riots erupted across America.” May 25, 2017. Available at https://timeline.com/when-a-black-fighter-won-the-fight-of-the-century-race-riots-erupted-across-america-3730b8bf9c98

Racial turmoil prevailed before and after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit. Yet, in this raging period of racial terrorism and conflict, He proclaimed a spiritual message of racial unity and love, and infused this message into the heart and soul of the fledgling Bahá’í community—a community still struggling to discover its role in promoting racial amity.  Before His visit to the United States, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent a message to the 1911 Universal Race Conference in London in which He compared humankind to a flower garden adorned with different colors and shapes that “enhance the loveliness of each other.”10G. Spiller, ed., Papers on Inter-Racial Problems Communicated to the First Universal Races Congress Held at the University of London, July 26-29, 1911. Rev. ed. (Citadel Press, 1970), 208.

The next year, in April, 1912, He gave a talk at Howard University, the premier African-American university in Washington D.C.  A companion who kept diaries of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Western tours and lectures wrote that whenever ‘Abdu’l-Bahá witnessed racial diversity, He was compelled to call attention to it. For example, His companion reported that, during His talk at Howard University, “here, as elsewhere, when both white and colored people were present, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed happiest.” Looking over the racially mixed audience, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had remarked: “Today I am most happy, for I see a gathering of the servants of God. I see white and black sitting together.”11‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/098175321

After two talks the next day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was visibly tired as He prepared for the third talk. He was not planning to talk long; but, here again, when he saw Blacks and Whites in the audience, He became inspired. “A meeting such as this seems like a beautiful cluster of precious jewels—pearls, rubies, diamonds, sapphires. It is a source of joy and delight. Whatever is conducive to the unity of the world of mankind is most acceptable and praiseworthy.”12‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/322003373 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá then went on to elaborate on the theme of racial unity to an audience of Blacks and Whites who had rarely, if ever, heard such high praise for an interracial gathering. He said to those gathered that “in the world of humanity it is wise and seemly that all the individual members should manifest unity and affinity.”13‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/635635504

In the midst of a period saturated with toxic racist and anti-Black language, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered positive racial images woven into a new language of racial unity and fellowship. He painted a picture for his interracial audience: “As I stand here tonight and look upon this assembly, I am reminded curiously of a beautiful bouquet of violets gathered together in varying colors, dark and light.”14‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/947904389 To still another racially mixed audience, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá commented: “In the clustered jewels of the races may the blacks be as sapphires and rubies and the whites as diamonds and pearls. The composite beauty of humanity will be witness in their unity and blending.”15‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Available at www.bahai.org/r/635635504

Through His words and actions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demonstrated the Bahá’í teachings on racial unity. Several examples stand out. Two Bahá’ís, Ali-Kuli Khan, the Persian charge d’affaires, and Florence Breed Khan, his wife, arranged a luncheon in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s honor in Washington D.C.  The guests were members of Washington’s social and political elite. Before the luncheon, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent for Louis Gregory, a lawyer and well-known African American Bahá’í. They chatted for a while, and when lunch was ready and the guests were seated, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá invited Gregory to join the luncheon. The assembled guests were no doubt surprised by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s inviting an African American to a White, upper-class social affair, but perhaps even more so by the affection and love ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showed for Gregory when He gave him the seat of honor on His right. A biographer of Louis Gregory pointed out the profound significance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s action: “Gently but yet unmistakably, ‘Abdul-Bahá has assaulted the customs of a city that had been scandalized a decade earlier by President’s Roosevelt’s dinner invitation to Booker T. Washington.”16Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 53.

The promotion of interracial marriage was yet another example of how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demonstrated the Bahá’í teachings on racial unity. Many states outlawed interracial marriage or did not recognize such unions; yet, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá never wavered in his insistence that Black and White Bahá’ís should not only be unified but should also intermarry. Before his visit to the United States, He had first broached the subject in Palestine with several Western Bahá’ís and explored the sexual myths and fears at the core of American racism. His solution was to encourage interracial marriage. Once in the U.S., He demonstrated the lengths to which the American Bahá’í community should go to show its dedication to racial unity when He encouraged the marriage of Louis Gregory and an English Bahá’í, Louisa Mathew. Their marriage was the first Black-White interracial marriage that was personally encouraged by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This demonstration of Bahá’í teachings proved difficult for some Bahá’ís who doubted that such a union could last in a racially segregated society, but the marriage lasted until the end of the couple’s lives, nearly four decades later. Throughout this period, Louis and Louisa became a shining example of racial unity.17Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 63-72, 309-10.

Race Amity Activities: The Bahá’í Community’s Responses to Racial Crises, 1921-1937

Although working endlessly to promote racial unity through inspiring talks and actions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá understood the persistent reality of racism in the U.S. In a letter to a Chicago Bahá’í, He predicted what would happen if racial attitudes did not change: “Enmity will be increased day by day and the final result will be hardship and may end in bloodshed.”18Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 59. Several years later, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá repeated this warning to an African American Bahá’í that “if not checked, ‘the antagonism between the Colored and the White, in America, will give rise to great calamities.’”19Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 59.

Tragically, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s predictions came true. Five years after His visit to the U.S. where He laid the foundation for the American Bahá’í community’s future contributions to racial unity, race riots broke out in 1917 in East St. Louis, Illinois, and other cities. Two years later, in 1919, “the greatest period of interracial strife the nation had ever witnessed”20John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 313. rocked the country. From June to the end of the year, there were approximately twenty-five race riots.21John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 313. With the country still in the throes of racial upheaval, ‘Abdul-Bahá, frail and worn, gathered the strength to rally the American Bahá’í community for what would become one of its signature contributions to racial amity in the U.S. In 1920, He mentioned the tragic state of race relations in the U.S. to a Persian Bahá’í residing in that country: “Now is the time for the Americans to take up this matter and unite both the white and colored races. Otherwise, hasten ye towards destruction! Hasten ye to devastation!”22Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 59.

That same year, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá initiated a plan to address the racial crisis in America. As Louis Gregory wrote in his report on the First Race Amity Convention held in Washington, D.C., May 19 to 21, 1921: “ It was following His return to the Holy Land…after the World War that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set in motion a plan that was to bring the races together, attract the attention of the country, enlist the aid of famous and influential people and have a far-reaching effect upon the destiny of the nation itself.”23Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006),180. Originally published in The Bahá’í World: A Biennial International Record, Vol.7, 1936-1938, compiled by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee). In His message to this first Race Amity Convention, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote: “Say to this convention that never since the beginning of time has one more important been held. This convention stands for the oneness of humanity; it will become the cause of the enlightenment of America. It will, if wisely managed and continued, check the deadly struggle between these races which otherwise will inevitably break out.”24Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006),180. Originally published in The Bahá’í World: A Biennial International Record, Vol.7, 1936-1938, compiled by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee).

This first race amity convention could not have come at a better time. Ten days later, on May 31 and June 1, a race riot, also known as “the Tulsa race massacre,” occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  “It has been characterized as ‘the single worst incident of racial violence in American history’” when “mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses.” 25Wikipedia, “Tulsa Race Massacre”. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_massacre They not only attacked Blacks on the ground but also used private aircrafts to attack them from the air. The attacks resulted in the destruction of the Black business district known as Black Wall Street, “at the time the wealthiest black community in the United States.”26Wikipedia, “Tulsa Race Massacre”. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_massacre

One can only imagine what went through the minds of participants in the interracial gathering at that historic first race amity convention in Washington D.C. as the news of the Tulsa race riot swept the nation. Perhaps their minds raced back to a similar but less destructive race riot that had ravaged their own city during the “red summer”27John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 314 two years earlier. Some were probably thankful that they were part of a budding interracial movement dedicated to racial amity.

Louis Gregory reflected this optimism after the first race amity convention when he reported: “Under the leadership and through the sacrifices of the Bahá’ís of Washington three other amity conventions…were held….Christians, Jews, Bahá’ís, and people of various races mingled in joyous and serviceable array and the reality of religion shone forth.”28Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006),182. Originally published in The Bahá’í World: A Biennial International Record, Vol.7, 1936-1938, compiled by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee). He related that “the Washington friends continued their race amity work in another form by organizing an interracial discussion group which continued for many years and did a very distinctive service, both by its activities and its fame as the incarnation as a bright ray of hope amid scenes where racial antagonism was traditionally rife.”29Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006),182. Originally published in The Bahá’í World: A Biennial International Record, Vol.7, 1936-1938, compiled by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee).

From the year of the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1921 to 1937, the Bahá’í-inspired race amity movement— a lighthouse of racial hope—cast a sometimes small but powerful beam of light through a thick fog of racism.  Notwithstanding setbacks, it made a mighty effort to steady that beam of light.  In city after city across the country, brave and courageous peoples of all races and religions joined the movement.  In December of 1921, Springfield, Massachusetts, followed Washington D.C. Three years later, New York joined the ranks of race amity workers. That same year Philadelphia—”the City of Brotherly Love” — held its first Race Amity Convention and followed it up six years later (1930) with another one. 30Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006),182-185. Originally published in The Bahá’í World: A Biennial International Record, Vol.7, 1936-1938, compiled by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee).

In 1927, a year Louis Gregory called “that memorable year for amity conferences,”31Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 185 a race amity conference was held in Dayton, Ohio.  The Dayton community hosted a second race amity conference in 1929.32Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 186. According to Gregory, “Race amity conferences at Green Acre, the summer colony of the Bahá’ís in Maine, cover[ed] the decade beginning in 1927,”33Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (34. Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 186 a decade which he referred to as “this fruitful period,”34Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 187 when Geneva, New York, Rochester, New York, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Boston all contributed their share to the race amity movement.35Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 192-93 “The friends in Detroit, under the rallying cry, ‘New Views on an Old, Unsolved Human Problem,’ raised the standard of unity in a conference March 14, 1929.”36Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 193 In Atlantic, City, with only one “active Bahá’í worker in the field,” not even the opposition of “the orthodox among the clergy…which unfavorably affected the press”37Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 193-94 could stem the tide of the race amity movement. On April 19, 1931, assisted by the Bahá’ís of Philadelphia, The Society of Friends, and other organizations, close to four hundred people attended a gathering.38Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 194 Five months later, in October, the Pittsburgh Bahá’ís arranged a conference.39Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 195

Bahá’ís and their friends and associates in Denver, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles all joined hands as they expanded the circle of unity beyond Black and White to include Native Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Japanese-Americans.40Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 195-96.  The Bahá’ís also held interracial dinners and banquets. Such banquets “appeared to give to those who shared them a foretaste of Heaven,” 41Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 196. Gregory wrote. One of the last race amity conferences was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in April of 1935, and was considered

one of the most interesting and influential of all. The Bahá’ís…having with one mind and heart decided upon such an undertaking, under the guidance of their Spiritual Assembly—the local Bahá’í governing council—proceeded to work the matter out in the most methodical and scientific way. [In addition] they succeeded in laying under the tribute of service some sixteen others noted for welfare and progress.42Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 197.

The Bahá’í racial amity activities also included three interracial journeys of Black and White Bahá’ís “into the heart of the South.” They were inspired by the wishes of Shoghi Effendi, who became of the Head of the Bahá’í Faith after the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and was designated the title “Guardian.”43Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 198. Interracial teams of two Bahá’í men, Black and White, traveled South in the autumn of 1931, the spring of 1932, and the winter of 1933.  “One of the most interesting discoveries of [the 1931 team’s] trip was to find the same interest at the University of South Carolina, for Whites, as at Allan University and Benedict College, located in the same City of Columbia, for Colored.”44Louis Gregory, “Racial Amity in America: An Historical Review,” in Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis & Richard Thomas, eds, Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North American: 1898-2000 (Wilmette, Ill.: Baháί Publishing, 2006), 199.

The Most Challenging Issue: Preparing the American Bahá’í Community to Become a Model of Racial Unity

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the American Bahá’í community contributed its share to promoting racial unity and to lessening, to some degree, the relentless forces of racism. They brought people together in conferences to discuss delicate racial issues and created intimate spaces, such as banquets and interracial dinners in which to break bread, at a time when sitting down and eating together was the prevailing social taboo.  These were no small accomplishments. These experiences seeded future interracial meetings and friendships. More work had to be done, however, before the Bahá’í community could move to the next stage of its contribution to racial unity in the larger society. It had to prepare itself to become, at the very least, a work in progress of a model of racial unity.

Foremost among the Guardian’s concerns for the United States was racial prejudice and its influence on the American Bahá’í community. In his lengthy letter to the American Bahá’í community, which was published as The Advent of Divine Justice (1939), he characterized racism as “the corrosion of which, for well-nigh a century has bitten into the fiber, and attacked the whole social structure of American society” and said it should be “regarded as constituting the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Bahá’í community at the present stage of its evolution.” He told Bahá’ís of both races that they faced “a long and thorny road beset with pitfalls” that “still remained untraveled.”45Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice. Available at www.bahai.org/r/720204804  Both races were assigned specific responsibilities. White Bahá’ís were to

make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to  persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on a part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds.46Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice. Available at www.bahai.org/r/376777192

Black Bahá’ís were to “show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds.”47Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice. Available at bahai.org/r/376777192 Neither race could place the burden of resolving the racial problem within the Bahá’í community on the other race or to see it as “a matter that exclusively concerns the other.”48Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice. Available at bahai.org/r/376777192

As well, the Guardian cautioned Bahá’ís that they should not think the problem could be easily or immediately resolved. They should not “wait confidently for the solution of this problem until the initiative has been taken, and the favorable circumstances created, by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith.”49Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice. Available at bahai.org/r/376777192 Rather, Shoghi Effendi encouraged Bahá’ís to

believe, and be firmly convinced, that on their mutual understanding, their amity, and sustained cooperation, must depend, more than any other force or organization operating outside the circle of their Faith, the deflection of that dangerous course so greatly feared by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the materialization of the hopes He cherished for their joint contribution to that country’s glorious destiny.50Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice. Available at bahai.org/r/376777192

The American Bahá’í community now had their specific marching orders. During the 1940s, they engaged in a range of efforts designed to eliminate racism and promote unity among its members and continue their decades-old commitment to promote racial unity in the wider society.  In 1940, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’í of the United States set the example during its meeting in Atlanta, Georgia — their first meeting in the Deep South. This was timely because the predominantly White Bahá’í community was “far from enthusiastic about putting racial unity into practice.”51Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 282. Racially integrated meetings were held for both Bahá’is only and for the general public.52Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 283.  “White Bahá’ís were put on notice, even at the risk of their withdrawal from the Faith, that they had to come to terms with the principle of oneness both in their Bahá’í community life and in their approach to the public.”53Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 283. Before long, the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Atlanta Bahá’í community mirrored the interracial makeup of the community.54Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America, (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 283.

A new generation of Bahá’ís had to be educated about race if the community hoped to play a role in the pursuit of racial justice and racial unity.  In a series of articles, a new Race Unity Committee (RUC) began educating the Bahá’í community on “the most challenging issue.” The Bahá’í Children Education Committee (CEC) reviewed and recommended to Bahá’í parents a major book on racial attitudes in children. The RUC also suggested Bahá’í books on race relations emphasizing the link between minority history and culture and the work on racial unity. It urged Bahá’í communities to make race unity a topic of consultation at the Nineteen Day Feasts55Bahá’í News (January, 1940),10-12; Bahá’í News (February, 1940),10; Bahá’í News (October, 1940),9. In Richard W. Thomas, Racial Unity: An Imperative for Social Progress, (Ottawa, Canada: The Association of Bahá’í Studies, 1993), 140-41.—community gatherings held once a month on the Bahá’í calendar.

As tens of thousands of southern Blacks migrated to northern industrial centers during World War II, racial tensions and conflicts exploded. On June 20, 1943, the worst race riot of the war period broke out in Detroit, leaving death and destruction in its wake.56Dominic J. Capeci, Jr. and Martha Wilkerson, “Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters of 1943,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 84, 2 (Jackson, Miss. and London: University Press of Mississippi, 1991). Available at https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.2307/2649046?journalCode=jnh

For decades, the Bahá’ís had been warned that such racial turmoil would continue unless racial justice and racial unity were established. So they continued their work. In the fall of 1944, the Bahá’í News claimed, “The past year has reported the most progress in race unity since the movement began.”57Bahá’í News (September,1944),7. In short, as terrible and destructive as race riots and racial injustice could be, they would not dampen the spirit nor hold back the Bahá’í community’s mission of promoting racial justice and racial unity.

Responding to the dynamic nature of racism, however, has always required of the Bahá’ís agility and an ability to read the signs of the time and respond accordingly. During World War II, anti-Japanese racism had, for instance, become widespread, and thousands of Japanese Americans were interned in concentration camps.58Bill Hosokawa, Nisei, The Quiet Americans, (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1969), 204-48; Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982), 329-405. Conscious of the dangers of rising xenophobic sentiments, Shoghi Effendi, in December 1945, sent a letter through his secretary to the RUC pointing out that “to abolish prejudice against any and every race and minority group, it is obviously proper to include in particular any group that is receiving especially bad treatment—such as the Japanese-Americans are being subjected to.”59Bahá’í News (October, 1946), 4.

A Steady Flow of Guidance on Race Unity: The 1950s and the Turbulent 1960s

In 1953, at the historic All-American Conference celebrating the centenary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation, the dedication of the completed Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette, Illinois, and the start of a ten-year plan for the worldwide Bahá’í community to advance its growth and development, Dorothy Baker, a White Bahá’í and veteran race unity worker, had just returned from the Holy Land with a message from the Guardian. The Guardian, she reported, had said

one driving thing over and over—that if we did not meet the challenging requirements of raising to a vast number the believers of the Negro race, disasters would result. And…that it was now for us to arise and reach the Indians of this country. In fact, he went so far as to say on two occasions that this dual task is the most important teaching work on American shores today.60Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America,  (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 292

Over the years, the predominantly White Bahá’í community had accomplished a great deal in promoting race unity conferences, interracial dinners, and other interracial activities, but times were changing. The state of race relations in the Bahá’í community and the wider society required much more radical action.  Shoghi Effendi’s instructions to bring in “vast numbers” of African-Americans presented a challenge to many White Bahá’ís.  Others probably felt they were already doing enough participating in periodic race unity programs. This level of Bahá’í activity would not, however, raise “to a vast number the believers of the Negro race.”  Shoghi Effendi instructed the Bahá’ís to establish two committees: one to teach African Americans and another to teach Native Americans. He wanted the Bahá’ís “to reach the Negro minority with this great truth in vast numbers. Not just publicity stunts…”61Gayle Morrison, To Move the World: Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Amity in America,  (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), 293

Bahá’ís continued to promote racial unity. In 1957, the National Assembly, with the approval of the Guardian, instituted Race Amity Day, to be “observed on the second Sunday of June beginning June 9, 1957.”62Bahá’í News (May, 1957), 1. It was established as an exclusively Bahá’í-sponsored event different from Brotherhood Week and Negro History Week, events sponsored by other organizations in which Bahá’ís had participated. The purpose of Race Amity Day was to “celebrate the Bahá’í teachings of the Oneness of Mankind, the distinguishing feature of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh.”63Bahá’í News (May, 1957), 1.

That same year, the Bahá’í Interracial Teaching Committee started holding a race amity meeting in conjunction with the annual observance of Negro History Week. Eighty-three Bahá’í communities in thirty-three states conducted some form of public meeting addressing the concerns of the African-American community.  The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History distributed Bahá’í literature to its exclusive mailing list of distinguished African Americans. In turn, the committee gave the association 500 copies of “Race and Man,” a Bahá’í publication featuring discussions on race.64Bahá’í News (April, 1957),6.

As well, in 1957, Americans also witnessed as “segregationists cheered the active opposition of Governor Orval Faubus to the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Not until President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock in response to the governor’s defiance of a court order did the Negro children gain admission to the school.”65John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 436. The forces of racial justice and race unity prevailed, however, with the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, “the first civil rights act since 1875.”66John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988), 438.

The annual Bahá’í Race Amity Day observances stood out among other “points of light” and hope during the racially volatile period of the 1960s.  The decade of the Civil Rights Movement and Black urban rebellion and race riots was also the decade when many predominantly White local Bahá’í communities worked tirelessly to promote racial unity. Years after the first Bahá’í race amity observances, scores of these communities throughout the country, through interracial picnics, panel discussions, media events, and official proclamations, provided people from diverse racial backgrounds with hope and inspiration that racial unity was possible. By 1960, Race Amity Day observances were increasingly being recognized by government officials. For example, in 1967, eleven mayors and one governor officially proclaimed Race Unity Day.67For an explanation of the change from “race amity” to “race unity” see Morrison, 275. Yet, in July of that same year, “Detroit experienced the bloodiest urban disorder and the costliest property damage in U.S. history,” when forty-three people died and over one thousand were injured.68Joe T. Darden and Richard W. Thomas, Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013),1.

Expanding the Circle of Unity: Multiracial Community Building, 1970s and 1980s

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the American Bahá’í community experienced a remarkable increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of its membership.  In the early 1970s, thousands of African Americans in rural South Carolina and many in other southern states joined the Bahá’í Faith.69American Bahá’í (February,1971,1-4; April,1976,1). In 1972, the American Bahá’í Northeast Oriental Teaching Committee began reaching out to Asian American populations of the Northeastern States.70Bahá’í News (January, 1973),5.  In 1986, the Interracial Teaching Committee described the great influx of southern rural Blacks as well as other racial groups into the Bahá’í community as an indication of the American Bahá’í community becoming “a truly multiethnic community with fully one-third of its members Black and rural, and a significant percentage from the Native-American, Hispanic, Iranian, and Southeast Asian populations.” 71Bonnie J. Taylor, The Power of Unity: Beyond Prejudice and Racism. Selections from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Bab,’Adbu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, compilation (Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1986), ix.

Bahá’ís were expanding their circle of community, embracing more and more diverse peoples and knitting them into the fabric of their collective life. In 1985, Milwaukee Bahá’ís, in cooperation with the Midtown Neighborhood Association, a social-service agency, and the Hmong-American Friendship Association, worked to serve the needs of the Hmong people in the neighborhood by opening the Bahá’í Center on weekends for adult English classes and after-school classes for culture and language for children ages 8 to 13.72American Bahá’í (March, 1985),8. In their response to the unprecedented waves of Asian immigrants arriving to America during the 1980s, the American Bahá’í community published guidelines to facilitate the integration of Indo-Chinese refugees into the Bahá’í community.

In 1989, the U.S. Bahá’í Refugee Office visited ten cities throughout central California to help integrate refugees into the larger Bahá’í community. The Bahá’í community did not limit its concern to Bahá’í refugees only. For example, the Bahá’ís in Des Moines, Iowa, resolved to adopt all Cambodian refugees in that state as a service goal for the 1989-90 year. The persecution of Iranian Bahá’ís in Iran during the late 1970s forced many Iranian Bahá’ís to seek refuge in the United States where they were assisted by the Bahá’í Persian-American Committee to become part of the increasingly diverse American Bahá’í community. 73American Bahá’í (April,1989),2.

The Bahá’í community was becoming what Shoghi Effendi had hoped for a half-century ago when he wrote:

No more laudable and meritorious service can be rendered the Cause of God, at the present hour, than a successful effort to enhance the diversity of the members of the American Bahá’í community by swelling the ranks of the Faith through the enrollment of the members of these races. A blending of these highly differentiated elements of the human race, harmoniously interwoven into the fabric of an all-embracing Bahá’í fraternity, and assimilated through the dynamic process of a divinely appointed Administrative Order and contributing each its share to the enrichment and glory of Bahá’í community life, is surely an achievement the contemplation of which must warm and thrill every Bahá’í heart.74Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice. Available at www.bahai.org/r/138409678

The 1990s: Models and Visions of Racial Unity and the Los Angeles Riots

The American Bahá’í community entered the 1990s with increased commitment to racial justice and racial unity.  The Association for Bahá’í Studies held a conference, “Models of Racial Unity,” in November of 1990 to explore examples of racial unity. This conference produced a joint project, “Models of Unity: Racial, Ethnic, and Religious,” conducted in the spring of 1991 by the Human Relations Foundation of Chicago and the National Spiritual Assembly to “find examples of efforts that have successfully brought different groups of people together in the Greater Chicago area.” 75Models of Unity: Racial, Ethnic, and Religious. A Project of the Human Relations Foundation of Chicago and the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, February, 1992.

The next year, the National Assembly published a statement, “The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue,” as the cornerstone of a national race unity campaign. They distributed it to a wide range of people including teachers, students, organizations, and public officials. In April, 1992, several months after the publication of the joint-project report on Models of Unity in Chicago, the National Assembly sponsored a race unity conference at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Georgia76See conference program, Visions of Race Unity: Race Unity Conference,” The Carter Presidential Center, Atlanta, Georgia, Saturday, April 4, 1992. Sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States.: “The purpose of this conference is to explore specific actions which may be taken by different groups and institutions to establish racial unity as the foundation for the transformation of our society.”77Quoted in American Bahá’í (July 13,1992),1. Several weeks later, Los Angeles exploded into violence in the wake of the not guilty verdict of four White policemen caught on tape beating Rodney King, a Black motorist.78Paul Taylor and Carlos Sanchez, “Bush orders troops into Los Angeles,” The Washington Post, May 2, 1992. Available at https//www.washingtonpost.com/archives/politics It seemed that the Bahá’í community’s constant efforts to promote racial unity were  “water in the sand” of racial turmoil.

The National Assembly sent a message, on behalf of the U.S. Bahá’í Community, to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley:

We join you in your appeal to all our fellow-citizens not to be blinded by anger and hate….the American Bahá’í community, faithful to the teachings of its Founder, has worked for the establishment of racial unity in a country blighted by race prejudice that confronts its cherished values, threatens its peace, and poisons the soul of its citizens.79American Bahá’í (June 5,1992).

The National Spiritual Assembly referred to its recently published statement on race, “The Vision of Race Unity,” and informed the mayor of its readiness to share its message with “city authorities, private organizations, and individuals who seek such a solution.”80American Bahá’í (June 5,1992). In addition, the National Assembly presented to the mayor and the city, the Chicago-based study, Models of Unity: Racial, Ethnic, and Religious. Concluding their letter to the mayor, the Assembly left him with this message of hope:

We offer you, Mr. Mayor, our cooperation, and pray that Los Angeles will emerge from its trials more enlightened and dedicated to the realization of the great truth that we are all “the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean”. 81American Bahá’í (June 5,1992).

The National Assembly then published a letter to President George H. W. Bush that appeared in several national newspapers. It opens:

No American can look with indifference upon the tragedy relentlessly unfolding in our cities. Its causes lie beyond a particular verdict or a particular act of oppression. The fires and deaths in Los Angeles are only symptoms of an old congenital disease eating at the vitals of American society, a disease that has plagued our country ever since slaves were brought from Africa to these shores by their early settlers.82The Washington Post, June 15, 1992, A15. Reprinted in American Bahá’í (June 24, 1992),1.

The letter described the path of racial progress in American history as a “history of advance and retreat,” and, though acknowledging that the solution to the racial problems “is not simple,” stated that it is clear that “America has not done enough to demonstrate her commitment to the equality and the unity of races.”  For this reason, “ever since its inception a century ago the American Bahá’í community has made the elimination of racism one of its principle goals.”83The Washington Post, June 15, 1992, A15. Reprinted in American Bahá’í (June 24, 1992),1. The National Assembly concluded its letter with an appeal:

We appeal to you, Mr. President, and all our fellow citizens, not to turn away from this “most vital and challenging issue.” We plead for a supreme effort on the part of the public and private institutions, schools, and the media, business and the arts, and most of all to individual Americans to join hands, accept the sacrifices this issue must impose, show forth the “care and vigilance it demands, the moral courage and fortitude it requires, the tact and sympathy it necessitates” so that true and irreversible progress may be made and the promise of this great country may not be buried under the rubble of our cities.84The Washington Post, June 15, 1992, A15. Reprinted in American Bahá’í (June 24, 1992),1.

The National Spiritual Assembly then turned to the Bahá’í community. In mid-May 1992, it met in Atlanta with representatives of twenty-nine local Bahá’í assemblies from the surrounding area and members of Local Spiritual Assemblies in fourteen cities in which rioting had taken place to review the Bahá’í communities’ responses to the riots and their aftermath and to consult with an international board of advisers on courses of action. The consultation resulted in a “decision to channel all national effort in the coming year into one mission—the promotion of race unity.”85American Bahá’í (July13, 1992),1.

For the next four years, Bahá’ís labored on in the diverse and often confusing maze of race relations. They and others were sincere workers in their efforts. Following the long tradition of Bahá’í race unity work, the Bahá’í Spiritual Assembly of Detroit created a task force in 1993 to carry out a faith-based mandate to promote racial unity. Two years later, the task force became a non-profit organization called the “The Model of Racial Unity, Inc.” and expanded its membership to include members of the Episcopal Diocese of Detroit and the Catholic Youth Organization. The task force launched its first conference on June 11, 1994, “to promote unity among the diverse populations of Detroit Metropolitan area by bringing together people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.”86Joe T. Darden and Richard W. Thomas, Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013), 282.

A day before the conference, the Detroit Free Press commented: “The Bahá’í Faith Community of Greater Detroit is a main sponsor of the conference, which is an outgrowth of the religion’s guiding principles: unity across racial and ethnic lines.” 87Detroit Free Press, June 10, 1994.  The Second Annual Model of Racial Unity Conference in 1995 demonstrated how far the organization had progressed since the first conference. General Motors was now the major sponsor. Other sponsors included the owner of Azar’s Oriental Rugs and Mag-Co Co Investigations. Both owners were members of the Metropolitan Bahá’í community—the former, an Iranian American, and the latter, African American.88Joe T. Darden and Richard W. Thomas, Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013), 282

It was a great honor and tribute to the efforts of the Bahá’í community when Mayor Dennis W. Archer designated May 20, 1995, as “Model of Racial Unity Day.”  The Third Annual Model of Racial Unity Conference occurred on May 18, 1996.89Joe T. Darden and Richard W. Thomas, Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013), 282 The Bahá’ís attending and participating in that conference and the larger American Bahá’í community would soon be entering a new stage of spiritual guidance on race relations.

Earlier in the year, the House of Justice had advised the Bahá’ís: “With respect to principles, it would assist the friends greatly if the issue of addressing race unity can be formulated within the broad context of the community. The distinctiveness of the Bahá’í approach to many issues needs to be sharpened.”  Bahá’ís should be “future oriented, to have a clear vision and to think through the steps necessary to bring it into fruition. This is where consultation with the Bahá’í institutions will provide a critical impulse to your own efforts.”90Universal House of Justice, from a letter dated 25 February, 1996, in Extracts from Letters Written on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Individual Believers in the United States on the Topic of Achieving Race Unity (Updated Compilation 1996-2000), [1],1. Available at https://greenlakebahaischool.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/compilation-uhj-on-race-unity-1996-2020.pdf

Several months later, the 1996 Ridvan Message provided that “clear vision” stating: “The next four years will represent an extraordinary period in the history of our Faith, a turning point of epochal magnitude…”91Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1996. Available at www.bahai.org/r/328665132 In 1996, a twenty-five year period of intensive learning commenced during which Bahá’í endeavors worldwide have become increasingly focused on capacity building in local populations to take greater ownership of their spiritual, intellectual, and social advancement, opening new possibilities in the long-term effort of the Bahá’ís to root out racial prejudice and contribute to the emergence of a society based on racial justice and unity.

Conclusion

The pursuit of racial justice and unity have been defining aspirations of the Bahá’í community of the United States since the earliest days of its establishment in the country. Indeed, for well over a century, it has dedicated itself to racial unity. During periods of racial turmoil, it has contributed its share to the healing of the nation’s racial wounds. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá provided the example during his visit in 1912 and set in motion a race amity movement in 1921 for the Bahá’í community to build upon. Bahá’ís continued this work for decades with some fits and starts, but always moving forward under the inspired guidance of the Guardian of the Faith and then the Universal House of Justice.

By June Manning Thomas

June Manning Thomas, Professor Emerita of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan, specializes in social equity and racial justice related to urban planning and civil rights. She is author of a number of books and articles.

Lack of unity among people of various races, ethnicities, and classes is a major problem for human society. Many nations face such disunity, which can cause social conflict, lack of empathy for “others,” discrimination, and exploitation. Bahá’ís think of such problems as symptoms; the illness is absence of the unity of the human race. One subset of the unity that is necessary is racial unity. As the term is used here, racial unity focuses on unity among various racial and ethnic groups.

Eliminating individual prejudice is a necessary, but insufficient, part of promoting racial unity. Human beings have embedded racial disunity within geographic space, where it is hard to change and is reinforced by political, economic, and social boundaries. Thus, individual people may believe themselves free of racial prejudice, but they may face no or weak testing of this belief if they are isolated in geographic circumstances that solidify racial disunity. Spatial geography can reinforce systemic racial discrimination.

This is a difficult problem, but throughout its history the Bahá’í Faith has always championed racial unity, even in difficult circumstances. Direct guidance from the Head of the Faith, in each period of Bahá’í history, has consistently counseled the Bahá’ís to abandon prejudice against different races, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities. In addition, the Bahá’í community has purposefully aimed to increase diversity within its own religious community by inviting people of diverse races, ethnicities, and nationalities into its ranks. The approach that the worldwide Bahá’í community now uses builds on these historic principles and strategies, while extending beyond them to offer lasting social transformation for all people in a community. It offers the world a process that can help promote racial unity, even in situations of geographic disunity. Considering how to accomplish this requires strategic thinking.

The Bahá’í Plans and Spatial Unity

The worldwide Bahá’í community’s dedication to the principle of racial unity dates back to the founding of the religion. Bahá’ís have held fast to key principles related to the unity of humanity, in general, and to racial unity, specifically, while learning to develop flexible new strategies that recognize contemporary challenges. They have done so within the framework of global plans that guide the growth and development of the Bahá’í community worldwide.

Since its birth in Iran in the mid-nineteenth century, the Bahá’í Faith has given rise to a religious community with significant capacity to unite people across traditional barriers of race, class, nationality, gender, and creed. Its cardinal teaching is the oneness of all humanity. Bahá’í administrative institutions have paid special attention to the issue of racial disunity in North America; much guidance on the subject relates to that continent. This has been true ever since the head of the Faith at that time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, visited North America in 1912. Through both word and deed, He emphatically encouraged interracial fellowship and disavowed traditional norms of racial segregation and discrimination. He urged people to overcome racial barriers through means such as intermarriage and multiracial meetings, and He praised the beauty of such diversity. These were remarkable exhortations for that time, when interracial marriage was illegal in many American states and Jim Crow laws discouraged free association between people of different racial backgrounds.1“Jim Crow” was the label given to a set of state and local laws upheld in the southern United States and dating mostly from the late nineteenth century. Designed to separate blacks and whites in most social and economic settings, they covered such institutions and places as public schools, public transportation, food establishments, and public facilities such as parks. The principles He enunciated for North America also pertained to the world with all its various forms of prejudice and social conflict.

Following His visit, in letters sent to the North American Bahá’í community and later published collectively as Tablets of the Divine Plan, Abdu’l-Bahá presented a visionary spatial strategy for unity of the world’s peoples. He asked North American Bahá’ís to travel first to other states and provinces in their own countries and then to a long list of countries, territories, and islands in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe, spreading the unifying teachings of the Bahá’í Faith to peoples of diverse race and ethnicity. He also placed great importance on teaching America’s indigenous populations. His vision was to “establish the oneness of the world of humanity.”2‘Abdu’l Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1993), 42.

When leadership of the worldwide Bahá’í community passed to Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in 1921, he continued to emphasize interracial fellowship as a path to racial unity, even when custom discouraged such fellowship. Starting in the 1920s, his letters to North American Bahá’ís addressed these issues, with his most forceful communication being the book-length 1938 letter The Advent of Divine Justice. In that work, he laid out principles for the success of a global plan for the growth and development of the Bahá’í community. This Seven Year Plan covered the years 1937 through 1944 and encouraged North American Bahá’ís to travel to other North, Central, and South American states, provinces, territories, and countries—many of them mentioned in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets of the Divine Plan—to share with peoples of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’ís were encouraged to reach out in particular to “the Negro, the Indian, the Eskimo, and Jewish races. … No more laudable and meritorious service can be rendered …”3Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984), 45. This letter was completed in December 1938 and published in book form the next year; these were the terms (“Negroes,” “Indians”) used for those populations at that time. Among the three major requirements for success of that plan was freedom from racial prejudice, a necessary precondition in that momentous spiritual endeavor to share the Faith with diverse people. 4The other two of three principles were rectitude of conduct, primarily for institutions, and a chaste and holy life for individuals. The assumption in the two subsequent global plans that Shoghi Effendi initiated, the second Seven Year Plan (1946-53) and the Ten-Year Crusade (1953-63), was that freedom from racial prejudice would continue to be important as the geographic scope of the Faith expanded to the entire world. 5For confirmation of the current relevance of these principles, see Universal House of Justice, 4 March 2020, letter to an individual, par. 3, reprinted in “Extracts from Letters Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Individual Believers in the United States on the Topic of Achieving Race Unity, 1996-2020.” Notably, each global plan aimed to increase the number of nationalities, tribes, ethnicities, and races represented within a faith that could then shelter its members from the pernicious influences of division, prejudice, and materialism. As “pioneers” spread the Bahá’í teachings, thus increasing the Faith’s reach and diversity, Shoghi Effendi illustrated detailed global maps showing the increasing number of tribes, ethnicities, and peoples who were joining the Bahá’í Faith worldwide. 6Pioneers are Bahá’ís who travel to other places in support of the global plans. Usually moving without financial support from the Bahá’í Faith, they find jobs or other means of income and live among their new population as contributing members of the community. In addition to The Advent of Divine Justice, see for more description of the global plans: Melanie Smith and Paul Lample, The Spiritual Conquest of the Planet: Our Response to Global Plans (Palabra Press, 1993) and June Thomas, Planning Progress: Lessons from Shoghi Effendi (Association for Bahá’í Studies, 1999).

Since its first election in 1963, the worldwide governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, the Universal House of Justice, has continued to champion the central principles of racial unity and diversity. Between 1964 and 1996, it launched five global plans that reached the world’s diverse peoples in various ways, such as by sending travelers to various countries. 7“Preface,” The Four Year Plan: Messages of the Universal House of Justice (Palabra Publications, 1996), iii. As time passed, however, it became increasingly obvious that the ability of the Bahá’í community to effectively contribute to constructive social change and new models of social organization was limited. One reason was that, despite its wide geographic spread, the Bahá’í community was still relatively small in number. The other was the lagging moral and spiritual state of the world’s people in the face of rapid social, scientific, and technological developments and of a rampant materialism.

Place and the Institute Process

In a new series of global plans initiated in 1996 with the call for a “network of training institutes,” the worldwide Bahá’í community began to approach expansion in a different way.8The Universal House of Justice initiated in 1996 a series of five plans that would lead the worldwide community until 2021, the anniversary of the death of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “Preface,” The Five Year Plan, 2011-2016: Messages of the Universal House of Justice (Palabra Publications, 2013), iii. One innovation was the creation of training institutes. These “centers of learning” aim to build human resources and improve communities through a spiritually-based training program designed for different age groups, ranging from children to adults.9Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1996 letter, par. 28 and 29. Listed are only a few of the skills that the training institute facilitates. They embody a form of distance education that can reach even remote areas of the globe. By 1999, these centers of learning had made “significant strides in developing formal programmes and in putting into place effective systems for the delivery of courses.”10Universal House of Justice, 26 November 1999 letter, par. 2. The program involves direct education as well as participatory study circles open to youth and adults, with all activities open to people of all faiths, races, and creeds. The Universal House of Justice calls the efforts for capacity building for advancing community building and propelling social change the “institute process.” After a few years of reflective learning, the worldwide Bahá’í community adopted, from among several options, the curriculum that first arose from the Ruhi Institute in Colombia.

As the Universal House of Justice learned more about the institute process and as Bahá’ís gained more experience with Ruhi educational materials, they began to focus their efforts on neighborhoods and villages.11Bahá’ís organized groups of metropolitan areas, cities, villages, or rural areas into “clusters,” defined by Bahá’ís but based on existing secular conditions, specifically “culture, language, patterns of transport, infrastructure, and the social and economic life of the inhabitants.” Universal House of Justice, 9 January 2001 letter, par. 10. The Universal House of Justice sent messages between 2010 and 2016 that described salutary experiences in several such receptive locations. It advised the world’s Bahá’ís to look for “smaller pockets of the population” that would benefit from the institute process. It defined such pockets: “in an urban cluster, such a centre of activity might best be defined by the boundaries of a neighbourhood; in a cluster that is primarily rural in character, a small village would offer a suitable social space for this purpose.”12Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010 letter, par. 5.

In such places, the role of the institute would be both to nurture the population spiritually and to enable the building of capacity and community. The means for doing so were deeply participatory: to “enable people of varied backgrounds to advance on equal footing and explore the application of the teachings to their individual and collective lives.”13Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010 letter, par. 5, 14. By 2013, the Universal House of Justice could report clear evidence for the power of “community building by developing centers of intense activity in neighbourhoods and villages.” In 2016, the Universal House of Justice reported that, because of such strategies, the Teachings of the Faith were influencing people in many different spaces: “crowded urban quarters and villages along rivers and jungle paths.”14Universal House of Justice, 26 March 2016 letter, par. 5.

All of this was an effort to support salutary transformation in the lives and fortunes of the world’s people. In 2015, the Universal House of Justice described the following: “A broader cross section of the population is being engaged in conversations, and activities are being opened up to whole groups at once—bands of friends and neighbours, troops of youth, entire families—enabling them to realize how society around them can be refashioned. … Prevailing habits, customs, and modes of expression all become susceptible to change. … Qualities of mutual support, reciprocity, and service to one another begin to stand out as features of an emerging, vibrant culture among those involved in activities.”15Universal House of Justice, 29 December 2015 letter, par. 24.

Addressing Racial Unity through Institutes

In 2010, the Universal House of Justice bemoaned that “prejudices of all kinds—of race, of class, of ethnicity, of gender, of religious belief—continue to hold a strong grip on humanity.” It noted, however, that its current global plans could “build capacity in every human group, with no regard for class or religious background, with no concern for ethnicity or race, irrespective of gender or social status, to arise and contribute to the advancement of civilization.” It expressed the hope that the process set in place by these plans would steadily unfold to “disable every instrument devised by humanity over the long period of its childhood for one group to oppress another.”16Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010 letter, par. 34.

Indeed, institute-related activities began to bring into collaboration members of diverse faiths, creeds, and ethnicities, as whole villages, cities, and neighborhoods around the world studied unifying spiritual principles and turned away from separations by race, ethnicity, caste, or class. In 2018, the Universal House of Justice reported on results “from country to country.” “As the work in thousands of villages and neighbourhoods gathers momentum,” it wrote, “a vibrant community life is taking root in each.” The House of Justice then explained that, as this happens, a “new vitality emerges within a people taking charge of their own development. Social reality begins to transform.”17Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2018 letter, par. 3

The Universal House of Justice sent special assurances to North American believers about the effectiveness of the institute process. Steady promotion of the institute process “will usher in the time anticipated by Shoghi Effendi … when the communities you build will directly combat and eventually eradicate the forces of corruption, of moral laxity, and of ingrained prejudice eating away at the vitals of society.”18Universal House of Justice, 26 March 2016 letter, par. 3. In this letter and in many others, the Universal House of Justice affirmed the potential benefits of the institute process as a tool for racial unity.

The North American community needed such assurance. The United States, especially, continues to experience problems of racial disunity, characterized by lingering racial segregation, social and economic lags for minority-race people, and political/cultural confrontation. Racial prejudice continues to be a problem ingrained in society and in its geographic places. Metropolitan areas in the United States demonstrate spatial inequality, implanted by historic federal and state policies or by ongoing discrimination and exclusionary zoning. Efforts to resolve problems falter: “Any significant progress toward racial equality has invariably been met by countervailing processes, overt or covert, that served to undermine the advances achieved and to reconstitute the forces of oppression by other means.”19Universal House of Justice, 22 July 2020 letter, par. 2.

Not just in the United States, but in other countries, place-based action in small geographic areas could encounter such built-in racial disunity. Many metropolitan areas and cities around the world contain sectors or neighborhoods set aside for specific racial, ethnic, or national groups and habitually marginalize the poor. Spatial segregation by race, ethnicity, or income level persists, often oppressing the disadvantaged. How, then, could the current plan’s institute process, an educational initiative based in discrete neighborhoods or localities—some of them defined by racial exclusion—promote racial unity?

Consider two hypothetical families as examples. The first family lives in a modern metropolitan area. That family lives a life of relative prosperity, is not a “minority,” and holds no antagonism toward people of minority races—although its everyday life is isolated by race and income level. Only families of its own, comfortable income bracket live in its section of the city, because of historic circumstances or municipal laws limiting access. Because of longstanding exclusionary practices, the city where this family lives is home to few minority-race people. Schools are similarly homogeneous, and the family’s children have no friendships with diverse people. How might this family help promote racial unity?

The second family lives in the same metropolitan area. That family is of a minority race and has low income. It lives in an isolated neighborhood, housing families with very similar characteristics to its own. Like the first family, this family also has no antagonism toward other racial groups. Its most challenging issue is not overcoming its own individual prejudices, but surviving in a hostile environment. Its children go to inferior schools; its adults suffer from underemployment or unemployment; and the public services it receives are grossly inferior to the norms for its nation. How might this family make sense of the concept of racial unity, while hemmed in by the geographic proof of disunity?

The Universal House of Justice has explained that different circumstances call for different approaches. Both families and the neighborhoods they live in contain people who can benefit from the institute process, but the utility of the process may manifest itself differently in the two neighborhoods. The specific approach to racial unity would vary as well. Here are four of several possible approaches:

Become free from racial prejudice

The first principle is individual freedom from racial prejudice. The Bahá’í Writings offer much guidance on exactly what this means, but they refer to both attitudes and actions. What binds this guidance is a fundamental recognition of our common humanity and an unwillingness to prejudge people because of race, color, or other exterior characteristics. The Bahá’í teachings also counsel action. In 1927 Shoghi Effendi gave specific spatial advice; he told Bahá’ís to show interracial fellowship “in their homes, in their hours of relaxation and leisure, in the daily contact of business transactions, in the association of their children, whether in their study-classes, their playgrounds, and club-rooms, in short under all possible circumstances, however insignificant they appear.”20Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration: Selected Messages, 1922-1932 (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), 130. Bahá’í institutions have continually confirmed the importance of mirroring forth freedom from racial prejudice in both attitude and action.

Both the family of comfortable means and the family of circumscribed means should treat others without racial prejudice, but their charges differ. Although Shoghi Effendi noted that both blacks and whites should make a “tremendous effort,” he called on whites to “make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem.” Blacks, in turn, were to show “the warmth of their response” when whites did reach out.21Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, 33. In conditions of geographic isolation, a majority-race family may need to make special efforts to help promote racial unity. This might require seeking diverse friendships, associations, and social activities, as a matter of general principle and as a service to its own children. It is important to replace racism with “just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions or society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as ‘other.’ The change required is not merely social and economic, but above all moral and spiritual.”22Universal House of Justice, 22 July 2020 letter, par. 4.

Reach out to minority peoples

This, too, is a principle enshrined within Bahá’í history and widely assumed in the present activities of the global community.23Universal House of Justice, 29 December 2015 letter, par. 25. This principle applies to both families in our hypothetical examples. Assume they are all Bahá’í. The more privileged family might consider how to help greater numbers of minority people gain access to the capacity-building potential inherent in the institute process. This would require some form of access and communication; fortunately, a range of possibilities exists. In a letter, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States recommended that Bahá’ís consider homefront pioneering into communities predominantly populated by African-Americans, Native Americans, or immigrants.24National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, 31 January 2018 letter, par. 4. Alternatively, such a family might steer toward mixed-race neighborhoods when it makes its next move from one domicile to another. Another strategy would be to befriend and engage minorities in their own locality, or to reach across municipal boundaries and associate with people who live in areas segregated from their own. This may require a concerted, conscious effort to overcome the geographic boundaries that exist and to offer genuine friendship. The second family, living in a high-minority, low-income area, could find it easier because of location to offer neighbors local opportunities for collaboration as part of the institute process, although that family, too, may face challenges of agency and receptivity.

Utilize the institute process as a matrix for racial unity

The institute process can help build community as a part of a process of social transformation. Both hypothetical neighborhoods could benefit; usefulness of the institute process is not dependent on the socio-economic status or racial characteristics of any geographic area. The institute process can support racial unity in part because it allows people to converse on related topics in a warm and loving atmosphere, and because it allows them to walk together along several paths of service to humanity.25See for example Universal House of Justice, 10 April 2011 letter. Other relevant letters compiled in “Extracts from Letters Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Individual Believers in the United States on the Topic of Achieving Race Unity, 1996-2020.” This process would work best as a tool for racial unity, of course, with diverse participants. For the two families that we have described, both in homogeneous areas, it could be difficult to arrange activities for racially diverse participants, dampening the ability of the institute process to support racial unity. Even so, the spiritual principles enshrined within the institute curriculum are a useful foundation for raising consciousness in people about the importance of racial unity, since those principles include such virtues as respecting the nobility of human beings, valuing kindliness and generosity, seeking justice, and nurturing the life of the soul as opposed to materialistic pursuits. If more people of privilege understood and acted on such principles, this would help counteract self-righteousness, prejudice, and lack of empathy, shortcomings that pose major barriers for racial unity. Likewise, understanding such principles could be of tangible, even life-saving importance for a minority-race family living in a low-income area experiencing social disintegration. Indeed, a main protection against pernicious influences in such a situation may be spiritual education for themselves and for their surrounding neighbors, giving rise to a process of social transformation.

Aim toward social and economic development

We have already mentioned several benefits that could come from engagement in the institute process, including elevation of spiritual dialogue, the education of children, the nurturing of junior youth, and the promotion of moral conduct. All of this could lead to various forms of social action. Built into the institute process is the idea that groups of people can raise up protagonists for social action from within their own communities. This happens by nurturing individuals’ capacity and then enhancing collective capacity as the community consults on possibilities for action that address complex needs. These needs could range from health and welfare to water safety, the provision of food, or neighborhood beautification. Although this level of collective action is still, in some nations, only in embryonic form, in other nations the institute process has led to a flowering of social and economic development initiatives that are borne out of a deep understanding of the needs of local inhabitants of all faiths, races, and ethnicities, joined together in unified action.

Such action could take place in a wide variety of neighborhoods of various economic means. This characteristic would be of particular importance, however, to the hypothetical low-income family. From their perspective, a necessary aspect of “racial unity” could indeed be support for their movement toward sustenance and survival. The training institute could offer short-term support from visiting helpers, teachers, or study circle tutors. The aim, however, would be for residents to arise to become tutors within their own neighborhoods, becoming indigenous teachers and accompanying growing numbers of their fellow residents to contribute to the betterment of their community. The institute process is “not a process that some carry out on behalf of others who are passive recipients—the mere extension of the congregation and invitation to paternalism—but one in which an ever-increasing number of souls recognize and take responsibility for the transformation of humanity.”26Universal House of Justice, 10 April 2011 letter, par. 4. People living in a particular place could begin to reshape their destinies as they engaged growing numbers of friends and neighbors in collective action.

Furthering the Racial Unity Agenda

The struggle for the unity of humanity is a long-term one that requires much concerted action along the way. Members of the Bahá’í Faith have continued to advance international, national, and local plans and efforts designed to further such unity. On the specific matter of racial unity, both ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi provided unifying spiritual guidance within the framework of visionary, international plans designed to bring the world’s people into one human family. They also addressed such matters as how to change both attitudes and actions in order to overcome racial prejudice and help bring about unity. The Universal House of Justice has supported and advanced these strategies.

This worldwide governing body has now offered humanity a potent tool in the form of the institute process, an educational strategy that can help prepare people to build up their communities and contribute their share to the betterment of humanity. The Universal House of Justice has also turned the attention of Bahá’ís to the challenge of helping to bring about such social transformation within small portions of nations, such as villages or neighborhoods that are part of cities or metropolitan areas. This article concerns one of the dilemmas connected with efforts to advance unity, particularly racial unity, in such places: society has segmented people and communities by divisive lines that have cemented disunity. This poses a spatial problem that needs thoughtful action in response.

We used two hypothetical (but realistic) examples to serve as thought experiments, efforts to think through the implications of geographic space for race unity action within the framework of the institute process. The examples were just that; the point is that people in many places face difficulties of various kinds in promoting a race unity agenda in contemporary times. The challenge is to assess our own situations and to take appropriate action. We do know, based on experience from around the globe, that the institute process offers a powerful tool for social transformation and for bringing about several forms of social unity, including racial. It is also capable of raising up individual protagonists who can begin to reshape themselves and their communities in myriad positive ways, a matter of great importance particularly to neighborhoods suffering the consequences of historic racial inequality.

Study circles, a fundamental element of the institute process, have an essential function in what the Universal House of Justice sees as a process of community building starting with spiritual empowerment and moral education, extending to social action at a small scale, and ultimately expanding to include progressively complex community-building projects. The experience that is being gained opens the possibility for the greater influence of spiritual principles in important matters of public discourse, such as racial unity, the environment, health, and other areas of concern. In such ways, the process of implementing Bahá’u’lláh’s vision, furthered by the institutions of His Faith, is advancing.

By Elsie Austin

Today, people who seek to stress the spiritual basis of peace and justice among men, or who dare to accent the necessity for the regeneration of human hearts and characters as the first step to needed social change, are usually rebuffed by those who immediately cry out, “Oh, you must be practical and realistic.”

This is because so many folk think that the only practical approach to human problems is one which deals immediately with outward evidences of what is desirable. They do not see human needs beyond the specific projects devised for education and security. Outwardly these matters do represent the things which separate the “Haves” from the “Have Nots” in human society, and if you look at them in this light, they may seem to be the sole issues which have all along produced restlessness, division and strife among men.

However, any social program which is to operate for true world betterment must of necessity go beyond outward evidences, if it is to be really practical. The best plans for social cooperation and peace are always limited by the kind of human beings who must use and apply them. There is no more realistic force in the world today than the Bahá’í Faith. In its teachings and its social program there are profoundly realistic approaches to the· fundamental social changes which must be the basis of any real and lasting unity for mankind.

The Bahá’í Faith is first of all a Faith which harmonizes the inward incentives and outward procedures to unity. Outward procedures give the means for unity and inward incentives give the heart for unity. There is great difference between folk who have the means for unity and the folk who have the heart for unity.

Legislation and the interplay of conflicting social interests may furnish a kind of means for unity, and even a certain state of outward compliance. However, legislation and the pressures of expediency have never been able to get at the inward fears, jealousies, greeds and animosities of men. And it is these which furnish the vicious inner motives which can browbeat the intelligence of men and make mockery of outward social compliance. Nearly every day we see tragic instances of failure where social change depends upon means alone. Instances where people nullify and obstruct legislation, where they sabotage social effort or fail to produce and support the kind of courageous policies and action needed for the patterns and standards consistent with just and enlightened ideals. The means for unity is there, but legislation is killed or evaded; communities lose their moral integrity in compromise with policies of hatred and division, and people excuse themselves from honest upright action by saying, “Law is not the way to do this.” “The time is not ripe” or “This is the right policy, but we must work up to it gradually.” Now, all such people are really saying is, “I have not the heart to do this thing” or “The people whose opinion I fear have not the heart for forthright action about this, and I do not know how to reach them.”

The religion of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of The Bahá’í Faith, begins with that essential spiritual regeneration of the human being which creates a heart for brotherhood and impels action for the unity of mankind. Bahá’u’lláh has made it very plain that the test of Faith is its social force. Principle and social planning are useless until they are rendered dynamic by the stamina and will of men to enforce and apply spiritual ethics to human affairs.

The second great realism of the Bahá’í faith is that it provides new patterns for the application of spiritual principle to the social problems of humanity.

When Bahá’u’lláh first proclaimed some eighty years ago, “This is the hour of the coming together of all the races and nations and classes. This is the hour of unity among the sons of men,” the prophecy was a far fetched ideal to the world of jealous politics and cultural isolation which received it. But the unity of mankind today is no mere social ideal. Human strife has made it a social necessity.

It is not surprising then to see that human unity is an increasingly popular subject for liberal thought and action. Nor is it surprising that programs to foster unity are being launched on every hand. Yet so many of the bona fide efforts for unity are being fatally compromised because they must be launched through the established social patterns which preserve old disunities. Do people learn brotherhood and the spiritual attitudes and social cooperation which brotherhood involves by lectures or hesitant compromising ventures, which leave untouched and unchanged the separate education, separate worship, separate security, separate social planning which shape every phase of their community living—embittering separations made in terms of differences of race, creed, culture and nationality? Any social pattern which elaborately preserves and accents these outward differences and their resultant inward animosities must of necessity crucify the objective of social unity.

The Bahá’í Teachings not only destroy without equivocation the fallacies which have nourished social strife and disunity, but they provide new patterns of social living and development through which men learn brotherhood by performance.

And what realistic way is there, you may ask, to deal with the ancient bitter diversities of race, religion and culture? What can be done with the changing pressures of unstable economics and the conflicting education of the world’s peoples?

The Bahá’í Faith provides for the diversities of religion, that long needed center of reconciliation, which can produce harmonious understanding of its varying prophets and systems. Bahá’u’lláh has shown us in the Bahá’í Revelation that the great revealed religions of the world are like lamps which carry the pure light of Divine Truth providing social teaching and discipline for humanity. But as that lamp is borne by human hands, there are periods when conflicting interpretations of the Divine Word, dogmas and superstitions, alienate and divide men. Periods when the temptations of material power pervert religion into an instrument for the exploitation and suppression of human development. It is because of this that new lamps have always come and will always come. Each of the great lamps tests the social force of the others. In this men should find source for progress, not reason for strife. God in His mercy has provided in the Divine Faiths a continuous and successive renewal of Universal Spiritual Truth.

The Bahá’í learns the relation and ordered unfoldment of Truth in all Divine Religions. Thus Spiritual Faith is lifted above the period differences of its various names and systems. Is it unrealistic that in a world so in need of spiritual regeneration, Jews, Christians, Moslems and Believers of all Divine Faiths should be given that which will relate their spiritual purposes and development and thus enable them to travel harmoniously a wide free path to greater social demonstration and understanding of the Truth? Is this not a more effective way to create the heart for unity than the elaborate separations and the jealous fencing off of Religious paths? Today men so preserve and concentrate upon their symbolic differences that the common goal is lost in confusion and animosity.

There are really no diversities of race to those who truly accept the fact that all mankind is God’s creation. Yet the outward differences of color, physiognomy and culture have annoyed and divided us. When members of the human family meet each other who have striking differences in appearance and manners, they resort very naturally to reactions of fear, distaste and derision, which grow out of the human complex for conformity and the fear of strangeness. Unity of mankind is not only a basic principle in the Bahá’í Faith, but it is also the basis of a new social pattern in terms of which Bahá’ís worship, work, educate themselves and contribute their capacities to civilization. Living in a Bahá’í community is a matter of learning differences, appreciating them and achieving with them great loyalties to human welfare, which are above the narrow confinements of race, creed and class, color and temperament. The most practical knowledge in the world is the knowledge that the world can never become what so many people like to believe; a world in which we make other people look, act, and understand in terms of that with which we are familiar. That kind of world is neither possible nor desirable. What we really want is a world of harmonized differences, where a man can make his contribution with other men for the good of all mankind. This is the world of the Bahá’í Community, a community covering seventy-eight national backgrounds and thirty-one racial origins and Heaven knows how many temperaments and cultural backgrounds in this first one hundred years. A growing Community which operates with every possible human difference to take into consideration, yet its members through practicing and perfecting their practice of the Bahá’í Teachings, have achieved a unity of objectives through which entirely new social patterns, standards and virtues are being evolved.

People do not like to mention religion and economics in the same breath. The problem is that of the economically disinherited who in bitter restless upsurge change periodically the pressures and controls of this world’s unstable economics. It is practical to talk of trade policies, of commerce regulations and spheres of influence, now. However, the world must soon face the fact that economic instability and the bitter struggle and suffering which go on because of it, have a question of human motives, human development, behind them. Motives behind the failure to use opportunity, or the use of it to selfishly acquire and control wealth, goods, and services, constitute the real factors causing the unhealthy inequalities, the exploitation and suppression in human society. Bahá’u’lláh stressed the need of a spiritual basis as the first step in the development of stable world economics. The extremes of poverty and vast wealth are not only matters of material opportunity and education, they are also matters of greed and slothfulness in human characters.

Material education and spiritual enlightenment must be applied to bring the kind of economic adjustments which will make possible responsible efforts for all people and insure a just distribution of wealth, goods and services for all people.

Until then, we are all, regardless of our skins, creeds and countries, caught economically between the evil extremes which are produced by the Jeeter Lesters and those masters of selfish financial genius, who, like a cancerous growth, feed upon and weaken the earth’s human and material resources.

Nothing but the wholesome regeneration of human hearts and establishment of new social objectives for the efforts and acquisitions of men, will in the final analysis remedy these ills.

The great realisms of the Bahá’í Faith lie in its new spiritual teachings and in the new social patterns which they provide for needed development of mankind; a development which will turn men from the beliefs and superstitions which are destructive to human solidarity and create in them the heart to initiate and perfect new standards, new morals and new undertakings for a great new era of civilization.

These achievements are possible when man is afforded that perfect combination of Human and Spiritual Unity. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the great expounder of the Bahá’í Teachings, has described it in these words:

Human Unity or solidarity may be likened to the body, whereas unity from the breaths of the Holy Spirit is the spirit animating the body. This is a perfect unity. It creates such a condition in mankind that each one will make sacrifices for the other and the utmost desire will be to forfeit life and all that pertains to it in behalf of another’s good. It is the unity which through the influence of the Divine Spirit is permeating the Bahá’ís, so that each offers his life for the other and strives with all sincerity to attain His good pleasure. This is the unity that caused twenty thousand people in Írán to give their lives in love and devotion to it. It made the Báb the target of a thousand arrows and caused Bahá’u’lláh to suffer exile and imprisonment for forty years. This unity is the very spirit of the body of the world.

By Elsie Austin

In some future age when history is no longer written to advance the prestige and power of particular groups and nations, perhaps historians will be able to state frankly how much of the tragedy and chaos of our world has been due to the efforts of men and women who distorted civilization and humanity by deliberately provoking animosity and division over the outward differences of men.

This age has brought us certainly to the peak of disunity and bitterness over the colors of men’s skins, their types of work and their paths to God. It is as if the whole human race has been agitated and forced to a showdown over the retention of old ideas of division and the adoption of new ideas of unity and cooperation.

The terrific pressure of conflicting social forces are making it increasingly difficult today for white or colored peoples to avoid the extremes of social reaction. The swollen hatreds and fanatic efforts of those who champion the old ways have, indeed, forced many to bitter acceptance of hate and division as the chief instrumentalities which must govern the development and power of peoples. For colored and white, the importance of rejecting decisively such an idea is superseded only by the urgency of finding and using the kind of faith and effort which are needed for the individual and social victories for enlightenment so essential to this period.

It is not that colored peoples need this, or that, white peoples need that. It is rather that all men, all races, all classes, all creeds and all nations are in need of new balance and new direction for this day.

There are many established and familiar causes and purposes at work today attempting through various types of programs to meet this need for balance and direction. They have taken the best of the old knowledge and techniques and are attempting a revised use of them on either the inner life or the outer life of men. Some are making a bona fide effort to teach the efficacy of the ageless spiritual standards of brotherhood, justice and cooperation, but their efforts are weakened, first, by their failure to meet the complex needs of a complex period, and second, by their fatally compromising use of “accepted patterns of action” which in themselves accent the long embroidered differences of race, creed and class among men.

Others have discarded the spiritual and are concerned mainly with the correction of outer practices of prejudice and division. Their stress is upon the practice of brotherhood and cooperation which come as a matter of law and enforced compliance. The practice of brotherhood, however, is something more than a matter of law. It involves the use of inner discipline which uproot and destroy the hidden jealousies, the secret fears, inner suspicions, greeds and enmities of men. For it is these inner motives which, if undestroyed, sooner or later find a way to make mockery of law and social compliance.

There is in the world today, however, a new Faith which is meeting the desperate need of all peoples for balance and direction. It is the Baha’i World Faith, now barely one hundred years old, but already spanning the continents of the world with a membership which embraces all the known races, classes and creeds of humanity. Baha’u’llah, Founder of this Faith, in a matchless revelation of spiritual teachings and laws gives through religion the desired balance for humanity. It is religion which trains man inwardly and outwardly. In giving the foundations of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah without compromise goes to the heart of the of life. The Baha’is have no rituals, or ceremonies or select group whereby worship may become a formal gesture. Their way of expression of belief is their constant endeavor to work it into the patterns, the standards, the customs of life.

It is in terms of this Oneness of Mankind that the Baha’i world functions with entirely new patterns of effort and achievement for the creative ability and capacity of its individuals. There are no special groups. There is only mankind. Therefore Baha’is do not work and achieve and live in terms of the old hatreds, greeds, and conceits. An individual who accepts the mighty standard of responsibility which Baha’u’llah has established cannot preserve the old jealousies and prides. “All men are created to carry forward an ever advancing civilization.” Each man, then, whatever his background and his measure of capacity, has both a destiny and a mission in life which taxes his best. He must prepare to express that best and to give it with full under­ standing that it is related to the best of every other man.

There are great differences of religious background among the followers of Baha’u’llah, but there is also difference of perspective in interpreting those differences and living with them. The great faiths of the past are not destroyed or belittled. They are connected and unified and those interpretive elements in them which have been the source of conflict and dissension are exposed in their imaginative and superstitious falsity. There is unqualified recognition of the unity of God’s Divine Messengers who have come at various ages of mankind with an ever increasing measure of Truth for the enlightenment and progress of men. In concentrating upon the ever growing measure of Truth and the unity of its Bringers, men achieve true spiritual maturity, for they lift faith and worship above the realm of contentions and confusions over the outward names, forms and systems of religion.

Upon the subject of racial differences the Baha’is have achieved a balance which deserves the study and attention of all peoples. The age-old tensions, superstitions, and cultivated enmities in terms of racial differences are certainly not easy to lose. They have been worked into all the experiences of men with such elaborate detail that they come out unconsciously in thought and action patterns. But these scars and wounds of the past are somehow removed and healed by the loving power in the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. That recognition and concentration upon Oneness captures the heart and clears the mind. The common destiny of men, their potentialities for development as given by Baha’u’llah call forth such inspiration and ambition among His followers that, in setting themselves to another goal, they pass by and forget the old emphases. In the Baha’i community racial differences become normal differences. They are no more a cause for strife, fear, and separation than the color of eyes and hair. In the effort and training for better character, better minds and better achievement each man forgets his skin color and that of his neighbor. The Baha’i pattern is indeed a new and tremendously potential guide for group relationships of men. There is no strained and obvious effort to love white people or colored peoples. There are only people who are learning together the courtesy, cooperation and regard required for an enlightened and progressive society of human beings. Humanity is one soul in many bodies. It is one thing to say this philosophically. It is another to feel it as a heart experience and as a necessary law of life.

Colored or white we need the sort of belief that gives every man the power to give his neighbor deserved faith and credit. Baha’u’llah’s searching analysis deserves careful thought and unreserved acceptance. Said He, ” The well being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity be firmly established. So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”

Colored or white, the world faith of Baha’u’llah offers us the needed purpose and direction for our times. In its creative Truth lies the one path wherein we all may find understanding and will to pass by and be done with the outmoded fallacies, the consuming greed, the shameful injustices and accumulated vengeance which has corrupted our past and crippled us all.

By Louis Gregory

Scientific Aspects

The world today is making many discoveries in the realm of phenomena. The greatest of these concerns man himself, the laws which relate to his being and those which govern his relations with his fellow beings. Although many glooms and shadows still sway the minds of men, yet two great lights are shining with increasing splendor. One is science and the other religion. Through these luminous orbs men are coming to know each other better than they have ever known through past ages.

A century or more ago men with few exceptions accepted the dogma of eternal division and separation between various human stocks, which were regarded as distinct human species. This gave to any one of them the right by virtue of its material might to a station of inherent superiority conferred by Divine Power.

A few men of genius saw differently. One of these rare souls was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. It is altogether remarkable that writing at a time when special privilege was enthroned and human slavery was sanctioned by the laws of all lands, he should have declared it to be self-evident that all men were created free and equal. Was this statement an accident? Was it not his intention to imply that all white men were equal?

No, that the great principle declared by the American Commoner was not on his part fortuitous is indicated by a further statement as well as by his personal attitude toward Benjamin Banneker, the Negro astronomer, who was his contemporary and by him was appointed as one of the surveyors of the site of the city of Washington. Writing about his colored scientist to one of his foreign friends, President Jefferson said:

“We have now in the United States a Negro, the son of a black man born in Africa and a black woman born in the United States, who is a very respectable mathematician. I procured him to be employed under one of our chief directors in laying out the new federal city on the Potomac, and in the intervals of his leisure while on the work, he made an almanac for the same year which he has sent me in his own handwriting… I have seen elegant solutions of geometrical problems by him. Add to this that he is a worthy and respectable member of society. He is a free man. I shall be delighted to see these instances of moral eminence so multiplied as to prove that the want of talents observed in them is merely the effect of their degraded condition and not proceeding from any difference of the structure of the parts upon which intellect depends.”

Were Thomas Jefferson living today he might be classed with the school of modern scientists known as the cultural anthropologists. A hundred years ahead of his time he saw and proclaimed a great truth.

The scientific world today records numberless thinkers of like convictions and among the great naturalists a decided and irresistible trend toward the law of one humanity and the equality of all races.

Of old the human family was arbitrarily divided into five races, so-called, growing out of the existence of five habitable continents. Men in their fancies associated a difference race with each continent. But scientific minds, even in the middle of the last century, did not agree upon this. Charles Darwin, perhaps the most famous of them all, records in his “Origin of Species,” the views of a dozen scientists whose classifications of humanity into races in no two cases agree and cover divisions of race varieties ranging from two to sixty-three! Darwin himself freely admits the illusory and imaginary nature of these divisions of mankind, and declares that the way supposedly different races overlap and shade off into each other completely baffles the scientific mind in constructing a definition of race.

Because the term “races” continues to be used as designating distinct stocks or divisions of the human family, we shall here employ it. But it must be understood that its use is popular and colloquial rather than scientific and accurate. Definition implies a limitation. Logically it must be both inclusive of the thing defined and exclusive of all else. The difficulty arises, when we attempt to define race as a limited portion of the human family upon the basis of distinct physical characteristics, that the description invariably applies with equal accuracy to no inconsiderable number of other people not sought to be included in the said category. The divisions of mankind upon the basis of physical features are due to fancy rather than reality. Attempts to describe with any degree of accuracy those designated by such terms as Aryan, Mongolian, India, African, Malay, Nordic, Hebrew, negro, invariably result in cross divisions, because all these groups overlap, and even when we select the most divergent types, as human beings they show vastly more points in common than signs of difference. The term “race” as applied to all mankind has a scientific and logical basis, but no so in its limited sense.

The historical records of mankind cover a very small portion of the vast period during which this earth has been populated. Yet even during that brief period the peoples of each continent have emigrated to other continents, associating with others and invariably mixing their blood. It is now universally known that the products of such admixtures are equally virile and fertile. This is a further indication that all races possess the same potentialities. Asiatics and Australians, Europeans and Africans, North and South Americans, to the ethnologist all present signs of admixture, a process through which all have been broadened and made more rugged and strong. All the so-called races of mankind are mixed races, the mixing being a process which continues more rapidly today than in past cycles and ages.

It is also seen that among the various ethnic groups denominated races, each at some time during the brief period of recorded history, has been in the ascendency. Each has in turn led the civilization of the world and each has at the time of its greatest success assumed that its superiority was fixed.

“Is not this great Babylon which I have built and must it not endure forever?”

The attitude of mind expressed by the words of an ancient king who came to grief through pride is as old as human error and as modern as the latest fashion show. Those who see the common humanity of all groups relieve themselves of a great burden imposed by thoughts of preference. For while it is true that some peoples at various times have advanced further than others, to the eye of reality this implies no inherent incapacity, but only lack of development.

In appearance the child is inferior to the adult, but the future may unfold another story. Wisdom looks with reverence upon the child who has that within his being the unfolding of which may make him the ruler of his kind.

The history of mankind unfolds an endless panorama of change. The most favored of races and nations have often lost their high estate. The most ill-favored of one cycle have sometimes in another period become the salt of the earth. To those who see humanity as one, apparent inequalities have no essential permanence.

However much opinions and emotions and customs may dominate human thoughts, the scientific world of today which reaches conclusions upon the basis of facts, is entirely agreed that there is no proof to establish the superiority of one racial group over another.

The backwardness of races and nations is due to poverty, ignorance, oppression, unfavorable environment, and similar conditions, all of which are subject to removal and change, releasing the forces of true manhood for ascent to the highest plane.

It is perhaps of greatest interest here to let those who speak with authority express their own convictions upon the basis of provable facts.

Sir Arthur Keith, the great English anthropologist, says:

“The expression high and low does not apply to races.”

Dr. Gordon Munroe, lecturer in Tokyo University, Japan:

“Modern anthropologists despair of finding distinctive races and are now generally agreed that difference of race is too illusive for scientific observation. Racial difference is mythical, though each individual – as a distinct expression of cosmic thought – differs in some degree from all his fellows, even to the skin of his finger tips.

“Nothing betrays the darkness of ignorance more than the arrogant assumption that pigmentation of skin brands its owner with obscurity of moral perception or darkened intellect, or in any way implies the co-existence of inferior physical traits… Like all exhibitions of prejudice, that of classification by skin color is illogical and inconsistent.

“It is sounding a discrepant note against the harmony of the spheres to call human color inferior or unclean. Not by darkness of skin but by darkness of soul shall humanity be judged in future ages.”

Dr. George A. Dorsey in his book, “Why We Behave Like Human Beings”:

“All human beings have skin pigment; it is the amount that counts. But high and low skin color is as sound biology as grading planets by color would be sound astronomy: Venus highest because whitest!

“There is no known fact of human anatomy or physiology which implies that capacity for culture or civilization or intelligence or capacity for culture inheres in this race or that type.

“We have no classification of men based upon stature, skin color, hair form, head form, proportions of limbs, etc., so correlated that they fit one race and one only.

“Nature is not so prejudiced as we are. She says there is a human race, that all human beings are of the genus homo species sapiens. She draws no color line in the human or other species.”

Prof. G. H. Esterbrook of Colgate University, considering the question of racial inferiority in a recent number of the inferiority in a recent number of the “American Anthropologist,” states that “there is no scientific basis for any such deduction.

“Again and again” he writes, “we have seen the case of a race or nation being despised, outcast, or barbarian in one generation and demonstrating that it is capable of high culture the next.”

Prof. E. B. Reuter, University of Iowa: “The doctrine of racial inequality is pretty well discredited in the world of scholarship, but in the popular thought of America it is firmly fixed.”

Dr. W. E. Burghardt Dubois, Editor of “The Crisis”: “The increasingly certain dictum of science is that there are no ‘races’ in any exact scientific sense; that no measurements of human beings, of bodily development, of head form, of color and hair, of physiological reactions, have succeeded in dividing mankind into different recognizable groups: that so-called ‘pure’ races seldom if ever exist and that all present mankind, the world over, are ‘mixed’ so far as the so-called racial characteristics are concerned.”

Prof. Edwin Grant Conklin, Chair of Biology, Princeton University: “With increasing means of communication as a result of migration and commercial relations, there is no longer complete geographical isolation for any people and the various races of mankind are being brought into closer and closer contact.

“Man is now engaged in undoing the work of hundreds of centuries, if in the beginning, ‘God made of one blood all nations of men,’ it is evident that man is now making of all nations one blood.”

Prof. Franz Boaz of Columbia University, in his recent book, “Anthropology and Modern Life”: “What we nowadays call a race of man consists of groups of individuals in which descent from common ancestors cannot be proved.

“If we were to select the most intelligent, imaginative, energetic and emotionally stable third of mankind, all races would be represented. The mere fact that a person is a healthy European or a blond European would not be proof that he would belong to this élite. Nobody has ever given proof that the mixed descendants of such a select group would be inferior.”

These are but a few quotations from scientific sources to illustrate the modern trend. Even a superficial inquiry into the question of human unity and the potential equality of all groups discloses a wealth of thought based upon factual values.

To conclude that people because uneducated cannot be educated, is a rash presumption indeed. When Julius Caesar conquered Britain he found the most revolting forms of savagery, including the practice of cannibalism; yet these people in part form the background of one of the most enlightened nations of today.

It is quite easy to imagine a Roman statesman of two thousand years ago saying, “Rome is the Eternal City! All other peoples from their inherent incapacity for rule must forever be her servitors and slaves!”

But what can intelligence tests prove of inherent capacity unless those subjected to them have had equal advantages in the way of environment and preparation? Where dollars are spent upon the education of one race and pennies upon that of another, obviously all such tests are misleading.

In a recent number of the “American Anthropologist,” Dr. G. H. Esterbrook remarks the extreme difficulty of measuring the intelligence of groups other than ourselves due to differences of culture, customs and language. This he illustrates by certain tests applied in the Philippine Islands in which it appeared that “the Filipinos were three years behind Americans in verbal tests (obviously due to the Spanish speaking natives being under the disadvantage of grappling with English), practically equal to the Americans in nonverbal tests and actually ahead of them in certain forms of mathematical ability.”

Apropos of the intelligence tests a question which may not be impertinent is, what value has intelligence in the absence of moral stamina? In the application of the intelligence tests what test is applied to determine this necessary concomitant of success?

The belief current in some circles that a long period of time, perhaps a thousand years, must elapse before people deprived of civilization can truly respond to its urge is unfounded in fact. Orientals whose background is different in numberless ways from that of the West appear in numbers at many of our great universities and with equal readiness with American youth acquire the arts and sciences. Youth taken from the African jungles with an age-long heritage of savagery have not only held their own in schools with students of light hue, but have ofttimes won high honors. The writer has met many native Africans whose virtues, attainments and polish do credit to the human race. It is clearly our duty to encourage people of all races to the end of making their contributions to the symposium of world culture.

 

Religious and Spiritual Aspects

The nineteenth century saw human slavery, as an institution sanctioned by law, banished from all civilized communities. The twentieth century sees the evolution of a new kind of freedom, one of which liberates minds from hoary superstitions and ancient dogmas, one which vibrates with the consciousness of a common humanity. Men now see as never before that class tyranny brings unhappiness to the aggressor no less than to the victim.

The spread of the social sciences is bringing enlightening contacts among people of all races and nations. All the races of mankind, no matter how delayed their development in some cases may be, with encouragement, opportunity, sympathy and understanding, may attain the heights.

The colored philosopher and educator, the late Booker Washington, in his autobiography, recalled that during his boyhood he sometime engaged in wrestling. On such occasions he observed that if he threw another boy to the ground, if he held him there he would be compelled to stay down with him; but if he arose the other boy would also rise. So his motto was, “All men up! No one down!” Such is the true philosophy of life.

Among the early white settlers of America was at least one group that regarded the red aborigines as being worthy of the treatment of men. In Pennsylvania under the guidance of William Penn, white and red men entered into a bond of mutual trust that was not to be sundered as long as the sun should give light. This colony was thus saved from the bloodshed which disgraced most of the others. It seems a natural sequence that today the largest school supported by the American government for the training of Indians should be on the soil of Pennsylvania, a commonwealth through upholding its standards of justice to men of all races.

In the memoirs of General U. S. Grant he relates how once when visiting the outposts of his army on Southern soil, a call was raised, “Make way for the commanding general of the army, General Grant!” To his surprise he saw himself surrounded by Confederate soldiers who had raised this call. Although these men were a part of an army with which his own was constantly fighting, yet these troops saluted him and made no attempt to capture him or do him bodily harm.

It had so happened that for some days the outposts of the two armies, Federal and Confederate, had touched each other and the soldiers on both sides, free from rancor, had become entirely friendly, exchanged what they possessed of the comforts of life as well as its amenities and were accustomed to salute each other’s officers when they appeared. In the early days of the great war a similar condition of friendliness appeared among the soldiers of the contending armies in France.

If men engaged in deadly conflict can pause long enough to discover and act upon the basis of their common humanity, certainly the forces of peace should strive for the means of making it durable, and in this nothing is more desirable than a farewell to class tyranny and the banishment of what the sociologist calls the superiority complex from all the world. The light of science powerfully aids this.

Among the youth of the world there is a great and continuous awakening to the need of friendliness and co-operation among all races and nations. Recently, among many incidents of a similar nature, the writer had the pleasure of mingling with an inter-racial and inter-national group of students made up of representatives of John Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, the University of Delaware, Morgan College and Howard University.

Their faces shone with happiness as from the standpoint of biology, sociology, anthropology and genetics they discussed, almost without dissenting voice, the potential equality of all races and the desirability of their mingling freely without prejudice in all the activities and amenities of life.

With the usual naïveté, charm and courage of youth, they seemed to care nothing about what their elders, who were wrapped up in the traditions of the past, might think of their present acts and attitudes. And they had summoned to their gathering three modernist and learned scientists to confirm them in their thoughts. Thus the orb of science beams with increasing brilliancy upon a growing world of thought and discovery.

This light of science is but the reflection of a far “greater and more glorious Light” that has appeared with majestic splendor in the world today. This second light is Religion pure and undefiled from the Throne of God, or Temple of Manifestation.

The Bahá’í Revelation is the divine intervention in human affairs. Its ideals, teachings and principles will remove the superstitions that pall, the hatreds that blight, the prejudices that becloud, and that preparation for the slaughter that now threatens the existence of all humanity.

Clearer than the deductions of science, weightier than the might of princes, wiser than the councils of statesmen, kinder than the hearts of philanthropists, and sweeter than the songs of seraphs is the Voice of God, calling all mankind to the unity of the human family, the oneness of the world of humanity. This is the true guidance of all men in their relationship with their fellows, whether they be of the same race or nation of others. The great law of universal well-being and happiness is set forth with a simplicity, purity, majesty and power which leaves no one in doubt.

“Verily the words which have descended from the heaven of the will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences and welcome all with the light of oneness.”

Those who move in the direction of the Divine Will as expressed by the Manifestation of God, His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh, have the mightiest confirmation to support their efforts and are assured of victory, no matter how difficult the way may seem. A distinguished Southern educator who heard the Servant of God, His Holiness ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, address the Lake Mohonk Peace Conference in 1912, quotes Him as opening His luminous address by saying:

“From time immemorial we have been taught the Unity of God, the Unity of God, the Unity of God! But in this day the divine lesson is the unity of man, the unity of man, the unity of man!”

Dr. Samuel C. Mitchell declared that from listening to this holy man whom he recognized as a Prophet, he had decided for himself never again to draw a vertical line upon his fellow-men. The great horizon line which covers all mankind, is sufficient for him. How happily does this illustrate the power and penetration of the Creative Word, that it should raise up from a single utterance one who has declared and reechoed it upon many platforms.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “God has made mankind one family: no race is superior to another…God is the Shepherd of all and we are His flock. There are not many races. There is only one race.”

Although the Sun of Truth is still largely hidden, “veiled by its own splendor,” yet its rays are penetrating the remotest corners of the earth, creating in souls a consciousness which binds all hearts together. Common sense and reason are explaining away the barriers of color which are caused by adjustment of people to climatic states over long periods of time. Scientists in many fields of research are thrilled by the discovery of a common human heritage which they sometimes boldly declare in words similar to those found in the sacred text. Statesmen, national and international, are making the Divine Spirit the foundation upon which they are striving to build a new social structure with justice to all, while in growing numbers people who take religion seriously are finding heart balm through their helpful interest in other people’s affairs.

Some years ago the venerable Bishop of Georgia, Rt. Rev. Atticus G. Haygood, amazed his followers by boldly declaring in his book, “Out Brother in Black,” that no attainment of the white race was impossible for the colored.

Governor Charles Aycock of North Carolina inaugurated a policy of large expenditure for education that would help white and black upon this basis:

“We hold our title to power by the tenure of service to God, and if we fail to administer equal and exact justice to the Negro we shall in the fullness of time lose power ourselves, for we must know that the God who is love, trusts no people with authority for the purpose of enabling them to do injustice.”

Although the strongholds of prejudice seem invincible, the clouds of superstitions lower, the veils of ignorance overshadow and the resources of rancor prepare for the strife, yet upon the plane of being the Sun of Truth is radiant and will remove in time all dust from minds and all rust from hearts, to the end that the true Glory of God and the brightness of man may appear in the unity of the world. The shadows of the sunset and the glory of the dawn are both revealed in the Words that follow from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

“It is very strange to see how ‘illusion’ has taken possession of the hearts of men while ‘Reality’ has no sway whatsoever. For example – racial difference is an optical illusion! It is a figment of imagination, yet how deep-seated and powerful its influence! No one can deny the fact that mankind in toto are the progeny of Adam; that they are offshoots of one primal stock, yet the optical illusion has so radically misrepresented this plain truth that they have divided and subdivided themselves into so many tribes and nations… Although many intelligent men amongst them know that this racial difference is an optical illusion, yet they all confess their inability to stand firm before its uncanny, invisible power.

“The world of humanity is like unto one kindred and one family. Because of the climatic conditions of the zones through the passing ages colors have become different. In the torrid zone on account of the intensity of the effect of the sun throughout the ages the dark race appeared. In the frigid zone on account of the severity of the cold and the ineffectiveness of the heat the white race appeared. In the temperate zone the yellow, brown and red races came into existence. But in reality mankind is one race. Because it is one race unquestionably there must be union and harmony and no separation or discord.

“The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the breaths of the Holy Spirit which create men anew. Personal amity, both in private and public, is emphasized and insisted upon.

…Bahá’ís believe that mankind must love mankind; that universal amity must be practiced; that dead dogmas must be thrown away; that we are at the threshold of the Era of Interdependence; that we must forget prejudice and that universal love must become the dominant note of the twentieth century… The tree of humanity is one and is planted by God. The origin is one and the end must also be one.”

Thus it is clearly establish through both religion and science that the only race is the human race. The illuminati of all groups today, upon the basis of divine principle of the oneness of humanity, are working to build a new order in the world. Their ranks are widening day by day and among them are included all branches of the human family. They have crossed the borderland of separation and view with delight the world of unity. With reverence and appreciation they perceive the descent of heavenly guidance. In the sacred books of the past this divine favor is pictured as the Holy City.

The cities of the world today present to the gaze of the traveler striking contrasts between old and new. In days of yore the construction of homes was in the nature of a castle. Each house was defended by a high fence or wall, behind which dogs barked furiously at all who approached, who were presumably foes until otherwise proven. Such places did not lack beauty. Nor were passers-by always wanting in charm. But in each case the beauty and charm were hidden by defensive battlements. Such are the cities of hearts when their love is concealed by the battlements erected by superstition and fear. In many of the new cities the absence of walls reveals velvet lawns and the varied charm of flowers. The adornments of the home, the sport of the children, the family co-operation in simple toil, create impressions of friendliness and accentuate the joy of life.

Those who visualize the City of God have faith in the final outcome of human destiny through a love that transcends all boundaries of race. Herein lies joy to the worker whose toil is linked with heaven as he serves mankind en masse as well as singly. Peace to the nations when ready to pursue those ideals that guide the people of splendor. Perfection in education when the youth are allowed to treasure the jewels of minds and hearts despite the obstinate barriers of caste. Wealth for governments when the huge sums now given to armaments are by common consent turned into channels of construction. Solace for the needy when deserts are irrigated, waste places reclaimed, slums removed, the deep yields its coffers and the earth its fruits. Illumination to humanity when every man sees in his neighbor a garment in which God has clothed the reflection of the Manifestation of Himself. Glory for the whole world when receptive to divine civilization which descends through the majestic revelation of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh, the Shining Orb of His Covenant and the protection of His laws by which all races are banded together in the exaltation of service.

The story runs that a youth long absent from home in pursuit of education returned and was overjoyed to find that he now had a younger brother, born during his absence. He eagerly and lovingly embraced the newcomer. But alas! That child of immature years seeing in his brother only a stranger and all unaware of the relationship made a great outcry, wiggled out of his arms and even scratched his brother’s face.

Such is all too often the attitude of people of one group toward those of another when uninformed of the divine law which makes all men brothers. Such immaturity in a time of rapid changes must soon happily pass as that which is real comes more and more into view.

That reality is the co-operation of all mankind in productive enterprises, the awakening of spiritual life, the assurance of the way of God, and the enkindlement of the flame of divine love which removes all clouds. To forsake prejudice is better than to amass wealth. The conquest of animosities is far greater than victory over one’s foes. The struggle for universal good is far nobler than the desire for personal success.

The Glory of the rising Sun reveals the way. Victory and joy to those who strive!