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A Review of a New Book on the Baha'i Faith


Mr Ron Price
Since the revolution in Iran in 1979 there has been an explosion of literature on the Baha'i Faith, a religion that has its origins in19th century Iran.


The other day I came across a Baha'i book which after an hour or so of perusing I realised I had a gem of usefulness in my hands. For years I had been looking for a replacement for Esslemont's Baha'u'llah and the New Era. Back in the 1950s and sixties Esslemont was the book you gave people who wanted to get a comprehensive picture of the Baha'i Faith between two covers. By the 1970s and 1980s Esslemont was still useful, but getting a little tired. There were also a host of other books appearing in the Baha'i literary marketplace. By the 1990s there were so many books that the average Baha'i was getting lost in a sea of new literature. I'm not saying this literature was not useful; indeed you could tailor a book for a seeker with a high degree of specificity with some good literary digging.

But with the arrival of the new millennium comes a book, as comprehensive as Esslemont but much more up-to-date; as easy to read as one of the many slim introductory works on the Cause that are just about flooding the market; as meaty and persuasive as, say, Huddleston's The Earth is But One Country; as full of quotations(well not quite) as the invaluable Lights of Guidance in its first or second editions; as much a practical guide as any of the many 'how-to' books which have appeared in Baha'i book shops since the beginning of the great book burgeoning in about 1980; as beautifully put together and presented, with a fresh, bright feel about it, as any of the glossier books you will find in our emerging Baha'i library.

Am I overstating the case. Perhaps. But I justifiably so because for me this book is about teaching. It's about what sort of book to give to people who want to know something about the Cause. It's not too heavy. We've got lots of books you would not float by even the most serious student for their initial investigation. It's not too light. So many little booklets oversimplify too much, although they often have their place.
John Esslemont would be pleased. In a letter dated August 5th 1941 Esslemont wrote about the "most delicate matter" of teaching. In this delicate exercise John Davidson has put together for our use in the teaching process--and for our deepening--this invaluable resource manual for: personal and community development, history, social issues, the Baha'i administrative order, the lesser peace, the list is long.

Davidson writes well, although there is little of his own words in this compilation. He outlines the contents of this book in his six page introduction. He quotes Carl Jung with what is a very helpful perspective on the whole transformation process which this book is about in its explication of the Baha'i journey. Jung wrote:

"the greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They must be so because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating mechanism. They can never be solved, but only outgrown."

This outgrowing, Jung continues, consists of a new level of consciousness, a wider horizon. Davidson presents to us some of the story of this wider horizon and the emergence of a Baha'i consciousness in the global culture especially since 1969 when Davidson put together an earlier work entitled Baha'i Life. With the help of several Baha'i institutions, friends and family Davidson presents the Baha'i Faith centre-stage on what for me is a solid foundation, the writings of the Central Figures of the Cause and those who are the trustees of the global undertaking set in motion over one hundred years ago.

John Davidson has been putting many things together for the Baha'i community since he became a Baha'i in the 1960s. He has served on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia for over three decades and in the University of Tasmania Department of Psychology for an equal length of time. His book Pathways to Transformation has been out of the blocks for three years now, has been found to be user-friendly and I recommend it highly to Baha'is the world over for its practical usefulness as a resource and in the teaching work.