Dear friends,

Continuing on with my review of the book Reason and Revelation, this time I
am treating two article's together, Sholeh Quinn's article "The End of
History?" and Chistopher Buck's article regarding Native American
Manifestations. I think it will be clear why I'm placing those together
after you read the review.

warmest, Susan

Dr. Sholeh Quinn's article "The End of History?" provides an accessible
overview of academic methodology as it applies to the study of history,
explaining both the contributions it can make to our understanding of the
Baha'i Faith, and its limitations in terms of the kinds of questions it can
hope to answer. She explains that history typically involves the study and
interrogation of texts for the purpose of unraveling what they can tell us
about the past. Historical analysis generally involves determining the who,
when, where, reliability and purpose of a text as well as determining to
whom it was written. In this way it determines the historical context of the
text. Because of this emphasis Baha'i historians find it necessary to read
texts in the original language whenever possible and avoid the use of
compilations which decontextualize the text. At the same time there are
certain questions of central importance to Baha'is  which cannot be
determined by historical analysis. These would include determining issues
like whether Baha'u'llah is a Manifestation of God. For this reason Baha'i
professional historians are sometimes accused of writing in academic
contexts like non-Baha'is. It is not due to the fact that they do not
believe but rather because the tools with which they work as professional
historians do not give them access to that kind of information. The most
they can hope to do would be to determine how Baha'u'llah regarded His own
station. Quinn does us a great service by explaining in very simple terms
what history can and cannot do.

Dr. Quinn does not stop with an analysis of what the questions which
historians can provide us about the past, she also suggests that Baha'i
historians have much to contribute when it comes to correlating "the beliefs
of the Faith with the current thoughts and problems in the world." However
doing so is bound to lead them into controversy, for instance if they raise
questions regarding the service of women on the Universal House of Justice,
the relationship between science and religion, and the relationship between
religion and state. What the paper fails to do is explain some of the
dangers to the study of history itself that can present themselves when
trying to make this correlation. Here I refer not to the danger of
compromising essential Baha'i Teachings (though that is certainly there) but
there is also a danger of compromising the historical method itself in
attempting  such correlations. For instance, if ones purpose in studying the
historical background of women's exclusion from the Universal House of
Justice is to make the Baha'i Faith more in keeping with current feminist
ideals, then ones historical analysis may well be tainted by that objective.
The same tensions can arise in studying the relationship between religion
and state in the Baha'i Writings. Historical method, as Quinn ably points
out earlier in her article involves studying texts within the context in
which they were written. To instead focus on their correlation with current
ideologies to raise as ahistorical a question as whether or not Baha'u'llah
is a Manifestation of God. In short, the study of history must confine
itself to describing the past, not prescribing the future. While Baha'i
scholarship in general may well contribute to making correlations to the
modern world, there are great limitations as to the extent to which we as
historians can contribute to that process.

Given the major thesis of Dr. Quinn's article that the professional
historian is limited in the kinds of questions it can address, most
especially the question of who is or who is not a Manifestation, the article
which follows is somewhat ironic. In "Baha'i Universalism and Native
Prophets" Dr. Christopher Buck presents the case for accepting Native
American figures such as Deganawida into pantheon of Baha'i prophetology.
Dr. Buck suggests a tension exists between popular Baha'i 'folk' beliefs
which are inclined to accept Native American spirituality and official Baha'
i doctrine which fails to explicitly name any specific Native American
figures as Manifestations. He states somewhat misleadingly that there are
'explicit Baha'i strictures against adding actual names of Manifestations of
God who are not attributed to in the Abrahamic tradition, most notably in
the Qur'an" and argues that because "the Qur'an is seen as universal
scripture" in thereby acts as "prophetological constraint" on Manifestations
not mentioned there. Yet later in the essay Buck acknowledges that
Zoroaster, Krishna, and Buddha are also officially recognized as
Manifestations by Baha'is, none of which are explicitly mentioned in the Qur
'an. Clearly, the constraints  in Baha'i prophetology reflect the
limitations of the kinds of questions which presented themselves at the time
of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha, not the Qur'an.

While Shoghi Effendi acknowledges that there are Manifestations whose names
are 'lost in the mist of time' Buck feels that this does not cover the oral
traditions which in some cases do provide names for key Native American
spiritual leaders. Yet, the Guardian insists that such names cannot be added
to any official names of Prophets given the fact they are not mentioned in
either the Bible, the Qur'an or Baha'i scriptures. While according to Buck
one might think this would preclude Baha'i 'officials' from adding to this
list as well in practice at least one  House member and a Counsellor have
done precisely that in speeches given on various occasions.

Buck proceeds to examine the legend of Degananwida supposedly in order to
examine 'why it presents itself to not a few Baha'is as evidence of an
authentic native messenger of God." Yet rather than examine what this
particular legend means to the Baha'is who utilize it, Dr. Buck instead
seems more concerned to establish Degananwida's historicity and the
significance of his life in general, suggesting that he is more concerned
with arguing the case for accepting Degananwida as a Manifestation of God,
than he is in explaining the utilization of this legend in popular Baha'i
culture. This is made clear in the following sections where Buck argues that
the traditional nine religions which Baha'is often present as the legitimate
world religions are not sufficiently inclusive because of their exclusive
focus on religions of the Middle East and South Asia. While the Guardian's
authoritative statements may well put constraints on those who can be added
to the canonical list of prophets Buck argues that since the Guardian was
willing leave certain questions of history to the historians, this might
allow for some refinement of doctrine. However, the specific instances where
he cites the Guardian as doing this related solely to the question of dates.
Like Dr. Sholeh Quinn, Shoghi Effendi appears to have seen history as
concerned with questions related to the when, what, where and who of the
past rather than determining doctrine or who is a Manifestation.

In terms of Baha'i scholarship the most significant contribution of this
article is bringing to the forefront a Tablet written by 'Abdu'l-Baha which
explicitly addresses the issue of revelation in regards to the Native
Americans. This Tablet, addressed to one Amir Khan of Teheran, acknowledges
that at one time there was communication between Asia and America via the
Bering Straits, the implication apparently being that they might have
received revelation through this means. Should such people not subsequently
be informed of later revelations they would be excused from recognizing
them. But in ancient times they had undoubtedly received revelations which
have now been forgotten.

Buck concludes his essay by arguing that while it may not be possible to add
specific names to the list of officially acknowledged prophets still Baha'i
authorities might consider affirming the principle that Messengers of God
have appeared in the Americas. It strikes me that Chris Buck is focusing on
a non-existent problem. The Teachings already do express this principle.
Unless one takes Shoghi Effendi's reference to other prophets 'being lost in
the mist of time' or 'forgotten' as 'Abdu'l-Baha put it, in the most literal
fashion there is no reason not to assume that some of spiritual figures of
Native American oral tradition might not have been Manifestations as Baha'is
understand them. This no doubt accounts for the fact that even those highest
in the Baha'i Administration have not hesitated to name them in unofficial
contexts. But it seems in asking for an 'affirmation' from 'Baha'i
authorities' on a doctrinal matter, Chris Buck is expecting the Universal
House of Justice to cross the line into the kind of authoritative
intepretation reserved for the Guardian. Even were such a thing possible it
is difficult to see what this would change. What Chris Buck sees as a
tension between popular Baha'i culture and official doctrine is in fact
merely a distinction between what we can attest as a possibility or even
probability in principle and what we know by virtue of explicit revelation.
And ultimately, as Dr. Quinn previously pointed out it is revelation, not
history which determines who can or cannot be considered a Manifestation.
But revelation itself can sometimes be constrained by the circumstances of
history and the absence of any mention of the names of Manifestations who
might have appeared in other parts of the world is an example of this.

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