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COLLECTIONPublished articles
TITLEInterreligious Dialogue and the Bahá'í Faith: Some Preliminary Observations
AUTHOR 1Seena Fazel
VOLUMEStudies in the Babi and Baha'i Religions vol. 8
TITLE_PARENTRevisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá'í Theology
PUB_THISKalimat Press
CITY_THISLos Angeles
ABSTRACTAn overview of pluralistic approaches and their relevance to Bahá'í studies.
TAGS- Interfaith dialogue; Bahá'í studies; Revisioning the Sacred (book)
CONTENT Anyone who begins an interreligious conversation with the pronouncement of a common sharing of beliefs and values among the world's religions, one that is merely masked by superficial semantical differences, has done precisely that—only made a beginning. Such declarations of commonality, although they contain a grain of truth, can be maintained only at a superficial level. They start to lose meaning as one goes deeper into the inner landscape, the experience, beliefs and practices of the different religious traditions. Paul Knitter, a prominent dialogue theologian, likens dialogue to the situation of a newly married couple beginning to grow out of the infatuation that brought them together. As they begin to experience the daily tests and trials of living and working as partners, as they get to know one another better, they soon arrive at the existential realization of how bewilderingly different they are. Like the young couple experiencing the harsh light of real living for the first time, Knitter observes that the contemporary challenge in interreligious dialogue is to reconcile differences:
. . . one might still believe that Ultimate Reality or God is one and that ultimately differences will be swallowed into oneness; but right now, in the dust and dirt of the real world, we have to deal with the manyness, the differences, among the religions before we can ever contemplate, much less realize, their possible unity or oneness.1
Dialogue is a term used to describe a great variety of interfaith relations. Generally, it involves a collective process or a conversation, a two-way communication or a reciprocal relationship in which two or more parties holding significantly different beliefs endeavor to express accurately to dialogue partners what they mean and to learn from each other in the process. But dialogue is more than just an exchange of views and has come to mean a personal process of refining the beliefs and values of one's own faith vis-à-vis the insights that one has gleaned from others.

Three goals of dialogue are succinctly summarized by Leonard Swidler, a Catholic professor of interreligious dialogue: (1) to know oneself more profoundly, just as one learns more about one's native land as a result of living abroad; (2) to know the other ever more authentically; and (3) to live ever more fully, a process described as "mutual transformation."2 Furthermore, John Cobb, a liberal Protestant scholar of interreligious dialogue, reflects the academic consensus when he states that "a sharp distinction is made between dialogue and evangelistic witness." While the latter aims at conversion, the former does not. The goal is rather mutual understanding, appreciation, and transformation.3

This paper will explore the Bahá'í imperative to foster dialogue. Questions arise along the way. Why, for example, should Bahá'ís involve themselves in interreligious dialogue? What does dialogue have to offer to the development of the Bahá'í community? What challenges will Bahá'ís face in the process? The focus in answering these questions will not be historical, but rather will center on the theory and practice of dialogue as depicted in the Bahá'í sacred writings and how it correlates to contemporary scholarship in the field.

Six Forms of Dialogue

Broadly defined, there are six ways that people engage in dialogue: parliamentary dialogue, institutional dialogue, theological dialogue, dialogue in community, spiritual dialogue, and inner dialogue. A brief description of each will illustrate their distinctive features and the interplay between them.

Parliamentary dialogue refers to large assemblies created for interfaith discussion, such as those organized by the World Conference on Religion and Peace and the British-based World Congress of Faiths. The impetus to engage in interreligious dialogue in this century is arguably the result of the first-ever parliamentary dialogue, the 1893 World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. Such sizeable international gatherings do not lend themselves to a tightly focused agenda, but tend to explore broader concerns, such as the possibilities for better cooperation between religions, and global issues such as peace, poverty, and the environment. They also serve as an important symbol of the strength and vitality of the interfaith movement.

Institutional dialogue includes the organized efforts of particular religious institutions that aim at initiating and facilitating various kinds of dialogue. This type of dialogue also seeks to establish and nurture channels of communication between the institutional bases of religious communities. The World Council of Churches and the Vatican have been active in this area. Numerous variations of this form of dialogue exist on a local level.

Theological dialogue refers to the process of representatives from different religious communities discussing theological and philosophical issues in a structured format. Christians and Muslims may, for example, concentrate their respective understandings on such realities as their prophet-founders, their sacred scriptures, moral values, and the role of religion in society. Academics in particular have pioneered this type of dialogue.

Dialogue in community is a term that encompasses the unstructured interaction between people of different religions. "Most interreligious dialogue takes place in markets and on street corners, at times of festivals or holy days, in the course of civic or humanitarian projects, at times of community or family crisis."4 Importantly, it also includes cooperative social projects organized by religious groups in response to local problems and practical concerns.

Spiritual dialogue is concerned with deepening spiritual life through interfaith encounter. This type of dialogue does not struggle with theological problems between religious communities, but rather, focuses on shared experience as a means of developing spirituality.

Examples of this are participation in joint worship experiences, and the common celebration of religious festivals and World Religion Day by different faiths.

Inner dialogue takes place within each individual as religious perspectives change on encountering other faiths. This is "the dialogue that takes place in our minds and hearts when we read the Bhagavad Gita, when we meet a Buddhist monk or nun, when we hear the Muslim call to prayer, or when we share the Sabbath meal with Jewish friends."5

The Dialogical Imperative

There are a number of Bahá'í scriptural passages that bear on interreligious dialogue. In his Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh enjoins his followers to "Consort [Arabic: 'ashíru] ye then with the followers of all religions," and restates later in that book the command to "Consort with all religions with amity and concord."6 This call is reiterated on three occasions after the revelation of the Aqdas in a similar vein: "Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship."7 The original Arabic for "consort" is most probably an imperative form of the verb 'ashara. Arabic-English lexicons suggest that the word used in this form implies "to be on intimate terms, associate (closely)"8 with someone, and is indicative of intimate social intercourse and fellowship.9 This term has the implication of close, intimate association and fellowship, as, for example, the members of the same clan would have had in ancient Arabia.10 The root of 'ashara is the triliteral 'ashr, which is the basis of the quranic term 'Ashírah.11 'Ashírah appears three times in the Qur'an translated as clan in the context of one's immediate family: "your brothers, your wives, your clan" (9:24); "warn thy clan, thy nearest kin" (26:214); "or their brothers, or their clan" (58:22).

Bahá'u'lláh's call to the peoples of the world to promote unity and concord contains some explicit injunctions to dialogue. He states that his revelation is centered on the promotion of the unity of humankind: "The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men."12 In the same tablet, Bahá'u'lláh expresses the desire that religious leaders of the world "take counsel together" in order to implement whatever measures are necessary to advance the cause of unity:
Our hope is that the world's religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely-afflicted world the remedy it requireth.13
In another tablet, he calls the conflicting peoples of the world to "gather ye together" so that differences may be explored and resolved:
O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you.14
Furthermore, Bahá'u'lláh commands the "men of wisdom among nations" to "fix your gaze upon unity."15 Thus, Bahá'í sacred scripture presents us with a series of statements that appeal to leaders of both secular and religious thought to consult on the challenges of and prospects for promoting unity. Bahá'u'lláh's plan for the unity of humankind, elaborated throughout his writings, calls for a range of approaches from institutional and theological dialogue to the practical implementation of such consultations through dialogue in community. Further endorsement for the importance of dialogue comes from 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks. While in North America in 1912, he stressed in a number of talks in churches the need for theological dialogue: "We must investigate reality"; "all of you must strive with heart and soul in order that enmity may disappear entirely" and "seek the means by which the benefits of agreement and concord may be enjoyed"; "the religionists of the world must lay aside imitations and investigate the essential foundation of reality itself. This is the divine means of agreement and unification."16 'Abdu'l-Bahá also encouraged spiritual dialogue: "All must abandon prejudices and must even go into each other's churches and mosques, for, in all of these worshipping places, the Name of God is mentioned. Since all gather to worship God, what difference is there?"17

Five Contributions of Dialogue

Interreligious dialogue would appear to be emphasized in the Bahá'í writings for at least five major reasons:

Bahá'í Education and Scholarship: Dialogue can serve as a tool for Bahá'ís to understand more fully the meaning of Bahá'í scripture or, as Bahá'ís put it, to "deepen" in the sacred writings of the Bahá'í Faith. Knowledge of the teachings and scriptures of other religions can aid in the understanding of the Bahá'í writings, which are infused with the religious symbolism and imagery of other revelations. This principle is most obviously exemplified in the case of Islam, the study of which can enable Bahá'ís to learn more about the theological background and terminology of their own religion. This may be viewed as being analogous to the significant impact of Jewish studies on modern Christian scholarship.18 Thus, Shoghi Effendi suggests that the Qur'an is an "indispensable" tool for the understanding of Bahá'í scripture:
The knowledge of this revealed holy Book [the Qur'an] is, indeed, indispensable to every Bahá'í who wishes to adequately understand the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.19
It is interesting that Shoghi Effendi broadens this approach when responding to a question of a young Bahá'í, in which he recommends an "intensive study" of the Kitáb-i Iqan (Book of Certitude) and Some Answered Questions. He ends the letter by encouraging study of the best contemporary religious scholarship in order "to clarify" these Bahá'í texts:
It is well, too, to read contemporary books, selecting the best, dealing with the same subjects, in order to become thoroughly acquainted with the subject and be able to clarify the Bahá'í teachings.20
Theological dialogue is a means to the same end of becoming "thoroughly acquainted" with the best contemporary religious thinking in order to "clarify the Bahá'í teachings." Moreover, dialogue can provide the setting to uncover the universal qualities, the ability of Bahá'í scripture to speak through their time and intended recipient to all time.

Further to being a tool for education and insight, dialogue serves to motivate people to challenge their present understanding of their religion. Swidler describes that by acting as a "mirror" for a religious community, participants are provoked into rethinking: "Our dialogue partner . . . becomes for us something of a mirror in which we perceive our selves in ways we could not otherwise do."21 This mirror effect occurs because, through dialogue, the participants are provided with a reflection of how others see them. Since dialogue also raises many questions in the process, it focuses the minds of the participants on aspects of their religious teachings that need to be worked out and further clarified.

Another important challenge facing the Bahá'í community is its approach to religious pluralism. There is a desperate need for Bahá'ís to produce adequate literature that explores the Bahá'í approach to the major religions.22 The scarce material that exists has been written with Protestant Christianity and Shí'í Islam in mind.23 Little has been written to clarify the Bahá'í teachings in light of modern views of world theology and religious pluralism.

I would maintain that a comprehensive Bahá'í theology of other religions can only be worked out in the context of dialogue. Dialogue acts as a theological tool and method to explore the relationship of the Bahá'í Faith to other religions. Discussing the importance of the dialogue methodology, Leonard Swidler believes that there will be "no systematic reflection, including Christian theology, [that] can appropriately be done today outside this matrix of interreligious, Inter-ideological dialogue."24 In light of this statement, Bahá'í scholars need to dialogue in order to develop a Bahá'í theology of other religions.

The Transformation of Other Religions: Dialogue can act as a tool in fulfilling the preeminent aim of the Bahá'í Faith—the transformation of the world religions so their sequence, interdependence, wholeness, and unity can be realized. Shoghi Effendi has written that " its avowed, its unalterable purpose" lies in its relation to other religions—"to widen their basis, . . . to reinvigorate their life, to demonstrate their oneness, to restore the pristine purity of their teachings."25 In a related passage, Shoghi Effendi states: "Its declared, its primary purpose is to enable every adherent of these Faiths to obtain a fuller understanding of the religion with which he stands identified, and to acquire a clear apprehension of its purpose."26

Instructive in working towards this goal are two examples of dialogue that 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as leader of the Bahá'í Faith, had with religious leaders in the West. Both these encounters pursue this challenging theme of the transformation of other religions. The first took place in May 1912 in the United States with Rabbi Stephen Wise, a prominent Jewish theologian of the day. The description of this encounter suggests that the rabbi was impressed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's message: "Indeed, indeed you are one of the greatest logicians of the world. Up to this time I have been talking to you as a man; now I will address you as a Rabbi."27 'Abdu'l-Bahá's approach in this interview was to champion the cause of Christ and, in so doing, to challenge Jews to reconcile their differences with Christians. His tribute to Christ is itself notable:
All the great prophets, the kings and the worthies of the Israelitish nation could not make the Persians believe in Moses. All the prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Nehemiah, et al., could not make one Zoroastrian believe in Moses. But one Jew came and many millions believe in Him. He spread His name in the East and in the West. He caused the Bible to be translated in all the languages of the world, and today nearly every home contains a Bible. He demonstrated throughout the world to all the nations of the world that the Israelitish people were the chosen people, that the Israelitish prophets were the prophets of God, that their books were the books of God, that their words were the words of God.28
'Abdu'l-Bahá pursued this approach in various addresses to Jewish audiences in his tour of North America. When addressing a vast congregation of two-thousand Jews in San Francisco in 1912,29 'Abdu'l-Bahá challenged the audience to widen the basis of their faith and accept Jesus Christ as the Word of God: "Why do you not say that Christ was the Word of God? Why do you not speak these words that will do away with all this difficulty?" In Washington D.C., he similarly stated to another Jewish audience, "And now it is time for the Jews to declare that Christ was the Word of God and then this enmity between the two great religions will pass away."30

Another interreligious encounter was with a group of Protestant theologians and priests in Paris in February 1913. Here the emphasis was on christology, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá presented an interpretation of the Prologue of St John's Gospel which celebrates the uniqueness of Christ without recourse to exclusivism. He then developed the theme that religions have essential and non-essential parts, consigning the dogmas (including the doctrine of the Trinity) and rituals of the Church to the non-essentials. He suggests that many of these nonessentials have been at the root of religious strife and conflict. The stage is then set for a renewal of the essentials, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá continues his discourse by highlighting principles foundational for a theology of peace between the religions.31 Of interest in this encounter is the link made between religious differences and world peace.

Specialists in the field have argued that the process of transforming other religions is central to the goal of dialogue. Paul Griffiths, a professor of the philosophy of religions at the University of Chicago, uses the term "positive apologetics" to describe a process by which dialogue participants "relate themselves apologetically to claims made by their opposite numbers within other religious communities."32 He argues that apologetics "is an essential component of interreligious relations," and a task that needs to be undertaken by "representative intellectuals" from religious communities.33 Griffiths believes that without apologetics, dialogue is "pallid, platitudinous, and degutted."34 Other writers in the field have written that the purpose of dialogue is the transformation of the religions. Cobb has written: "The transformation of the other traditions ranks higher as a goal than their supersession."35 Knitter suggests that the aim of interreligious dialogue is for the dialogue partners to have "their lives to be touched and transformed as ours have been."36 However, the transformation is reciprocal: "We must say that in dialogue, and beyond dialogue, Christians seek to be transformed and to transform others through mutual witness."37 Indeed, Knitter has argued that the world religions cannot assume their full meaning without this process:
. . . the Christian doctrine of the trinity needs the Islamic insistence on divine oneness; the impersonal Emptiness of Buddhism needs the Christian experience of the divine Thou; the Christian teaching on the distinction between the ultimate and the finite needs the Hindu insight into the nonduality between Brahma and atman; the prophetic-praxis oriented content of the Judeo-Christian tradition needs the Eastern stress in personal contemplation and "acting without seeking the fruits of action."38
This sort of analysis can be extended to the Bahá'í Faith. One can argue that the Bahá'í Faith can only assume a fuller meaning when the Bahá'í teachings and practice are allowed to benefit, for example, from the metaphysical insights of Buddhism, the devotional practices of Hinduism, the Christian emphasis on the prophet-founder as mediator and savior, the Islamic stress on the sanctity of divine laws, and the importance of communal religiosity in Jewish life.

The Transformation of the Bahá'í Faith: As was noted above, reciprocity—the challenge to mutual transformation and change—is integral to dialogue. Hans Kung has argued that interreligious dialogue "calls for self-criticism and self-correction on all sides," and a "reform of ourselves," if the world religions are to seriously construct a theology of peace.39 Bahá'ís naturally are not immune from the need for self-renewal.

One potential area for the transformational effect of dialogue on Bahá'í theology and practice lies in the Bahá'í concept of religion. Moojan Momen, a leading Bahá'í historian, has argued that Bahá'ís have constructed a version of the Bahá'í Faith that is based on Western concepts of what religion should be. "Thus, in their presentations Bahá'ís emphasize the concepts of God, the prophet or messenger of God, the revelation of a Holy Book, the establishment of a sacred law, etc."40 Although this is understandable in view of the historical background and development of the Bahá'í Faith, it has perpetuated a somewhat narrow vision of religion and has consequently seriously limited the potential of the Bahá'í Faith to be relevant to non-Western societies. To overcome this problem, the Bahá'í community needs to familiarize itself with and, where compatibility is feasible, adapt itself to the worldviews of non-Western peoples. This vital process of broadening the basis of the Bahá'í Faith can be undertaken by interreligious dialogue.

The Bahá'í Peace Program: Interreligious dialogue is integral to the process of developing a framework that will allow for the sustainable development of world peace. Bahá'u'lláh has stated that the "essence of the Faith of God" is to prevent religious strife—an important goal of dialogue:
That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion.41
The Promise of World Peace, a Bahá'í peace charter, calls religious leaders to dialogue in order to remove the causes of religious strife by raising a challenging question: "How are the differences between them [the world's religions] to be resolved in theory and in practice?" The Universal House of Justice suggests a partial response to its own question indicating that theological differences will have to be submerged in a spirit that "will enable them to work together for the advancement of human understanding and peace."42 The same exhortation was extended to the Bahá'í community by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who challenged Bahá'ís and others to act as a "propelling agent"43 to overcome obstacles to world peace.

The importance of the contribution of the world religions to the peace process has been highlighted by a number of theologians. Knitter has written: "Peace . . . is becoming a universal religious symbol that challenges and calls together all religions."44 Hans Kung has argued for the central role of interreligious dialogue in current international affairs and that the only alternative to dialogue is continuing international instability and warfare.45 In the quest to tackle peace issues practically, religionists will realize that the problems afflicting humanity cannot be resolved without a new world vision and understanding of humankind and its future, a vision and understanding that can be found in the world's great religions. Standing together on the common ground of the desire for peace, the religions can help construct a more fruitful dialogue than they have previously experienced.

Kung's call for a theology of peace to be constructed by interreligious dialogue should not be confused with "an abstract, appellative theology of peace of the kind that is so often preached in Rome and Geneva." Calls to passive theologies of peace are ineffectual since general appeals to understanding, tolerance, and peace do not stress commitment: ". . . so it remains voluntary, harmless and inefficient." Rather, Kung argues that "this theology of peace must be convincing by its concreteness."46

Douglas Martin's challenging presentation to the fortieth anniversary gathering of the World Congress of Faiths addresses this need for a creative and concrete theology of peace. It proposes a disinterested study of the Bahá'í community as a model for the realization of the goals of the Congress of Faiths and the wider dialogue movement. The Bahá'í model can well serve as a unique focus for an interreligious dialogue on peace:
The model is a global community which, far from seeing itself as already complete or self-sufficient, is embarked on an infinite series of experiments at the local, national, and international levels in its efforts to realize the vision of mankind's oneness which it finds in the Writings of its Founder and of all the Messengers of God.... No matter how restricted in size or still restricted in influence the model may be, such a phenomenon deserves the most able and the most disinterested study mankind can bring to it.47
There are two distinct advantages in furthering cooperative social action between the religions as part of the peace process. The first is a moral reason: the need for world peace and the alleviation of the suffering of the victims of war is a universal concern of all religious communities, and it therefore provides a common ground for all religions to participate in dialogue. Every religion will feel the obligation to respond. The second advantage is practical and indirect: the process of solving practical problems together will eventually spill over into discussing the theological issues among the religions. This "hermeneutical method" that facilitates dialogue will evolve naturally once the participants have already worked together and established a sense of trust and fellowship.48 Under the momentum of practical dialogue in the community, the partners in dialogue will move to prayer, reflection, discussion, and study. Knitter describes this dynamic:
Having acted together, Buddhists and Christians and Muslims now reflect and talk together about their religious convictions and motivations. Here is where the partners in dialogue can enter into the scriptures and doctrines and explain not only to themselves but to others what it is that animates and guides and sustains them in their liberative praxis.49
The Emergence from Obscurity: An important byproduct of interreligious dialogue is that it reinforces the perception of the status of the Bahá'í Faith as an independent world religion, and one that has a contribution to make to the challenges facing humanity today. Dialogue also creates alliances and friendships that can protect the Bahá'í community from future opposition. In reviewing the achievements of the Six-Year Plan (1986-92), the Universal House of Justice wrote that the Bahá'í community's involvement in the work of interreligious organizations was a significant landmark in the participation of the Bahá'í Faith in public affairs. In other words, institutional dialogue has made an important contribution to the emergence from obscurity:
. . . the formal relationship which the Bahá'í International Community established with the Conservation and Religion Network of the World Wide Fund for Nature and with the World Conference on Religion and Peace, in conjunction with numerous such relationships established by National and Local Spiritual Assemblies in their respective jurisdictions, reflects a trend in the Faith's emergence as an entity to be reckoned with.50
In summary, these are the main contributions of dialogue for the Bahá'í community: it can aid in developing a more profound understanding of the Bahá'í writings and a Bahá'í theology of world religions; it can contribute to the Bahá'í peace program and to a greater public perception that the Bahá'í Faith is emerging as an independent world religion; dialogue can act as a tool to transform the world religions in order to promote their unity; and dialogue can foster the process of broadening the applicability and relevance of the Bahá'í Faith to non-Western societies.


Dialogue presents a number of challenges to the Bahá'í community. The first challenge is greater visibility. Bahá'ís have not always been invited to participate in interreligious exchanges. This is partly due to the fact that the Bahá'í Faith has not yet achieved world religion status in the eyes of many academics and religious leaders, and therefore would not be afforded the privilege of a platform with other world religions.51 Although the Bahá'í Faith is not a new religious movement (NRM), the Bahá'ís themselves must take up John Saliba's challenge to ensure their greater visibility at interreligious encounters: "many members of NRM's apparently are not aware of the fact that social and religious acceptance are not immediately granted by outsiders but develop, often painfully, over a period of time."52 As the Mormons have done over the last century, new religions need "to make concessions to become recognized as legitimate religious options."53 A central concession is the ability to benefit from the dynamic of internal self-criticism.

A related problem is that the development of Bahá'í theology has not yet reached the requisite level from which a constructive dialogue with the other world religions can proceed. Historian of religion, Jacques Chouleur, noted in the 1970's that Bahá'í theology is "too simple, too lax and vague. The assertion that all religions are one and that the teachings of God's envoys are identical may fail to convince those who go to the trouble of closely comparing the words attributed to Jesus, Muhammad or Buddha Gautama."54 Bábí scholar, Denis MacEoin stated in the 1980's that "the level of sophistication of . . . Jewish or Christian scholarship is considerable and enables useful dialogue to take place. By way of contrast, the low level of attainment in Bahá'í writing precludes anything like a meeting of equals. Comparability only exists with the productions of groups like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, or Theosophists, with whom no useful dialogue is likely in any case."55

A 1994 survey of articles on the Bahá'í Faith in academic periodicals demonstrates that even this comparison may be flattering. Over seventeen times more articles were written on Mormonism than the Bahá'í religion during 1985-1993 according to one of the most comprehensive indexes of academic periodicals, the Arts and Humanities Citation Index. Furthermore, the majority of the Bahá'í articles in the 1980s were on the recent persecutions of Bahá'ís in Iran and the architectural aspects of the Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi (dedicated in 1986). Few articles were published on theology, philosophy, or history.56 Not only is more scholarly literature badly needed, but a culture of critical reflection and reform, important elements in the scholarly discourse among dialogue communities, also need to be further developed in Bahá'í studies. This need is further compounded by a vicious circle: the continued development of Bahá'í studies in part depends on theological dialogue with other religions, but this dialogue cannot take place if Bahá'ís have nothing to offer such a process.

Further important challenges await followers of all faiths to avoid engaging in opportunistic manipulations of dialogue. "The term dialogue has become faddish, and is sometimes, like charity, used to cover a multitude of sins."57 Among these sins is the "soft-sell" approach, which encourages partners in dialogue to express their views in the hope that such a "dialogue" may well make the "ignorant" person more receptive to the truth that only one side possesses. Some may also feel that in today's more fashionable climate of dialogue, they can more effectively communicate "the truth" to the "ignorant" in a less aggressive style. The clear mandate put forward in the Bahá'í writings is that of informed dialogue and cordial fellowship.58

However, awareness of such potential misuses of dialogue need not translate into a watered-down presentation of the truths held by the participants in the various religious traditions. When dialogue is truly free, participants will affirm their own beliefs clearly and passionately. One of the more appealing and effective methods of dialogue is that the laying bare of one's own deeply held religious convictions establishes at the same time an open climate that eagerly invites the dialogue partners to affirm their vision of the truth. Paul Knitter argues that participants should speak from the richness of their own religious experience in order to persuade: "We seek not only to explain but to persuade." Therefore, dialogue is animated by "a certain missionary þlan. We want our partners to see what we have seen; we want their lives to be touched and transformed as ours have been."59 Cobb reinforces this view: "Real dialogue consists in the effort of both sides to persuade the other."60 The motivation here is of sharing with the dialogue partner, not trying to win them over. The hope is that the dialogue partner can be transformed by the process. As dialogue involves listening openly and attentively in an attempt to understand the other's position as precisely and as much from within as possible, Swidler notes that such an attitude assumes that at some point we might find the dialogue partner's position so persuasive that, if we were to act with integrity, we would have to change: "That means that there is a risk involved in dialogue that old positions and traditions may be found wanting."61 If we talk of conversion, "then the conversion we seek is much more of a matter of metanoia, of trying to 'turn around' our partners."62 Transformation rather than conversion is the most appropriate term for the goal of dialogue.

Another challenge of interreligious dialogue is that participants may find themselves becoming increasingly alienated from their own religious community. Dialogue can be a lonely quest in which individuals engaging in dialogue may find themselves inadvertently drifting further and further away from their community of origin, partly because dialogue brings about a growth in understanding and an extension of religious experience that is not shared by those who have not participated.

To summarize, dialogue presents some real challenges. Bahá'ís must make greater efforts to ensure that they are valuable contributors in forums of religious dialogue. Bahá'í participants should guard against a tendency to over-simplify a commonality of belief among the world's great religions. The Bahá'í community must stimulate the development of more scholarly literature and Bahá'ís need to avoid conflating dialogue with propagation activities.


I propose here three main approaches that the Bahá'í community could pursue in interreligious dialogue. Each of these three "bridges"—the ethical, the intellectual, and the mystical/spiritual—can link Bahá'ís to the communities of other faiths. Along each "bridge," some practical steps are suggested as starting points in this process.

The Ethical Bridge. I argued above that cooperative social projects focusing on world peace are advantageous in that they call the participant religions to respond and create the momentum leading to deeper forms of association and dialogue. Examples of practical cooperation are given in a recent publication by Charles Kimball that charts a way forward for Christian-Muslim relations. He asserts that "opportunities for cooperative social action abound. Obvious concerns relate to societal problems such as homelessness, poverty, and the proliferation of drugs."63 Kimball argues that both communities can benefit from reciprocal learning, and that Christians in particular have much to learn from Muslim initiatives in drug and prison rehabilitation programs in North America. John Hick also notes that the major interfaith effort of Jews, Christians, and Muslims today "is rightly directed towards developing this practical cooperation in face of the pressing need to achieve peace and justice on earth within a sustainable global economy."64 One of Hans Kung's dialogical imperatives in the "postmodern" world is the need for local and regional interreligious groups and working parties to "discuss and remove problems where they arise, and investigate and realize possibilities for practical collaboration."65 Diana Eck writes that "our task is to learn to collaborate with one another on issues that none of us can solve alone," and argues that dialogue should begin with the questions that arise from the common context of our lives together.66

This applies to Bahá'í communities who have both much to learn from and much to contribute to cooperative social projects with other religious communities. Examples of possible joint activities include overcoming the seven obstacles to world peace identified in The Promise of World Peace: racism, extremes of poverty and wealth, unbridled nationalism, religious strife, inequality between the sexes, the low levels of education and literacy throughout the world, and the lack of an international auxiliary language. On national and international levels, dialogue can assist in meeting the goals of the Bahá'í International Community (BIC) at the United Nations whose external affairs strategy as outlined in October 1994, is "to guide the global activities of the community for the immediate future."67 BIC's strategy will concentrate especially on human rights, the status of women, global prosperity, and moral development. In a similar vein, in 1990, Hans Kung proposed a future agenda for interreligious dialogue, after widespread consultation with representatives of the various world religions. The agenda includes the preservation of human rights, the emancipation of women, the realization of social justice, and the immorality of war.68

The challenge that the Universal House of Justice issued to the Bahá'í community in 1983 for "greater involvement in the development of the social and economic life of peoples"69 and the opening of "a wider horizon" of "new pursuits and undertakings upon which we must shortly become engaged"70 invites Bahá'í communities to work creatively toward implementing their vision of an ever-advancing civilization, a process that would do well to involve the participation and contribution of other religions.

The Intellectual Bridge. Theological dialogue must take note of religious differences. As noted in the introduction, Paul Knitter argues that "we have to deal with the manyness, the differences, among the religions before we can ever contemplate, much less realize, their possible unity or oneness."71 This approach is endorsed in the Bahá'í writings. Bahá'u'lláh calls upon the peoples of the world to "root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you,"72 and the Universal House of Justice appeals to the religious leaders of the world to consider how their differences can "be resolved in theory and in practice."73 Two difficulties are presented to Bahá'ís who approach dialogue with these questions in mind. The first is the tendency to oversimplify and to reduce all religions to something they are not. David Tracy warns against this danger, which is present in all religious communities that favor the primordial tradition: "The official pluralist too often finds ways to reduce real otherness and genuine differences to some homogenized sense of what we already know.... Some pluralists, the vaunted defenders of difference, can become the great reductionists—reducing differences to mere similarity, reducing otherness to the same, and reducing plurality to my community of right-thinking competent critics."74

A second related problem is to assume that religious differences will be swept away as all humanity gradually embraces the Bahá'í Faith. Although the Bahá'í writings suggest nothing of the sort, this attitude is occasionally expressed when Bahá'ís teach their faith. A notable and recent example of this assumption on outsider perception is the comment of the current President of the World Congress of Faiths, Edward Carpenter. When Carpenter was asked about the relationship of the Bahá'í Faith to Christianity, he explained: "it disturbs me when on occasion I hear a well-meaning Bahá'í taking the view that it is God's will that all religions will be absorbed, ultimately, into the Bahá'í Faith. This is a form of imperialism which, I think, we need to guard ourselves against."75 Hans Kung has called for a dialogue that places emphasis on religious freedom and tolerance: "The question of truth must not be trivialized and sacrificed to the utopia of future world unity and one world religion. On the contrary, we are all challenged to think through anew, in an atmosphere of freedom, the whole question of truth."76

In order to resolve religious differences, Bahá'í scholars have identified a number of principles that are applicable to the many theological disputes among the religions. Among the most controversial differences are those concerning the nature of God and the nature of the founders of the various religious communities. Bahá'í scholars have explored three theories that attempt to address these questions: cognitive relativism, the essence-attribute distinction, and complementarity. These theories can be seen as hypotheses that should be tested, developed, and refined in the context of interreligious dialogue.

Moojan Momen has argued that the Bahá'í principle of the relativity of religious truth means that any absolute knowledge of ultimate reality is impossible. Consequently, individuals possess no right to claim that their understanding is the only true one in any absolute sense. Of the Divinity, Bahá'u'lláh has written: "Exalted, immeasurably exalted, art Thou above the strivings of mortal man to unravel Thy mystery, to describe Thy glory, or even hint at the nature of Thine Essence."77 Consequently, all descriptions, all schemata, all attempts to define the nature of God, are limited by the viewpoint of the individual.78 All such attempts "are but a reflection of that which hath been created within themselves."79 This has led Momen to argue that the theory of "cognitive relativism" is an important approach to deal with conflicting truth claims among the religions. This theory presents the view that the differing ways of conceptualizing the Absolute Reality are each "true" relative to the individual who sincerely makes them. Momen applies the principle of relativism to resolve the contrast between the dualist (Judaeo-Christian-Islamic) and monist (Eastern religions) perceptions of the Ultimate. Momen explores 'Abdu'l-Bahá's rich commentary of the Islamic tradition "I was a Hidden Treasure," which presents the view that no matter how hard an individual strives in an effort to gain a knowledge of the Absolute, the only success is to achieve a better knowledge of his or her own self. 'Abdu'l-Bahá likens this state of affairs to a compass: no matter how far the compass travels, it is only going around the point at its center. Similarly, however much human beings may strive for and achieve realms of spiritual knowledge, ultimately they are only attaining a better and greater knowledge of themselves, not of any exterior Absolute.80

As to the metaphysical nature of the prophet-founders, Juan Cole discusses the theological implications of the philosophical distinction between the essence of a thing and its attribute made by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, rather like the phenomenon-noumenon distinction of Kant, to explain the differences between conceptions of the founders of the world religions:
Essence and attribute have an identical referent, save that attribute is the thing as perceived and conceptualized, and essence is the thing as it is in itself. Insofar as perception is never direct, but always involves intermediaries between the perceiver and the object of perception, the essence of a thing uncolored by perceptual intermediaries . . . must remain in some sense unknowable.81
This approach can also significantly contribute to reconciling the differences in the representation of the Ultimate among the world's religions. An attempt in this direction has been made with John Hick's complex theory of religious pluralism. Hick uses Kant's phenomenon-noumenon distinction to hypothesize that the great world faiths are various responses to the Ultimate, conceived and experienced through differing human perceptions, some in terms of the Deity or Ultimate as personal, and others in terms of the Absolute as non-personal:
On this view the God figures—Adonai, the Heavenly Father, Alláh, Vishnu, Shiva, etc.—are different personae of the Real, formed jointly by the ultimate universal presence in which "we live and move and have our being" and by the different historical thought-forms projected by the human mind. Likewise the non-personal Brahman, Tao, Dharmakaya, etc. are impersonae of the Real, formed at the interface between the Real and the non-personal religious thought-forms that have been developed within yet other traditions.82
A third approach to religious differences is through the principle of complementarity. Cole applies Niels Bohr's principle of complementarity—a conceptual model to explain the observable phenomenon that electrons appear to behave under certain conditions like particles and under other conditions like waves—to explain differing understandings of the historical founders of the world religions:
. . . the Manifestations of God exhibit evidences of both divinity and humanity in much the same way as electrons behave alternately as waves and particles and that as with the latter, so with the former, both models need taken in conjunction if a more complete understanding is to be reached.83
Cole suggests that the Christian-Muslim debate about the station of the founders of their religions can be partially reconciled by suggesting that Christians have perceived one aspect of the prophet-founder (the particle) and Muslims another (the wave).84

Again, this philosophical idea can be used to resolve differences in the conceptions of the deity. For example, Cobb, himself a pioneer in the field of Christian-Buddhist dialogue, has argued that Zen Buddhist thought and traditional Christian teaching in relation to the Ultimate can be seen to be complementary. The foci of the two traditions are seen as "compatible without being identical" so that the following resolution can be suggested:
Is it not conceivable that in the full complexity of reality, so far exceeding all that we can know or think, "Emptying" identifies one truly important aspect, and "God" another? I think so: Would acknowledging that possibility contradict fundamentally what it is most important to either Zen Buddhists or Christians to assert? I think not. But to come to that conclusion does require that one rethink the insights on both sides.85
The Mystical-Spiritual Bridge. Much writing on interreligious dialogue has been done by individuals who have pioneered theological dialogue. Consequently, there has been a temptation to over-emphasize the importance of this form of dialogue. Monica Hellwig, a Catholic professor of interreligious dialogue, has made an important critique of theological dialogue and argued for the centrality of spiritual dialogue: "the exchange of theologies is not the fundamental or primary path to mutual understanding, but depends very heavily on some prior experience of the ritual, the life and story."86 Drawing on the thinking of Hans Gadamer and, in particular, his theory of interpretation, which proposes that the meaning of a dance is in the dancing of it, the meaning of a song is in the singing of it, and the meaning of life in the living, Hellwig proposes that "one approaches the meaning of others' dances, songs and lives across bridges of empathy in which the imagination enters into experience other than its own." It is only at this level that explanations, theories, and prescriptions convey meaning."87 Hellwig is, therefore, suggesting that spiritual dialogue is "a primary path" to understanding other religions.

This theme was explored by the distinguished Bahá'í writer and dignitary George Townshend, who represented the Bahá'í community at the first World Congress of Faiths in 1936. In his presentation, Townshend explored the importance of mystical experience in demonstrating the unity of religions, the striking "fundamental unity of all mystical experience":
If one is to accept the account of their experience given by contemporaries or by themselves, these mystics seem all the world over to have gone upon the same spiritual adventure, to be drawn onward by the same experience of an outpoured heavenly love....

By what diverse paths have mystics who had nothing in common save whole-hearted servitude before the one loving God, by what diverse paths have they all alike attained the blessed Presence!88
Townshend suggests that the example of mystics would lead worshippers in all religions to "find something in the fundamental nature of religion itself which promotes a sweet, precious and abiding sense of true companionship."89

There is also a sense in which the mystical-spiritual bridge can aid in developing the community life of religions. It is notable that Bahá'ís face a great challenge in cultivating a deeper sense of both spirituality and community. The ritual and mystical sparseness of Bahá'í community meetings has been noted by Michael Fischer, professor of anthropology at Rice University. He recalls his disappointment on visiting the Bahá'í House of Worship in Chicago in finding that the service lacked ritual richness and depth:
As an anthropologist, however, I was somewhat disappointed: what was read from each text destroyed the particularity of the tradition from which it was drawn, leaving, seemingly, but banal platitudes.90
Momen has noted that "what we have in the West, where Bahá'í groups meet for a few hours each week, can scarcely be called a community. The term 'Bahá'í community' is more an expression of an aspiration than of present reality."91 This weakness is sometimes reflected in the public presentation of their religion by Bahá'ís. Jacques Chouleur has observed "a certain reticence or timidity in exhibiting this mystic aspect of their religion and its Founder" in preference to a focus on the social teachings. He warns of the potentially tragic consequences of becoming detached from "the essentially mystic origin" of the Bahá'í Faith. He concludes:
The transfiguration of this earthly world by the implementation of the Bahá'í principles may be for them a doubtless exhilarating objective, but quite incomplete, insufficient if it is deprived of mysticism and contemplation.92
Thus, I would argue that the Bahá'í community needs to engage in spiritual dialogue for two reasons. It provides a deeper understanding of other religions, or as Hellwig puts it "a primary path to mutual understanding," and an approach demonstrating the unity of religious experience. The mystical-spiritual bridge also addresses a deep need in the Bahá'í community to develop an ambience of spiritality and mysticism in Bahá'í gatherings, services, and commemorative events that can contribute to the creation of a richer community life.

In summary, I have examined three bridges that can link the Bahá'í community to other religions in dialogue. I have proposed that the ethical bridge should focus on tackling obstacles to world peace in cooperative projects with other religious communities. The intellectual bridge needs to confront religious differences and attempt to resolve them. The mystical-spiritual bridge can significantly enrich the nature of Bahá'í community and devotional life and contribute to a Bahá'í theology of religions.


I am grateful to Arash Abizadeh, Morten Bergsmo, Mina Fazel, J. A. (Jack) McLean, Udo Schaefer, Robert Stockman and others who have commented on earlier drafts of this paper.

    1. Paul Knitter, "Interreligious Dialogue: What? Why? How?" in Death or Dialogue?: From the Age of Monologue to the Age of Dialogue, ed. by L. Swidler, et al. (London: SCM Press, 1990) p. 20.
    2. "Interreligious and Interideological Dialogue: The Matrix for all Systematic Reflection Today" in Towards a Universal Theology of Religion, ed. by L. Swidler (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1987) pp. 26-27.
    3. "A Dialogue on Dialogue" in Death or Dialogue?: From the Age of Monologue to the Age of Dialogue, ed. by L. Swidler, et al. (London: SCM Press, 1990) p. 8.
    4. D. Eck, "What do we mean by 'Dialogue'?" Current Dialogue, vol. 11 (1986) p. 11.
    5. Ibid., pp. 14 15.
    6. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1992) K75, K144.
    7. Tablets of Bahá'u71ah Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, trans. by H. Taherzadeh with the assistance of a committee at the Bahá'í World Centre (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978) pp. 22, 35, 87.
    8. H. Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, ed. by J. Milton Cowan (Weisbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1979) p. 718.
    9. E. W. Lane, Arabic English Lexicon, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society Trust, 1984) p. 2051.
    10. I am grateful to Stephen Lambden for this information.
    11. H. E. Kassis, A Concordance of the Qur'an (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983) pp. 281-82. Cf. Qur'an 22:13, where the masculine noun 'ashir ("friend/companion") occurs.
    12. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, trans. by Shoghi Effendi, rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976) p. 215.
    13. Ibid., pp. 215-16.
    14. Ibid., p. 217.
    15. Tablets, p. 67.
    16. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, comp. Howard Macnutt, 2d. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982) pp. 40, 42, 299, 339.
    17. Star of the West, vol. 9, no. 3 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1978) p. 37.
    18. The studies of Geza Vermes, for example, have caused New Testament scholars to revise the meaning of the phrase "Son of Man" and the New Testament texts in which this phrase is contained.
    19. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated 23 November 1934, in Deepening our Understanding and Knowledge of the Faith, comp. Research Dept. of the Universal House of Justice (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983) pp. 31-32.
    20. From a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, quoted in The Bahá'ís Magazine, Vol. 24 (Chicago: Bahá'í News Service, 1934) p. 144.
    21. "Dialogue on Dialogue," p. 63.
    22. Stephen Lambden, "Doing Bahá'í Scholarship in the 1990s: A Religious Studies Approach," The Bahá'í Studies Reuiew, vol. 3, no. 2 (1994) pp. 66-67.
    23. Examples include the work of George Townshend and Robert Stockman in Protestant Christianity; Mirza Abu'l Fadl, Fadil Mazandarani, and Abbas Amanat in Shí'í Islam.
    24. "Interreligious and Interideological Dialogue," p. 5.
    25. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters, rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974) p. 114.
    26. Ibid., p. 58.
    27. "Interview between a Prominent Rabbi and Abdul-Bahá," Star of the West, vol. 3, no. 9 (24 June 1912) pp. 7.
    28. Ibid.
    29. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974) p. 291.
    30. Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 368, 409.
    31. "'Abdu'l-Bahá on Christ on Christianity," The Bahá'í Studies Review, vol. 3, no.1 (1993) pp. 7-17.
    32. An Apology for Apologetics: A Study in the Logic of Interreligious Dialogue (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991) pp. 1, 14.
    33. Ibid., pp. 3, 7.
    34. Ibid., p. xii.
    35. "Dialogue," p. 9.
    36. "Interreligious Dialogue," p. 23.
    37. Cobb, "Dialogue," p. 9.
    38. Paul Knitter, No Other Name? A Survey of Christian Attitudes towards World Religions (London: SCM Press, 1985) p. 221.
    39. Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic (New York: Continuum, 1993) pp. 131-32.
    40. "Learning from History," The Journal of Bahá'í Studies, vol. 2, no.2 (1990) p. 61.
    41. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, trans. Shoghi Effendi, rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1979) p. 13.
    42. Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985) p. 12.
    43. Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 12.
    44. "Interreligious Dialogue," p. 29.
    45. "Christianity and World Religions: Dialogue with Islam" in Towards a Universal Theology of Religion, ed. by L. Swidler (Maryknoll: Orbis,1987) p. 194.
    46. Global Responsibility, p. 131.
    47. D. Martin, "Bahá'u'lláh's Model for World Fellowship," World Order, vol. 11, no.1 (1976) p.19.
    48. Knitter, "Response II," in Death or Dialogue?: From the Age of Monologue to the Age of Dialogue, ed. by L. Swidler, et al. (London: SCM Press, 1990) p. 129.
    49. "Interreligious Dialogue," p. 35.
    50. Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, April 21, 1992, in A Wider Horizon: Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice 1983-1992. Comp. by Paul Lample (Riviera Beach, Florida: Palabra, 1992) p. 100.
    51. For a discussion of this issue, see my paper "Is the Bahá'í Faith a World Religion?" The Journal of Bahá'í Studies, vol. 6, no.1 (1994) pp. 1-16.
    52. J. A. Saliba, "Dialogue with New Religious Movements: Issues and Prospects," The Journal of Ecumenical Studies, vol. 30, no.1 (1993) p. 72.
    53. Ibid.
    54. J. Chouleur, "The Bahá'í Faith: World Religion of the Future," World Order, Vol. 12, no. 1 (1977) p. 17.
    55. D. MacEoin, "Problems of Scholarship in a Bahá'í Context," Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, Vol. 1, no. 3 (1982) p. 58.
    56. Seena Fazel, "The Bahá'í Faith and Academic Journals," The Bahá'í Studies Review, Vol. 3, no. 2 (1994) p. 83-85.
    57. Swidler, "A Dialogue on Dialogue," p. 57.
    58. The difficulties outlined are more problematic for NRM's (Saliba, "Dialogue with New Religious Movements," pp. 72-77), but nevertheless are present to one degree or another in the Bahá'í community. Specific examples are found in Bahá'í literature, where examples exist of dialogue being conflated with missionary-type activities, and where literature towards other religions is occasionally overtly critical. In an important review, Chris Buck has highlighted this failing of Bahá'í apologetic literature: "Apologetic . . . has taken on implicit invective" and "that criticism is not sufficiently counterbalanced by construction." ("Review of The Prophecies of Jesus by M. Sours," The Journal of Bahá'í Studies, Vol. 5, no. 2 [1992] pp. 79-86) It would appear that negative apologetics outweighs positive apologetics in some Bahá'í theological literature.
    59. "Interreligious Dialogue," pp. 23.
    60. "Dialogue," p. 9.
    61. Swidler, After the Absolute: The Dialogical Future of Religious Reflection (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990) p. 3.
    62. Knitter, "Interreligious Dialogue," p. 23.
    63. C. Kimball, Striving Together: A Way Forward in Christian-Muslim Relations (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991) p. 119.
    64. J. Hick, "Interfaith and the Future," The Bahá'í Studies Review, Vol. 4, no. 1 (1994) p. 4.
    65. Global Responsibility, p. 137.
    66. Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993) pp. 213, 218.
    67. Letter from the Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 10 October 1994.
    68. Global Responsibility, p. 88.
    69. Letter of the Universal House of Justice, 20 October 1983, in A Wider Horizon, p. 139.
    70. Universal House of Justice, Ridvan letter, 21 April 1983, in A Wider Horizon, p. 138.
    71. "Interreligious Dialogue," p. 20.
    72. Gleanings, p. 217.
    73. The Promise of World Peace (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985) p. 12.
    74. D. Tracy, "Christianity and the Wider Context: Demands and Transformations," Religion and Intellectual Life, Vol. 4 (1987) p. 12.
    75. C. Gouvion and P. Jouvion, The Gardeners of God: An Encounter with Five Million Bahá's (Oxford: Oneworld, 1993) p. 169.
    76. "Foreword" to The Peace Bible, ed. by S. Scholl (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1986) p. 8.
    77. Gleanings, pp. 3-4.
    78. Momen, "Relativism: A Basis for Bahá'í Metaphysics," in Studies in Honor of the Late Hasan M. Balyuai: Studies in the Bab & Bahá'í Religions, Volume 5, ed. by M. Momen (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1988) pp. 200-201.
    79. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 318.
    80. Momen, "Relativism," p. 203.
    81. J. R. I. Cole, "The Christian-Muslim Encounter and the Bahá'í Faith," World Order, Vol. 12, no. 2 (1977-78) p. 24. Cf. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984) pp. 146-50.
    82. "Straightening the Record: Some Response to Critics," Modern Theology, Vol. 6, no. 2 (1990) p. 191.
    83. "Christian-Muslim Encounter," pp. 26-27.
    84. Ibid.
    85. "Dialogue," p. 6.
    86. M. K. Hellwig, "The Thrust and Tenor of Our Conversations," in Death or Dialogue?: From the Age of Monologue to the Age of Dialogue, ed. by L. Swidler et al. (London: SCM Press, 1990) p. 50.
    87. "Thrust and Tenor," p. 50.
    88. G. Townshend, Bahá'u'llah's Ground Plan of World-Fellowship as Presented by 'Abdu7-Bahá in The Bahá'í World. Volume 6 (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1937) pp. 617, 618.
    89. Ibid.
    90. M. Fischer, "Social Change and the Mirrors of Tradition: The Bahá'ís of Yazd," in The Bahá'í Faith and Islam, ed. by H. Moayyad (Ottawa: Association for Bahá'í Studies, 1990) p. 26.
    91. "Learning from History," p. 66, fn. 11.
    92. "The God of Bahá'u'lláh," World Order, Vol. 13, no. 1 (1978) pp. 18-19.
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