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COLLECTIONPublished articles
TITLEProlegomena to a Bahá'í Theology
AUTHOR 1Jack McLean
TITLE_PARENTJournal of Bahá'í Studies
PUB_THISAssociation for Bahá'í Studies North America
ABSTRACTGroundbreaking and thorough essay on the basic concerns of scholarly Bahá'í theology.
NOTES Also available in Microsoft Word format. Also available in French translation [PDF] by Pierre Spierckel.
TAGS- Buddhism; - Christianity; - Hinduism; - Interfaith dialogue; - Islam; - Judaism; - Philosophy; Cosmology; God; Relativism; Sufism; Theology
Abstract: Theology is intrinsic to the Bahá'í revelation. While community attitudes have tended to view the discipline of theology somewhat suspiciously, the term and field of "Bahá'í theology" remain valid and are indispensable. One can distinguish source theology or revelation theology, contained in holy writ, from derivative theology (commentary), which is more relative and subjective. The relativity of religious truth, while it plays a useful role in deabsolutizing dogmatism and in promoting interreligious dialogue, is itself relative and currently runs the risk of becoming another absolute. Bahá'í theology is both apophatic (negative) and cataphatic (affirmative). An abstruse, apophatic negative theology of a hidden God is explicit as background to Bahá'í theology. Apophasis rejects defining God and honors God by remaining silent about the divine essence. If apophasis does speak of God, it does so by via negativa, by describing God through a process of elimination of what God is not, rather than making affirmations about what God is. The main substance of Bahá'í theology, however, is manifestation theology or theophanology, that is, a theology calculated upon an understanding of the metaphysical reality and teachings of the divine Manifestation. This manifestation theology is cataphatic. Cataphasis dares to speak about God but recognizes that God transcends the human analogies used to describe divinity. Bahá'í theology is, moreover, based in faith rooted in the person of Bahá'u'lláh and his divine revelation, has a strong metaphysical bias, eschews dogmatism, and welcomes diversity.

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