In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Baha'i Faith

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Historical Background
  • Praxis
  • Social Teachings
  • Political Theory
  • Baha’is and Other Religions
  • Persecution
  • Countries and Regions

Islamic Studies Baha'i Faith
Farshid Kazemi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0165


The Baha’i faith is a post-Islamic religion and one of the world’s youngest faiths, founded by the Iranian prophet and nobleman Mirza Husayn-ʿAli Nuri, Baha’u’llah (or Baha’-Allah, Ar. “Glory of God”) (b. c. 1817–d. 1892). The religion emerged from the messianic matrix of the Babi movement (Babism), which had developed from Shaykhism (shaykhiyya) within Twelver Shiʿi (Ithna ʿashari) Islam, in mid-19th-century Iran. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah is the latest, but not the last, in a series of prophets or messengers—termed “Manifestations of God” (mazhar ilahi ) in Baha’i lexicon—whose appearance has ushered in the longed-for millennial peace and fulfilled the scriptural promises of the world’s religions. For Baha’is, the various prophets or “manifestations”—which include figures such as Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah—appear cyclically according to the needs of the time and subsequently provide teachings suited for the given age in which they live. According to Baha’is, the most important of these needs in this era is the realization of the oneness of God, the essential unity of all religions, and the oneness of humanity. Thus, according to Baha’i doctrine, Baha’u’llah has appeared for the current cycle of humanity and has provided the basis for the establishment of a new spiritual and temporal order (Nazm-i Badi). Baha’is are variously considered to be unbelievers (kufar), apostates (murtad), or heretics (zindiq) by the Shiʿite establishment in Iran and have been persecuted in their native homeland until the present. Baha’is comprise the largest religious minority in Iran, with close to three hundred thousand members across the country. Since its inception, the religion has grown steadily, and, along with Christianity, it is considered to be one of the world’s most geographically widespread religions. At present, it is estimated that there are approximately six million Baha’is living around the world.

General Overviews

The first sustained academic interest in the Baha’i faith appeared early in its beginnings, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the work of such Orientalists as A. L. M. Nicholas and Edward G. Brown, whose interests rested more particularly in Babism, the predecessor of the Baha’i faith (see Bab). After this initial interest, there followed a period of prolonged scholarly neglect, a situation that was improved when new converts to the religion took an avid interest in the academic study of the Baha’i faith in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, largely from the perspective of Near/Middle Eastern studies, Islamic studies, and Iranian studies. There is a burgeoning of scholarly literature on the Baha’i faith, which has grown rapidly in recent years and continues to grow. There are now several academic and scholarly overviews and introductions to the Baha’i faith available. Smith 1987, Smith 1999, Smith 2000, and Smith 2008 provide the best academic introductions to the history and doctrines of the faith. Stockman 2012 is an excellent scholarly introduction to the religion, intended for beginners. Momen 2008 provides a short general overview, with discussions of the history and teachings of the religion, as well as its spiritual, social, and administrative principles. Hutter 2009 is an invaluable academic introduction to the religion, in German. Danesh, et al. 2012 is both a textual and visual introduction to the Baha’i faith. Cole 2011 is an excellent academic overview of the faith, in article form.

  • Cole, Juan R. I. “Bahaism i: The Faith.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica Online. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater. 2011.

    Cole’s article is a balanced academic overview of the religion’s history, theology, social teachings, worship, and administration. Originally published 15 December 1988.

  • Danesh, John, Seena Fazel, and Paul Slaughter. The Baha’i Faith in Words and Images. Oxford: Oneworld, 2012.

    This volume brings together the teachings, texts, practices, community life, and organizational structure of the faith, through a textual and visual register.

  • Hutter, Manfred. Handbuch Bahā’ī: Geschichte–Theologie–Gesellschaftsbezug. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag, 2009.

    This is an excellent academic handbook or textbook on the history, theology, and social teachings of the Baha’i faith, by the German scholar of comparative religion Manfred Hutter. Though the volume has a few minor historical and factual inaccuracies, it is still one of the best overviews of the faith available in German.

  • Momen, Moojan. The Bahá’í Faith: A Beginner’s Guide. Oneworld Beginners’ Guides. Oxford: Oneworld, 2008.

    A new edition of Momen’s 1997 short introduction to the Baha’i faith, which contains some updated material, especially in the bibliography. The volume provides for the beginner a general overview of the teachings and history of the religion.

  • Smith, Peter. The Babi and Baha’i Religions: From Messianic Shiʿism to a World Religion. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    An excellent academic and historical introduction to the Baha’i faith, covering its emergence from the Babi movement in 19th-century Iran to its rise and development as a modern religion. The bibliography is now dated, covering academic literature up to 1985, but this does not detract from the substance of the work. It is still one of the best and most comprehensive surveys on the subject in English.

  • Smith, Peter. The Bahá’í Faith: A Short History. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

    Smith provides a short but concise historical overview of the Baha’i faith. The volume concentrates on the history of the religion and is intended for the beginner.

  • Smith, Peter. A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000.

    Smith’s concise encyclopedia is an invaluable companion piece to his Cambridge introduction to the Baha’i faith, covering many entries on all aspects of its history, theology, worship, and institutions.

  • Smith, Peter. An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    This is one of the best academic introductions to the Baha’i faith currently available in English. It provides a general overview of Baha’i history, doctrine, and praxis. The volume is well suited as a first-year undergraduate textbook in religious studies.

  • Stockman, Robert H. Bahá’í Faith: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Continuum, 2012.

    This is a valuable scholarly introduction to the Baha’i faith, in the Guides for the Perplexed series. The author takes into account some of the most recent scholarship available on the religion. It is an excellent text for undergraduates who require entry-level texts for the study of the religion.

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