Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not apostates: another look

In the previous post I quoted Baquia saying "by using the social science model and vocabulary he has chosen, it is Momen who is implying that the Baha’i Faith is a cult!" Baquia commented that she got the idea from Karen. I read Karen's post that she pointed me to, but I didn't see that idea in it. Then I searched on the Internet to see if anyone else had noticed, and it looks to me like Sen did. In his response to the journal that published Momen's paper he wrote:

Momen has drawn heavily on research inspired by Bromley's studies of contested exits from the high-tension New Religious Movements (NRM) founded in the 1970's . . . However, the Baha'i Faith can not usefully be treated as a cult . . .

I also discovered that Momen himself touched on it:

The manner in which Baha'i apostates have deliberately sought to position the Baha'i community as a cult-like group, a "subversive group" in the terminology of Bromley (1998b), at exactly the time that the Baha'is themselves are trying to position the community as a main-line religion, an "allegiant group" in Bromley's terminology, is a phenomenon that, although commented upon in other papers regarding other groups (see for example Johnson, 1988; Richardson, 1988), has not been studied in any detail.
In my understanding of Bromley's terminology, Momen's paper itself positions the Baha'i community as a "subversive group," by calling some former members "apostates" and specifying that it uses Bromley's definition. To be fair though, I want to point out that he also argues against viewing it that way:

In Bromley's typology, the Baha'i Faith would therefore be regarded in the West as an allegiant organisation or, at most, a contestant organisation.
. . .
The Baha'i Faith has a number of features that militate against its being categorised as a subversive group. As noted above, converts are not isolated in separate communities; continued contact with one's family is encouraged; those who are not "us" are not considered necessarily bad and those who are "us" are not necessarily good; those who wish to leave can do so freely by indicating their desire to the relevant Baha'i institution. There is a strong leadership but it is vested in elected councils rather than charismatic leaders. Individuals are free to hold their own theological opinions as long as they do not press them to the extent of forming schisms. Furthermore, since the 1920s, the Baha'i community has been striving to achieve allegiant status by seeking where possible the official status of a recognized religion (by seeking for example official recognition of Baha'i marriages and having Baha'i holy days recognized by being exempt from attendance at work or school); making legal incorporations of its local elected councils; and obtaining charitable status.

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