Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Numbers of Baha'is: Reflections on Our Renewed Direct Teaching Successes

With direct teaching occurring in the United States once again, and many other national Baha'i communities, too, and with enrollments the happy result of the effort, it raises the question of numbers. I, for one, have never been troubled by the differences in estimates of numbers of Baha'is in the world. Who can really be counted anyway?

I can attest to the ebb and flow of commitment to the Faith, having experienced it myself over the course of my Baha'i life. Sometimes I will say, don't count anything I did before Ruhi, as I only really became invigorated in the Faith through going through the sequence of courses, although I had been a Baha'i decades before Ruhi came to our area. Of course, I also used to say, don't count anything I did before the Youth for One World Seminar in Wilmette in the summer of 1969, because I really became a Baha'i through my exposure to Shoghi Effendi's Goal of a New World Order at that week-long gathering. So in a very real sense, being a Baha'i is relative. Quality counts, and numbers don't always compute.

So mass teaching is happening all over again. Woo hoo! I'll be doing Anna's presentation myself door-to-door here in Tacoma in just three weeks, and I can't wait. We have incorporated our learnings. We know that every new declarant will have opportunity to go through the sequence of Ruhi courses, like I did, and, like me, be confirmed in the process. The quality of commitment in the body of believers as a whole will continue to increase.

Here is the post on numbers of Baha'is that has sparked these thoughts. -gw

Most recent published estimates of the world Baha'i population are about 6.5 million. This is the figure provided in current Baha'i publications. A recent, updated estimate in the 1998 Encyclopedia Britannica is reportedly 7.67 million, higher than any Baha'i-provided figure we have seen. The accuracy of all of these figures is difficult to determine, and the organization does not provide a breakdown of membership data for each country.

As with most religious groups, organizationally reported adherent counts include significant numbers of nominal members, or people who no longer actively participate, yet still identify themselves as adherents. There are valid arguments that some of the "mass conversions" have resulted in adherents with little or no acculturation into the new religious system. As is typical with a religious group made up primarily of converts, Baha'is who drift from active participation in the movement are less likely to retain nominal identification with the religion -- because it was not the religion of their parents or the majority religion of the surrounding culture. On the other hand, there are no countries in which people are automatically assigned to the Baha'i Faith at birth (as is the case with Islam, Christianity, Shinto, Buddhism, and other faiths), so their numbers aren't inflated with people who have never willingly participated in or been influenced by the religion while adults.

On balance, while official Baha'i figures are not a measure of active participants, the proportion of participating adherents among claimed adherents is thought to be higher than average among the "major religions" on this list. The Baha'i community is remarkably active and influential in religious matters on both global and local levels, especially given their relatively small numbers compared to some other religions. More.


Thumbnails are from the "Baha'i" set of Steve Pulley on flickr. Click over for glorious pictures of Bolivian Baha'is from the 1960s. The middle photo is of Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir with children. -gw


Barmak Kusha said...

Dear George : We here in Columbia, Maryland, just finished intensive phase of our 10th cycle of growth; it involved direct collective teaching, including door to door invitations to learn about the faith and Anna's presentation to those who wished to know more... You can learn more about our learnings on the teaching.bahai.us blog!!

Beholdacandle said...

I saw your remembrance of the YOW! conference. I need some help with planning and recruiting.

POW! (People for One World) is a conference that's in the planning stages to be at Brighton Creek
center in August. This year is the 40th anniversary of the 1969 YOW! (Youth for One World) conference in Wilmette that was one of the immediate precursors for the huge numbers of enrollments led by teams of youth doing direct teaching in the '70's. I thought it would be great for some of the people who were involved with the YOW! conference to get together one more time at Brighton Creek. We could have a hootenanny on the lawn and sing lots of folk songs, get reacquainted with each other and the development of our Baha'i lives over the years, we could have inspiring talks by people who are still probably some of the most dynamic Baha'is around. Unfortunately, people like Dan Jordan and Magdalene Carney, and Phil Lucas have passed away, while others like Glenford Mitchell are quite aged. Still, I would love to hear Sandy English or Chris Ruhe lead us in some folk songs.

It seems to me that we are entering a similar stage in our growth of the Faith. I think I need to find enough people who are interested in this conference to make it worth while, so I need to publicize it and find ways to make it worth while.

I understand that there will be a national youth conference in Washington DC this fall. Why not let us older folks get with this renewal of spirit as well?