The book combines breathtaking photography and intelligent accompanying text to produce a beautiful coffee-table book, which gives readers comprehensive coverage of the Faith’s teachings, texts, practices, community life and organization, with images reflecting its rich architectural heritage and the international diversity of its members.
Paul Slaughter spent three years travelling around the world to capture the photographs for the book, and John Danesh and Seena Fazel wrote the accompanying text. Many of you may have already seen the Youtube video where comedian Omid Djalili has a chat with John and Seena about the book (which I’ve included at the bottom of this post).
I actually just received my very own copy of the book in the mail, and a while back, I had interviewed Oneworld co-founder Juliet Mabey about Oneworld Publications here on Baha’i Blog, so I decided to get in touch with her again to find out more about this wonderful new book .
When I became a Baha’i, so many people close to me – friends and family, fellow students, lecturers etc – bombarded me with searching questions about the Baha’i teachings, and of course were keen to find out just what kind of religion I had gotten myself into. The problem is that, as a new Baha’i, there are often areas you are not as knowledgeable about – at precisely the time you desperately need that knowledge. What I really wanted was an accessible, straightforward book that would go some way to answering a wide range of probing questions, and leave a very positive impression without coming across as a thinly disguised attempt at proselytising.
However, in the late 70’s, the two main introductory books were Baha’u’llah and the New Era and All Things Made New, both very useful, affordable paperbacks, but I felt they were more suited to someone seriously interested in investigating the faith for themselves than to a friend who just wanted to know what you were getting involved with. A few years later we set up Oneworld, so this is a project that has been close to our hearts for a long time – to produce something as beautiful as a coffee-table book but as informative as a standard text-based introduction that anyone could confidently give to friends and relatives, teachers, colleagues, and even employers.
Baha’i Blog: How long did the book take to complete and what were some of the main challenges in getting a book like this done?
I have to confess that we dreamed up the idea in the mid 80’s, soon after establishing the company, but we faced lots of difficulties. Back then we were living in Cyprus, and there were no computers, no internet or Google search facilities, no email, mobile phones or even fax machines. One of the most impressive features of the Baha’i community is its amazing diversity of race and culture, and we knew from the outset that we wanted the book to really showcase this. So our first challenge was to find photographs from all over the Baha’i world reflecting the full range of Baha’i life, from devotionals and holy days to schools, clinics and development projects. We advertised in several Baha’i magazines for photographers to get in touch, and were extremely lucky that Paul Slaughter, an internationally recognized professional photographer – in fact the official photographer of the Los Angeles Olympics – spotted one of the ads and immediately got in touch. We met him in Los Angeles and looked over his work and very quickly decided to commission him to take original photographs of Baha’is and Baha’i community life around the world. Paul spent three years travelling far and wide – from remote tribes in Papua New Guinea to villages in the mountains of Peru, taking in every continent. Of course it then created probably our biggest challenge: to whittle down thousands of fabulous photographs to the 200 or so we could comfortably squeeze into the book!
Once we had the photographs in hand, we needed to commission the text, and by this time we had moved to Oxford. Here we met John Danesh and Seena Fazel at the university. Both doctors and longstanding friends, they were the co-editors of the Baha’i Studies Review journal and more importantly, they shared our vision of a fresh new approach for a broad audience, and volunteered to co-write the text.
The next challenge was to come up with a design that would suit a coffee-table book, but without diminishing the importance of the text – too many beautiful books lie unread on the table, and this wouldn’t meet our requirements. It took us a long time, and several design pitches later we finally settled on a small freelance designer in Sussex who translated our ideas into a good-looking design that was flexible enough to cope with incredibly diverse chapters ranging from history to core beliefs to art and architecture. For fine tuning we turned to a wonderful Baha’i graphic designer called Peter Maguire, who generously acted as midwife, overseeing all the last minute tweaks with Novin Doostdar. The book had, by this time, been over 20 years in the making, but each strand came together in the end.
Baha’i Blog: What effects do you hope the book will have on its readers and the public?
We hope that in bringing a jargon-free, non-proselytising approach to the key teachings, the history and organization of the faith, as well as showcasing its sacred texts and global scope, this book will prove itself to be very versatile. It is designed to inform and impress rather than to persuade, and hopefully it will reassure concerned friends and relatives that this is a genuine religion with something very positive to offer both to the individual and the world at large. Serious seekers will find the concise text covers a huge range of information and new ideas, while others might find themselves absorbed by Paul’s stunning images, which really bring each section to life and give the book its coherence and beauty.
We also hope the book – the photos and text together – will deeply affect Baha’i readers. When I went to the famous Irish Summer School that first summer, Adib Taherzadeh spoke at length about the importance of deepening one’s understanding of the faith, and he used a brilliant analogy: he said becoming a Baha’i is like someone falling in love and wanting to learn everything they could about the other person – the names of their relatives (no matter how hard to pronounce!) stories from their childhood, the important ideas and opinions that make them who they are. And he pointed out that if you love someone, you throw yourself into this process of getting to know each other, and as a result you forge a new identity as a couple.
So the book is in a way a starter kit for this process: on the one hand, it is like a photo album of your new relations. Flicking through the images of Baha’i communities all over the world, you will see the clearest evidence that they really are members of one huge family – the human race in all it’s breathtaking diversity. And on the text side, it offers a taster menu: you can throw yourself into the history, dip into the core beliefs, meditate on a myriad quotations from the sacred texts, admire the art and architecture, and explore the intricacies of community life, with its calendar, feasts and festivals.
But above all, this is the book I wish I had been able to read and to share all those years ago, and my greatest wish is that others will feel the same way about it!
Baha’i Blog: Do you have a particular favourite section, chapter or topic in the book?
After all this time, the book feels like an old friend and I’m too familiar with it to have real favourites, but I do think the opening chapter, Core Beliefs, offers a particularly interesting way into the key teachings.
Baha’i Blog: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview Juliet, and I hope everyone grabs a copy – it’s a great book!
Here’s the video with Omid Djalili interviewing John Danesh and Seena Fazel who wrote the accompanying text to the book. Enjoy!