10 Great Introductory Books on the Baha’i Faith

Although many of us are going online nowadays to find out more information about something we’d like to know more about, there’s still a lot of non-accurate and misleading information about the Baha’i Faith online, and I still get asked by friends whether I can suggest or lend them an introductory book about the Faith.

So for those of us who still like to read books or get asked to suggest an introductory book about the Baha’i Faith, I thought it may be useful to list some for you to read or share with your friends. I’ve purposefully left out books which only focus on the Baha’i Faith and a specific religion (such as Thief In The Night by William Sears, which is a wonderful book, but is focused on the Baha’i Faith from a Catholic perspective) and I’ve tried to keep my choices general, but I’d love to hear about any other introductory books on the Faith you’d recommend and if any of these in particular have resonated with you.

Here are the ten introductory books about the Baha’i Faith in no particular order: 

1) The Baha’i Faith: An Introduction by Gloria Faizi

The title of this book says it all, and this is probably one of the most internationally popular and widespread introductory books on the Baha’i Faith around. Gloria Faizi’s to-the-point and concise introduction to the Faith has been translated into dozens of languages and it was the first book I read when I really began investigating the Faith. It continues to be one of my favourites and can be found in all Baha’i book shops.





2) The Baha’is (magazine)

Okay so this is a magazine rather than a book, but it’s packed with concise and well-written information covering most major aspects of the Faith and it includes great images as well. This is probably one of my favourite publications to pass on to friends who want an overview of the Faith. It’s been translated into most of the major languages and it’s usually priced very low, so you don’t need to worry about it being returned.





3) Baha’u’llah and the New Era by J.E. Esslemont

In this book, Hand of the Cause John E. Esslemont comprehensively sets forth the teachings of Baha’u’llah and outlines the Faith’s early history; explains its theology; incorporates extracts from Baha’i scripture; and provides information on Baha’i spiritual practices.

Esslemont had decided to write this book soon after he had become a Baha’i, both for his own benefit, and so that others who were interested in learning more about the Baha’i Faith could do so, because he himself had found it hard to find information about the Faith in English before he became a Baha’i.

Abdu’l-Baha had invited Mr. Esslemont to Haifa, and He was able to review and help with the first three chapters of this book before He passed away.

This book has been translated into dozens of languages and it continues to be one of the most popular introductory books on the Baha’i Faith around.

4) Some Answered Questions by Abdu’l-Baha

First published in 1908, this book contains the answers to questions asked to Abdu’l-Baha by Laura Clifford Barney during several of her visits to Haifa between 1904 and 1906. Although this book doesn’t give any historical information or facts about the Faith, it covers a number of topics relating to Judaism, Christianity, Islam and subjects such as evolution, the after-life, free will, fate, God, the Prophets of God, evolution, the soul, immortality, healing, and the non-existence of evil. I love this book!




5) God Speaks Again by Kenneth E. Bowers

In this introductory book on the Faith, author Kenneth E. Bowers places Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, at the very heart of the book, and so it reads more like a novel. In placing the life of Baha’u’llah at the center of the story, he reveals an authentically inspiring figure and the inseparable connection between a new religion and an extraordinary human being touched by His Creator. From Baghdad, Baha’u’llah was sent to Constantinople, then Adrianople, and finally to Akka. Each exile was intended to strip Him of His influence and exterminate the young religion, yet each move had the opposite effect and Baha’u’llah’s teachings about the underlying unity of the world’s religions and the inevitable emergence of a unified global civilization attracted thousands to investigate further. Bower also quotes extensively from Baha’u’llah’s Writings in this book.

6) The Baha’i Faith in Words and Images by John Danesh and Seena Fazel, Photography by Paul Slaughter

This 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, Sacred Writings, 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. The book was published by Oneworld and Baha’i Blog did a interview post with Oneworld co-founder Juliet Mabey about the book when it came out last year, You can read the post here.

7) Baha’i Basics by Frances Worthington

Baha’i Basics covers the basic teachings, principles, and the history of the Faith and Frances Worthington has written the book in a Question and Answer style format and it’s written in a very personal and down-to-earth style making it an easy read.





8) A Concise Encyclopedia of the Baha’i Faith by Peter Smith

This comprehensive and succinct encyclopedia traces the origins and development of the Baha’i Faith from nineteenth-century Iran to the modern day, covering its central figures and major historical events. I’m not sure if reading an encyclopedia is everyones thing, but I personally love it.








9) The Baha’i Faith: The Emerging Global Religion by William S. Hatcher and J. Douglas Martin

This book is an excellent introduction to the Faith and it explores the history, teachings, structure and community life of the world-wide Baha’i community offers a clear analysis of the religious and ethical values on which the Faith is based. This book was named by Encyclopedia Britannica as a book that has made significant contributions to the knowledge and understanding” of religious thought.





10) An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith by Peter Smith

Peter Smith traces the development of the Baha’i faith from its roots in the Babi movement of mid-nineteenth century Iran, through the lives and work of its prophet-founder, Baha’u’llah, and His successors, to its contemporary emergence as a worldwide religion. The book explores the textual sources for Baha’i belief and practice, theology and anthropology, and the understanding of other religions. It covers the concept of the spiritual path, the Faith’s law and administration, aspects of community life, and it examines the Baha’i’s social teachings and activities in the wider world.

About the Author

Naysan is the editor of Baha'i Blog and he has worked in various avenues of media for two decades. He’s passionate about using the arts and media to support and explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and he has produced and collaborated on popular music projects like the "DawnBreaker Collective" and the successful Ruhi-inspired sequence of "MANA" albums. His experience as a producer for CNN was invaluable while working on a number of special projects for the Baha’i World Centre, including the "Building Momentum" and "Pilgrimage: A Sacred Experience" videos. If there’s a media-related Baha’i project out there, chances are that Naysan was involved with it somehow!

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Discussion 11 Comments

  1. That the Master approved its first three and a half chapters lends a unique station to “Baha’u’llah and the New Era” (BNE). Moreover, the Guardian’s evaluation of the entire work as noted below between the dotted lines from an extract in a book presently under Baha’i review lends “BNE” a special importance for seekers as well as for scholars in and beyond Baha’i circles. Shoghi Effendi, no one of whose words was ever lightly assigned, indicates an authoritative rank re “BNE” which is not yet fully appreciated. Over the years famous Baha’i writers and Baha’i institutions in America and else where have felt the need to amend or interpret and to remove parts of “BNE” while subsequent scholarship on occasion has shown the need to reinstate Dr. Esslemont’s original wording. This demonstrates i m o the wisdom in recognizing and esteeming in the fullest sense the Guardian’s use of the word ‘authoritative’ vis-a-vis his most trusted secretary’s chef d’oeuvre. Esslemont’s work ‘will inspire generations yet unborn’ is perhaps Shoghi Effendi’s ultimate praise; it certainly led me in 1989 to investigate the authoritativeness of the Master’s words surrounding the principle of a universal auxiliary language and urging ‘every one of us to study Esperanto’.
    ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
    * The devastation of Armageddon was prophetically referred to by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá while in California in October 1912, and recorded in Doctor J. E. Esslemont’s (*p46) “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era”, p 267, 2006 edition:
    ‘We are on the eve of the Battle of Armageddon referred to in the sixteenth chapter of “Revelation”. The time is two years hence, when only a spark will set aflame the whole of Europe.’ See Shoghi Effendi’s “God Passes By” p382 (*p47) vis-a-vis the standing of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era”, i.e. ‘splendid, authoritative and comprehensive’.

    (*) http://www.bahaindex.com/documents/Making_World_Peace_Real.pdf
    —————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

    Baha’i love

    Paul

  2. Back in the 1950s, when I joined the Baha’i Faith, there was none of the difficulty that those first encountering this world Faith now have. Contemporary readers have, increasingly since at least the 1980s, over-choice. This is true in so many other aspects of society and reading-material, the retail world and commerce in general.

    Since the late 1990s, I’ve developed a website which has the equivalent of 60 books at 80,000 words per book. It is a website which recognizes that any introduction to the Baha’i Faith requires an approach that begins with the specific interest of the reader. My site, therefore, has more than 80 sub-sections or divisions, subjects or disciplines of study.

    In each of these sections I focus on some area of study like: history, philosophy or literature, psychology, sociology, or popular culture. I try to integrate some of the basic aspects of that field of discourse, my own experience of that subject, and what I see as relevant aspects of the Baha’i Faith into some coherent whole. Like everything else, my website is not everyone’s cup-of-tea and, with information overload and print and image-glut facing us all, my site is just one of a thousand places in cyberspace where people with the interest can begin or follow-up on their developing interest in this religion which claims to be the newest of the Abrahamic religions. My site is at: http://www.ronpriceepcoch.com/

  3. In describing Dr. Esslemont as the Guardian’s most trusted secretary I allude roughly speaking to the first half of his ministry, up to the time of his marriage a couple of years or so prior to the out break of WW2 in Europe. Even so, my subjective opinion as to the merits of Dr Esslemont possibly fails to ascribe sufficient weight to Ruhiyyih Khanum or to his Persian speaking secretaries. However that may be, please assess the situation for your self in line with the first principle of the Faith. Page 91 of Ruhiyyih Rabbani’s “The Priceless Pearl” reveals Shoghi Effendi’s opinion of Dr Esslemont’s service and friendship:

    “The person who seems to have responded to this appeal [for a secretary] was none other than Shoghi Effendi’s beloved Dr Esslemont. He lived in Haifa, working with and serving Shoghi Effendi, until his untimely death on 22 November 1925. His health had not been good for some time, and already, after the Master’s passing, we find him cabling Shoghi Effendi in February 1922 ‘Convalescing satisfactorily testament received yours devotedly’. The bond between the two was very close and when Esslemont died, very unexpectedly, Shoghi Effendi cabled his relatives: ‘Overwhelmed with sorrow at passing dearly-beloved Esslemont. All devoted efforts unavailing. Be assured of heartfelt sympathy condolences myself and Bahá’ís world over. Letter follows’. Four days later he wrote to them: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that I find no words to express adequately the sense of personal loss I feel at the passing of my dear collaborator and friend John Esslemont.’ Esslemont was not only a distinguished international figure in the Bahá’í world, the author of a book which Shoghi Effendi said ‘would inspire generations yet unborn’ (Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, now translated into a hundred languages) but had been to him personally ‘the warmest of friends, a trusted counsellor, an indefatigable collaborator, a lovable companion’ whose close association with him, in which he had ‘placed the fondest hopes’ was now so suddenly ended. The Guardian wept for this friend of his student days, …”

    My use of the superlative vis-a-vis Dr Esslemont might more correctly apply to the love and affection between the two great men rather than the secretarial or intellectual relationship they enjoyed.

    In 1937 the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith himself directed the revision of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.”, perhaps this is why BNE is ‘authoritative’! In 1950 the Bahá’í Publishing Committee stipulated that any future revision of its text is subject to approval by Shoghi Effendi. Dr Esslemont’s important book cites ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saying: “Everyone of us must study this language (Esperanto) and spread it as far as possible.” Whether the Guardian’s description of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.” as ‘authoritative’ gives authoritativeness to the Master’s use of the imperative in the extract just cited is an interesting question little discussed in the Baha’i world, a community taking pride, in the working sense of that devastatingly dangerous sin, on its promotion of consultation in solving difficult matters. ‘Who will riddle me the how and the why?’ And, who with authoritativeness can answer such questions and interpret His use of ‘must’. As an independent investigation of truth, the duty to consult and the principle of a universal auxiliary are all at play here no one has the right to dismiss the matter lightly

  4. Friends, this is a wonderful article about introductory books about the Faith. Thank you for sharing these great titles.

    Many of these are also available through Baha’i Distribution Service (www.bahaibookstore.com), including “Forces of Our Time” by Hooper Dunbar which was suggested in one of the earlier comments. In fact, several of the titles mentioned are also available as eBooks for immediate download (both ePub and mobi formats…make sure you select the correct format for your particular e-reader). There is also a category in the online BahaiBookstore.com website called “Baha’i Introduction.” There you’ll find several of these titles and others which make a great introduction to the Faith. You can go directly to that category here: http://www.bahaibookstore.com/showproducts.cfm?FullCat=1202

    The Baha’í Distribution Service (BahaiBookstore.com) is always a good place to start the search for those books you’re looking for. It has more titles in its online catalog than any other Baha’i source. You can also find them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/BahaiBookstore), Twitter (@BahaiBookstore) and Google+ (http://bit.ly/13BQK6C) where regular updates, book announcements, and conversations are shared. If you wish to subscribe to their email newsletter for offers and special promotions, you can do so by following this link — http://bit.ly/11VT18l — and then selecting “Baha’i Bookstore”.

  5. It might be more convenient to refer to a web site that provides the Guardian’s superb definition of the Faith rather than posting, as I have,
    a large document on this Blog

    http://bahairesearch.com/english/Baha'i/Authoritative_Baha'i/Shoghi_Effendi/Summary_Statement_-_1947_Special_UN_Committee_on_Palestine.aspx

    In outstanding yet easily absorbed language the Guardian’s description above of the Faith he loved so dearly lacks only one thing I feel, i.e. a paragraph devoted to his own station.
    While the stats referred to by the Guardian are obviously outdated I feel that his penmanship introducing the Faith has never been matched, even by his friend Dr. Esslemont. Actually, by foot noting the Guardian’s stats one has an opportunity to digress a little in an effort to promote this or that subject
    Should you wish to also include an account of the Baha’i principles in your own document introducing the Baha’i Faith consider turning to definitive accounts, varying greatly vis-à-vis length, penned by the Master: “The Seven Candles of Unity” and “A letter written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace, The Hague” 17 December 1919 or alternatively to “The Promise of World Peace” which is Haifa’s preeminent document in the last 50 years i m o and which in a sense mirrors in updated terms the Master’s description of the fundamental Baha’i principles referred to above.

    Bahaame

    Paul

  6. Which of these books, if any, are right for you or a friend really depends on what your interest level and educational background are. Since I sell almost all of these through Special Ideas, I’d like to share what I tell my customers about these books, and then suggest a few additional titles that might be more suitable for some people.
    Except for “Baha’i Basics” “The Baha’i Faith – An Introduction” and “Baha’i Faith in Words and Images” all of these books are directed at a reader who is well educated and seriously interested in detailed history and teachings. For most people who are casually interested, “Baha’i Basics” is probably the best. Its question/answer format is easy to follow and covers … the basics.
    I’ve always found “An Introduction” to be short and inexpensive, but dry.
    I haven’t seen “Words and Images” but I presume it is more of a gift book.

    Alternative books for people who are more interested in Baha’i teachings than history, and not ready for a college-level course:
    “My Baha’i Faith” which is written (by me) in a conversational tone and is geared toward people from a non-fundamentalist but somewhat Christian background. Its main focus is the Baha’i view of our relationship with God. Many of the people who have read it have decided to become Baha’is. It is not intended for a serious scholar.
    “Baha’i – A New Vision” by Lisa Janti is warm and contemporary, written by someone with an artistic flair. It has gotten really good reviews.

    The other books on your list are excellent, but dense for the average reader.
    “Baha’u’llah and the New Era” is now 100 years old, and the writing style reflects every one of those years. It is comprehensive and accurate, but most people today will not relate well to it.
    “The Baha’is Magazine” is out of print, and it was never intended to be used as an introductory book for the average reader. It was designed to go into press packets for journalists who love facts, figures and statistics. It is pretty, but it is cold and dry, as the authors didn’t want to appear to be proselytizing to journalists.
    I absolutely love “Some Answered Questions” but, again, the language and style will distract and confuse many readers. My wife, who has a PhD in education said she didn’t understand half of it. If you or your friend are into philosophy and theology, then this is a great book. Otherwise, save it for later.
    “Emerging Global Religion” is excellent. My sister became a Baha’i after reading it. Just keep in mind that it was written as a college text book. Not everyone will want this type of writing or level of detail.
    “Concise Encyclopedia” is just that. Most people will not want to read an encyclopedia to learn about their relationship with God.
    “God Speaks Again” is well written. Its focus is on the life of Baha’u’llah rather than the individual’s relationship with God. If that is the focus of your interest, then this is the book to read.
    I haven’t read “An Introduction” by Peter Smith. The focus appears to be history. If that is a person’s interest, then it is probably an excellent place to start.
    I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I sell Baha’i books for a living and try very hard to help people find exactly the right book for their level of interest and background. I hope that my comments have helped people choose the right introductory book for themselves or a friend.

  7. As a reader who has been following the writings of Justice Saint Rain for years, and enjoying this author of books for people who are struggling to apply spiritual principles to real-life challenges, I found his comments on the subject of introductory books on the Baha’i Faith quite apt. Justice has written about subjects like: love and sex, shame and addictions, depression and poverty, as well as a host of other issues that most people would rather ignore. His books tend to be personal, honest, and thought-provoking. Consequently, as he points out at one of his websites, he receives many phone calls and letters from people who have their own personal stories to tell about the challenges they face in life.

    Since Justice sells Baha’i books for a living and, as he says, since he tries very hard to help people find exactly the right book for their level of interest and background, he speaks from long years of experience. I have been associated with the Baha’i Faith since 1953. Baha’i literature has been immensely enriched in those 60 years. With a little work back in the 1950s one could read just about everything there was to read in the primary and secondary literature on this world Faith now in the second century of its history.

    I am now retired after half a century in classrooms as a student and teacher, tutor and lecturer. This thread at Baha’i Blog, with the comments that have been added, provides an excellent start to what is now a complex subject. With information overload, with more books on any subject than anyone can ever read, with an environment of science and technology changing our world faster, it seems, than a speeding bullet; with the social sciences and humanities now bursting with books and journals, essays and internet posts, with print and image-glut facing us all–at least those with access to the print and electronic media–we all have our work cut out for us, whatever our reading level and interests, in the demanding decades ahead in this 21st century.

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