Interfaith Relations and Religion & Society
The Role of Religion in World Affairs
The Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha’u’llah, noted that the “fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race.”
In a statement to the world’s religious leaders in 2002, the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith—the Universal House of Justice—noted the power of religion to awaken “in whole populations capacities to love, to forgive, to create, to dare greatly, to overcome prejudice, to sacrifice for the common good and to discipline the impulses of an animal instinct.”
Baha'is believe that religion has a crucial role to play in building a peaceful world and resolving conflict, and seek an end to the horrors that too often are committed in the name of religion.
Oneness of Religion
The essential oneness of religion is a central tenet of the Baha'i Faith.
The Baha'i teachings affirm that all the world’s principal religions are valid and progressive stages in the unfoldment of humanity’s relationship with God.
Alas, too often religious differences are sources of barriers in society and exploited by leaders to advance their own divisive agendas.
Baha’u’llah calls on Baha'is to "consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship." In this spirit, Bahá’ís have been active participants in interfaith efforts at local, national, and international levels.
U.S. Baha'is and the Interfaith Movement*
The development of the Baha'i Faith in the United States has paralleled the growing interfaith movement in America. (Click here to read about Baha’i participation in interfaith activities worldwide.)
- The first Parliament of the World’s Religions—held in Chicago in 1893—was one of the first major forums that brought western and eastern traditions together for inter-religious dialogue, although the forum was overwhelmingly attended by American Protestants. It was at this event that the Baha’i Faith was first introduced in America.
- From 1896 to 1901, at the Green Acre Inn in Eliot, Maine, American Baha’i Sarah Farmer held popular summer programs on the comparative study of religion, which drew distinguished authors and speakers from across the country.
- In 1912, ‘Abdu'l-Baha—the appointed leader of the Faith at that time—traveled across the U.S. and Canada to give remarks at churches, peace forums and universities. Although interfaith dialogue was still in its infancy in this period, ‘Abdu'l-Baha often focused on inter-religious and interracial themes in his remarks.
- As the Baha’i Faith became better known in the United States, members of the community were invited to give presentations at inter-religious conferences. The U.S. Baha’i community was active, for example, in the interfaith gatherings associated with the founding of the United Nations.
- Then, in 1950, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States established World Religion Day. The day, designed to foster interfaith understanding, is commemorated on the third Sunday of January and is now celebrated internationally.
- As U.S.-based interfaith groups and gatherings proliferated in the 1960s and 1970s, Baha’i communities were increasingly invited to participate in these local forums, and continue to do so today.
* Timeline adapted from “The Bahá’í Faith and Interfaith Relations: A Brief History,” by Robert H. Stockman, published in World Order, vol. 33, no. 4 (Summer 2002), 19-33.
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The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife.”— The Baha'i Writings
… religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world… Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine.— The Baha'i Writings
If this warfare and strife be for the sake of religion, it is evident that it violates the spirit and basis of all religion. All the divine Manifestations have proclaimed the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. They have taught that all men should love and mutually help each other in order that they might progress.— ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Columbia University, 1912