Grand Narratives and the Bahá'í Writings Part 1

Ian Kluge


            This paper takes its cue from Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, who calls on Bahá’ís “to investigate and analyse the principles of the Faith and to correlate them with the modern aspects of philosophy and science.”[1] He reinforces this point by saying,


            The Cause needs more Bahá’í scholars, people . . . who have a deep grasp of the             Teachings and their significance, and who can correlate its beliefs with the current             thoughts and problems of the people of the world. [2]


He adds, furthermore, that


If the Baha’is want to be really effective in teaching the Cause they need to be much better informed and able to discuss intelligently, intellectually, the present condition of the world and its problems . . . who [are]  capable of correlating our teachings to the current thoughts of the leaders of society. [3]  


It is worth noting that the Guardian associates “really effective” teaching with the ability to “correlate” the Bahá’í teachings with current issues and debates in society. Such correlations can be “really effective” because they help make the Writings part of public discourse about contemporary topics and, thereby, draw awareness to the Writings themselves by showing their relevance to modern issues. In addition, they can show that the Bahá’í Writings have uniquely new ideas and perspectives to share with the world.


            The concept of grand narratives has been and is still under continued and strenuous attack in our time, being blamed, among other things, for being totalitarian and setting the stage for totalitarian regimes;[4] for engaging in intellectual “terrorism”[5] by ‘marginalizing the ‘others’ who are different; and for Western triumphalism and its concomitant colonialism. Precisely because these are serious accusations which include the Bahá’í grand narrative, it is important to understand why these charges are highly problematic vis-à-vis Spengler, Toynbee and Sorokin, and completely untenable in regards to the Bahá’í grand narrative. Therefore, in the first part of this paper we examine the nature of grand narratives, appraise some of the major attacks on them and present our understanding of the Bahá’í grand narrative.  In the second part of this paper we correlate the Bahá’í grand narrative with the three most influential non-communist grand narratives of the twentieth century: Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee and Pitirim Sorokin and point out the unique features of the Bahá’í grand narrative that compensate for the short-comings of other theories.


We draw three major conclusions from our study. First, the arguments against grand narratives are logically unconvincing and paradoxically self-refuting. Second, there are numerous and far-reaching correlations between the Bahá’í Writings and the work of Spengler, Toynbee and Sorokin. Third, alone among these grand narratives, the Bahá’í Writings go beyond diagnosis of human history and its patterns but complete the diagnosis with a prescription and the establishment of a healing institution, i.e. the Universal House of Justice. This completeness – diagnosis, prescription and healing institution -


PART A: Grand Narratives

Background, Controversies and an Overview of the Bahá’í Grand Narrative       

1: Introduction

Grand narratives or metanarratives are stories or narratives by means of which we interpret and understand history. A narrative may be defined as a series of coherently presented real or imagined events explicitly or implicitly embedding an interpretation of the events. In the field of history, such events and their interpretations may cover local, national, international and even cosmic history.[6] Their prime task is reveal certain patterns, trends, laws or themes guiding, informing, shaping the historical processes in societies, nations or even the world as a whole.[7] In other words, metanarratives purport to demonstrate that history has implicit or explicit order, coherence and meaning despite superficial appearances of disorder, randomness even anarchy. Consequently, for grand narratives the unfolding of history is not just a series of random, accidental events without any overall order, tendency or direction. Instead, history has patterns and to that extent is rational and can be understood rationally.  Moreover, these patterns, themes or principles help us establish (1) values; (2) criteria for objectively evaluating historical facts as well standards for identifying goodness, truth, legitimacy; (3) consequences and/or logical inferences from the grand narrative and (4) criteria for making predictions about the course of history.

For grand narratives the unfolding of history is not just a series of random, accidental events without any overall order, tendency or direction. Instead, history has patterns and to that extent is rational and can be understood rationally. The existence of order, coherence and meaning in history makes some degree of predictability possible. Consequently, these patterns, themes and laws make some degree of historical predictability possible. The kind of predictions are usually statistical in nature; like actuarial tables in the life insurance industry, the patterns of events allow us to calculate general trends – or the probability of death among certain groups of people – without being able to predict an individual death. The immense profitability of the life insurance industry demonstrates the effectiveness of such predictions.

Moreover, these patterns, themes or principles help us establish (1) values; (2) criteria for objectively evaluating historical facts as well standards for identifying goodness, truth, legitimacy; (3) consequences and/or logical inferences from the grand narrative and (4) criteria for making predictions about the course of history. In embryonic or fully developed form, grand narratives embody a world-view by which both individuals and societies consciously or unconsciously orient their lives in regards to fundamental values such as meaning and purpose, ‘the good,’ justice and ‘evil.’ One obvious example is how the Christian grand narrative has shaped the history of Western individuals and societies. Another, more recent example is the Communist grand narrative based on dialectical materialism in metaphysics and historical materialism in economics and politics. It teaches that history is a struggle between classes that will inevitably end with the end of class war and the “withering away of the state.”[8] A moment’s reflection shows how any metanarrative affects virtually all aspects of a person’s life such as political choices, social attitudes, ethics, and even beliefs about the nature of the universe.

The Bahá’í Writings explicitly embody a grand narrative of the history of humankind as well as a vision for its future culmination in a unified global commonwealth. Without this grand narrative, much of the raison d'être of the Bahá’í Faith would vanish since it is Bahá'u'lláh’s specific mission as a Manifestation of God to guide human history to its culmination in world unity.[9] In the words of Shoghi Effendi,

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is         now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been    successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a          harassed humanity is striving.[10]

            This study of grand or meta narratives and the Bahá’í Writings aims to accomplish three main goals:

To show how the Bahá’í Writings explicitly embody a grand narrative of the history of humankind;


To show how the Bahá’í grand narrative has important similarities to three influential metanarratives by Oswald Spengler, Arnold J Toynbee and Pitirim Sorokin;


To demonstrate the untenability of various criticisms of the concept of grand narratives.

These three goals are intertwined insofar as they are necessary to provide more than a skeletal presentation of the subject and to be useful in explicating the Bahá’í Writings, in apologetics and engaging in dialogue with other religions or schools of thought.

2: Grand Narratives: The Historical Background

            It is important to realize that grand narratives are not a modern invention.  Religions embed metanarratives either in developed or in embryonic form.[11] One of the earliest is the Zoroastrian doctrine that existence is a universal and cosmic struggle between truth and order on one side and lie and chaos on the other; our duty is to support the truth and order. This view gives cosmic significance to all individual and social actions, e.g. personal business dealings or exchanges with neighbors as well as political events at the local, national and even transnational levels. In short, history is a struggle for the victory of the good. The Jewish grand narrative concerns the story of the Jewish people (and by extension, humanity as a whole) overcoming their exile from Paradise and finding their way home to the Promised Land. During the wanderings, a pattern emerges of falling away from God, suffering the consequences and eventually triumphing. Here, too, victory, i.e. attainment of the Promised Land, is identified with the good. The Christian grand narrative includes the struggle or good against evil, but has a personal salvational emphasis focussed on the redemption for original sin bought for us by the crucifixion. The ultimate providential aim is for individuals to save their souls and to work for the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Muslim metanarrative takes up this theme of a providential kingdom on earth which is set forth in greater detail than in Christianity and proclaims the end of historical revelation with Mohammed. The Muslim revelation essentially marks the end of history as a process to a greater goal.

            Numerous philosophers have written enormously influential grand narratives about particular societies and about universal history. Saint Augustine’s City of God – clearly influenced by Zoroastrian dualism – portrays the history of humankind as a struggle between God and the Devil, and our need to choose between the City of Man or the City of God. This clearly fits into the Christian tradition. The 12th century CE theologian Joachim of Fiore included the concept of progress in his three-fold division of history: the Age of the Father with its Old Testament emphasis on law and obedience; the Age of the Son which included law but emphasized mercy; and the Age of the [Holy] Spirit in which a “universal Christian society”[12] would emerge. Ibn Khaldun, a 14th CE Arab Muslim writer also saw a cyclic pattern of increasing immorality and corruption when successors took over from the founding generations of great dynasties. The cyclical nature of this seemingly inevitable process allows a measure of predictability in the historical process if not in specific events then in the nature and sequence of events. Giambattista Vico’s The New Science (1725 CE) shows history as a progressing and expanding spiral. The cycles represent the three stages of development: the age of the gods in which humans are ruled by supernatural beings or God; the age of heroes in which humans are ruled by aristocratic classes; the age of equality in which all people viewed themselves as equal at least insofar as they shared a common humanity. The first led to theocratic government or rule by priests; the second to aristocratic government or monarchies; the third led to republican or democratic government. According to Vico “the nature of peoples is first crude, then severe, then benign the delicate and finally dissolute.”[13] After this, the cycle begins again though always “recurring on a higher plane.”[14] Thus Vico combined the ideas of progress and cyclical patterns to show history as predictable at least the kind of developments we can expect.                The 18th Century CE of the European Enlightenment – so vehemently excoriated by the postmodernists – marks the beginning of an unusually productive period in the efforts to understand history. What almost all of them have in common is belief in the progress of humankind not only in scientific knowledge but also in the growth of rationality, freedom and social and cultural tolerance. Moreover, a theme hitherto implicit in earlier grand narratives came to the fore at this time: the perfectibility of man, society and the world. Kant’s “Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View” is a good example.[15] According to Kant, the purpose of history is the extension of individual freedom in an ordered national and international society. Viewing history as a whole, he states,
history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment.[16]
According to Kant,

The history of mankind can be seen, in the large, as the realization of Nature’s secret plan to bring forth a perfectly constituted state as the only condition in which the capacities of mankind can be fully developed, and also bring forth that external relation among states which is perfectly adequate to this end.[17]

The mechanism by which humanity will actualize its “original endowment” is that our lower animal nature drives us to overcome ourselves – because we can’t stand ourselves’ as mere animals – and to develop our higher natures. From a Bahá’í perspective this is an inadequate motivation for progress because it sidesteps the need for Manifestation.  

            Hegel’s Philosophy of History saw history as the conscious self-actualization of the Spirit in humankind and through human history and the growth of freedom. In the end, all humans will recognize themselves as free and as one with the Spirit. As Hegel’s erstwhile student, Marx, also promulgated a metanarrative as noted above. Some modern feminist metanarratives center on the claim that patriarchy, i.e. a male-dominated society has a specifically anti-female agenda which has dominated history so far.

The Bahá’í Writings emphasize a “world-embracing”[18] vision because there is no other adequate way of understanding the human nature and history in the contemporary world. Less expansive views do not allow us to see the global development of humankind and where it is going. We may see the course of a river from a high mountain but not from a deep valley. Moreover, as a religion committed to the unification of humankind in a global federal commonwealth united by “one common faith”[19] the Bahá’í Writings logically require a global vision of human development to support its claims.  

            Furthermore, the Writings are not alone in recognizing that a “world-embracing” vision is necessary for a deeper understanding of human history. There are several new developments in the pursuit of global historical studies. We observe, for example, the establishment of the World History Association which studies history from “a trans-national, trans-regional, and trans-cultural perspective”[20] has been growing and developing since 1980. An examination of the WHA’s specialities shows that the WHA is doing the same kind of studies as Spengler, Toynbee and Sorokin.[21] We also note the rising interest in ‘Big History,’[22] which starts history with the Big Bang and reveals various patterns repeating themselves throughout cosmic and human history.[23] Juan Jose Gomez-Ibarra’s A Scientific Model of History: Where is the Future Leading us[24]  (2003) shows the scientific laws – such as Malthus and Toynbee’s ‘challenge and response – underlying historical processes.  Ross E. Dunn and Laura J. Mitchell’s Panorama: A World History is yet another example of historians working from a global perspective. In addition, there is Immanuel Wallerstein’s “world systems theory.”[25] Sebastian Conrad calls these expanded visions of history the “all-in version of global history”[26] or “planetary comprehensiveness.”[27] Finally, we refer readers to R. MacNeil and W.H. MacNeil, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History[28]  which demonstrates how communications are unifying the world. Finally, we should take note of the rise of Civilizational Science, an interdisciplinary field which uses a scientific approach (e.g. the Annales School) to pursue macrohistorical studies (e,g, Toynbee) to “address some of the most important problems of globalizing society in the 21 century and beyond.”[29]


3: Why Grand Narratives? Four Reasons

            At this point we may ask ‘Why are humans so fascinated with grand narratives? Why do these ‘stories’ keep reappearing – as, for example, in the recent ascent of Big History, Global History and scientific history. ‘What characteristics seem to make them indispensable?’ Why, for example, are the works of Spengler, Toynbee, Sorokin and Marx still read even though most professional historians ignore them or dismiss them as misleading? Why do established academic historians like the MacNeil’s still try to demonstrate the existence of a pattern uniting global history?

In our view, there are at least four reasons why grand narratives survive and will continue to survive.

First, every religion is a grand narrative – at least in outline or embryo form – that shapes our understanding of the reality, truth, goodness and morality, justice, human nature, and values. Religious stories provide a way of understanding individual and group behavior in the present and the past. For a pre-literate culture to say ‘We do things this way because our ancestors did’ is, in effect, an embryonic grand narrative about the past, present and future.1 In short, as long as religions exist, grand narratives will continue. The fact that anthropologists have never encountered a group of humans without religion indicates how indispensable religion and its implicit and explicit grand narratives are to human survival and well-being. Religions, of course, are more than metanarratives; they are, for the most part, revelations from God[30] to advance our spiritual development. However, when we accept a Manifestation and His spiritual teachings, we also implicitly accept a grand narrative. Consequently, it seems self-evident that believing we can live without a grand narratives of one kind or another violates our empirical anthropological knowledge of human nature.

            'Abdu'l-Bahá presents a second reason why metanarratives are necessary. According to him “The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names -- the human spirit and the rational soul -- designate one thing.”[31] Because humans have a “rational soul,” we naturally want things to ‘make sense,’ i.e. to be understandable, intelligible, justifiable, self-consistent and practicable. Even Pieter Geyl, one of most relentless critics of metanarratives, admits that it is “an ingrained habit of human nature . . .  to try to construct a vision of history in which chaos, or apparent chaos, is restored to order.”[32] (Unfortunately, he does not ask why this habit is so deeply ingrained.) Without order, there is no understanding, and without understanding life becomes catastrophic: we lack a clear sense of identity or make sense of ourselves or what values we do or do not stand for or what our goals are; consequently it is virtually impossible to act coherently and maintain social relationships. How could a society made up of such individuals function? If we cannot act with a certain consistency or coherence, we shall often undermine our own efforts and confuse ourselves and others. In effect, we fail to actualize ourselves as “rational souls” – our essential attribute[33] – at the personal and societal level, and, therefore, cannot function optimally. For example, if we fail to recognize, as the Bahá’í Writings tell us, that all human beings have both a spiritual and a physical nature[34] and that the spiritual function must rule, then we are not actualizing our essence as “rational souls.” In the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, “If the physical or natural disposition in him should overcome the heavenly and merciful, he is, then, the most degraded of animal beings”[35] We are incomplete beings whose “spiritual susceptibilities”[36] have yet to be actualized. Since animals do not have “rational souls” then obviously rule by our physical nature is irrational for humans.  

            Helping us gain such self-understanding is one of the benefits conferred by the Manifestations Who, for example, teach us about our spiritual and animal natures and the long-term benefits of having our spiritual nature in control. In addition, the Manifestations provide a ‘map’ or a guidebook to reality, its nature, its purpose and its goal or final cause. As humankind progresses, the accidental or culture-bound attributes of former metanarratives are abandoned and a new Manifestation arrives to establish a new grand narrative commensurate with the intellectual, social, material and spiritual development of the time. In other words, the continual presence of Manifestations means that there never has been a time when grand narratives of one kind or another have not guided human thought, feeling and action. In short, metanarratives are so important to human development that God sends Manifestations to establish them.

            The third major function of grand narratives is epistemological, i.e. to bring order to our knowledge and thinking. Bringing order to any kind of knowledge and thought requires us to prioritize or privilege (a) some facts over others vis-à-vis truth, relevance and importance and (b) some sources of knowledge and knowledge-claims over others. In practical terms, we must choose if we are going to take surgical advice from a surgeon or an astrologer. We must be able to recognize and distinguish between the essential and non-essential aspects of information and discard what is less important and unreliable sources. In religion, it is the Manifestation Who “distinguishes the essential and the authentic from the nonessential and spurious in their teachings.”[37] Such distinctions are necessary because no one can accept all knowledge sources and knowledge as equally valid or important because that makes it impossible to take action, i.e. to select one option or fact over another. Furthermore, such distinctions are also necessary because humans are fallible and not all knowledge claims are equally valid. This inevitably sets up a hierarchy of knowledge. The Writings obviously privilege Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi as infallible knowledge vis-à-vis the teachings of the Faith. Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh, God’s Manifestation for this age, clearly rejects some sources of knowledge as invalid when he says, 

            Its [the world’s] sickness is approaching the stage of utter hopelessness, inasmuch as the   true Physician is debarred from administering the remedy, whilst unskilled practitioners

                        are regarded with favor, and are accorded full freedom to act. ...[38]

Similarly, `Abdu'l-Bahá says,

            This panacea [of religion] must, however, be administered by a wise and skilled             physician, for in the hands of an incompetent all the cures that the Lord of men has ever     created to heal men's ills could produce no health, and would on the contrary only destroy            the helpless and burden the hearts of the already afflicted.[39]

The Writings clearly endorse such prioritizing since not all remedies and/or knowledge claims are equally effective as shown in the reference to “unskilled practitioners.” Furthermore, from the quotations given above, the Writings clearly privilege one side of the following binary oppositions:  competent/incompetent; /rational/irrational; true/untrue; order/disorder; health/sickness and knowledge/ignorance; enemy/friend. The unskilled physician who pretends to be skilled is, in effect, an enemy to the patient; it is irrational to bar the “true Physician from the patient; to bar the “true Physician” also upends the proper order of things; it is also unjust. Other binary oppositions implicitly or explicitly found in the Writings and the Bahá'í grand narrative are essential/accidental; order/disorder; progressive/regressive; noumenal/phenomenal; true/untrue; moral/immoral; knowledge/superstition; rational/irrational, good/evil/”satanic”[40] and primitive/civilized.

These binary oppositions are an part of the Bahá'í metanarrative. Removing them undermines the Bahá'í teachings. For example, if we refuse to privilege truth, i.e. refuse to declare truth superior to untruth, we would also undermine every statement in which Bahá'u'lláh claims to speak the truth. He says, “Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying: "I am the return of all the Prophets," He, verily, speaketh the truth.”[41] This statement, which is taken as true in the Bahá'í context, is privileged over its denial and, therefore, is more valuable than the denial of Bahá'u'lláh’s words since it reveals something fundamental about the Manifestations and history. In short, the denial is simply wrong.[42] By means of these oppositions, metanarratives take on a prescriptive function not only for individuals but for entire societies which use them to construct their world views. In short, metanarratives help individuals and societies make sense of the world.  

Privileging truth statements is also an example of the “legitimation of knowledge,”[43] which is to say that the metanarrative provides the standard for identifying truth. It provides the foundational principles by which to distinguish ‘real knowledge,’ fact or truth from error, superstition, myth or the utterances of the insane. Of course, the “legitimation of knowledge” is obvious in the Bahá'í Faith insofar as both Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá are regarded as infallible and Shoghi Effendi as infallible his interpretations of the Writings.

Say: This[revelation] is the infallible Balance which the Hand of God is holding, in which all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth are weighed, and their fate determined, if ye be of them that believe and recognize this truth. Say: Through it the poor have been enriched, the learned enlightened[44]

Because the Manifestation and His revelation are the balance for assaying the truth, He also has to clear away – uproot and destroy – falsehood. As 'Abdu'l-Bahá says,

The divine Manifestations have been iconoclastic in Their teachings, uprooting error, destroying false religious beliefs and summoning mankind anew to the fundamental oneness of God.[45]

Thus, the metanarrative becomes the gatekeeper of knowledge.

The fourth major function of grand narratives is the “legitimation of power,” i.e. they provide a rationale to explain why certain individuals or groups have power and why or why not such power is legitimate or illegitimate. Such legitimation is necessary to maintain at least a certain minimum of social stability. The Bahá'í grand narrative also fulfills this function insofar as its metaphysical framework explains the unique metaphysical status of the Manifestations:

            And since there can be no tie of direct intercourse to bind the one true God with His             creation, and no resemblance whatever can exist between the transient and the Eternal,           the contingent and the Absolute, He hath ordained that in every age and dispensation a             pure and stainless Soul be made manifest in the kingdoms of earth and heaven. Unto this             subtle this mysterious and ethereal Being He hath assigned a twofold nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the spiritual, which is born of the substance of God             Himself. He hath, moreover, conferred upon Him a double station. The first station,        which is related to His innermost reality, representeth Him as One Whose voice is the         voice of God Himself . . . The second station is the human station, exemplified by the    following verses: "I am but a man like you."[46]

This passage explains why, metaphysically speaking, the power of the Manifestations is legitimate: They are God’s representative on earth. Their power is justified or legitimated by Their omniscience[47] because They, not we, truly understand what is best for humankind inasmuch as Their knowledge of us is complete and not limited by time or space. Moreover, because Their power is metaphysically based, there is no legitimate replacement – Their status, power and omniscience are part of the basic structure of reality itself. Lyotard, Foucault, and others would, of course, portray God as a dictator but this critique overlooks the free will God has bestowed upon the individual as one of our essential attributes. We shall discuss this in more detail below. 

4:  The Bahá’í Grand Narrative: Getting Started

            There is, in our view, no question that the Bahá’í Writings establish a grand narrative of the gradual unification of humankind into a world federal commonwealth united in “one common faith.”[48] This will be achieved by the actualization of humanity’s physical, intellectual and spiritual potentials guided by the successive Manifestations of God Who each inaugurate a dispensation. Each dispensation passes through a spring, summer, autumn, fall and winter at which time a new dispensation begins. No culture or civilization is eternal and each has an inevitable, pre-ordained end. Thus the Bahá’í metanarrative reflects a synthesis of linear, i.e. progressive as well as cyclical theory of history which may be represented by an expanding and advancing spiral. Our progress is inspired and guided by the succession of Manifestations to the goal of unifying mankind into a federal world commonwealth united by “one common faith.” This final goal gives meaning to history. Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh is not only the Manifestation for this age but also the inaugurator of the next cycle of human development beyond global unity over the next 500,000 years. [49]

            Regarded cosmically, the Bahá’í grand narrative begins with the intentional creation of the phenomenal world by a loving God[50] Who bestows on all things signs of “His names and attributes”[51] as well as the latent perfections[52] to be actualized over time. These divine bestowals are real and objective values which form an integral part of the cosmic historical process, i.e. the struggle to actualize the potentials inherent in all things. Since humans struggle to do the same, their evolutionary striving for complete actualization is a specialized case of the teleological striving of the entire phenomenal world. From this we may infer that history has a meaning, and exemplifies certain values like unity, self-overcoming and “awaken[ed] spiritual susceptibilities.”[53] The divine origin of the phenomenal, i.e. created world and the presence of God’s “names and attributes” in all things demonstrates that these values are real and objective aspects of phenomenal reality. It also demonstrates the sacred nature of reality as well as the sacred nature of the cosmic and human historical process.

            The human historical process is the vanguard of cosmic evolution because God created man as the “supreme talisman”[54] who not only represents all “the names and attributes” of God in creation but is also the “fruit”[55] or ultimate purpose of cosmic evolution. Mankind is the  highest expression of the cosmic process. Without humankind, the material world would have “no meaning.”[56] From this we may conclude that in the Bahá’í grand narrative, cosmic evolution and human evolution-history are integrated, i.e. aspects of a greater whole. Humankind plays a real part in the evolution of the cosmos – it is not a mere accident or fortuitous event[57]– but an essential part of the cosmos actualizing its own hidden potentials. This suggests that a proper understanding of humans and human nature is necessary for a proper understanding of the physical world. The fields in which this necessity makes itself felt most clearly is neuro-philosophy and neuro-science. Because the cosmic evolution has a purpose, it is both teleological and progressive and, thereby, rational, i.e. the purpose and the means are fitted to one another. The same is true of mankind’s historical development inasmuch as it is directed to achieving a goal set by “that invisible yet rational God.”[58] 

             In the historical process, we observe the expansion of the social unit, i.e. increasing inclusiveness to include previously excluded or marginalized groups. This process seems to be proceeding with increasing speed. The entire history of mankind from pre-historic times to the 21st Century can be understood in light of this theme. In the words of Shoghi Effendi,

            This will indeed be the fitting climax of that process of integration which, starting with     the family, the smallest unit in the scale of human organization, must, after having called successively into being the tribe, the city-state, and the nation, continue to operate until it             culminates in the unification of the whole world, the final object and the crowning glory           of human evolution on this planet. It is this stage which humanity, willingly or     unwillingly, is resistlessly approaching.[59]

He re-emphasizes this by saying,

            Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is         now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been    successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a          harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end.[60]

We begin with the family, advance through clan and tribe, then proceed to city-states, nations, empires and collaborative supra-national alliances and end with a world federal commonwealth. The changes in spirituality and consciousness required for this development occur through the often unnoticed influence of the successive Manifestations, and in our age, of Bahá'u'lláh Whose teachings are the most advanced guidance for our time. In the process of actualizing our potentials, humankind starts coalescing into larger and larger social units which results in the further actualization of our social capacities as well as intellectual and spiritual capacities. In the end, worth noting the inevitability of mankind’s integration into one global commonwealth in which “All men will adhere to one religion, will have one common faith, will be blended into one race, and become a single people.”[61] Nor will this process be easy and smooth; as Shoghi Effendi tells us,

Much suffering will still be required ere the contending nations, creeds, classes and races of mankind are fused in the crucible of universal affliction, and are forged by the fires of a fierce ordeal into one organic commonwealth, one vast, unified, and harmoniously functioning system.[62]

From these statements we may conclude that the Bahá’í Writings portray history as teleological with a divinely fixed and inescapable goal. Our only choice is whether we shall advance towards this goal “willingly or unwillingly.” Following the analogy of adolescence[63] used in the Writings, humanity may choose to grow up the hard way or the easier way, but in either case we shall grow up. Those who oppose global unification will end up working for it despite their intentions. As the Báb says, “All are His servants and all abide by His bidding!”[64] In other words, subjectively we may think our actions hinder the unificatory process but objectively, in actual effect, our actions help the process in the long run. This is illustrated by the Bahá’í diaspora after the 1979 revolution in Iran. The Bahá’í  diaspora spread the teachings of the Faith on a global scale and drew world-wide attention which attracted more people to Bahá'u'lláh.

            Progressing to the goal of world unification requires the actualization of intellectual potentials and the “awaken[ing of] spiritual susceptibilities in the hearts of mankind.”[65] Awakening the “susceptibilities” is a duty incumbent on all insofar as Bahá'u'lláh states, “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”[66] In this process, humanity is guided by the successive Manifestations of God each of Whom inaugurates a dispensation that passes through a spring, summer, autumn, fall and winter at which time a new dispensation begins to progress even further towards the ultimate goal. Two points are clear from this teaching. First, dispensations and their associated civilizations are not eternal. There is no final divine dispensation – a teaching contradicted by Judaism, Christianity, Islam and some interpretations of Buddhism – and there is no final civilization beyond which humans cannot progress. This doctrine undercuts the hubris of religious and cultural supremacist ideologies. Second, Manifestations are one of the ways in which God takes active part in human history. In other words, God is a ‘God of history’ insofar as He works through the actual, messy historical processes in which flawed human beings struggle through countless difficulties, many of them created by nature and/or their own behaviors. In other words, history manifests a salvational or providential plan to bring genuine peace and advance the material and spiritual evolution of mankind.

            Shoghi Effendi outlines the mission of Bahá'u'lláh – and all other Manifestations – as follows:

            Repudiating the claim of any religion to be the final revelation of God to man,             disclaiming finality for His own Revelation, Bahá'u'lláh inculcates the basic principle of     the relativity of religious truth, the continuity of Divine Revelation, the progressiveness          of religious experience. His aim is to widen the basis of all revealed religions and to           unravel the mysteries of their scriptures. He insists on the unqualified recognition of the       unity of their purpose, restates the eternal verities they enshrine, coordinates their         functions, distinguishes the essential and the authentic from the nonessential and spurious      in their teachings, separates the God-given truths from the priest-prompted superstitions,           and on this as a basis proclaims the possibility, and even prophecies the inevitability, of their unification, and the consummation of their highest hopes.[67]

This passage shows that the Manifestations have all been working towards the final goal of the historical process as a whole. This is one of the outstanding and unique features of the Bahá’í grand narrative: it includes without any qualification, all the Manifestations of God from all major religions as equal partners in history and especially in the spiritual history of mankind. All Manifestations have an unqualifiedly rightful place in the unfolding of history and are not accepted merely as a courtesy, as a matter of ‘political correctness’ or as display of tolerance.

            At this point, the Bahá’í grand narrative shows part of its metaphysical foundations:

            We have formerly explained two stations for the Suns rising from the Day-springs of         Divinity. One is that station of unity and condition of oneness, as previously mentioned.      "We make no distinction between any of them." (K. S. 2) The other station is that of distinction, creation, and human limitations. In this station, for each one a temple is             designated, a mission is indicated, a manifestation is decreed, and certain limitations are            assigned. Each one is named by a certain name, characterized by a quality, and appointed            to a new Cause and Law[68]

At the spiritual level, all the Manifestations are ontologically one and the same which is why Bahá’ís must accept and value all Manifestations as completely equal in all respects. However, the Manifestations are also distinct historical individuals fulfilling particular mandates for particular places, times and circumstances. From this perspective it becomes clear that contrary to the apparent plethora of religions, there is only one religion for all of humanity. All past religions have revealed various aspects appropriate to various spiritual, intellectual and material conditions. In the words of Dr. Moojan Momen,

            Thus, we may describe Bahá’u’lláh’s project as that of creating a metareligion – a             religion that encompasses and provides a theoretical framework within which it is             possible to see the truth of all religion[69]

In other words, from the unity of the Manifestations’ missions, we also find that there is, in the last analysis, only one human history to which partial histories contribute.

5: The Four Foundational Principles of the Bahá’í Grand Narrative       

            In our view, the Bahá’í grand narrative is built on four principles. All attributions to the Bahá’í metanarrative must agree with or converge on or, at least, not contradict these principles which form the rational and coherent foundation of this master narrative. With this narrative we may interpret major historical developments by contextualizing them, i.e. by locating them and their effects vis-à-vis the advance towards world unification. As shall be discussed below, such assessments must also take into account “the wisdom of God” which reconciles human free will with a pre-determined historical outcome.[70]  

            In our understanding, the first foundational principle of the Bahá’í historical metanarrative is the doctrine of “progressive revelation.” This doctrine asserts that mankind’s development is inspired and guided by successive Manifestations of God Who lead us to the continued actualization of our spiritual and material potentials. According to the Writings, “Without the teachings of God the world of humanity is like the animal kingdom”[71] i.e. without the Manifestations, humankind would never advance beyond the limits of materialistic thought to the higher levels of specifically human development. The Manifestations’ spiritual teachings enable humanity’s other capacities to develop and progress:

            “Progress” is the expression of spirit in the world of matter. The intelligence of man, his          reasoning powers, his knowledge, his scientific achievements, all these being             manifestations of the spirit, partake of the inevitable law of spiritual progress and are,      therefore, of necessity, immortal.[72]

Two statements are worth noting. First, matter becomes progressive through the action of spirit. Without spirit, matter is intrinsically in motion[73] but it is not progressive in the sense of having an intrinsic final cause that leads it to transcend its inherent limitations in greater unities. Second, `Abdu'l-Bahá, refers to “the inevitable law of spiritual progress” which makes it clear that, with the guidance of the Manifestations, human progress is pre-destined, unavoidable and certain. This guaranteed progress is a distinguishing feature of the Bahá’í grand narrative. Insofar as the Manifestations inspire mankind’s progress, they are the origins of culture. As humanity advances spiritually and materially, additional Manifestations appear with new time-appropriate teachings that help us take the next step in spiritual and social progress. The essential teachings of the past are renewed, new teachings are added and the accidental features suitable to past times and places are abandoned. Shoghi Effendi writes the aim of each Manifestation is to

            widen the basis of all revealed religions and to unravel the mysteries of their scriptures.       He insists on the unqualified recognition of the unity of their purpose, restates the eternal     verities they enshrine, coordinates their functions, distinguishes the essential and the         authentic from the nonessential and spurious in their teachings, separates the God-given        truths from the priest-prompted superstitions, and on this as a basis proclaims the     possibility, and even prophecies the inevitability, of their unification, and the            consummation of their highest hopes.[74]

All these measures serve Bahá'u'lláh’s command that “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”[75] It is worth noting that “civilization” is singular thereby reminding us that the ultimate goal of the historic process is one civilization joined in a global federal commonwealth united in “one common faith.”[76] Each culture makes its contribution to the final whole, thereby safe-guarding the principle of unity in diversity. 'Abdu'l-Bahá prescribes other guidelines for contributing to an “ever-advancing civilization”:

            It is now the time in the history of the world for us to strive and give an impetus to the       advancement and development of inner forces -- that is to say, we must arise to service in        the world of morality, for human morals are in need of readjustment. We must also        render service to the world of intellectuality in order that the minds of men may increase   in power and become keener in perception, assisting the intellect of man to attain its         supremacy so that the ideal virtues may appear.[77]

A key aspect of progressive revelation is that revelation is never-ending. Shoghi Effendi says, that Bahá’í

            teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but    relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final. Unequivocally and without the      least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in      their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind. [78]

This declaration not only establishes the centrality of progressive revelation in the Bahá’í world view, but also outlines the basic grand narrative explicitly and implicitly present in the Writings. Divine revelations exist to guide humankind throughout the phases of its development in a way that is appropriate to its condition at any given time. Hence, it progresses, i.e. reveals more as the human condition warrants and as we “awaken spiritual susceptibilities.”[79] There is no end to this revelation and, therefore, no final Manifestation or final formulation of the truth. Truth is “relative” inasmuch as the expressions of the divine truth are adapted to human condition at any given time, but – and this is essential to note – these culture-formed relative expressions are all expressions of certain enduring truths or “eternal verities”[80] as Shoghi Effendi calls them. In other words, “truth is one, although its manifestations may be very different.”[81] The fact that revelation is progressive means that the Bahá’í grand narrative of mankind’s history is teleological, i.e. goal and purpose driven to a particular end, i.e. the unification of mankind into a global federal commonwealth joined in “one common faith.”[82] In other words, appearances to the contrary, history has an inherent order that includes some measure of predictability.

5.1: The Second Foundational Principle: The Oneness of Humankind[83]

The second foundational principle of the Bahá’í grand narrative is

            the principle of the Oneness of Mankind, the cornerstone of Bahá'u'lláh's world-            embracing dominion, implies nothing more nor less than the enforcement of His scheme            for the unification of the world[84]

Without recognizing the essential one-ness of mankind, the vision of history as a grand narrative aimed at the unification of mankind would lack of workable foundation. Physical things, ideas and beliefs or events cannot be united in any durable way without sharing something in common.[85] 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes it clear that all human beings share an identical, essential nature in several ways. First, he declares that “there are two natures in man: the physical nature and the spiritual nature.[86] All human beings share this constitutional make-up. At the physical or natural level this essential nature is demonstrated by the universality of medical and physiological studies. While some medical differences between ethnic groups exist, they are not enough to change our essential human nature. Even more, all humans share the essential attribute of having a “rational soul” which “is the human reality”[87] or essence. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that which

            distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names -- the human             spirit and the rational soul -- designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of            the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability         permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of             their peculiarities and            effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings.[88]

From these passages, we may conclude that humankind shares “the human spirit” or the “rational soul” as well as its dual constitution of our natural and spiritual aspects. Moreover, for all humans our natural or animal aspects are the source of “all imperfection” and the spiritual aspect is the “source of all perfection,” i.e. good.[89] In short, all human beings share the same ontological structure which, as we shall see, the natural and spiritual aspects of the soul explain the origins of good and evil in humankind, i.e. the vices and virtues. On the other hand, the powers of the rational soul explain why humans everywhere have, at least in principle, the universal capacities for learning and thought, for rational action like building societies, and for creative invention among other things. Of course, the presence of these capacities does not always mean they are used to the same degree or to the same advantage. Nor does it prevent societies from getting ‘sick’ or succumbing to “maladaptive” i.e. self-destructive ideologies.[90]

5.2: The Third Principle: The Unification of Mankind

            The third principle of the Bahá’í grand narrative is the ultimate goal of the unification of humankind in a “union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.”[91] 'Abdu'l-Bahá expands on this ultimate goal, saying,

            All men will adhere to one religion, will have one common faith, will be blended into      one race, and become a single people. All will dwell in one common fatherland, which is          the planet itself.[92]

Shoghi Effendi makes the international aspect of this goal clear:

            The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá'u'lláh, implies the establishment of a      world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and             permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal          freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely           safeguarded.[93]

Clearly, the Bahá’í grand narrative is teleological in nature, a principle that allows us to understand and judge historical developments in light of the ultimate goal, i.e. whether they facilitate or hinder humanity’s progress to this endpoint.

            At this point it is essential to note a unique feature of the Bahá’í grand narrative. It combines freedom of the individual will with the principle of a determined ultimate goal in history. In other words, world unification is an inevitable goal – ultimately pre-determined by God – but how we get there, by easy ways or hard or by whatever process we individually and collectively choose, history will arrive at a global federal commonwealth united by “one common faith.”[94] For example, humanity could have chosen the Most Great Peace when Bahá'u'lláh offered it but chose instead the trouble-ridden path to the Lesser Peace, leading Bahá'u'lláh to exhort, “Now that ye have refused the Most Great Peace, hold ye fast unto this, the Lesser Peace, that haply ye may in some degree better your own condition and that of your dependents.”[95]

            Statistical science tells us there is nothing inherently contradictory about a process that combines free individual choices and predictable and pre-determined ends for groups. Consider the actuarial tables compiled by life insurance companies. Countless millions of uncoordinated free individual decisions about life-style lead to orderly patterns and trends in death statistics that enable us to make predictions about groups and as well as identify life-expectancy probability for individuals. Of course, there are always exceptions but the majority of people do, in fact, die as predicted which is why life insurance companies are so immensely profitable. The reason for this paradoxical result is the inherent limitations of human nature which constrain the number of possible outcomes which in turn leads inevitably to the formation of patterns and/or trends. Another illustration of this apparently self-contradictory phenomenon can be seen in the graph line of stock investments. The graph are the results of countless free uncoordinated individual decisions, but the overall direction or trend shows a preferential movement in a certain direction even if contrary trends appear for a period of time. Many of these patterns and trends are so predictable that computers can be programmed to anticipate them and take action. 

5.3: The Fourth Principle: The Means of Unification

            Finally, the fourth principle of Bahá’í meta-history are the processes by which unification takes place. The first of these is the Manifestation of God Who comes to inaugurate a new stage of evolution in which humankind will make more spiritual, material and cultural progress. This   process begins with destabilizing the established – though already disintegrating – order. Bahá'u'lláh says,

The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind's ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System -- the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.[96]

In other words, God sends a new Manifestation when one phase of human development has run its course i.e. actualized its potentials and a new one is to begin self-actualizing. Because the previous revelation and its social order no longer meets the needs of human progress, the new Manifestation arrives to guide humankind through the next stage of spiritual, material and cultural growth. Through the Manifestations, God acts in the historical process.

The second aspect of the means by which God participates in history refers to the two-fold action when a new stage of development starts within a worn-out civilization without any new potentials left to actualize. Shoghi Effendi notes while one historical process is the death agonies of an old world order,

            The second proclaims the birth pangs of an Order, divine and redemptive, that will             inevitably supplant the former, and within Whose administrative structure an embryonic       civilization, incomparable and world-embracing, is imperceptibly maturing. The one is       being rolled up, and is crashing in oppression, bloodshed, and ruin. The other opens up          vistas of a justice, a unity, a peace, a culture, such as no age has ever seen.[97]

In other words, two historical processes operate at the same time – a degenerating

process of the old order of society and, growing within it, (Toynbee’s “chrysalis” and “internal proletariat”) a new revelation and its concomitant civilization. As the old civilization declines, the vigor of the new revelation and world order increases until it is established.[98] The new civilization will be better able to meet the challenges of the next stage of human development. 

            Finally, the means by which history advances is through the expansion of the social order, i.e. growing inclusivity. Shoghi Effendi states,

            Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is         now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been    successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a          harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent           in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must            abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships.[99]

In other words, social units show an increase in the number and variety of people who are considered ‘one of us’ or even ‘fully human.’ Conversely, the number of people who are considered as irredeemably ‘other’ are reduced. This must happen on an individual and collective level.

            To reach the next, i.e. global stage of historical development, we must recognize that “nation-building has come to an end” at least in the traditional sense and it is now time to concentrate our efforts on building a global federal commonwealth united by “one common faith.” This involves numerous and radical changes in personal and collective self-image and self-definition;  in the expansion of spiritual capacity; in personal and societal ethical standards;  political and social world-views and practices; and in a re-alignment of our loyalties vis-à-vis national state and the world. However, we must not think this is necessarily a single straight-forward process especially in the contemporary world when two processes are at work. On one hand, we have the decline of the current 

6: The Metaphysical Foundations of the Bahá’í Grand Narrative

            The Bahá’í grand narrative of world history is grounded in the metaphysical and ontological teachings embedded in the Bahá’í Writings. The reason for this is clear: history is a part of the phenomenal world created by God and the metaphysical and ontological principles laid down in the Writings are the pre-conditions that inform and shape everything that exists or happens in the phenomenal world. Consequently, the historical process is necessarily linked to the appropriate metaphysical and ontological principles or pre-conditions. For that reason the most complete form of a grand narrative of world history is one capable of connecting the metaphysical foundations with the actual historical processes. This give us the greatest possible understanding we can obtain within the inherent epistemological limits of humankind. It also increases logical coherence because it contains within itself all the metaphysical principles needed to justify its own arguments, inferences and conclusions. Only three other metanarratives attempt such comprehensiveness: Hegel and Marx, and to a lesser degree Toynbee.

            The metaphysical foundation of the Bahá’í grand narrative is the existence of God as the “the Creator of earth and heaven”[100] “the Sustainer”[101] of all that exists. This has at least five important consequences. First, the phenomenal world is intentional, i.e. it is intentionally brought into existence by an act of God’s Will: 

            Through His world-pervading Will He hath brought into being all created things .             . . All that is in heaven and all that is in the earth have come to exist at His bidding, and      by His Will all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being.[102]

It is important to notice that God intended, i.e. wanted the phenomenal world to exist because He loved it:  'Abdu'l-Bahá states “The cause of the creation of the phenomenal world is love”[103] which also suggests that by virtue of God’s love, creation, the phenomenal world has inherent value. This, in turn, establishes that in the Bahá’í grand narrative, at least some values are objective and real, and that ethical subjectivism does not universally apply. It also means that Hume’s Guillotine – the impossibility of getting from a description to a prescription – does not work with the Bahá’í metanarrative because at least some values are inherent in phenomenal things. 


            What we also learn from the pervasiveness of the divine Will is that the phenomenal world cannot explain itself in strictly phenomenal terms – as materialist and atheist systems require – but must be referenced to something that is beyond it in capacity and power and is unavoidable. Any attempt to explain physical nature by strictly physical means ends in an infinite regress since any alleged ‘final’ explanation lapses into an infinite sequence of physical causes. Bahá'u'lláh also speaks of “the Divine Will that pervadeth all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth [104] and notes that “Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will, that pervadeth all created things.”[105] Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to “the divine breath which animates and pervades all things.”[106] Bahá'u'lláh also states,


            Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the             revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom    are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great   Light. [107]


            Already at this point it is clear that the existence of a creator God Whose Will permeates all things will have a dramatic effect on how we contextualize and write world history. Whether or not human history is contextualized in a theistic, atheistic or agnostic way matters because the kind of world-view we espouse – either consciously or unconsciously – contextualizes our thinking and, thereby, influences our judgments about values, human nature, motivations, actions, events, society, politics, justice and truth to name only a few.  Our understanding, evaluation and presentation of lives or events will be dramatically different if contextualized by an indifferent world of matter, random mutations and struggle for survival or by a world in which there are intentions, purpose, order and even love for our existence.[108] For example, the nature of the Bahá’í grand narrative will be in sharp contrast to the atheist Marxist grand narrative or agnostic grand narrative by the McNeil’s The Human Web: A Birds-Eye View of World History. [109] Different questions will arise for historians such as ‘What is God’s intention or desire in creation?’; ‘How is this intention made known to us?’; ‘How do we best meet this intention?’; ‘What kind of values are implicit in this intention?’ Furthermore, different events or kinds of events will be important, less important or unimportant depending on the metaphysical context.


            It also follows logically that a phenomenal world with a purpose allows us to evaluate, prioritize, judge and interpret historical events and persons in light of that purpose which is objectively embodied in reality. This distinguishes the Bahá’í grand narrative from those like Marxism which attempts to explain world history in strictly immanent, i.e. non-transcendental and materialist terms. The problem is that without an objective standard by which to render evaluations, historical understanding ultimately becomes an exercise in personal and collective subjectivity and preferences. Furthermore, the context we choose also affects the kinds of evidence we are or are not willing to accept; the kind of explanations or possibilities we are willing to explore; the interpretation of events, actions and developments; the conclusions and judgments we draw and the values by which we draw them; the delineation of meaning; and the attitudes with which we approach our material. With the possible exception of chronicles, i.e. simple lists of events or objects, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to write any kind of history without these factors coming into play to one degree or another. It is also clear that even the effort to avoid metaphysics and ontology in history writing lands us in an alternate metaphysics.


            It might be argued that historians do not – or should not – mix the study of history with any school of metaphysics and its theological implications. However, the problem with this position is that we cannot avoid taking metaphysical – and implicitly, theological – standpoints no matter what we do when studying history. It is obvious that empiricism, positivism, the scientific method et al. do not avoid metaphysics but merely assert a different kind of metaphysics and the implicit theologies or a-theologies. Each of the following propositions is metaphysical – and implicitly a-theological – to the core: (1) ‘There is no, or we can detect no, transcendentally originated purpose in the cosmos,’ (2) ‘The only valid and decisive evidence is physical/material evidence’ that is the same for all viewers; (3) ‘We seek only facts in history.’ The first two propositions are manifestly metaphysical in nature and the second is obviously self-refuting. No valid material evidence that such is the case can be produced – even in theory. The third statement is logically circular because those who support it will only accept material evidence as ‘facts’ to begin with. The argument that historians must reject ‘miracles’ i.e. divine involvement in history is also problematic – but only if we accept Hume’s definition of miracles violating the laws of nature.[110] If, on the other hand, we define miracles statistically, like quantum theory, we would say that a miracle is an event of an extremely low order of probability.[111] Being highly improbable and being absolutely impossible are two different things. In other words, the argument that a Bahá’í grand narrative contaminates history with metaphysics and theology is not in itself a valid reason to reject it because any objection inescapably makes the same ‘error’ of at least implicitly invoking metaphysics.


            The second consequence of God’s role as Creator and Sustainer is that the Bahá’í metanarrative connects human history to natural history and the evolution of the universe. In other words, mankind’s history is an intrinsic part of the “divine milieu” [112]  as Teilhard de Chardin calls it and humankind is not as an accidental outcome of random mutations or chemical processes. Rather, humanity is a necessary goal of cosmic history.[113]  As 'Abdu'l-Bahá says,


            if the perfections of the spirit did not appear in this world, this world would be             unenlightened . . .  By the appearance of the spirit in the physical form, this world is             enlightened. As the spirit of man is the cause of the life of the body, so the world is in the   condition of the body, and man is in the condition of the spirit. If there were no man, the       perfections of the spirit would not appear, and the light of the mind would not be             resplendent in this world. This world would be like a body without a soul.

            This world is also in the condition of a fruit tree, and man is like the fruit; without fruit     the tree would be useless.[114]

We hardly need mention that the Writings support the concept of intelligent design of the phenomenal world. According to 'Abdu'l-Bahá,


            This composition and arrangement, through the wisdom of God and His preexistent             might, were produced from one natural organization, which was composed and             combined with the greatest strength, conformable to wisdom, and according to a             universal law.             From this it is evident that it is the creation of God, and is not a fortuitous     composition and arrangement.[115]

'Abdu'l-Bahá also speaks of the “the mysteries and creative purposes hidden within the phenomenal world.”[116] Because the phenomenal world is an intentional creation of God, it is inherently imbued with a purpose, i.e. God’s purpose which is the final cause of creation itself. The final cause directs or guides the proximate causes – the material, efficient and formal causes[117]  – so that they harmonize with the final cause.


            The third consequence of God’s role as Creator concerns purpose. If creation is intended by God, it has a purpose. If something has a purpose – especially God’s purpose – it has intrinsic value by which to judge whether a thing and/or event supports or opposes the purpose. Furthermore, because it has intrinsic value, it also has meaning or significance or importance for thought and action. This situation is noteworthy for grand narratives of world history because it implies that human history is not embedded in a fortuitous and essentially chaotic universe but, rather, is part of a universe with a final cause, a purpose, value and meaning. In other words, history takes place in a “divine milieu,”[118] in an environment actualized and fashioned by God’s presence through His divine Will and signs of His ubiquitous presence. Showing how at least some of the major events of world history fit into and exemplify the divine signs either by their presence or indirectly by their absence is one of the challenges of the Bahá’í grand narrative. 


            When metahistorical studies are contextualized by a “divine milieu,” the next logical step is to discover what this purpose is and how it is reflected in human history. Our knowledge of purpose, value and meaning which comes primarily through the Manifestations, provides the standard or viewpoint from which evaluate the importance of historical events. Grand narratives that omit the intrinsic and objectively real purpose, value and meaning of historical developments become untenable since, in effect, they are distorting history by errors of omission. For example, the Bahá’í Writings say that the final goal of human history is the unification of mankind, from which it logically follows that it is unsound and short-sighted to neglect this information in interprteting and evaluating historical persons and/or events. Shoghi Effendi makes such a judgment when he says, that “Nation-building has come to an end,”[119] a statement

which, in effect, discourages “nation building” as a side-line of contemporary political action. 


            The fourth consequences of God’s act(s) of creation is that value is not only innate to all existence but is also objectively real and not merely a personally subjective or even socially subjective phenomenon. In other words, the Writings espouse value realism, i.e. the belief that at least some values – ethical or otherwise – do not depend on human observers, i.e. they are not subjective individually or socially. At least some values are objective, established in the natural by the presence of the signs and Names of God.[120] The objectivity of these values is confirmed by Shoghi Effendi who states that all the Manifestations assert the “eternal verities”[121] in each dispensation. Such “verities” are “eternal” precisely because they endure and are objectively real, i.e. not dependent on human opinion either individual or collective. The manner in which these “verities” are applied diverges among dispensations but the “verities” themselves do not. We might characterize this situation as ‘theme and variations’ or, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá says, “truth is one, although its manifestations may be very different.”[122] The application of these values such as the nature of the good, also varies with the level of creation. For the plants, animals and humans, the value is growth to its highest possible condition but ‘growth,’ while essentially the same in all cases has different attributes in a plant and a human.  In other words, nature and the human history embedded in it, is value-laden and has been from the earliest beginnings of the phenomenal world. This implies that the struggles of history are unconscious or conscious efforts to attain the appropriate good. World history has an objective ethical dimension.


            A fifth consequence of result of the fact of divine creation is that the historical process is essentially rational insofar as it is mandated by the “invisible yet rational God.”[123] Thus, it is divinely endowed with an innate purpose or goal and a correlated means of achieving this goal, i.e. the establishment of a global federal commonwealth united in “one common faith” achieved by means of the guidance of the successive Manifestations of God and the actualization of humanity’s intellectual and spiritual potentials. For this reason the holy Manifestations of God appear in the human world. They come to


            educate and illuminate mankind, to bestow spiritual susceptibilities, to quicken inner    perceptions and thereby adorn the reality of man -- the human temple -- with divine             graces.[124]


Bahá'u'lláh explains the necessity for an orderly development in history:


            Know of a certainty that in every Dispensation the light of Divine Revelation hath been    vouchsafed unto men in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity. Consider the sun.     How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its             warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all             created            things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light . . .  Were it, all of a          sudden, to manifest the energies latent within it, it would, no doubt, cause injury to all       created things.... In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the   earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence            of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste    away and be consumed; for men's hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its      revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and             overpowered, they would cease to exist.[125]


The divine Manifestations arrive in succession to inaugurate new dispensations, i.e. new steps towards the ultimate goal of world unity when humankind is socially, intellectually and spiritually ready to take the next step. This sequential order is rational in two senses of the word. First, it represents a ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ rationality in which each step is the fulfillment of the appropriate potentials (for the goal) of the previous step and the preparation for the actualization of the next stage. The underlying reason for each step is that it facilitates reaching the goal or final cause in an orderly manner. Second, the same principle applies in logical reasoning; each step in a chain of logical inferences must be the necessary and sufficient condition for the next inference. [126] Hegel’s belief that the historical process functioned dialectically may have been mistaken, but his insight that there is an underlying rational sequence in history agrees with the Bahá’í Writings. Science also shows that the cosmic process itself is rational and orderly insofar as science is based on the observation that the universe works by means of classical and statistical laws and regularities.


            We hasten yet again to add that the teleological and rational nature of the historical process does not necessarily deny individual free will. Our collective goal is pre-determined – the world commonwealth and the actualization of human potentials – but this does not pre-determine any of our personal decisions for good or bad. Morally speaking the individual remains free to make whatever choices s/he wants:


            Some things are subject to the free will of man, such as justice, equity, tyranny and             injustice, in other words, good and evil actions; it is evident and clear that these actions            are, for the most part, left to the will of man.[127]


In other words, individual free will operates within the context of a teleological historical process. To put it another way, God has determined the ultimate goal of the historical process insofar as He has endowed humanity with the potentials to work towards this goal, but as individuals we are personally and collectively free to decide whether or not to strive for this goal.

Furthermore, free will also means that we are free to do evil or to be “perverse.”


            His purpose, however, is to enable the pure in spirit and the detached in heart to ascend,            by virtue of their own innate powers, unto the shores of the Most Great Ocean, that      thereby they who seek the Beauty of the All-Glorious may be distinguished and      separated from the wayward and perverse[128].


God recognizes the difference between “the wayward and the perverse” choices that we make. Yet it is important to recall that without the potential of choosing evil, our will would not really be free. True freedom requires the right to do wrong. The Universal House of Justice explains,


            Bahá'u'lláh also raises the possibility that possessing free will, human beings may well     commit evil and "wittingly" break "His law." By the exercise of his free will, man either   affirms his spiritual purpose in life or chooses to perpetuate evil by living below his             highest station. The question is asked: "Is such a behaviour to be attributed to God, or to    their proper selves?" And [Bahá'u'lláh ] concludes: Every good thing is of God, and every   evil thing is from yourselves.[129]


Consequently, the rationality of the historical process does not mean that there can be no disorder because there most obviously is. However, this anarchy is accidental – the product of poor human choices and perversity – and is not essential to the historical process itself.            Nor will man-made anarchy and crime divert the historical process from its ultimate goal. Even those who struggle to disobey and defy God will eventually discover that as the Qu’ran says, “they plotted, and God plotted; and God is the best of plotters.'[130] As the Báb states, “All are His servants and all abide by His bidding!”[131] In short, even their opposition will eventually be made to serve God’s purpose. This is reminiscent of Milton’s Paradise Lost in which God allows free will to Satan and his fallen angels and uses their evil actions as an opportunity to bring out greater good.[132] The same idea underlies Hegel’s concept of “the cunning of reason . . . [which] sets the passions to work for itself.”[133] Bahá’ís have a concrete example of this in our own history. The IRI sought to extirpate the Bahá’í Faith but by driving many Bahá’ís out of Iran, it effectively spread the Faith into more countries than ever before.  


            We should point out in passing that the Báb’s teaching forms the basis of a Bahá’í theodicy, i.e. an explanation of evil and its role in a divinely created universe. The basic questions is, ‘If God is good, why does evil exist?’ According to the Writings, evil is “from yourselves”[134] as Bahá'u'lláh says, because evil is the result of our own free choices. (Evil choices should not be confused with genuine mistakes, accidents or inability.) If humankind is to have free will and freely love and worship God, the choice of evil must be possible since without it, good choices will merely be robotic. Unfortunately, we shall not be able to advance this topic in our paper.

End of Part 1 of 4

[1] Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, in Scholarship, p. 17; emphasis added;

[2] Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, 21, October, 1943 in Scholarship, p. 4’ emphasis added.

[3] Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, 5 July, 1949, in Scholarship, p. 11; emphasis added.

[4] Karl Popper, The Open society and its Enemies.

[5] Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, p.63.

[6] The ‘Big History’ movement begins its deliberations with the Big Bang and proceeds through evolution to human history.

[7] Kelly Boyd, Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writings, Vol. 1, p. 1245.

[8] Vladimir Lenin, The State and Revolution, #4, and Frederich Engels, Anti-Duehring, Part 3, Chp. 2

[9] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 162.

[10] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 202; emphasis added.

[11] Our remarks are confined to those grand narratives that apply to humanity as a whole, not to a particular nation, as for example with Sima Qian (China, circa 100.B.C.) and Ibn Battuta (14th Century CE).

[12] Matthias Reidel, “A Collective Messiah,”  

[13] Giambattista Vico, The New Science quoted in Gilderhus, History and Historians, p. 53.

[14] Mark T. Gilderhus, History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction, p. 53.

[15] Ian Kluge, “Kant’s ‘Perpetual Peace’ and the Bahá’í Writings,” in Lights of Irfan, Vol. 13, 20012 or at

[16] Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, translated by Lewis White Beck, “Introduction,” emphasis added.

[17] Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, translated by Lewis White Beck, 8Th Thesis; emphasis added. 

[18] Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 86.

[19] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[20] World History Association, Mission Statement,

[21] WHA, “Areas of Specialization,”

[22] David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History.

[23] Grinin, Korotayev, Rodrigue, editors, Evolution: A Big History Perspective, p. 269.

[24] Juan J. Gomez-Ibarra, A Scientific Model of History.

[25] Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein and Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Theory: An Introduction. 

[26] Sebastian Conrad, What is Global History?, p. 7.

[27] Sebastian Conrad, What is Global History? p. 7.

[28] J.R. MacNeil and W.H. MacNeil, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History.

[29] Vladimir Alaykin-Izvekov, “Civilizational Science: The Evolution of a New Field,” in Comparative Civilizations Review, Spring, 2011. 

[30] Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXI, p. 217. Speaking of religions in general, Bahá'u'lláh says, “All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose.”

[31] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 208; emphasis added.

[32] Pieter Geyl, Debates with Historians, p. 156.

[33] Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 208.

[34] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 118.

[35] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 41.

[36] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 339.

[37] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108.

[38] Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XVI, p.39-40.

[39] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 98.

[40] Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XIII, p. 19.

[41] Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XXII, p. 51.

[42] For an in-depth discussion, see Ian Kluge, “Reason and the Bahá'í  Writings” in Lights of Irfan, Vol. 14, 2013 or

[43]  Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, p.31.

[44] Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, LXX, p. 136.

[45] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 154.

[46] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XXVII, p. 66.

[47] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p 157.

[48] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[49] Shoghi Effendi,  Directives from the Guardian, p. 7.

[50] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 298.

[51] Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of  Bahá’u’lláh XC, p. 178.

[52] Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of  Bahá’u’lláh CXXII, p. 259.

[53] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 7.

[54] Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of  Bahá’u’lláh CXXII, p. 259.

[55] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 6.

[56] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 196. See also p. 201.  

[57] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 181.

[58] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 112.

[59] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 117;emphasis added. 

[60] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 202; emphasis added.

[61] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[62] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 193.

[63] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 439.

[64] The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 214.

[65] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 7.

[66] Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CIX, p. 214.

[67] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 107.

[68] Compilations, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 107.

[69] Moojan Momen, The God of Bahá'u'lláh,; emphasis added.

[70] “The shrewdness of God” is, of course, reminiscent of Hegel’s “the cunning of history” but I felt that ‘cunning’ has too many negative connotations to use in connection with God.

[71] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 62

[72] `Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 90; emphasis added.

[73] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 233.

[74] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108; emphasis added.

[75] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CIX, p. 214.

[76] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[77] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 325; emphasis added.

[78] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 58.

[79] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 7.

[80] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108.

[81] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.121.

[82] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[83] One of the best contemporary books on this is Human Universals by anthropologist Donald E. Brown. See also The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. 

[84] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 36.

[85] As the French poet Lautreament says so memorably: such an attempted union of absolute differences would be like the chance meeting of a sewing machine and umbrella on an operating table.

[86] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 118.

[87] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 151.

[88] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 208.

[89] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 118.

[90] Robert P Edgertopn, Sick Socities, p. 43.

[91] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[92] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[93] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 203.

[94] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 65.

[95] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXIX, p. 253; emphasis added. 

[96] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, LXX, p. 136.

[97] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 17; emphasis added.

[98] Pitirim Sorokin as a similar vision of the alternation of sensate, ideational and integral culture types.

[99] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 202; emphasis added.

[100] Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 40.

[101] Bahá'u'lláh,Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 144.

[102] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXLVIII, p. 318; emphasis added. 

[103] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 297.

[104] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, II, p. 5; emphasis added. 

[105] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CLIX, p. 335; emphasis added.    

[106] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 58; emphasis added.

[107] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XC, p. 177; emphasis added.

[108] Bahá'u'lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words # 4: “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.”

[109] J.R. McNeil and William H McNeil, The Human Web: A Birds-Eye View of World History.

[110] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “Of Miracles,” Part I.

[111] Ian Kluge, July 9, A Dramatic Monologue.

[112] Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu.

[113] French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, similarly links natural and human evolution in The Phenomenon of Man.

[114] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 200; emphasis added.

[115] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 181.

[116] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 74.

[117] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 280. The Writings accept Aristotle’s theory of four-fold causation.

[118] Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu.

[119] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 202.

[120] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 195.

[121] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108.

[122] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p 128.

[123] Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 112.

[124] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 330.

[125] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, XXXVIII, p.  87.

[126] Ian Kluge, “Reason and the Bahá’í Writings” in Lights of Irfan Vol 14, 2013.

[127] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 248.

[128] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh,XXIX, p. 70; emphasis added.

[129] The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 663.

[130] Qur'án 8:30 in Lawh-i-Sultan (Guardian Browne) Provisional translation.

[131] The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 216; emphasis added.

[132] John Milton,.Paradise Lost, Book I, l. 159 – 165.

[133] Hegel, General Introduction in The Philosophy of History, trans by Robert S Hartman, III, 2, c.

[134] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, LXXVII, p. 149.GRAND NARRATIVES AND THE BAHA’I WRITINGS