The Baha'i Faith: A Case Study in Globalization, Mobility and the Routinization of Charisma

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Abstract

‘Founding Father’ of sociology Max Weber argued that charismatic authority, based on the personal magnetism of a prophetic leader and necessary at the initial stages of the establishment of religions, is not sustainable. He suggested that the charisma of the founder must be ‘routinized’ in bureaucratic structures that formalize leadership and organization. The danger in this process is the loss of the ‘spirit’ of the original movement, with an increasing focus on the preservation and replication of formal structures and practices. This paper considers the case study of the Baha’i Faith, a religion founded in the 1860s in Iran, but which quickly mobilized, through a structured program of dissemination in the form of international plans of action and the movement of ‘pioneers’ (unpaid missionaries), to become a worldwide religion whose fundamental orientation is global (it promotes itself as the second most widespread religion in the world). Most recently the process of routinization is evident not only in the formalizing of structures of leadership and organization, but in the systematization of beliefs, specifically structures of study and practice, through a program called ‘the Ruhi institute process’. This paper outlines these developments, and suggests possible causes for the phenomenon, including ‘elective affinity’ between it and other globalizing factors such as the Iranian diaspora, with special reference to Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-292
JournalJournal for the Academic Study of Religion
Volume28
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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