Martha Root’s Speeches and Social Discourse: Cosmic Education for a Universal Age

Martha Root with other women
Martha Root sitting front and center, with a group of women in Melbourne, Australia, c. 1924. (Image source)

A century ago, on July 22, 1919, Martha Root embarked on a 20-year journey to destinations in Europe, Australia, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. These travels were motivated by a desire to share Baha’u’llah’s teachings with diverse audiences through public speaking and writing. Before setting out, she had honed her rhetorical skills during her career as a journalist, performer, and teacher. You can learn more about Root’s purpose-driven life from this earlier Baha’i Blog article.

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Uniting the World, Two Hearts at a Time

(Image source)

“Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love. This love will make all men the waves of one sea, this love will make them all the stars of one heaven and the fruits of one tree. This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.” 

Abdu’l-Baha1

In 1904, Florence Breed and Ali-Kuli Khan married in Boston. Breed was American and Khan was Iranian; their union symbolized East and West uniting in the Baha’i Faith. When Abdu’l-Baha visited the US in 1912, the Khans hosted a luncheon for Him in Washington, D.C. There, Abdu’l-Baha defied social convention by giving Louis Gregory, an African-American Baha’i, the seat of honor. 

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When the West Comes to the East: Laura Barney’s Lessons from Persia

Painting of Laura Clifford Barney
“Laura at Sixteen” by Alice Pike Barney (Image source)

May 16, 1909: a gathering of New Yorkers listens to Laura Clifford Barney; one audience member jots down her words. This scribe records two talks Barney gives: the first, on her journey to Persia, and the second, on her observations of Abdu’l-Baha. To learn more about the context, please refer to my previous post, which describes the second talk.

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“What I Saw of Abdu’l-Baha”: Vignettes by Laura Barney

‘Abdu’l-Bahá standing on the balcony of the house of Abbas Gholi, c. 1920
Abdu’l-Baha stands on a balcony. (Image source)

May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States.

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Martha Root’s Interwar Lectures: Cosmic Education and the Rhetoric of Unity

Cover of Peitho 21.1 (c) CFSHRC 2018

Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition, vol. 21, no. 1, 2018, pp. 132-157.

Abstract: This article introduces Martha L. Root’s cosmopolitan rhetoric, which exemplifies how women speaking from (religious) margins interpret traditions to create calls for social change. In lectures delivered between the world wars, Root argued for “cosmic education,” a global peacemaking program promoting openness and civic service in learners, which she distilled from precepts of the Bahá’í Faith. Root implored every listener, from her US co-nationals to audiences worldwide, to evangelize peace. Her rhetoric of unity harnessed principle with practice to animate the cycle of cosmic education, a cycle she modeled by inventing transnational sisterhood with the 19th-century Persian poet Táhirih Qurratu’l-Ayn.

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Laura Barney’s Discipleship to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Tracing a Theological Flow from the Middle East to the United States, 1900–1916

Journal of Bahá’í Studies, vol. 28, no. 1–2, 2018, pp. 7–31.

Abstract: The discipleship of the young American Laura Clifford Barney to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the early 1900s resulted in a flow of spiritual teachings from East to West. After several years of intense engagement with her teacher in Palestine, Barney sought to disseminate in her Western homelands what she had learned. Her private and public writings demonstrate how she employed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teachings in her efforts to influence social discourse by promoting the Bahá’í Faith in Europe and the United States. Examining these teachings and Barney’s applications thereof in her rhetoric allows us to witness how a transnational channel of theological knowledge developed.

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Women Inspiring Women in Baha’i History: Tahirih’s Lineage

Collage of sixteen Bahá'í women
Some prominent Baha’i women (Image source)

On March 8th, we celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” and acknowledge the urgency of “accelerating gender parity.”1 As much as International Women’s Day is a celebration, it is also a monument to centuries of discrimination.

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