A Persian Preacher’s Westward Migration: Táhirih’s Transnational Rhetoric, 1817–2015

Illustration of Táhirih’s travels with five key stops starred by Layli Maria Miron.
Map: Clipping of “Middle East in the 19th Century,” University of Chicago

Journal of Communication and Religion, vol. 42, no. 4, 2019, pp. 5–27.

Abstract: During her brief life in the early nineteenth century, the Persian poet and theologian Táhirih advocated for a spiritual revolution. Authorities executed her for heresy in 1852. After death, Táhirih attracted admirers around the world; Western writers—especially women—have interpreted her history to argue for gender equality, religious renewal, and global interdependence. This Middle Eastern preacher has established a posthumous pulpit in the United States, as members of the Bahá’í Faith there have authored a dozen books about her. After introducing Táhirih’s rhetorical rebellions, this essay demonstrates her transnational influence by analyzing her afterlives in U.S. Bahá’í discourse.

Full Text: You can download the article by clicking the link below.

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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