Language and Religion

A brief introduction to the Bahá’í Faith, its doctrines on language and its socio-ethnical and linguistic structure

Term Paper, 2013

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3




1. The Baha’i Faith and some of its Central Teachings

2. The Socio-Ethnic Structure of the Baha’i Religion

3. A Survey Concerning the Ethnical and Linguistic Structure of the German Baha’i Community
3.1 Introduction to the Survey & Assumptions for the Creation of the Questions
3.2 The Statistic Outcome ofthe Survey
3.3 An Evaluation of the Survey



This seminar paper deals with links and relations between language and religion. Exemplarily, it takes a closer look at the connections of language and the Baha’i[1][2] Faith in general and, in particular, in Germany. Therefore, the paper focuses on the historical development of this world religion, beginning in 19th-century Iran, its evolu­tion towards a global faith, and its establishment in Germany in the early years of the 20th century. This paper is also going to deal with religious teachings that influ­ence the ethnic, racial, social and linguistic structure of this young world faith. Fur­thermore, an insight into statistics on the ethnical, racial, and cultural backgrounds of the global and the German Baha’i community respectively as well as conclusions about their linguistic composition will be provided. In the end, details about a survey conducted from February 06th 2013 to March 17th 2013 will be presented and elabo­rated on.

Only little research has been conducted in the field of language and the Baha’i Religion[3]- at least from a sociolinguistic perspective. Therefore, this paper serves as a good opportunity to deal with this challenge.

1. The Baha’i Faith and some of its Central Teachings

The youngest of the world’s religions, the Baha’i Faith, is often called ‘the religion of unity’. That is because its three central spiritual teachings are namely the unity of the Divine, the unity of religions, and the unity of humankind (cp. Hutter 2008; p. 108). Especially the two latter spiritual teachings are important for a sociological look at the Baha’i Faith. Baha’u’llah, the prophet founder of the Baha’i Religion, taught “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” (Baha’u’llah 2012, p.215; translation: N.H.)[4][5]. This quote represents the Baha’is’ general openness towards all peoples, ethnical tribes and linguistic groups. The actual ethnic, national, and linguistic makeup of the Faith will be looked at later.

Not only is the addressed doctrine of the unity of mankind a basic moral teaching, but also a spiritual and social aim the Baha’i Faith and its members pursue. Baha’u’llah wrote:

“My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peo­ples. The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” (Äl 131:2; translation: N.H.)

The aim of the Baha’i Faith is the unification of the world’s peoples in peace and social and religious diversity (cp. Hutter 2008, p. 110). All social and humanitarian aids, projects, and ventures as well as spiritual gatherings initiated by Baha’is work towards this goal.

Such an aim requires a couple of ‘tools’, so to say. Baha’is believe that these tools are basically inherent in the often recited twelve principles of the Baha’i Faith including the equality of men and women, the right to universal education for both boys and girls (cp. Hutter 2009, p. 171) and the elimination of all kinds of prejudice (e.g. Abdu’l Baha2010, p. 81)[6]

The most interesting principle of the twelve is the establishment of a universal auxil­iary language. As one of the main tools for establishing world peace, such a univer­sal auxiliary language shall be taught as a second language around the world— together with the actual native language of each nation (cp. Meyjes 2006, p. 29). This world language is not meant to replace the native languages but rather to com­plement them. To have a native language is considered to be a human right and destroying or eliminating the world’s languages would mean an elimination of a prominent aspect of the world’s diversity. To prevent minority languages from extinc­tion, the rights of linguistic minorities shall be protected against the rights of the ma­jor society (cp. Meyjes 2006, p. 29). Abdu’l Baha describes the native language as “the most profound characteristic of a people” and the “native air which we need for living and dying, which surrounds us from cradle to grave, which always is and re­mains our most personal property” (Abdu’l Baha, quoted in Meyjes 2006, p. 28f.). Thus, it would be against basic Baha’i teachings to destroy the world’s native lan­guages in favour of establishing a single world language.

Baha’is have strongly pursued the establishment of a world-wide second lan­guage. Especially in Germany the Baha’is tried to strengthen the Esperanto move­ment of the Polish physician Ludwig Zamenhof. He invented the language in 1887 to support the world peace process - without being Baha’i himself. His daughter, Lidja Zamenhof, became a Baha’i in 1926 and translated some of the Baha’i Holy Scrip­tures into Esperanto (cp. Hutter 2009, p. 189f.). Even though Esperanto was re­garded highly in the Baha’i Faith (cp. Meyjes 2006), Shoghi Effendi and the Univer­sal House of Justice[7]mentioned repeatedly that Esperanto is not considered to be the officially supported Universal Auxiliary Language (cp. Hutter 2009, p. 190).

Baha’u’llah said that the members of all parliaments should choose a single world language: “[t]his will be the cause of unity, [...] and the greatest instrument for pro­moting harmony and civilization” (Baha’u’llah 2011, p. 100; translation: N.H.[8]). On another occasion, he taught that “[i]t is incumbent upon all nations to appoint some men of understanding and erudition to convene a gathering and through joint consultation choose one language from among the varied existing languages, or create a new one, to be taught to the children in all the schools of the world” (Baha’u’llah, quoted in Meyjes 2006, p. 31).

One could say that not only does the Baha’i Faith stress the importance of lan­guage itself, it also hands over highly influential responsibility to the hands of lin­guists.

Picking an auxiliary language seems to be an almost impossible task for the Baha’i world community, for such an auxiliary language should avoid any kind of intercultural offenses, should not have any imperialist intent, and ought to be cultur­ally neutral (cp. Meyjes 2006, p. 31). English has been discussed as whether it is supposed to be the world auxiliary language or not. The new world language should not be lingua franca determined incidentally or just because most of the speakers in the world use it; on the contrary, it is intended to represent a new global world civili­sation and, therefore, needs to be intelligently chosen (cp. b., p. 31f.).

Another task to be accomplished in selecting an auxiliary language is the new world civilisation mentioned above. This new world culture is to be interfused by the principle of unity in diversity, culturally as well as ethnically, racially, and tribally spo­ken. Thus, the world auxiliary language needs to be selected well as it doesnot only have to represent this doctrine, but also the diverse tribes, ethnic groups, tribes, races, nations and cultural backgrounds of a global society without ignoring or elid­ing the concept of unity (cp. ib., p. 31f.).

Another question Baha’is and other supporters of a world auxiliary language have to solve is that of how to define primary languages. In some areas of the world, great distinctions are made between accents, dialects, and high language whereas in other areas some of these accents or dialects would be regarded as not only lan­guage varieties but common languages themselves. It is also often unclear of how to define the differences between high and standard languages used in a nation’s everyday life, and languages (or language varieties) spoken in some minority com­munities, may they be of ethnical, tribal, racial, or other origin (cp. ib., p. 32f.).

Some Baha’is may conclude that the global auxiliary language was meant to be Arabic or even Persian as the Baha’i Holy Scriptures are revealed in either one of the two. Approximately 40 % of the Writings of Baha’u’llah are written in Persian, 60 % in Arabic (cp. Hutter 2009, p.88f.). The number of texts written by Baha’u’llah is said to be about 15,000. Most of them have been translated by Shoghi Effendi (cp. Hutter 2009, p.88f.). Nowadays, the Universal House of Justice convokes com­missions to translate the Holy Writings mostly into English. English translations are often translated by the commissions convoked by the several National Spiritual As- semblies[9]to translate those texts into the respective native languages (cp. Hutter 2009, p.88f.). As mentioned above, neither the Universal House of Justice nor any other Baha’i institution is in favour of any certain language to become the universal auxiliary language.

2. The Socio-Ethnic Structure of the Baha’i Religion

As we have already discovered some basic teachings of the Baha’i Faith, we are now about to have a closer look at the socio-ethnical structure of the Baha’i Relig­ion. One of the three spiritual principles—the unity of humankind—reveals a general openness towards all kinds of national, racial, ethnical, and tribal groups. Assum­ingly, one would expect a very diverse followership in the Baha’i Faith and hence there must be a high number of different languages spoken in the several communi­ties.


[1]The official name is spelled as follows: Bahá’í (cp. Hutter 2009). To create an easier reading, the official name is replaced by the simplified term Baha’i.

[2]The pronunciation of ‘Baha’i’ is as follows: /be'hai/ (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Diction-fy).

[4]The German original: “Die Erde ist nur ein Land, und alle Menschen sind seine Bürger.“

[5]Bibliographical references of Baha’i Holy Scriptures are given in the German standard­ised abbreviated form (as one does with Biblical references). The translations are ori­ented towards the standardised translations.

[6]Abdu’l Baha was the son of Baha’u’llah and his appointed successor in terms of leader­ship (cp. Towfigh 2007, p. 47).

[7]Shoghi Effendi was the great-grandson of Baha’u’llah and afterAbdu’l Baha his succes­sor in terms of leadership. He did not appoint any successor to himself. Thus, he was the last single leader of the Baha’i Faith. After he had passed away, the Universal House of Justice became the leading institution of the Baha’i Religion. It consists of nine men elected every five years (cp. Towfigh et. al. 2007, p. 48).

[8]The German version: „Dies wird Einheit bewirken [...] Dies wird das mächtigste Werk­zeug sein zur Förderung von Harmonie, Kultur und Zivilisation.“

[9]National Spiritual Assemblies are the elected supreme bodies of each national Baha’i community. They are elected each year and consist of nine men and women. (cp. Böckl 2011, p.110). Neither does the Baha’i Faith have any clergy, priesthood, nor any kind of ministerial office (cp. Towfigh 2007, p. 12).

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Language and Religion
A brief introduction to the Bahá’í Faith, its doctrines on language and its socio-ethnical and linguistic structure
Dresden Technical University  (Institute of English and American Studies)
Introduction to Sociolinguistics
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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This seminar paper deals with relations between language and religion. It takes a closer look at the connections of language and the Baha’i Faith in general and in Germany. It focuses on the development of this world religion and its evolution towards a global faith. It deals with religious teachings that influence its structure and an insight into statistics on the backgrounds of the Baha’i community respectively as well as conclusions about their linguistic composition are provided. Finally, details about a survey conducted from Feb 06 to March 17 2013 will be presented and elaborated on.
Religion, Linguistik, Bahai, Baha'i, Soziolinguistik, sociolinguistics, linguistics, faith, language, Sprache, Weltsprache, Weltreligion
Quote paper
Nino Haustein (Author), 2013, Language and Religion , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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