Religious reformers in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century: the visits of Abdul Baha

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McNamara, Brendan
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University College Cork
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The central theme of this work is an examination of the contribution made by home-grown reformers to the construction of new religious frameworks in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. I focus on the evolution of a worldview oriented towards Asia and key individuals that sought interaction with religious ideas from the ‘East’. I will take as a case study the reception in Britain of the head of the Bahai religion, Abdul Baha, who visited in 1911 and again in late 1912. Through an analysis of the discourses he was invited to engage with, and the reasons his British hosts pursued these encounters, I recover lost aspects of what was a vibrant and multidimensional religious ‘field’. This will necessitate a review of why and how scholars of the new ‘science of religion’, ‘Celticists’, leading Protestant reformers and others expended much energy in supporting the Bahai leader’s public programme as he progressed through Britain. These interactions and their prominent promoters, significant in the context of the history of religions in Europe, are now mostly ‘forgotten’ or are ‘remembered’ in a particular fashion. Endeavouring to answer why these events are consigned as a footnote in history exposes a complex nexus of factors bearing on agency, myopic interpretation and the manner in which this history has been captured and interpreted. A key factor is the effect of the catastrophic conflagration which beset the world in 1914 on universalist worldviews. The figures analysed in this thesis were exponents of ideas and philosophies that are familiar in the present. Consideration of their experience illuminates similar contemporary discursive trends and leads me to posit the aetiology of such religious journeying as occurring long before it is generally thought such ideas were prevalent. Notwithstanding their eclectic interests, an important component in the construction of this discursive environment was the operation of a particular ‘filter’, one which still favoured Christianity as a pleroma.
Religious Landscape Britain pre-First World War , Reception of missionary traveler from Asia , Analysis of discursive space , Focus on why this is a 'hidden history'
McNamara, B. 2017. Religious reformers in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century: the visits of Abdul Baha. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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