Various religious congregations imported by those who preserve their cultural heritage are
thriving on its soil since the United States keeps attracting immigrants and refugees from all over
the world. In spite of its modern Middle Eastern origin, the Baha’i Faith in the United States has
more American followers than Iranian (Yanagawa and Saeki 1991) unlike most immigrant
congregations. This is partly because of its history. The Baha’i Faith was brought to the United
States not by immigrants or refugees, but by early followers in the late nineteenth century and the
early twentieth century, who attempted to evangelize non-Baha’is (Stockman 1985, Hartz 2002).
The early Baha’i community, the majority of which were of Western European origins with
Christian backgrounds experienced a drastic demographic change as Iranians rushed to the
United States in the 1970s and 1980s (Cole 2000). According to some scholars, this demographic
change has caused tensions in American Baha’i communities, as previous studies have shown the
general tendency for racial homophily (Mollica et al. 2003)and different value priorities among
Baha’is depending on their cultural backgrounds (Feather 1992). Also, the dissolution of the
Local Spiritual Assembly, a nine-person elected administrative body in each local Baha’i
community, in Los Angeles was due to serious problems including troubled race relations (Cole
2000). My ethnography is going to focus on this issue of race relations in the Baha’i community
in Austin. It is still unclear whether issues regarding race relations exist in the Austin Baha’i
community, but I have found more reasons to assume so than not. To present those reasons, I
will contextualize the American Baha’i community through the basic tenet of the Baha’i Faith
and its historical development.
The Baha’i Faith has its origin in Iran, but it is no longer an “Iranian” religion today.
Partly due to the severe persecution in Iran and other Islamic countries, the faith has spread to
other regions of the world. The biggest community exists in India, with more than two million
Baha’is, and two hundred and thirty six countries/areas have Baha’i communities today (Hartz,
2002). The rapid growth is partly due to immigrations of Baha’is to areas where the faith has not
taken root, but also due to its teachings.
The Baha’i Faith is a modern religion. Its founder, Baha’u’llah, lived in the late
nineteenth century, when humans had already experienced a great deal of transformation in their
society. The son of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, has even written a book called “Secret of Divine
Civilization,” in which he discusses how to modernize Iran. Scholars point out the influence from
the Enlightenment in his works (Hartz 2002). Since it was founded in the modern time, many