We are living in exceptional times, not solely because of the global health crisis that has gripped the planet. We live in the shadow of 19th century forces that structure modern society, forces that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha addressed. If you’re curious to know more about the age in which we live, Stephen Beede has authored a fascinating book that you might be interested in. It’s called Baha’u’llah, the West, and the Birth of Modernity: An Essay on the Awakening of Humanity. We asked Stephen about his new book and here’s what he shared with us:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a plant breeder by trade, which means that I use the vast genetic diversity in my crop of choice to develop new varieties that serve both farmers and consumers. I work on edible or common beans, which you may know better in their form as navy beans, black beans or kidney beans. I started this track in my graduate training at the University of Wisconsin, where my major professor steered me toward the tropics. I have spent the rest of my life in an international research institute in Colombia, South America. Having grown up on a family farm in Iowa, I have always felt a certain empathy for small farmers around the world, as our program seeks to serve bean producers in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and East and southern Africa.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about your book?
Baha’is are very familiar with the story of Baha’u’llah and the kings of Europe, especially Napoleon III of France, and Shoghi Effendi says that the relationship of these kings to the Faith of God “constitutes one of the most illuminating episodes in the history of the Heroic and Formative Ages of that Faith.” Furthermore, those kings ruled in a period that Europe was changing dramatically, from an outworn feudal system to one of fledgling republics and democracies. Parallel to the spiritual revolution that the Bab and Baha’u’llah were fomenting, this was a period of industrial, political and social revolution that formed much of what we take for granted in the modern era. This book seeks to track the evolution of this period of radical change with special reference to the masses of humanity in both Europe and the United States, and eventually with implications for the rest of the world. Indeed, as events of great social impact unfolded, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha would allude to them, in both analysis and prophecy.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to write it?
I have always been interested in world history, and when I made my daily half-hour drive to work, I would listen to university courses on tapes and CD’s. One course in particular that caught my attention dealt with the history of Europe in the 19th century. It set me to thinking how dramatic events were unfolding in Europe simultaneously with the Heroic Age of the Faith. It set a context within which to understand better those Tablets of Baha’u’llah to the kings. Those events were also reshaping the social fabric of nations in the modern era, and were defining the role and social context of the masses. Thus, as the Faith directs its attention in the 21th century to local communities, with the mission of “the spiritual empowerment of the whole body of mankind as the protagonists of their own advancement,” the role of the masses in the 19th and early 20th centuries merits additional attention.
Baha’i Blog: What’s something that you learned while writing this book?
History is always a continuum, and while there are inflection points in history, our present is always linked to the past. Sometimes we lose sight of how close we are to the dawn of the Faith, and how our non-Baha’i environment that seems so natural as if it had always existed, in reality is also a product of the Days that saw the Supreme Manifestation of God walk upon the earth. The social process that was born in the 19th century is still on-going, and our own efforts to propagate the Faith and to build communities are an integral part of that revolution that initiated 200 years ago.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope readers will take away with them, long after they’ve read the last page?
I hope that readers will appreciate that the days in which we live, and the actions that we undertake, are as vital a part of history as the big events of history books like the French Revolution, the fall of dynasties, or the First and Second World Wars. The awakening of humanity may have initiated with the big events, but it will culminate in local communities, where we labor in children’s classes, junior youth groups and study circles. In brief, we are all a part of history.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Stephen, for taking the time to share that with us.
You can purchase a copy of ‘Baha’u’llah, the West, and the Birth of Modernity’ here on Amazon.