‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Secret of Divine Civilization


An Introduction to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s The Secret of Divine Civilization

by Dr. Nader Saiedi

The Secret of Divine Civilization is a masterpiece in social and political theory. Although written in 19 th century regarding the question of modernization of Iran, its vision is not outdated. On the contrary, the questions addressed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s book have become even more urgent and relevant for humanity at the end of 20 th century. The vision of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offers a novel perspective for a new world order, one which is qualitatively different from all existing models of political theory. Consequently, an adequate reading of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s treatise requires a dynamic perspective which is oriented simultaneously to both the specific conditions of Iran in the second half of 19 th century, and the problems and problematics confronting humanity at the present time. This is due to the fact that while The Secret of Divine Civilization is written in response to the specific conditions of Iranian society in 19 th century, its theoretical vision transcends the boundaries of both Iran and 19 th century. It is truly a work for all humanity and all seasons. In this brief introduction of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s historic text I will first briefly discuss the purpose and the historical context of the writing of The Secret . Therefore, I will locate ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s treatise in the context of both Iranian social and political situation, and the overall message of the Bahá’í Faith. After that I would explicate the organization of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s treatise and differentiate four levels of discourse in His work. The next four sections will be devoted to those four levels of discourse. The first level would address the debate concerning traditionalist patrimonialism and rationalist bureaucratization. The second debate is oriented to the controversy between religious traditionalism and atheist rationalism. The third layer is devoted to the historicist as opposed to the objectivist definitions of social and economic development. Finally, the fourth debate will address the question of nationalism and internationalism. This introduction will be concluded by a brief discussion of the concept of modernity in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s vision. The Secret of Divine Civilization is one of the early writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which occupies a unique theoretical and historical position among the Bahá’í sacred writings. Unlike general Bahá’í Writings, The Secret is addressed to the Muslim population of Iran, written as an anonymous Muslim text, devoted to a sociological analysis of the conditions of socioeconomic development of Iranian society, and aimed at a general theory of development and modernity which transcends and combines the two opposing theories of conservative traditionalism and technocratic rationalism. It argues for a new approach to modernity and rationality which harmonizes science and spiritual values in the context of a historical and international approach to culture and society. It becomes obvious that The Secret must be viewed simultaneously as an expression of the inspired vision of the Bahá’í Faith on the one hand, and Iranian intellectual social and political discourse on the other. What makes this particular text unique is precisely the intersection of these two currents. The inspired character of The Secret implies that the message of this text is qualitatively different from secular debates on the issue of social and economic development and that its vision is not limited to the particular situation of 19 th century Iran. On the other hand, it is directly addressing the fundamental questions of modernity and development from an explicitly sociological point of view, offering explicit and specific solutions to the cultural, economic, 1. The context and purpose of The Secret


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