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The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, 1898-1948

By Will C. van den Hoonaard
Subjects Religion, Social Science, Sociology
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Paperback : 9781554584956, 368 pages, December 1996
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554587063, 368 pages, October 2010


What binds together Louis Riel’s former secretary, a railroad inventor, a Montreal comedienne, an early proponent of Canada’s juvenile system and a prominent Canadian architect? Socialists, suffragists, musicians, artists—from 1898 to 1948, these and some 550 other individual Canadian Bahá’ís helped create a movement described as the second most widespread religion in the world.

Using diaries, memoirs, official reports, private correspondence, newspapers, archives and interviews, Will C. van den Hoonaard has created the first historical account of Bahá’ís in Canada. In addition, The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, 1898-1948 clearly depicts the dynamics and the struggles of a new religion in a new country.

This is a story of modern spiritual heroes—people who changed the lives of others through their devotion to the Bahá’í ideals, in particular to the belief that the earth is one country and all of humankind are its citizens.

Thirty-nine original photographs effectively depict persons and events influencing the growth of the Bahá’í movement in Canada.

The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, 1898-1948 makes an original contribution to religious history in Canada and provides a major sociological reference tool, as well as a narrative history that can be used by scholars and Bahá’ís alike for many years to come.


``Meticulously and with myriads of details, van den Hoonaard has succeeded in uncovering the history and identity formation of this group which today numbers 15,000 out of a world total of about 5 million members. ... What van den Hoonaard has accomplished with this book is the backbone of all research. Without such thorough, time-consuming, empirically oriented studies it is impossible to advance our general understanding of new religions. ''

- Margit Warburg, Studies in Religion

``One of the book's strengths is the author's ability to bring out the eminent ordinariness of the early Canadian Bahá'ís and how a typical population cross-section of any town could accomplish something so extraordinary. The prime importance of this book is it shows that in order to understand how a foreign religion can implant itself in a new environment, multiple paradigms for different periods in time are needed. ... The author's research has produced a theory, that of `religious singleness,' which merits further investigation by scholars. Religious singleness refers to individuals who belong to a religion different from that of their family members, colleagues, and associates. ...It is hoped that the author's theory and work receive the attention they deserve in the academic world. ''

- Loni Bramson-Lerche, The Journal of Bahá'í Studies

``Van den Hoonaard's dual perspective makes this book of interest to both historians and sociologists of religion. Anyone interested in the Bahá'í faith will find the book a very useful introduction. ''

- Henry G. MacLeod, Canadian Book Review Annual

``Van den Hoonaard's study is an important contribution to much-needed `detailed research onnon-Christian or non-Western styles of religious communities. ' Methodologically, this book standson sound ground. Both interpretive historical sociology and the sociology of social movementsprovide the conceptual framework that guides, along the contours of a `shifting theoretical paradigm,' van den Hoonaard's analysis. ...The author adroitly and seamlessly combines both quantitative and qualitative research methods to provide `fresh theoretical orientations. '''

- Christopher Buck, University of Toronto Quarterly

``The research was conducted over a period of ten years. The result is an exhaustive detailing of how the Bahá'í faith came to be established in Canada—where it occurred and who was involved. ... The strength of van den Hoonaard's account is the detailed research on members. ...The fact that he is able to study the contours of the religion over a relatively long time span makes the study particularly interesting and unusual. It is also the only extensive study of the Bahá'í community in Canada. As such, it will be of surpassing interest to all Canadian Bahá'ís, and a useful addition to the sparse sociological literature on specific religious groups in Canada.

- J. Graham Morgan, Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

``While taking a narrative historical approach, van den Hoonaard also demonstrates considerable familiarity with the sociological literature on new religious movements, noting where the Bahá'ís follow or depart from the patterns of other groups. ... [T]he book provides a wealth of information about how a new religion sank its roots deeply into Canadian soil. ''

- Robert H. Stockman, Nova Religio

``van den Hoonaard has produced a book that I am sure will be considered for many years to come, not only as the standard history of the Canadian Bahá'í community but also as a model for anyone wishing to produce a history of any Bahá'í community or indeed of any religious movement. ''

- Moojan Momen, Bahá'í Studies Bulletin

``Will van den Hoonaard has performed a commendable service to sociologists of religion by providing one of the few sociological analyses of a national Bahá'í community. ... Overall, van den Hoonaard accomplished his objectives. His solid scholarship reveals the struggles of the early Canadian Bahá'í community, and its growing identity as an independent religious movement with maturing institutional boundaries. ... Van den Hoonaard provides sociologists with an important text for comprehending the extensive array of religious movements in a pluralistic cultural marketplace. ... His combination of qualitative and quantitative methodology is skillfully woven into a coherent narrative of the early history of the Canadian Bahá'í community. ''

- Mike McMullen, University of Houston-Clear Lake