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Wilmette, Illinois

The Baha’i Temple

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

The Baha’i faith arose in Iran and from Iran’s Shia Islamic traditions in the 1840s. It teaches the unity of God, religion, and humanity. Adherents of the faith believe that key figures in other religious traditions – Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, and Mohammed – are also prophets sent by God at various points in history to establish religions suitable to their time and place. This religious history, a gradual and still ongoing revelation, will lead finally to the establishment of universal peace and justice. The Baha’i faith recognizes its founder, Mírzá Husayn `Alí (1817–1892), and Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad (1819–1850), who prophesized the coming of Mírzá Husayn `Alí, as the two most recent of God’s messengers. Because the faith arose out of Islam but does not consider Mohammed as the final messenger of God, Muslims consider members of the Baha’i faith heretics. For this reason, Baha’is have suffered persecution by Muslims, most recently and notably in Iran.

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Estimates of the number of adherents to the faith world-wide vary between five and seven million. Estimates also vary of the number of adherents in the United States. One recent estimate by the official Baha’i organization in the United States put the number of Baha’is in America at about 150,000.

Converts to the Baha’i faith began to appear in the United States in the 1890s, during a period when interest in religions outside of the Christian and Jewish traditions was growing in the United States. The World’s Parliament of Religions convened in Chicago in September 1893 (during the Columbian Exposition, a world trade fair timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of European discovery of the Americas). A speech at the parliament by a Christian missionary to Syria mentioned Mírzá Husayn (then living under house arrest in Acre, in Ottoman Palestine, now Israel). The speaker complimented as “Christ-like” Husayn `Alí’s call “that all nations should become one in faith and all men . . . brothers.” These remarks in 1893 are thought to be the first recognition of the Baha’i faith in the United States.[1]

The Baha’i faith has no clergy. Elected councils at local, national and international levels run the affairs of the faith, which include organizing study groups, lectures, and devotional gatherings as well as building temples and other meeting places. Anyone may become a member of the faith by accepting the teachings of Mírzá Husayn `Alí, known to the Baha’i as Baha’u’llah, or “the Glory of God.”

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Plan of Baha'i temple Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David and Ellen Tucker.

Plan of Baha’i temple Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David and Ellen Tucker.

In keeping with its global mission, the Baha’is have built eight temples around the world.  Each of the temples is different, but all are nine-sided domed structures surrounded by gardens. This design represents the Baha’i belief in the ultimate unity of religions and humanity under one God. (In the Baha’i faith, as in Hinduism, the number nine – for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is the highest single digit – symbolizes completion and perfection.) All of the temples are built with donations only from adherents to the faith.

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

Detail, Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by David & Ellen Tucker.

One of the eight temples is in Wilmette, Illinois, just north of Chicago. It was designed by noted architect Louis Bourgeois, himself a member of the Baha’i Faith. The cornerstone was set in 1912; construction began in 1921; the temple was finished and dedicated in 1953. On each of the nine sides of the temple, an arched doorway offers entrance into one large, light-suffused worship space. This design suggests the multiplicity of entryways, via separate religious traditions, that lead to one unified faith. While the intricate filigree patterns cut into the walls and dome of the structure reflect the origins of the faith in the Islamic middle east, close examination reveals a range of symbols – including circles, triangles, serpent shapes, suns, flames, stars ranging from five to nine points, and crosses – from a range of ethnic cultures and religious traditions, all woven into a unified design.  

Learn more:


[1] The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893, ed. Richard Hughes Seager (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1993) 37, 42.

Chicago, Illinois

Hull House: The Social Gospel in Action

Born in 1860 to a long-time friend of Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams (d. 1935) dedicated her life to ensuring that even the nation’s poorest citizens would be able to realize their natural right to the “pursuit of happiness” central to the Declaration of Independence. Although Addams’ personal religious views are somewhat enigmatic, she fully believed that the human soul existed on a level above the merely material or even rational. A proponent of the “social gospel,” she emphasized those elements of Christian teaching that pointed to the dignity of every individual and the duty to ‘love thy neighbor’ as practical and not merely spiritual exercise.

Jane Addams, c. 1914. Photographer unknown. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-10598.

Jane Addams, c. 1914. Photographer unknown. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-10598.

In an essay on “Religious Education and Contemporary Social Conditions” (1911), Addams criticized traditional churches and religious organizations for failing to appreciate that the souls they longed to save had immediate as well as eternal needs. She warned church leaders that in doing so, they had left the poorest and most vulnerable members of society open to the false promises of evolution and materialism. Yet the very falseness of these philosophies–their inability to speak to the transcendent element of human nature–meant that there was still a “great opportunity” for religious educators to reach not only the poor and immigrant communities, but also the optimistic and secularized social workers who labored among them. Addams urged religious educators to harness their theology to compassion, to “transmute the comradeship of mutual suffering into a religious communion.” It was the “business of religion,” she argued, “not only to comfort and conserve, but to prophecy and fortify men for coming social changes.”

America’s First “Social Settlement”

In 1880s,  Addams traveled to Great Britain to study the “settlement house” movement. Although settlement workers often advocated for government reforms to improve living conditions in the crowded tenement housing of nineteenth century cities,  their most important contribution came in the form of hands-on volunteer work.Essentially an urban missionary effort, the movement recruited young men and women from the educated classes to live (or “settle”) among the poorest urban communities. There, they could put their education to use, offering services to their neighbors ranging from daycare, language, and health and hygiene classes to lending libraries, lecture series, and other forms of cultural enrichment.

Living Room, Tenement Apartment Near Hull House, 1910. Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4d95-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Living Room, Tenement Apartment Near Hull House, 1910. Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4d95-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

In 1889,  assisted by her friend Ellen Gates, Addams moved into the heart of one of Chicago’s largest immigrant neighborhoods to establish the first American settlement house.

New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-0451-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-0451-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

At Hull House, Addams and her coworkers put their progressive, practical morality to the test, offering a variety of social services and practical educational opportunities to immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Russia, and Poland. Subjects covered included: sanitation, midwifery, modern cooking techniques, and office skills as well as language and physical fitness.

Driven by Addams’ vision of dignified democracy,  these courses were supplemented with activities designed to uplift the human mind and spirit such as book clubs, lecture series, singing groups, and even an art studio and exhibition space. In these settings, Addams encouraged immigrant families to retain their traditional heritages while also adopting a respectful attitude towards those of others. She fostered a sense of unity within diversity at Hull House by welcoming all its members to share their traditions and talents with one another.

"The singing class at Hull House, Chicago, 1910." Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4db2-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

“The singing class at Hull House, Chicago, 1910.” Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4db2-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. As Hine noted: “This is characteristic of the friendly, constructive work that has always been done at Hull House with the neighbors.”

Although Addams fiercely criticized the majority of religious education as irrelevant, she appreciated the use of music in such settings. Group singing of religious songs, she observed, reinforced a sense of community among the participants: choral singers not only gained a skill that could provide enrichment and beauty to their lives, they also learned to work together with the rest of the chorus members to create the harmonies necessary for a richer, more nuanced song. Music practice, then, was also practice in the art of community building so central to the success of Hull House’s mission, and Addams even went so far as to encourage one of her coworkers to compose a series of Hull House Songs specifically for use at the settlement.

 


Pacificism

Wounded Knee, South Dakota

The Ghost Dance Movement – Native, Mystic, and Millenarian

The Ghost Dance Movement was a religious response to United States territorial expansion in the late-nineteenth century. Founded by Wovoka, a Northern Paiute man, after he experienced a vision of his ancestors enjoying traditional life in heaven, the movement was both mystical and millenarian.

“You must not fight. Do no harm to anyone. Do right always.”

Wovoka, founder of the Ghost Dance Religion, quoted in James Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (n.d.), 147.

Wovoka fused elements of traditional native spirituality with Christianity, and told his followers that God wanted them to cultivate peace and personal virtue in preparation for a coming time of prosperity.  A key element of Wovoka’s message was the need for Native peoples to return to their traditional ways, and he taught them a new circle dance meant to bring on a trance-state that would restore the spiritual connection between the living and their dead ancestors (hence the name ‘Ghost Dance Movement’). When this mystical renewal had been fully accomplished, Wovoka taught his followers that the whites would leave the land, and all the native tribes of the west—having forsaken their past differences and been unified by their pursuit of holiness—would be able to live peacefully together.

“The great underlying principle of the Ghost dance doctrine is that the time will come when the whole Indian race, living and dead, will be reunited upon a regenerated earth, to live a life of aboriginal happiness, forever free from death, disease, and misery.”

Jame Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (n.d.), 147.

1891, Yellow Nose. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E165127-0

Painting on Deerskin, 1891, Yellow Nose. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E165127-0.

James Mooney,  author of the earliest account of the Ghost Dance ritual, asked Ute artist Yellow Nose, to create this painting of the Ghost Dance ritual as practiced by the Cheyenne and the Arapaho. Although Yellow Nose depicts relatively few dancers here, on some occasions observers recorded that hundreds of men and women would be dancing in concentric circles.

Ghost Dance Shirt. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E358273-0.

Ghost Dance Shirt. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E358273-0.

Although Wovoka’s account of his visions emphasized cultural and spiritual renewal through the cultivation of peaceableness, humility, and love, the millenarian elements of his teachings inspired the Lakota Sioux to attempt to bring about cultural restoration more forcibly. The Lakota began to equate Wovoka’s message of renewal with resistance to the United States both politically and militarily. To prepare for this, they created elegant Ghost Dance shirts. These were believed were so imbued with spiritual power that they would protect the wearer from being injured in battle.

From Piety to Resistance

After United States agents forced the tribe to disperse onto inferior and smaller reservation lands in 1890, the Lakota began an ongoing series of Ghost Dances as part of a communal atonement and purification process. To government observers, the religious movement thus became linked with the native resistance movement: newspapers across the United States reported on the “Religiously Crazed Indians” and predicted that the dances were merely a prelude to an armed revolt. The racial-political tensions heightened by the dances—which the Lakota refused to cease, despite repeated requests from government agents—ultimately erupted in the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee, with a death toll of at least 200 men, women, and children.

Daily tobacco leaf-chronicle. (Clarksville, Tenn.), 22 Nov. 1890.  Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Daily tobacco leaf-chronicle. (Clarksville, Tenn.), 22 Nov. 1890. 
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88061072/1890-11-22/ed-1/seq-1/>

“An Indian…reported that the hostiles at Wounded Knee were still carrying on their dances and that they had heard of the arrival of the military, but what is of much more importance to the agents is they have strapped on their guns and are dancing fully armed. They declare they will meet the soldiers and will not hesitate to go into battle with them. Reports relative to the Indians declaring their willingness to fight for their religious craze have come in frequently, but up to this time are simply rumors. This information comes direct however, from a source which Agent Royer pronounces trustworthy, the man who carried it being one of the agent’s carriers.”

Daily tobacco leaf-chronicle. (Clarksville, Tenn.), 22 Nov. 1890.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88061072/1890-11-22/ed-1/seq-1/>

Despite its perceived affiliation with violent native resistance, even at the time the Ghost Dance Movement was understood to be part of a long tradition of native millenarianism. After hearing the early accounts of the dance, United States ethnologist James Mooney asked for and was granted permission to conduct formal research into the origins and practice of the Ghost Dance among various tribes, including the Cheyenne, Comanche, Sioux, and Apache.

“All this is to be brought about by an overruling spiritual power that needs no assistance from human creatures; and though certain medicine-men were disposed to anticipate the Indian millennium by preaching resistance to the further encroachments of the whites, such teachings form no part of the true doctrine, and it was only where chronic dissatisfaction was aggravated by recent grievances, as among the Sioux, that the movement assumed a hostile expression. On the contrary, all believers were exhorted to make themselves worthy of the predicted happiness by discarding all things warlike and practicing honesty, peace, and good will, not only among themselves, but also toward the whites, so long as they were together. Some apostles have even thought that all race distinctions are to be obliterated, and that the whites are to participate with the Indians in the coming felicity; but it seems unquestionable that this is equally contrary to the doctrine as originally preached.”

James Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (n.d.), 147.

His account, published in 1896, includes material gathered from interviews with Wavoka and his followers, accounts of the dance by various observers, photographs of the dancers, and transcripts of the songs accompanying the dancing. Mooney also made recordings of several “Ghost Dance” songs, although these are believed to be his own performance and not from actual dancers. Mooney’s scholarly interest in the Ghost Dance Movement ensured that its positive, community-building and peaceful elements would not be forgotten.

Ghost Dance Circle, Oklahoma Cheyenne & Arapaho Reservation, 1893, Mary I. Wright. Courtesy National Archives, American Indian Select List number 38.

Ghost Dance Circle, Oklahoma Cheyenne & Arapaho Reservation, 1893, Mary I. Wright. Courtesy National Archives, American Indian Select List number 38.

Based on photographs by James Mooney, Wright’s painting captures the intensity of the Ghost Dance as a locus of community engagement. Note the way the circle of figures (both men and women) creates an island in the midst of the otherwise barren plain, and how the attention of all observers (including the viewer) is oriented towards the central dancer.

William Cody, American Horse, Young Man Afraid of His Horses and Kicking Bear, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution NPG.2010.5

William Cody, American Horse, Young Man Afraid of His Horses and Kicking Bear, 1891, John Grabill. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution NPG.2010.5

Taken on the day after the Lakota Sioux surrendered to United States forces following the Wounded Knee Massacre, this photograph shows  William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (center rear,  with the broad-brimmed hat) in the midst of an interracial group. Just below Cody, seated on the ground, is Kicking Bear, one of the leaders of the Ghost Dance among the Lakota Sioux.

Cody had a long-standing relationship with the Lakota Sioux and a strong advocate of native rights to live and work off the reservation.  Several of his long-term performers had worked with the government to suppress the Ghost Dance revolt. As one of the peace negotiators, he offered former Ghost Dancers the opportunity to escape government intrusion in another way: by employment in his Wild West Show.

Sioux Ghost Dance, Filmed September 24, 1894, in Edison’s Black Maria studio. Heise, William, Camera, Inc Thomas A. Edison, and Hendricks. Sioux Ghost Dance. [United States: Edison Manufacturing Co, 1894] Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/00694139/.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Ghost Dance had become a symbol of lost causes, as seen in this cartoon lampooning repeatedly-failed presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and his ‘free silver’ campaign.

Last ghost dance of the free silver Tribe, Louis Dalrymple for Puck Magazine, 1896 November 4. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-28855

Last ghost dance of the free silver Tribe, Louis Dalrymple for Puck Magazine, 1896 November 4. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-28855

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