why is the baha’i faith so prominent in the pacific?

Here’s an older question, but an interesting one which I thought I’d share here. Again from Reddit, this one was posted on the /r/AskSocialScience subreddit: “Why has the Baha’i faith become so prominent in the Pacific island-states?”

The original question was as follows:

“I was reading a Wikipedia article on religious demographics and read that large percentages of the populations of small island-states in the Pacific are Baha’i. So why?”

There are a few reasons that I’ve been able to dig up after some searching. Much of the in-depth research I’ve found has been published by Dr. Graham Hassall of Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. Here are two good references:

Hassall mentions in (1992) that much of the growth of the Bahá’í Faith began after 1953, as part of a systematic “Global Crusade” to establish communities in a number of areas where no Bahá’ís lived at the time, of which fifteen were islands in the Pacific. From the settlement of “pioneers” to the conversion of individuals and groups and eventually the establishment of institutions, this phased, methodical approach laid roots in a number of these islands simultaneously, aided by international support from Bahá’ís in many countries worldwide.

As for why the peoples of the Pacific islands were attracted to the religion, Hassall notes in (2006) several reasons why new converts in the Gilbert Islands abandoned their existing churches to join the Bahá’í Faith: aversion to financial and other obligations from the churches; a quest for education; and attraction to the lifestyle offered by the Bahá’í Faith and other “new religious movements”.

As for the question of percentages, we might bear in mind that many of the Pacific nations listed in OP’s link have relatively low populations to begin with (Wikipedia, via national census). Top-ranked Nauru, for instance, has a population of 10,000; 9.22% makes 922 Bahá’ís. Tuvalu and Tokelau, also in the top five, have similarly low population. Tonga, with its population of 104,000, has 6.09% = 6333 Bahá’ís. If we look at sheer population of Bahá’ís (again, in OP’s link), India dominates with over 1.8 million, though the proportion compared to the nation’s total population is much lower at below 0.15%.

The overall answer is probably a combination of these: the systematic approach to mission work adopted by the worldwide Bahá’í community, as well as its relative attractiveness to the islanders, helped the Bahá’í Faith to gain a strong foothold there early on and build a relatively large population of converts, which, as compared with the low population of the islands, tends to stand out more than in other places in the world, which have much higher populations.

Finally, something I didn’t include in my original post, of course, was that perhaps the peoples of the Pacific islands were attracted to the Baha’i Faith because they saw in it great spiritual confirmations and truths that had been lacking in their previous religious experience.

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