'Abdu'l-Baha visits Green Acre in 1912. (Photo from centenary.bahai.us)
Sarah Farmer was one of America's early religious innovators. She owned the Green Acre Inn in Eliot, Maine, and offered conferences on progressive subjects in the sciences, arts, and religion. These gatherings brought together leading writers, educators, and philosophers. Farmer eventually became a Baha'i and travelled to Akka for pilgrimage at the turn of the century. When 'Abdu'l Baha visited America in 1912, he stayed at Green Acre. (Photo from the Eliot Baha'i Archives, published by 239days.com)
W.E.B. Du Bois was a respected writer and civil rights activist of his time. He was the founder of the NAACP, which received 'Abdu'l-Baha as a guest at its fourth conference in 1912. Du Bois was so impressed by 'Abdu'l-Baha's talk that he published it in its entirety in The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP, along with a photo of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Du Bois' goodwill towards the Faith endured throughout his life. His wife, Nina Du Bois, became a Baha'i in 1936.
Alain Locke was the first African American Rhodes Scholar, and he is often remembered as the "Dean" of the Harlem Renaissance. He received his PhD from Harvard in 1918, the same year he became a Baha'i. He went on pilgrimage in the early 1920s, and upon his return, published the travel narrative Impressions of Haifa documenting his experience.
Stanwood Cobb studied at Harvard Divinity School to become a Unitarian minister, and his investigation of religion led him to the Baha'i Faith. He became aware of the nascent religion after a series of articles was published in a Boston newspaper, and his interest brought him to Green Acre in 1906. It was there that he embraced the Baha'i Faith. During his life, Cobb met 'Abdu'l Baha five times.
Albert Vail was a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and a well-regarded religious scholar who would later go on to become a Baha'i. Vail published an account of the Baha'i Faith in the Harvard Theological Review in 1914.
Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American artist and poet, best known for his book The Prophet published in 1923. Gibran lived in Boston in the early 1900s, and met 'Abdu'l-Baha through Baha'i and fellow artist Juliet Thompson. Gibran attended several of His talks in the Northeast, at times serving as 'Abdu'l-Baha's translator. During one of their meetings, 'Abdu'l-Baha said to Gibran, quoting the Prophet Muhammad, "Prophets and poets see with the light of God."
Juliet Thompson knew of Kahlil Gibran's portraits of well-known figures in philosophy and art. It was through Thompson that Gibran met 'Abdu'l-Baha and sketched this portrait of Him in the spring of 1912.
In his talk at Harvard last month, Sasha Dehghani also drew attention to the first delegation of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations. In 1947, reflecting the unity in diversity highly valued by the Baha'i community, Amin Banani, Mildred Mottahedeh, Hilda Yen, and Matthew Bullock presented the statement "A Baha'i Declaration of Human Obligations and Rights" to the UN, which ended by quoting a well-known passage by Baha'u'llah: "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." Banani (left) was an influential scholar; Mottahedeh (second from left) was a member of the International Baha'i Council from 1961-63 and later a representative of the BIC for many years; Yen (second from right) was a leading figure in Chinese-American society who worked as a diplomat for many years; and Bullock (right) was a Knight of Baha'u'llah for the Dutch West Indies, today the Netherlands Antilles, and later a representative of the BIC.
Sasha Dehghani, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School which is celebrating its bicentenary this year, gives a presentation at Harvard in April.
Professor Francis Clooney, Director of the Center of the Study of World Religions at Harvard, introduces Sasha Dehghani's talk on the unity of religion.