RUTH BENEDICT AND THE BAHA?I FAITH: A Personal Perspective
By: Ron Price: Tasmania
In 1919 Ruth Benedict(1887-1948) began taking courses, first at Columbia University with American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey(1859-1952) and then at the New School for Social Research with American anthropologist, sociologist, folklorist, and feminist Elsie Clews Parsons(1875-1941) whose course in ethnology of the sexes kindled Benedict's interest in anthropology.(1) At the time my father was 29 and my mother 15. They would not meet for nearly a quarter of a century in Hamilton Ontario at the Otis Elevator Company where they both worked.
In 1919, too, the Tablets of the Divine Plan, written by Abdu?l-Baha during the Great War, were unveiled in New York before the North American Baha?i community. Under the guidance of Franz Boas, Benedict went on to receive her doctorate in 1923 from Columbia, where she remained for the next quarter century until her death at the age of 61 in 1948. In 1948 she was promoted to full professor in the Faculty of Political Science, the first woman to achieve such status.
During the years 1923 to 1948 the embryonic international Baha?i community was transformed from an informal network of groups into a series of national units of a world society.(2) The numbers of Baha?is increased in this period from about 100,000 to 200,000.(3)
Benedict's fieldwork was done in California among the Serrano and with the Zu?i, Cochiti, and Pima in the Southwest. Student training trips took her to the Mescalero Apache in Arizona and Blackfoot in the Northwest. From her work in the field, several of her books were developed: Tales of the Cochiti Indians(1931); Zu?i Mythology(1935); and Patterns of Culture(1934) which became a best seller and influenced American life in that it explained the idea of "culture" to the layperson.
During World War II, Benedict worked for the Office of War Information, applying anthropological methods to the study of contemporary cultures. A study of Japan was her final assignment. The outgrowth of her work on Japan for the OWI was her book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture(1946), which became a bestseller at the time and, ultimately, a classic work in the study of Japanese culture. At Benedict?s death in 1948 I was four years old.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Guide to the Ruth Fulton Benedict Papers: 1905-1948, in the Vassar College Library; (2)Loni Bramson-Lerche, Some Aspects of the Development of the Baha?i Administrative Order in America, 1922-1936, Studies in Babi & Baha?i History, Vol.1, ed. Moojan Momen, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1982, pp. 255-300; and (3) these numbers are my personal approximations.
I first heard of you in 1963 when
I was reading sociology at uni in
Canada long ago at the age of 19!
The course was a tortuous story
with Talcott Parsons? theories at
the centre and my psycho-bio---
emotional state all over the place.
But sociology remained in my life--
narrative & it still is in these years
of the evening of my life as is this new
world religion--the Baha?i Faith in
our embryonic global society with
its developing patterns of planetary
culture---a word which you, Ruth,helped
us to begin to understand back then at
the very start of that Plan in 1936/7!
21 July 2010
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