Lewis Walker, an assistant archivist for the Baha’i House of Worship for the North American Continent in Wilmette, gave a lecture in Parkes Hall, 1870 Sheridan Road, on Monday.
The Northwestern Baha’i Club hosted the lecture, titled “Documenting the Role of Americans in A World Birth.” Walker spoke to an audience of about 10 NU students and Evanston residents about the founding principles of Baha’i and the fundamental beliefs of its historical authority figures.
Walker’s lecture was a text-based interpretation of Baha’i history. Originating in Tehran, Baha’i began as an offshoot of the Shi’a branch of Islam. However, its founder, Baha’u’llah, envisioned a religion that would apply not only to the Middle East but to the world, Walker said. Baha’i followers believe all major religions are part of a divine narrative of God’s effort to communicate with people, he said.
“What Baha’u’llah wanted to tell people was that all religions are legitimate,” Walker said. “Everything people have believed in is essentially true. We are actually one faith, and all God’s prophets proclaimed the same faith. That idea could be a challenge for people to accept.”
Weinberg junior Megan Bradley said the religion’s texts are just as important to its followers as its other core values.
“Being Baha’i is about living the principles of universal harmony and universal acceptance, but it’s also about personal investigation of primary texts as well as prayer,” Bradley said.
The Baha’i House of Worship, located just north of campus, is the only Baha’i temple on the North American continent and receives about 200,000 visitors a year. Some are Baha’i pilgrims and others, like many NU students who visit, are only community members who have expressed curiosity in what some call “one of the seven wonders of Illinois.”
Despite local accessibility of the Baha’i temple, NU Baha’i Club event organizer Jeffrey van den Scott estimated there are 24 Baha’i students, staff and faculty on campus and 185 Baha’i practitioners in Evanston. Still, he says there is greater awareness of Baha’i in the Chicago area than in other places in the U.S.
“In terms of the campus community, we are not large,” van den Scott, a Bienen graduate student, said. “However, we are diverse, representing many cultural backgrounds, and studying in many fields.”
Baha’i is the second-most geographically widespread religion worldwide after Christianity, Walker said in the presentation. Members include people of all races and cultures, which feeds the notion of a world Baha’i body guided by divine faith, he said.
“How the faith works throughout the world is that Baha’is spread it by physically moving from place to place and practicing principles of universal peace and improving humanity,” Walker said. “Our goal is not necessarily to gather in one place and stake out a territory.”
Bradley, who converted to Baha’i as a freshman after moving to Evanston, said she was introduced to the faith by her roommate, whose passion for Baha’i ideals of global cooperation inspired her.
“As a non-practicing Catholic, I always had the feeling that something was missing,” Bradley said. “The principles of Baha’i are what I had always believed in and tried to emulate. The things Baha’i celebrates are things we all hold to be truths that have lasted throughout human history, despite changing cultural or political practices.”