Do you consider yourself a monotheist?
Monotheism is the belief in one God. How do many of the world’s major religions express this belief? When they answer that question, most people think of the so-called “Abrahamic Faiths”: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Did you know that there is a fourth Abrahamic faith? That would be the Baha’i Faith.
“Who says so?” you might ask. “Prove it!” Okay. I can take a dare. Here we go:
A great Italian scholar, Alessandro Bausani (1921–1988), said so. Bausani’s first great claim to fame? He translated the entire Qur’an from the original Arabic into Italian. Besides being a preeminent “Orientalist,” Bausani was a long-time Baha’i, and served on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Italy.
Just to complicate matters, did you know other (non-Abrahamic) monotheistic religions exist, as well? Yes, they do. (I kid you not.) The most well-known monotheistic religion, outside of the Abrahamic faiths, is Zoroastrianism. It’s ancient, and it’s also a dying religion, just like Samaritanism.
In Bausani’s two major articles on monotheism, he published a unique typology, or general classification, of the monotheistic religions. His first article–one of the most brilliant papers I’ve ever read—is “Can Monotheism Be Taught?: (Further Considerations on the Typology of Monotheism).”
In his landmark research, Bausani gave us a typology of the world’s monotheisms that proposes three categories of belief in one God. His “triple scheme” can help us understand the relationship of Christianity to its parent religion, Judaism–and the relationship of the Baha’i Faith to its parent religion, Islam. Here Bausani describes his three categories:
1. Monotheisms proper (primary: Judaism and Islam; secondary: Christianity and the Baha’i Faith);
2. Failed monotheisms (primary: Zoroastrianism; secondary: Manichaeism; archaic: Akhenaton’s reform);
3. Para-monotheisms (Kabīrpanthīs, Dadhūpanthīs, Sikhs, Akbar’s dīn-ilāhī, etc.).
In lay terms, here’s what this means:
Judaism and Islam are “primary monotheisms.” This means that Judaism arose in a polytheistic social world, where the people at that time believed in more than one god. Christianity and the Baha’i Faith are “secondary monotheisms.” This means that each was born from a monotheistic “parent” religion. Bausani’s typology regards Christianity the “daughter” religion of Judaism. Similarly, he describes the Baha’i Faith as the “daughter” religion of Islam.
Then we have “failed monotheisms.” Remember I said that Zoroastrianism is now a “dying religion”? I guess that’s what Bausani means. Manichaeism, which more or less emerged in a Zoroastrian milieu, is a secondary failed monotheism. It “failed” because it no longer has any followers. So did Akhenaton’s reform, a short-lived, “archaic” faith that appeared in ancient Egypt.
Bausani’s third category–“para-monotheisms”–describes religions that believe in a supreme deity, but somehow acknowledge other gods, too. The only familiar example, to a general audience, is the Sikh religion, which arose out of a society in India where Hinduism and Islam coexisted, but where Hindus and Muslims were not getting along. (We still see this in India today, from time to time.)
Where do you fit in Bausani’s typology? If you believe in one Supreme Being, then Bausani would probably consider you a primary or secondary monotheist. That’s why Bausani added the Baha’i Faith to the world’s monotheistic religions, because Baha’is firmly believe in the existence of one God:
Bear thou witness in thine inmost heart unto this testimony which God hath Himself and for Himself pronounced, that there is none other God but Him, that all else besides Him have been created by His behest, have been fashioned by His leave, are subject to His law, are as a thing forgotten when compared to the glorious evidences of His oneness, and are as nothing when brought face to face with the mighty revelations of His unity. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 192.