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For Foucault, the concept of “political spirituality” encompasses an understanding on the part of a people that to change society, they must first change themselves.
The whole human race, Foucault said, can “renew their entire existence” by undergoing a collective spiritual experience.
The Baha’i teachings put forth virtually the same concept long before Foucault advanced his ideas. In Abdu’l-Baha’s Some Answered Questions, he characterized the appearance of a new divine messenger, “the manifestation of the Holy Spirit,” as the impetus for a new cycle of human power:
Whensoever it appears, it invests the world of humanity with a new life and endows human realities with a new spirit. It clothes all existence with a glorious attire, disperses the darkness of ignorance, and causes the light of human perfections to shine resplendent.
Foucault said this political spirituality becomes a catalyst “for a change in [a peoples’] subjectivity” by way of instilling among them a “desire to renew their entire existence.” For Foucault, political spirituality constitutes a political project in that it aids those who wish to be governed differently with a useful tool that can “open up a spiritual dimension in politics.”
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Above all, for Foucault, a political spirituality is most conducive to creating the kind of essential power to transform the self. In this sense, it refers to the “spirit of a new world order” or the “soul of a future world order,” or as Foucault would say, “the spirit of a world without spirit.” Studying Foucault’s philosophy, and concurrently studying Baha’u’llah’s blueprint for a future society, however, reveals that the Baha’i teachings go beyond anything Foucault proposed.
How Does Baha’u’llah Transcend Foucault’s Political Spirituality?
In the domain of perfect, upright governmentality, Bahaʼu’llah transcends Foucault’s work by introducing a transcendental politics for governing the population of the Earth, much like a virtuoso of the global imaginary.
In elucidating his concepts of global upright governmentality and conduct, Bahaʼu’llah debunked the political pieties informing the prevailing mentalities, discourses, and practices that underpin the present, purely materialist world order and its international relations by transcending Foucault’s concept of political spirituality, in this case by opening up a spiritual dimension in the politics of international relations.
The spiritual dimension that Bahaʼu’llah intends to attach to the politics of international relations is inherently “political” – not in the usual partisan definition, but in the Foucauldian sense of the term, as Foucault explained it:
What is politics … in the end, if not both the interplay of [the] different arts [and technologies] of government with their different reference points and the debate to which these different arts of government give rise? It seems to me it is here that politics is born …
The world-embracing political project advocated by Bahaʼu’llah – the Baha’i teachings for the establishment of upright global governmentality – constitutes different arts, technologies, and tactics, in addition to mentalities and rationalities, for governing and ruling that are to be elevated to a transcendental mode where governing or governance is concerned.
This approach constitutes what Foucault calls “a mode of self-transformation,” by which the individual remakes him or herself, one that that works to “change, purify, transform, and transfigure oneself,” in the process learning to govern the self. In this context, spirituality is about the formation and transformation of the self. Foucault wrote that it comprises:
… certain practice[s] by which the individual [is] displaced, transformed, disrupted, to the point of renouncing [his] … own subject position. It’s no longer being the subject that one had been up to that point.
This is to be achieved by undergoing a politically spiritual transformation of the self, of politics, and of the political self.
Yet this is no mere attempt at self-transformation, for in Bahaʼu’llah’s view political spirituality also constitutes, for entire peoples, a mode of transformation. This becomes readily apparent once it is realized that the grand global Baha’i project of achieving the Most Great Peace realizes an essentially political goal, as Baha’u’llah defined it “the betterment of the world and the tranquility of its people.”
Hence, Bahaʼu’llah’s teachings take Foucault’s notion of transformation of self to a higher plain, namely that of fundamentally altering “… the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions.”
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For this transcendental, paradigmatic, spiritually-oriented politics to materialize as the necessary condition for the emergence of a new world order, Baha’u’llah counseled all people to “Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths” so “strife and conflict may be removed from the midst of men.”
This means that, for Bahaʼ’u’llah, achieving a lasting peace must take the form, not of a ready-made project, but a complex and multidimensional process.
The following essays in this series provide an overview of some of Bahaʼu’llah’s teachings with a view to fleshing out the technologies and tactics and mentalities and rationalities that underwrite this majestic project of political spirituality and, by implication, offer the keys to achieving the Most Great Peace.
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