The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


Dr. Linda Walbridge, Obituary by Juan Cole; Selection of her Talisman Posts

For Dr. Linda Walbridge, a prominent anthropologist of Islam, an authority on Shi`ite Islam, and former associate director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, also see the following links

"Critics chafe at Baha'i conservatism" By IRA RIFKIN
February 27, 1997, Religion News Service Obituary 2002 by Juan Cole

Juan Cole - Menu

From: Juan Cole <jrcole@u...> 
Date: Tue Dec 10, 2002 1:36 am
Subject: Obituary for Linda Walbridge

Linda Walbridge died of cancer Monday, 9 December 2002, in Bloomington, 

Linda was an active poster to Talisman-1 and many of her messages can be 
found in its archives. I append just a few for flavor below.

Linda, born in New Jersey into a Catholic family, was a devoted and 
self-sacrificing Baha'i from the late 1960s until 1996. She served as a 
pioneer in Lebanon in 1973-1974 and again in Jordan some years later. In 
Jordan she lived in difficult circumstances with two young children. She 
once remarked to me that she had spent much of her life in penury to serve 
the Faith, depriving her children in ways she later regretted. In the 
late 1980s she did a Ph.D at Wayne State University on the Shi`ite 
community of Detroit, later published as *Without Forgetting the 
Imam.* She served in the 1990s as deputy director of the Middle East 
Institute at Columbia University and then taught anthropology at Indiana 

Linda was an outspoken champion of women's rights, the need for women to 
serve on the Universal House of Justice, and of an approach to the Faith 
that allowed Baha'is to accommodate themselves to science and 
rationality. She appears to have particularly infuriated and inspired 
anxiety in the more male chauvinist men in the Baha'i community. As a 
former Catholic, she was alive to the need for a sense of mystery and 
mysticism in religion. Her liveliness and genial sense of humor come 
through vividly in her talisman messages.

With her husband John, Linda published the controversial, "Baha'i Laws and 
the Status of Men" in World Order, Fall 1984. 25-36, in response to which a 
forum was published in Dialogue magazine. Linda also published "Rituals: 
An American Baha'i Dilemma" in the Baha'i Studies Review, available here:  . Her 
unpublished "Reforming the Marja`: the Baha'i Example" is available 
at:  .

In April of 1996, she and her husband were threatened by Stephen Birkland 
at the orders of Farzam Arbab, Ian Semple, and Douglas Martin with being 
held in contravention of "the covenant" because of their email messages at 
talisman@i... in 1994-1996. These email messages in fact had 
nothing to do with the covenant one way or another, of course. She 
declined to speak to Mr. Birkland when he tried to get her to come to the 
telephone. Catholics recognize an inquisition when they see one, and know 
that no good can come of speaking to the inquisitor.

Broken-hearted and betrayed (and not a little furious at this shoddy 
treatment), Linda ultimately reverted to the Catholicism of her youth for 
the last few years of her life, especially in Pakistan where she lived for 
two years doing research. Her book on Pakistani Christians has just been 
published. She spent most of her life, however, as a believing Baha'i who 
made enormous sacrifices for the Faith she loved.

Her family requests that "In lieu of flowers, contributions should be made 
to the scholarship fund of St. Joseph's Boys High School, Gujranwala, 
Pakistan, c/o St. Paul's Catholic Center, 1413 E. 17 th Street, Bloomington 
IN 47408." Old-time talismanians will want to send a contribution in her 

Linda, we raise a glass of the choice wine to you there in the Abha 
Kingdom. You fought the good fight.


Juan Cole

A Selection of Posts by Dr. Linda Walbridge to Talisman

Date: Sat, 16 Dec 95 21:29:22 EWT
From: LWALBRID@c...
Subject: standing by my words
To: talisman@i...

Dear Robert, I do think that Ken and Rob's excellent responses on the subject
of evolution are quite adequate to prove my point that there are highly
intelligent and knowledgeable people here on Talisman who can explain the
concept quite adequately. I refuse to return to the bad old days when science
had to conform to theology. And, I trust you read the posting from Juan of
Abdu'l Baha's talk in New York. This says it all. We should not follow

I feel quite confident that, if the information we have now on evolution were
available to Abdu'l Baha, that he would have explained things differently. He
was not a scientist. He was a true religious leader - a moral guide for us to
follow. It belittles his station (in my eyes) to make him into some cult
figure who somehow had all knowledge of all aspects of life. This was not his
claim, Robert. We should read his words to feed our hearts, not to nit pick
about scientific issues. Let's leave that to the scientists, please!!

I found Ahang's posting about the story of Fadil to be both fascinating and
heart wrenching. I suppose I can relate so strongly to it because of the
Encyclopoedia project. Three cheers for the battle against Fundamentalism!

And, Derek. Long may your power outage continue.

Dear friends, just as I was posting this note to Derek, the telephone rang. It
was my dear nemisis, Derek. He and Burl now have a campaign of telephone
torment. I will never be left in peace. I dread tuning into Talisman on
Monday for the Derek and Burl scandal hour. They admit to conspiring against
me. Is this the example that Abdu'l Baha gave us? Should we not be asking
ourselves, would Abdu'l Baha approve of Derek and Burl's treatment of me? (We
are supposed to ask ourselves questions like that, aren't we?) By the way,
Burl has unsubscribed from Talisman for the week. However, I do believe that
he will be sorry. I suggest that everyone forward their messages to Burl this
week to make sure he has plenty of reading material when he returns. Thank you
in advance for your cooperation in this matter. Linda

Date: Sun, 17 Dec 95 11:05:43 EWT
From: LWALBRID@c...
Subject: evolution
To: talisman@i...

Dear Mark, I cannot for the life of me understand what you mean by not having
the tools for studying evolution empirically. There are a multitude of ways to
study various aspects of evolution using excellent scientific methodology.
What else do you want? Why do Baha'is in the 1990s have to sound like my
Christian fundamentalist students who literally will not look at ape and
hominid skulls when I take them for tours of the anthropology museum? This
stuff is so exciting. I find it difficult to believe that intelligent Baha'is
don't relish in this stuff knowing that we are liberated from old religious
views that denied people the right to explore the universe without fear of
breaking religious law.

I guess my comments to Derek will have to wait. My husband, the Beloved
Listowner, has summoned me to assist him with some matter. I have not even
asked what it is, so dutiful and obedient a wife am I. Submissively, Linda


Date: Mon, 18 Dec 95 14:21:23 EWT
From: LWALBRID@c...
Subject: religious images
To: talisman@i...

John's posting on Fadil and his writings on the Babis made great sense to me.
There is a continual struggle in the religions with which I am familiar for
control of the image that the religion wishes to project.

I have some difficulty, though not nearly to the extent that John, Juan, Todd,
and others have, in doing anthropoligical work among the Shi'a because the more
learned Shi'a don't want the world to think that the extreme "irrational"
aspects of Shi'ism are really present in the world today. They prefer to
present an image of Islam (and Shi'ism) as being very legalistic, rational, and
in harmony with modern life. For me to explore other aspects of the religion
makes them a tad nervous. However, they don't try to stop me. They just
expresss exasperation that I persist in speaking to the "wrong" people.

My feeling is that the Baha'i Faith won't really gain "respectability" until we
are allowed to explore all aspects of the Babi and Baha'i religions and present
them as openly as we would any other body of material. I have watched scholars
become Muslims even though they are exploring this religion using "cold"
Western scientific methodology in their studies. This type of writing is not
going to harm the Faith. It will deepen and broaden it. Right now, it is
stuck in a groove and, alas, is appearing to be a bit naive. I hope that
Talisman's success is to open the doors for all sorts of new understandings.

Date: Thu, 15 Feb 96 13:01:44 EWT
From: LWALBRID@c...
Subject: how mystical can this be?
To: talisman@i...

First, thank you, Jackson for your posting. I second Terry's suggestion that
Talismanians read your book if they have not already done so. It is a very
important book and should be on the "must read" list of Baha'i books.

Chesmack, you should be coming to this conference at Bosch. Such a spiritually
uplifting (a delicately put message to our ever-sensitive Derek) event it
should be. And no doubt it would provide you with many opportunities to
resolve conflicts. If you do not come, it may be that the only way to avoid
conflict is by putting Burl, Derek, and me in opposite parts of Bosch. Since
Burl suggested putting me to sleep, I would like to suggest in turn that he be
placed in the fountains with the water on. I am surprised anyone is going to
show up at this conference. Surely, Derek and Burl have done nothing to put
people in the proper frame of mind. If Burl thinks that his "I see Jesus" line
is going to convince people of his mystical bent, I think he needs to read more
Talisman postings and learn something.

Arsalon, you will note the weakness of Derek's argument against me. Since when
does my decking 3 monks mean that I don't know a crook when I see one? Linda


From lwalbrid@i... Apr 13 13:27:18 1996
Date: Sat, 13 Apr 1996 12:09:14 -0500 (EST)
From: lwalbrid
To: talisman@m...
Subject: being honest

Linda (the one who is always soft spoken and demure) feels that she
cannot avoid the discussion of women and their position in the Baha'i

First, I want to applaud Milissa, Sandy, and Leigh on their forthright
statements. Sugar coating things only works for a little while. Sooner
or later the sugar wears off and your gagging on the hard to swallow
stuff. In my heart of hearts I don't really care who used the word
"exempt" from the UHJ. I think it is merely a way to make the idea more
palatable. We are excluded. Period. And there are many of us who don't
like it. And it is going to become a bigger problem as time goes on and
the world finds it increasingly acceptable to find women in places of power.

Frankly, I can't imagine how Baha'u'llah living in 19th Century Iran
could have advocated having women on the UHJ. It would have been
unthinkable at that time. It also would have caused so much trouble to
have been unimaginable. The Iranian Baha'is faced a great deal of
persecution, from what I understand, because men and women were
socializing together in Baha'i meetings when they should have been
segregated. While I don't want to overgeneralize, I have seen Iranian
women, mostly in the M.E., who even in the past couple of decades, would
not dare to speak up at an Assembly meeting or Feast for fear of
chastizement from their husbands. (Now, I know there are going to be
blasts at me for this statement. However, I know this for a fact - not
just from observation, but because the women told me of their fears.
Certainly this is not a universal situation, but it is indicative of the
fact that speaking up in public has been a real issue for Iranian women.
I am sure there are plenty of people on the list who will object to my
explaining this law in such specifically sociological terms. However,
why is it that we accept the fact that discrimination against women
occurred in past religions because of social conditions but won't accept
the fact that the Baha'i Faith was founded at a time when women in
Iranian society were living in seclusion? I don't understand the difference.

I have shocked people before by my statements that scripture is only a
small part of religion. REligion is a living phenomenon constantly being
shaped by social forces. The Baha'i Faith is no different in this
regard. If you go to Botswana you are going to find a different
expression of the Baha'i Faith than if you are in the U.S. There are a
few basic ideas that serve as unifying factors, but most of the religion
will be pretty much a cultural phenomenon.

I can't help comparing the situation with the Shi'ites with whom I am
working. These are all people who "live with scripture." Of all
Shi'ites, these are the ones most informed about what the ulama teach and
can quote the great ayatollahs about women's place, her "nature," her
limitations, etc. However, in spite of this I see a changing expectation
for women. Some of receiving college educations. Some are slowly
"coming out" and becoming a little more visible. And, what is most
interesting, I am meeting a lot of men who wish to see their wives and
daughters becoming more educated and informed of the world around them.
The fact that they speak so openly to me and deal with me on such equal
terms confirms my belief that, though they might know what their grand
ayatollahs might say about women's inferior station, the fact is that
they are faced with reality and are responding in intelligent, rational
ways to it. Yes, even the turbaned ones that are supposed to be so

My point? Well, I guess it is just plod on. There are very good reasons
for modern women to feel unhappy with being excluded from the UHJ. This
is where major decisions are made. After all, everytime there is any
disagreement on Talisman, there are those who want to run to the UHJ and
ask them to solve the problem. So, we turn to the men - always - to
handle the really big issues, don't we? So, I don't think women need to
shut up about this. There are no scietific reasons to think that women
cannot make rational judgements and be just as logical as men. So, we
can just simply go on saying that "this is the law and it can't be
changed," but I don't see how long that sort of attitude is going to
continue in the modern world.

This is so much longer than I expected. Sorry, folks. If Burl and Derek
would let me on their very secret list, I could post all these ideas into
that vaccuum and you would never have to read this stuff. Linda