Peter Smith

Peter Smith

Part One
I became a Bahá’í in 1964 in Bristol.  I was then 16.  I had first heard about the Faith a year earlier at the time of the World Congress in London when various newspaper reports emphasized the Bahá’í belief in world unity (represented in papers such as The Observer by pictures of a group of Bahá’ís in various national costumes consulting).  I later looked up ‘Bahá’í’ in the telephone directory and wrote to the local Bahá’ís asking for details and was invited to a fireside (luckily the Bristol Local Spiritual Assembly had just decided to continue its expensive phone book entry).  My father drove me over to the home of Philip and Pari Harvey and I was more or less instantly ‘hooked’ on their account of the Faith (Philip did the talking, Pari made the tea), borrowing books on a regular basis and meeting the other Bristol Bahá’ís.  I can’t remember which Bahá’í book I read first, but Esslemont’s Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era and The Dawnbreakers were amongst my earliest and favourite reads.  The Naw-Rúz celebration was held within a week or so of my first fireside and I declared as a Bahá’í shortly after that.  I went to my first Summer School that summer – in Dalston Hall, near Carlisle.

At that time, the British Bahá’í community was very small (less than 2,000 people altogether), and it was quite easy to meet most of the active Bahá’ís at summer schools and conventions.  I had some very good teachers, but most of what I learned about the Faith came from books, and I soon acquired a substantial Bahá’í library.  One summer, whilst I was still in Bristol, I hitchhiked up to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides to visit the then lone Bahá’í on the islands, Annelise Haug.  This was as part of some teaching project devised by the British National Youth Committee.  Quite early on – perhaps just after I moved up to Manchester in 1966 to attend university – I was appointed to one of the National Teaching Committees (there were then two), and over the years I served on a number of other national committees – in retrospect, a good preparation for later part-time work in university administration.  I also later served on the Local Spiritual Assemblies of Bristol, Durham and Lancaster.

One of the delights of British Bahá’í life in the 1960s was the active youth community.  This was a dynamic combination of serious and knowledgeable dedication, spirituality and humour, and was expressed in events such as the York Winter Schools.  My impression is that whilst many Bahá’í communities generate dedication and spirituality, not so many generate humour.  It was one of the pleasures of my generation that we laughed a lot as well as prayed and engaged in Bahá’í activities. As an indication of the sense of solidarity that developed amongst the British youth at that time, many of them are still interconnected through internet groups.

In 1968, together with Denis MacEoin, Moojan Momen, Ronnie Taherzadeh and others, I was invited to serve as one of the youth guides at the mass pilgrimage to the Bahá’í World Centre that was held after the Palermo Conference. This brought together youth from Europe, the Americas, Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia (and was the occasion for the famous “When Wendi Met Moojan” story).  A year later I spent some seven months touring round Africa, mostly visiting village Bahá’ís in often fairly remote places as one of the first UK youth volunteers in what was a preliminary form of the now common concept of Year of Service.

After high school, I had originally intended to study Geography and Anthropology, but had become so involved in Bahá’í activities that my academic grades suffered and I ended up training to be a school teacher instead.  After graduating with a degree in Education, I spent a couple of years teaching in the Northeast. By this time, I had married Sammi Anvar from Portsmouth, and we eventually had two lovely children, both born in Lancaster, where we had moved so that I could do a PhD in the Sociology of Religion.  Also by this time, I had become one of a then very small group of British Bahá’í youth who were involved in the academic study of the Faith, and at the suggestion of my supervisor I chose to complete a Sociological Study of the Faith for my doctoral dissertation. This was later published in amended form by Cambridge University Press as The Babi and Baha’i Religions: From Messianic Shi’ism to a World Religion (1987).  I was also able to use my academic position to organize a number of Bahá’í Studies Seminars in Lancaster.

We left Britain to settle in Bangkok in 1985.


Peter Smith

Bangkok, Thailand, August 2012

Peter Smith (R) with Dr Farhoumand in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - 1969

Peter (R) with Dr Farhoumand in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (1969)