For minority faith groups living in nineteenth-century Iran, religious conversion to Islam - both voluntary and forced - was the primary means of social integration and assimilation. However, why was it that some Persian Jews instead embraced the emergent Baha'i Faith, which was subject to harsher persecution that Judaism? Mehrdad Amanat explores the conversion experiences of Jewish families during this time, and examines the fluid, multiple religious identities that many converts adopted. The religious fluidity exemplified in the widespread voluntary conversion of Iranian Jews to Baha'ism presents an alternative to the rejectionist view of religion that regards millennia of religious experience as inherently coercive, oppressive, rigidly dogmatic and a consistently divisive social force.
Mehrdad Amanat is an independent scholar with a PhD in History from UCLA. He is a regular contributor to the 'Encyclopaedia Iranica'.
Introduction 1. Messianism and Assimilation: The Jewish Presence in Iran during the Pre-Islamic and Medieval Periods 2. Forced and Voluntary Conversion of Jews in the Safavid and Early Qajar Periods 3. Historical Background to Jewish Baha'i Conversions 4. Group Conversions to Christianity and the Baha'i Faith 5. A Pedlar Living through Critical Times: Reflections in Converts' Memoirs Epilogue Notes Bibliography