Does the Bahá’í Encyclopedia Project have a policy of using gender-neutral language?

It is the Encyclopedia Project's policy to use inclusive, gender-neutral language in its articles. The reader will note, however, that quotations from the translated writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and from Shoghi Effendi use gendered language, including masculine pronouns and terms referring to God, generic terms such as man and mankind, and references to man or men in such terms as "O Son of Spirit!"

The Bahá’í position is that one’s understanding of the intent of such terms must be informed by awareness of the concept of equality that is integral to the Bahá’í Faith. "The problem of gender-specific nouns is . . . susceptible of two lines of solution," the Universal House of Justice has stated. "One is to change the usage of nouns, the other is to permit the consciousness of sexual equality to modify the meaning of nouns as now used" (27 November 1989, from a memorandum from the Universal House of Justice to a Bahá’í Office of Public Information). Although usage will evolve in both ways, Bahá’ís approach their scriptures and authoritative texts with an emphasis on the latter. This approach favors the continuity of translation over its constant modernization.

Regarding terms associated with God, the Universal House of Justice has stated:

when Bahá’u’lláh was revealing His Scriptures He had to use language and forms of expression which could be understood by those whom He was addressing. . . . In Arabic and Persian, as in English and most European languages, it has been customary to refer to God as "Lord" and "Father", rather than "Lady" and "Mother". While using the conventional wording Bahá’u’lláh approached the matter on two levels. In relation to God He devoted vast numbers of Tablets [letters] to conveying the truth that God is not only neither male nor female, but is far above all human understanding. If you study deeply the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh that portray both the transcendence and immanence of God you will find that the entire question of sex in this context falls into total insignificance.

On the human level, the Bahá’í Teachings stress again and again the equality of men and women. (24 October 1996, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual)

Shoghi Effendi set the translation style for the Bahá’í writings, choosing language similar to that found in the King James version of the Bible. He followed that style and the convention of his time in the generic use of the masculine gender.

The Universal House of Justice has noted: "In the case of the generic terms in the English translations of the Bahá’í Writings, the tendency to take such terms as being applicable only to males is a reflection of the male-dominated society which has prevailed for so long, and to which there is a reaction from women who are seeking legitimate recognition and equality. Bahá’ís can well sympathize with such concerns, while pointing out that language is a living thing and that the intended meaning of the generic terms will doubtless become more readily apparent as the influence of the Bahá’í commitment to equality of the sexes permeates human society more fully" (26 September 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly).

Note: all references come from Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, "Use of Masculine Pronouns and Images," memorandum to the Universal House of Justice, 25 July 2002, courtesy of Nancy Branham Songer.