Monday, March 29, 2010

Moojan Momen's "Marginality and Apostasy..." Article

Moojan Momen's "Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha'i Community" Article in the journal Religion has received lots of attention, including the delightful response of Alison Marshall here.

Much has been written about this controversial article, and if I may, here are some points that I have not seen covered.

1. In this commentary, Religion is depicted as a prestigious academic publication. But I wonder. Is it peer-reviewed? For a time, I served on the editorial board of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, in which I had previously published a social psychology research paper. I've also done peer review for Brain Research, Archives of Neurology and others. Now, if Religion is peer-reviewed, I tend to think that the review was insufficient in this case. Why?

For one thing, a model is presented and some 12 real persons with their real names, etc, were discussed! This in itself seems extraordinary. In professional research, the "subjects" used to test a theoretical model are usually not named -- their identity is protected! If Dr. Momen is a faculty in a reputable academic institution, it would likely have a review committee with reference to usage of human subjects. "But this is history, not biomedical research," one might counter. Still, in the abundant internet commentary on this article, including posts by most if not all of these 12 persons, there is not a single mention of any one of them being contacted beforehand (prior to publication) concerning fact-checking of the manuscript. It is quite impressive that many of these real persons, in their posted responses, contest information presented, to the point that it may seem to the observer that most, if not all, of them do not fit Dr. Momen's theoretical model.

Whatever the case, serious questions remain. Did Dr. Momen have permission to use the real names of these persons? Did he attempt to contact them? Or can these persons and their lives be considered somehow to be part of the "public domain"? For me, the apparently incomplete and possibly inappropriate use of these specifically named persons as "research subjects" seems to undermine the perceived prestige of this Religion journal.

2. Is there a legal angle in all this? Does the article in some specifics misrepresent actions of these persons? Does it wrongfully do damage to the reputation of any of the "subjects"? If so, is it libelous? In Dr. Momen's favor, I don't recall any of the "Momen 12" raising any legal issues in their published responses to his article.

3. To the extent that the actual cases presented (real named persons) do not actually provide credible support for Dr. Momen's article, is his model for marginalized or alienated members of the Baha'i community simply false. Ironically, the model might well be useful, if applied to the perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of Baha'is who have "dropped out" of Baha'i community activities, due to some of the factors Dr. Momen posed. Indeed, Karen Bacquet wrote a detailed treatment of this very important subject -- "Enemies Within: Conflict and Control in the Baha'i Community".

Why so important? It seems that certain events in the Baha'i community are indeed associated with the loss of a great many of its most prominent members, including professionals, including proven academicians, and people very active in promoting the Baha'i Faith. This would seem to be a huge loss to the Baha'i community, in every sense including economic.
© 2010 James J Keene