Meher Baba of Ahmednagar: His Life in Historical Perspective
A series of ten biographical talks by James Newell
This series will provide a broad overview of the life of Merwan Sheriar Irani, known affectionately as Meher Baba, in the context of history. Meher Baba’s Persian ethnicity as expressed through his love of the poet Hafiz will provide an explanatory frame for understanding much of Meher Baba’s life and activities. Additionally, central to any understanding of Meher Baba’s life is the importance of his relationship with the Muslim holy woman Hazrat Babajan and his experience of what he has described as his realization of his role as a spiritual master. The emphasis throughout the series will be on Meher Baba’s lifelong mission of bringing his own personal vision of spiritual beauty into the world. Many people in the Meher Baba community are familiar with the details of Meher Baba’s life as told by those who knew and loved him as their spiritual master. But how do academics and religious scholars understand Meher Baba? How would their telling of Meher Baba’s life story differ from the narratives that we know? Join Dr. James Newell as he explores these questions and the life of Meher Baba from the perspective of the history of religions.
Attendees will not need to be present at each talk in order to appreciate and benefit from the series. Each talk will be a standalone presentation which can be enjoyed independently of the other talks in the series.
1. Meher Baba in the Context of History
February – In this module we’ll discuss an overview of Meher Baba’s life in the context of history as well as some of the details of what will be covered over the subsequent nine weeks.
2. Birth and Early Life: Poona, Colonialism, and the Zoroastrian Community: 1894-1913
March – In this module we’ll cover some of the context of young Merwan Irani’s early life: Colonial India, Poona, Parsis and Zoroastrians, as well as details of his family life, birth, and childhood.
3. Religious Experience and Meeting his Mentors: 1913-1921
April – In this module we discuss the radical change that occurred in Merwan Irani’s life after his encounter with the Muslim holy woman Hazrat Babajan, as well as his subsequent meetings with other spiritual figures: Tajuddin Baba, Narayan Maharaj, Sai Baba, and Upasani Maharaj.
4. Gathering of Disciples, Early Ministry, and Silence: 1922-1930
May – In this module we discuss how Merwan completed his work with Upasani Maharaj and became a master in his own right. This early period of Meher Baba’s ministry begins with his move into a small hut (jhopdi) on Fergusson College Road in Poona; we address this period, his move with a group of disciples to the house in Bombay he came to call Manzil-i-Meem; and his eventual move to the Maharashtrian city of Ahmednagar. There he established an ashram outside of the city in a location which came to be known as Meherabad.
5. Travels to the West and Controversies: 1930 – 1940
July – In this module we discuss Meher Baba’s first trips to Europe and the United States during the Great Depression, the gathering of his “Western” disciples, and his meetings with Mahatma Gandhi. During this period several controversies also arose: European headlines sensationally and sarcastically proclaim Meher Baba a “Messiah;” many Western ladies travel to and quickly return from India; Meher Baba fails to break his silence at the Hollywood Bowl; and he is harassed by Mehera Irani’s uncle, Colonel Irani.
6. World War and Working With The God-Intoxicated: 1940 – 1949
August – In this module we discuss the years of World War II, during which time Meher Baba worked with individuals whom he described as “God-mad” and “God-Intoxicated.” As a part of this work he established special ashrams, and conducted exhaustive tours around India in pursuit of masts, or the “God-Intoxicated.”
7. The New Life and Life phases: 1949- 1952
September – At the end of World War II came the tragically violent partition of India in 1947. Soon after this traumatic displacement of millions, Meher Baba embarked on a phase of renunciation that he called his New Life, which was followed by several other phases of his work that he described as different “Life” phases. These phases included the establishment of the Meher Spiritual Center in the US, a painful automobile accident, and a highly consequential tour of South India, a stronghold of conservative Hinduism.
8. Avatar of the Age: 1952-1958
October – In this module we cover details of Meher Baba’s life in the 1950s, including: his public announcement that he is the Avatar of the Age, the publication of Meher Baba’s Universal Message, and his final trips to the West: Europe, the USA, and Australia, as well as his 1956 automobile accident.
9. Later Years : 1958-1969
November – In this module we discuss the final years of Meher Baba’s life. Most of these years were spent in seclusion, completing what he called his “universal work.” Most years he spent the months of March through May in Pune at the Guruprasad bungalow. During these years he met privately with many people, especially people whom he regarded as “workers” in his cause. These included the Poona Center workers, workers from South India, Bill Le Page from Australia, Harry Kenmore from the US, and many others.
10. Death and the Growth of a Movement: 1969 to present
December – In this module we will discuss events surrounding Meher Baba’s death, the final sahavas program that he had arranged (the “Last Darshan”). The first death anniversary, or “Amartithi” (Eternal Date), the activities of those disciples who survived him, controversies between movements, the development of Meher Baba centers, especially of the Meher Spiritual Center, and the uncertain future of the Meher Baba movement.
James Newell earned his doctorate in History of Religions from the Vanderbilt University Graduate School of Religion. James has taught courses in world religions for Western Kentucky University, Central Michigan University, Excelsior University, Thomas Edison State University, and other schools. James earned his master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling and Theology from Vanderbilt University Divinity School, with a focus on Jungian psychology. James Currently teaches online courses on Jungian psychology for the Depth Psychology Alliance, an online community supporting research in Jungian and other depth psychologies. He is the director of the Depth Psychology Alliance, and the Depth Psychology Academy. James is an educator, counselor, personal coach, and professional musician.
James has been a lover of Meher Baba since 1974. He lives close to Meher Center in Myrtle Beach and spends his time retreating, visiting and volunteering at Baba’s home in the West.