Reports on Activities
V. Nurnberger Forum: Das Projekt Weltethosöin der Erziehung
Some Bahá'í Perspectives on Spiritual and Moral Education
An Earthly Paradise - Bahá'í Houses of Worship around the World
Bahá'í Studies Colloquium on the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
American Academy of Religion
© 1995 Association for Bahá'í Studies (English-Speaking Europe), 27, Rutland Gate, London SW7 1PD, United Kingdom.
REPORTS ON ACTIVITIES
V. Nurnberger Forum: Das Projekt Weltethosöin
der Erziehung This congress, focussing on The Project Global Ethic in Education was
organised as a result of the initiative of two people. The first was leading
member of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), the Protestant
theologian Prof. Johannes L_hnemann who spoke at the Centenary Commemoration
Of the Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in he Paulskirche, Frankfurt. The
other was the eminent Catholic theologian Dr Hans Kung, author of the book
Projekt Weltethos (English version: Global Responsibility. In
Search of a New World Ethic, SCM Press, London, 1991).
The conference centred on how to implement norms of global ethic in
education. Some 300 people participated, including many university teachers
in such areas as: theology, religious studies, oriental studies, and
pedagogy, as well as Church leaders, representatives of Hinduism, Buddhism,
Judaism and Islam, together with the Secretary-General of the WCRP. Forty
lectures took place (of which abstracts were circulated to participants),
each followed by a discussion, in the course of which the ethic of the
various religions was presented.
Dr Udo Schaefer received a personal invitation to make a presentation
which was on the theme 'The Unity Paradigm of Bahá'í:
Foundation of an Ethic Without False Inclusivism?'. This first venture of the
Bahá'ís into the arena of interfaith dialogue at this level
with opportunity of presenting their faith before such a critical and
competent public passed off with remarkable success. The lecture was very
well received and Dr Kung, who expressed himself "deeply
impressed", commented that the Bahá'ís could indeed feel
confirmed by the recent development of an ongoing interfaith dialogue.
Conference proceedings will be published in 1995. As to future contributions
by Bahá'ís to interfaith dialogue, Dr Schaefer comments:
" ...some outstanding authors like Hans Kung, John Hick, Wilfred
Cantwell Smith, Raimundo Pannikkar and others have contributed in a vast
literature to the conditions of an interreligious dialogue. Unfortunately, as
far as I can see this challenging issue has not yet been sufficiently treated
in Bahá'í literature."
28 September - 1 October 1994
This congress, focussing on The Project Global Ethic in Education was organised as a result of the initiative of two people. The first was leading member of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), the Protestant theologian Prof. Johannes L_hnemann who spoke at the Centenary Commemoration Of the Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in he Paulskirche, Frankfurt. The other was the eminent Catholic theologian Dr Hans Kung, author of the book Projekt Weltethos (English version: Global Responsibility. In Search of a New World Ethic, SCM Press, London, 1991).
The conference centred on how to implement norms of global ethic in education. Some 300 people participated, including many university teachers in such areas as: theology, religious studies, oriental studies, and pedagogy, as well as Church leaders, representatives of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, together with the Secretary-General of the WCRP. Forty lectures took place (of which abstracts were circulated to participants), each followed by a discussion, in the course of which the ethic of the various religions was presented.
Dr Udo Schaefer received a personal invitation to make a presentation which was on the theme 'The Unity Paradigm of Bahá'í: Foundation of an Ethic Without False Inclusivism?'. This first venture of the Bahá'ís into the arena of interfaith dialogue at this level with opportunity of presenting their faith before such a critical and competent public passed off with remarkable success. The lecture was very well received and Dr Kung, who expressed himself "deeply impressed", commented that the Bahá'ís could indeed feel confirmed by the recent development of an ongoing interfaith dialogue. Conference proceedings will be published in 1995. As to future contributions by Bahá'ís to interfaith dialogue, Dr Schaefer comments:
" ...some outstanding authors like Hans Kung, John Hick, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Raimundo Pannikkar and others have contributed in a vast literature to the conditions of an interreligious dialogue. Unfortunately, as far as I can see this challenging issue has not yet been sufficiently treated in Bahá'í literature."
Some Bahá'í Perspectives on Spiritual and Moral Education
(Paper prepared for the Roehampton Conference on Education, Spirituality and the Whole Child, July 1994 by Stephen Vickers)
It is rare that we in education pay tribute to former oil company executives, it is even rarer that we congratulate the current Secretary of State for Education.
We have become accustomed to objecting when Caesar involves himself in education other than as paymaster, and especially so when the aspect of education under discussion centres around the things of God. With regard to the current public discussion about moral and spiritual education, however, I feel that it is far more appropriate to praise Caesar than to wish him buried. David Pascall (probably nudged along by Barbara Wintersgill)(1) and John Patten between them have over the past two years helped create an informed and vital discussion about the nature and importance of these aspects of education, and about their relevance in forestalling future social and psychological problems.
The debate is all the more intriguing because the concepts are so slippery. At one level the words "moral" and "spiritual" have entered the standard litany of all government publications. The updated Parents' Charter, to which the cynic would probably apply Castlereagh's famous words "a loud-sounding nothing", for instance, re-assures the parent that:
"Your child has a right to broad and balanced studies which promote spiritual, cultural, mental and physical development, and prepare him or her for adult life."(2)
To many an overworked teacher, these words must seem like yet further unattainable goals laid upon them. Yet this is an issue of great importance. Many of our citizens lack motivation or direction, and it is probable that a rise in normlessness raises the incidence of crime, of substance abuse and underachievement. The traditional reaction of school heads, to hand to the R[eligious] E[ducation] department anything that looks vaguely religious, is insufficient. As David Pascall made clear in his seminal speech to the RE Council on 7 May 1992, the need to approach the spiritual and moral education of the child is a whole-school issue; and indeed must encompass the parents as well.
Although the issues are not the sole preserve of RE departments, they, and the Faith communities, can play a vital part, both because Faiths compass both families and teachers, and because we deal with the transcendental questions which help to raise the human being above the level of worrying about why his or her trainers do not carry an Adidas label. In proffering assistance to the movement for moral and spiritual education, however, we must remember that it is not RE in the phenomenological sense. RE often exerts a soporific effect on school students, and if we are dealing with helping a child find some meaning to life we must ensure that we do not assume that this will be achieved by putting old content-laden wine into new bottles, brightly labelled "Moral Education the Answer to Society's Ills". What the child needs may well be religious, but he or she needs to come to this realisation in his or her own time.
We in RE have one insight which is very valuable, however, in that we regard the battle as winnable, because we believe that every human being, however little s/he may realise it, possesses an innate and God-given spiritual capacity, and that this can be awakened. We also have the spur of guilt, because we feel that if there is anomie, if there is desperation, if there is de-motivation, it is because the spiritual development of the human being has been neglected.
From this perspective all Faiths have insights which can be valuable to teachers attempting to assist pupils to grow morally or spiritually. My intention here is to identify a few of the many such insights which the Bahá'í Faith can create.
The Bahá'í view of the nature of the human being
I remember, as a callow and unconfident teenager, agonising over whether or not human beings possessed a soul. At the heart of Bahá'í teachings lies the principle that God has placed in each human being a soul which yearns for communion with Him. It is this soul which is the essential human. A person does not merely have a soul, but is a soul. This soul, moreover, yearns for its creator because it has been created to do so. To turn Voltaire's famous maxim on its head, it seems necessary to invent God because He exists. Bahá'u'lláh puts it thus:
"All that is in Heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory."(3)
To the Bahá'í therefore, spiritual education is not merely social work or training, it is the process of helping oneself, or another, discover their true self.
The distinction between spiritual and moral education
The very fact that we have for two years bracketed these two concepts together suggests that we have difficulty drawing distinct boundaries between them. To some extent this is understandable, since we sense that it is sometimes the same child who as an infant finds it hard to cope with minor setbacks who later goes on to steal cars as a teenager. Yet treating the two concepts as mere labels for the same thing entails problems, not only conceptually, but also in an operational sense.
Firstly, the bracketing together of "spiritual" and "moral" may lead the Humanist or unbelieving parent or teacher to conclude that s/he has no place in this endeavour.
They may play an invaluable role in helping the child to work through moral problems, or even to wrestle with problems which the believer would regard as spiritual ones, such as bereavement or whether or not there is a God.
Secondly, treating "moral and spiritual education" as an indivisible whole moves the concepts away from the realm of the possible. If they can be tackled separately, the task looks less daunting. Thirdly, it shifts the concept away from the needs of the child, and from a dispassionate assessment of the world's real needs, and towards a more utilitarian concept of social control, as though stopping teenagers stealing cars was the central raison d'etre of the emphasis upon these areas of education rather than a thoroughly desirable by-product of good education.
Bahá'u'lláh claims that the human being has twin roles to play, distinct but of equal value. One is to know and to worship God. One of the three alternative daily prayers for Bahá'ís reads as follows:
"I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee..."(4)
The second role laid upon human beings is to carry forth an ever-advancing civilization, and corresponds to the development of moral qualities:
"All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion, and loving kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth."(5)
While the two have considerable links between them, the first task centres around spiritual growth, and around the development of the powers in one's soul for the self, while the second task centres around moral growth, and the development of the powers in one's soul in such a way as to permit one to interact harmoniously with other people and the natural environment. This distinction may assist us in mapping out a direction for the development of programmes of moral and spiritual education.
This short paper is written from the standpoint of "light is good in whatsoever lamp it shines", and holds that the Bahá'í Faith, like any other religion, contains insights which can be valuable for those of us in the educational world who are striving to make moral and spiritual education a reality.
(1) David Pascall, Chairman of the NCC, speech to RE Council, 7 May 1992.
(2) Department of Education, Our Children's Education: The Updated Parent's Charter, 1994.
(3) Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1972, Persian no, 27.
(4) Bahá'u'lláh The Short Obligatory Prayer. In Bahá'í Prayers, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982, p.4.
(5) Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1978, p. 54
(6) Ibid. pp. 258-9.
(7) The Hidden Words, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976, Arabic, no. 11.
(8) L.M. Nagouchi, H. Hanson and P. Lample, Exploring a Framework for Moral Education, Palabra Publications, 1992, pp. 19-21.
An Earthly Paradise: Bahá'í Houses of Worship around the
Author: Julie Badiee
Publisher: George Ronald, 1992. 144 pp. £15.95
Reviewer: John Lester
"...eternal in the past, eternal in the future."
At the core of Bahá'í teachings is the continuity of religious belief. Far from being separate and different, the religions of humanity have a common source and now a common con- summation. Each can be seen as a stage of a long-linking chain, guiding the human race from the dimmest of dusks to the brightest of dawns.
From the first, humanity has erected huge edifices in which to pray that they might possess tangible monuments to Faith. Julie Badiee's achievement in this attractive book is to link the philosophy of the Bahá'í Houses of Worship built in this century with the religious buildings of the past. In a series of careful meditations she takes each facet of the House of Worship and relates it to its predecessors. Such aspects as 'The Garden of Paradise', 'Water Imagery' and 'The Mountain, the Journey and the Door' are perceptively considered and linked through the centuries and across the traditions from Buddhist to American Indian. The kind of consistent symbolism used for these temples illustrates not only the universality of human kind but also the close relationship of its religious experiences.
All this could seem quite complex. Fortunately Julie Badiee structures her meditations in a logical sequence and expresses them in an uncomplicated and easily comprehensible style. The idea of 'sacred geography', which she elucidates, is one of those concepts that, once explained, seems obvious but needs the guiding word to make apparent.
By its very nature such a book needs to be well illustrated. An Earthly Paradise is beautifully produced, the many photo- graphs of Bahá'í Houses of Worship blending well with those of previous dispensations. A generous proportion of these pictures are in colour, making it easy and interesting simply to flick through a good book for browsers,
Such a comprehensive survey has been long overdue and the way it has been done, tying the present in with the past to show common foundations and progressions, is an important and instructive ingredient. It is a volume of high quality, worthy to occupy a prominent place on any bookshelf and be constantly accessible to visitors. For those interested in the underlying principles of religious buildings or for those who simply like looking at them,
An Earthly Paradise will be an instant attraction.
An interesting article by a group of sociologists at UCLA examines part of the 'Iranian ethnic economy' of Los Angeles. They studied how the different religious backgrounds of the Iranians - Armenian, Bahá'í, Jewish, and Muslim - affected the functioning of Iranian-owned businesses. One of the significant differences between these groups is that Bahá'ís are less likely to have coreligionists as partners or employees. The authors attribute this to Bahá'í teachings of tolerance for other religions: "The unique Bahá'í [sic] pattern reflects the faith's well known universalism which requires its devotees to seek social association with non-Bahá'í Clearly the Iranian Bahá'ís exhibit advanced behaviour, but the relative effects of their religious values and experience of their coreligionists on this may be open to interpretation." See I. Light et al, "Internal Ethnicity in the Ethnic Economy", Ethnic and Racial Studies 16.4 (1993): 581-97.
A new book by Chris Parks, a senior lecturer in geography at the University of Lancaster, provides evidence for the claim of some Bahá'ís that the Faith is the fastest growing religion. For the period 1970-1985, Parks quotes Barrett.s World Christian Encyclopedia where the rate of growth of the Bahá'í Faith is calculated to be 3.63%, the highest rate of all the 15 groups examined. Second comes Sikhism (2.94%), third the "non-religious" (2.76%) just above Islam (2.74%).
See Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion. London: Routledge, 1994, p. 131.
What are the main features of the 1990s? An article in September 1994's Elle magazine (my sister's, promise) by Jonathan Freedland argues that a theme is emerging from "the heap of clothes, politics, furniture, music, religion, work and money we call our lives." Much of it can be determined in fashion and pop culture: the waif look of fashion magazines, the glamour of self-destruction, the current penchant for self-mutilation (tattoo and body piercing), the fact that heroin is chic again, the influence of grunge music and Kurt Cobain's suicide, Beavis and Butthead, the popularity of films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and the increase in suicide among the young.
"There is a link between these statistics and the waif's vacant stare, between the affection for black and the trend value of minor amputation. The link is nihilism, simultaneously the absence of belief and the belief that nothing really matters," is Freedland's case.
The Economist (17 December 1994) links nihilism to the behaviour of American street gangs. The rising death toll in war-torn American inner cities is not mainly due to the drug trade or the spread of powerful guns: "teenage nihilism may be the most lethal factor of all". What has led to this situation, what one writer has called the era of "endarkenment"? There are three main reasons. The first is the death of government, the destruction of people's trust in national institutions. The second is divorce, which surged in the 70s. The third is the death of ideology with the collapse of communism and the relative failure of its alternatives to deliver better standards of living in the last decade:
The 90s generation has witnessed the failure of its institutions, its families, its ideas and its economy. When you throw in AIDS and a childhood spent in the shadow of a nuclear winter, nihilism seems like a pretty natural response." People are also less likely to believe in big ideas any longer, because they have been seen to fail so often. "The effect has been a retreat back into ourselves."
Hence the interest in confessional style talk-shows and psychotherapy, the focus is on the inside, having given up on everything out there.
However, these tools are unlikely to cure the real disease of young people in this decade: "The atheism of modern times has drained their lives of spiritual content. They are suffering from the 90s disease: the crisis of meaning."
Bahá'í Studies Colloquium on the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
The fourth colloquium on the study of sacred texts supported by the Haj Mehdi Arjmand Fellowship Trust Fund and organized by the Research Office of the Bahá'í National Centre was held at the DePoort Conference Centre in the Netherlands, 4-6 November 1994.
As recommended by the Continental Board of Counsellors for Europe, the conference focused on the theme of "The Kitáb-i-Aqdas". It drew over seventy participants from ten countries and heard eleven presentations. The conference had a two-fold purpose: (1) addressing the greatness of the Aqdas and its place in the revelation of Bahá'í and (2) discussing some of the more controversial aspects of the laws and principles of the Aqdas, for the purpose of finding ways to present them to sceptics and the general public.
The conference opened Friday night with Dr. Moojan Momen's presentation "The History of Writing and Transmission of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas." He summarised the need and request of the Bahá'ís for a body of laws and Bahá'u'lláh revealing of laws over a period of time of as much as five years. He described efforts to put the laws into practice as well as the circulation of manuscript copies of the Aqdas in Iran and the first printings of the book in Arabic and other languages. His presentation was followed by Dr. Robert H. Stockman, who spoke on "The Terms Revelation Interpretation, and Elucidation in the Bahá'í Writings."
The presentation examined paradoxical aspects of Bahá'í revelation, of the interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and of the Universal House of Justice's power of elucidation and considered the relevance of these processes to study of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.
Saturday morning the conference opened with a presentation by Dr. Iraj Ayman on "The General Nature of Divine Laws", a talk that outlined the meaning and purpose of divine laws and the need to interpret each law in its context in the revelation, and underlined the evolutionary process envisaged for the implementation of the Bahá'í laws. Dr. Ayman also noted that the meaning of many laws may not always be clear in the context of current trends in society, but will be fully understood in a mature Bahá'í community and in a society that will be influenced by the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.
The rest of the morning was devoted to a panel discussion led by Payam Akhavan and Sama Payman about Bahá'í penal laws. Much of the presentation focused on a document about capital punishment by the Bahá'í International Community and comments on the principles the document set out.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and gender issues. Dr. Seena Fazel's "The Inheritance Laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas" discussed the gender inequality established by the rules of inheritance for wives, sons, daughters, and non-Bahá'í relations. He noted that because Shoghi Effendi said "it is only fair" for Bahá'ís to provide for non-Bahá'í relations in one's will, even though the Aqdas provides nothing for them, the inheritance laws are not meant to be "normative." Ms. Lil Abdo's "An Examination of Androgyny and Sex Specification in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas" considered whether the Aqdas contains the nucleus of a non-sexist law code and how that code has been developed, especially through application of the mutatis mutandis principle.
Finally, Dr. Wendi Momen's "Service of Women on the Universal House of Justice" discussed the exclusion of women from service on the Bahá'í Faith's supreme governing body and reviewed some of the relevant passages from the Bahá'í writings according precedence and superiority to women with regard to certain functions in society. She concluded that perhaps it is better to ask "What is the Universal House of Justice?" rather than "Why cannot women serve on it?"
Saturday evening opened with Kamran Ekbal's presentation on Bahá'í marriage laws in a historical perspective, especially regarding bigamy. The rest of the evening was devoted to the paper "Cultivating a Bahá'í Response to Homosexuality." The paper delineated the position in the Bahá'í writings, including an appreciation of their language and tone; and explored the history of incidents of homosexuality, which in most cultures has existed in the context of heterosexual marriages and procreation.
On Sunday morning Mr. Roman Bohacek presented a paper on "European Themes in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas," which examined statements by Bahá'u'lláh in the Tablets to the Kings and in the Aqdas that relate to Christendom. Mr. Sen McGlinn's "Church and State in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh" presented research on statements in the Bahá'í writings about the future relationship between the Houses of Justice and governments, and argued that there would never be a time when the Bahá'í administrative order would replace governments. Sunday morning concluded with a review of the conference and discussion of future plans, including publication of the proceedings of the conference.
The DePoort Colloquium built on the successes of the previous ones on the general theme of scripture from a Bahá'í perspective.
The fifth H. J. Arjmand Colloquium will also focus on the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and will be held in Wilmette, Illinois, March 31-April 2, 1995. Two Arjmand Colloquia in the Persian language are being planned, one (number six) in Europe for the summer of 1995 and one (number seven) in North America for the early fall of 1995. Another Arjmand conference in the English language for Europe (number eight) is scheduled for later in the fall 1995.
The Eighth Arjmand Colloquium tentatively will focus on the theme of "Controversial Issues in Bahá'í scholarship," with the goal of clarifying some of the scholarly issues that often generate criticism of the Faith.
A compilation of abstracts for the Arjmand Colloquia are available for $3 each by writing to the Research Office, Bahá'í National Center, Wilmette, IL 60091, firstname.lastname@example.org (Internet), 708-733-3563 (FAX) or calling 708-733-3425.
Report by Robert Stockman
American Academy of Religion
The Bahá'í Faith was represented through presentations and an exhibition at the American Academy of Religion (AAR), November 19-23, 1994. For four days almost 8000 professors and graduate students of religious studies, clergy, and other researchers gathered to hear over a thousand talks about religion, view 150 exhibits by publishers, and attend various receptions. Among those present were at least eleven Bahá'ís.
On Saturday morning the "Bahá'í Studies Colloquy" met and heard four talks. Dr. Susan Maneck spoke about "Wisdom, Unwisdom, and Dissimulation: Uses of the Word Hikmat in the Bahá'í Faith," a talk that asserted that the word hikmat in early Bahá'í usage in Iran often included the meaning taqiyyih ("dissimulation"). Ms. Paula Drewek then spoke on James Fowler's model of the psychological development of personal faith as it applies to Canadian Bahá'ís She noted important differences between the Bahá'í concept of spiritual development and Fowler's concept of faith development and presented the preliminary results of interviewing twenty Canadian Bahá'í s
Mr. Mikhail Sergeev spoke about "Daniil Andreev's Rose of the World and the Bahá'í Teachings"; Andreev, a Russian intellectual who spent much of his adult life in prison, set to paper a vision of a world religion that bears some resemblance to the Bahá'í Faith.
Finally, Mr. R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram spoke about "Early Irish Bahá'í Issues of Religious, Cultural, and National Identity." The paper located about a dozen early Bahá'í who were Irish in one sense or another and reconstructed their religious backgrounds and relative activity as Bahá'ís All the papers generated lively discussion. In addition, Dr. Ahmad Bastani, a member of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Chicago, spoke at the AAR on a panel about the Parliament of the World's Religions. Bahá'í presentations at the AAR have now been a continuous activity since 1984.
The Bahá'í Publishing Trust was represented in the exhibition area by a small but attractive booth, which was seen by thousands of visitors. Free literature was given to about one hundred and conversations about the Faith were conducted with at least a hundred more.
This year's AAR seemed to show an increased interest in the Faith; several speakers mentioned it in passing, several publishers indicated interest in publishing books on the Faith, and more professors seemed to want information for their classes or their research. The emergence of the Faith from obscurity in academia has been slow, but signs of its acceleration seemed evident.
Report by Robert Stockman