Time for Ruhi to Show Us the Money: Part II


This is the second installment asking why the Baha’i Ruhi courses should “show us the money”. If you missed the first part, then click on the previous link to go back and read it. You can skip it but doing so would be like walking into an LSA meeting; it’ll only leave you confused and unsatisfied.

While Ruhi is attuned to the cultural norms of Colombia, either by design or accident, that does not guarantee or prove that it is a success. That is, proving or showing that there was an inherent fit between the structure or style of the course and the country in which it was first implemented is one thing, showing that it was a success in that country is another matter.

hofstede-cultural-constants-colombia-ukBy the way, the culture that Arbab himself was most familiar with and attuned to, Iran, bears a striking resemblance to that of Colombia. And I’m sure that throughout the process of development, the Ruhi course was in turn molded and shaped into what it is by the very fact that the feedback was coming from Colombians (and not, say, from the UK). So although, initially, it may have had a loose shape, over the many iterations and refinements it underwent, Ruhi progressively came to more and more resemble its environment. And to summarize from Part I, these were: a preference for black and white absolutes (rather than greys), group or collective organization (rather than individuals) and hierarchical (rather than egalitarian) structures.

So under such idyllic conditions: having the full support of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Colombia and the Universal House of Justice (along with the ITC), having sufficient financial backing – provided by the institutions – to initiate the project and to refine it iteratively, having a long gestation and maturation to perfect the courses, having a complementary style to the culture of Columbia, was Ruhi successful?

And by this I don’t mean did very many Baha’is in Colombia participate in Ruhi courses, but did Ruhi deliver results? In other words, did Ruhi increase the size of the Colombian Baha’i community? After all, this is why it was created.

If that is news to you, let me pause to explain. The Baha’i community had seen, randomly scattered, large scale conversions before. The challenge was that although a great multitude would enter after a successful teaching campaign, within a short period of time they would drift away or become inactive. Ruhi was created as a systematic method by which human resources could be developed to deepen these new believers and involve them in community life and then, eventually, to engage in another round of teaching campaigns. And so on and so on. This is what “exploiting the framework for action” means. This is what the now common catchphrase “intensive programmes of growth” or IPG means. After all, you can’t have IPG without the G or growth.

But even so, questioning the efficacy of Ruhi at first may seem silly. After all, we all know that Ruhi has expanded beyond Colombia and is now implemented in all Baha’i communities around the world. And yet, the question remains, petulantly tapping its feet, waiting to be answered. It reminds me of the introspection undertaken by Willow Creek Church (thanks to Steve for bringing it to our attention through BahaisOnline):

“Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research ?the wake-up call? of his adult life.

A qualitative study such as the one Willow Creek undertook is challenging because it measured factors that aren’t easily quantified. But a study of the efficacy of Ruhi in promoting numerical growth would be rather simple. For example, what if we compared the communities in Colombia that were doing Ruhi in the 1970′s and 1980′s to those in surrounding Latin American countries that hadn’t yet done Ruhi? Such a study would, more or less, isolate Ruhi as the only factor while keeping the same time, culture, economic development, etc.

If we feel extra adventurous, why not look at not just quantitative results but also qualitative ones? After all, if Ruhi can and did improve the quality of our communities, then eventually, those communities would be much more attractive to seekers and as a corollary, they would experience numerical expansion.

So where is our very own survey to find out if Ruhi was a success in Colombia?

As far as I know there hasn’t been any. Although we seem to have become enamored with statistics, keeping track of how many people are taking Ruhi 1 vs. Ruhi 2 or how many A or B or C clusters there are, etc. Similar to Willow Creek’s old approach, all the statistical activity is bent on monitoring the uptake of the Ruhi program, not about its efficacy. And that should be alarming to all Baha’is.

But the feedback is there, in the numbers, if you look carefully. After all, positive results can not hide for long.

Think about it: we’re talking about a sequence of courses, implemented with the full backing of the institutions, in the most fertile environment, for over forty years. Read that again. Ruhi is 40 years old. The exact birth date is nebulous but it is most often cited as being started in late 1960′s and early 1970′s. What that means is that teenagers that were in the first, rudimentary, Ruhi study circles organized by Arbab are now well into middle age. Forty years is two generations!

So, what has Ruhi done for the Colombian Baha’i community after more than 40 years of continuous application?

That is, I think everyone will agree, a fair question to ask. Nowhere else is Ruhi so well suited, nowhere else has Ruhi so much continuous experience, nowhere else has Ruhi undergone so much development than in Colombia.

Has Ruhi set Colombia ablaze with the fire of the Baha’i Faith?

Has Ruhi, after 40+ years, instigated and fueled “entry by troops” in Colombia?

Has Ruhi attracted new believers, swelling the rank of Baha’is in Colombia?

Has Ruhi then deepened these new believers, retaining them and propelling the Colombian Baha’i community ever forward?

Has Ruhi cut a swath through the social fabric of Colombia as easily as a Jewish mother through self-esteem?

If anyone can show that after 40+ years there is an avalanche of results that makes Ruhi irrefutably the success that it is trumped up to be to the rest of the world; then all criticism will be swept aside with one fell swoop.

This should be an incredibly easy task. And it would silence, if not all critics of the Ruhi approach, then most certainly this one. Who dare argue with results? Who dare question or criticize the method when it has brought clear success? Who dare suggest cutting down the tree that yields such goodly fruit? Not I.

Extra credits go to those that can not only provide Baha’i sourced data that shows an explosion of growth in the Baha’i community of Colombia but also confirmation through third-party sources such as government census data or university research reports, etc.

I’ve searched high and low but have not found any such data. This is why I’m putting out an All Points Bulletin (APB). This is the intertubes and they wind their way into all sorts of places. If you are reading this and know of such data or where it can be found, then please drop a comment below and enlighten us all. If any Baha’i is reading this from South America or dare I say it? Colombia… then please make gentle inquiries to your NSA or provide letters, year end reports, or whatever official documentation you can to shut up the critics of Ruhi for good.

Please note that I’m being extremely gentle in this regard because had there been such success, all Baha’is would have heard about it in great detail. And yet, I look forward to being proven wrong because then it will afford me the opportunity to learn something.

If, after 40 plus years of gestation and maturation, through continuous implementation and iterative development and perfection; with a program structure incredibly attuned to and complementary to the culture of its host environment; with the full financial, moral and administrative support of the Baha’i institutions; if with all these advantages, Ruhi can not provide significant results that prove its efficacy beyond a doubt in its native country of Colombia… then by what rationale should we expect it to suddenly start to succeed now? and especially in other, much more hostile cultures?

The next step would be clear:

Trees that yield no fruit have been and will ever be for the fire.
- Baha’u’llah (Persian Hidden Words)

Time for Ruhi to Show Us the Money: Part I


Before I can explain why it is time for Ruhi to “show us the money” (by which, I mean results), allow me a slight digression into the fields of anthropology and sociology. With your indulgence the connection to Ruhi will be shortly obvious.

A few years before Arbab began to work on Ruhi and FUNDAEC, a Dutch gentleman by the name of Geert Hofstede, was working on a large project for IBM. Within the human resource department of IBM, Hofstede’s main task was to travel the world and to gather information on how the different branches of IBM in different countries worked in order to glean lessons of best practices. While engaged in this work, he stumbled onto a framework for assessing culture. In essence, the data staring back at him started to form itself into patterns. Very soon, what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was to individual personalities, Hofstede’s Dimensions were to collective personalities – otherwise called, culture.

Technically there are 5 axes but for our purposes we need only explore 3 of them. If you would like to find out more, you can check out Hofstede’s own website, wikipedia or your friendly, neighborhood sociologist or anthropologist. In any case, the three axes or dimensions relevant to our discussion are:
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Did You Ruhi Today?

Sometimes Baha’is get a bit carried away with Ruhi. Click to embiggen the first Baha’i Rants comic:

ruhhing your conversation try it

What do Baha’is get carried away with sometimes? ____________

You should do what to embiggen the first Baha’i Rants comic? ____________

Yay! Now you’re an A+ cluster.

Sault College Offers Ruhi Course


A community college in Ontario, Canada is offering the Ruhi course. Or at least the first book in the sequence:

In this course you will develop an understanding of the Baha’i writings through three guided segments of the text, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. Through class discussion and self-reflective exercises you will explore the following areas: Understanding the Baha’i Writings, Prayer, and Life and Death. The workbook, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, Ruhi Institute can be purchased from the Campus Shop.

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first time a Ruhi course has been offered by a non-Baha’i educational institution.

EDIT: I’m told by Steve M in the comments below that this isn’t the first instance at all.

This is great news! Now perhaps we can have non-Baha’is take Ruhi while we get on with actually doing something, you know, useful.

What do you think?

Reports Show Communities Ignoring Ruhi

During the last Baha’i National Convention, Bill Davis addressed the convention attempting to re-direct their attention away from the NSA’s own annual report, which presented an honest assessment of the situation on the ground in Baha’i communities in the US, to the letter from the UHJ directing Baha’is to “stay the course”.

Towards the end of the remarks Bill Davis says (4:37):

“We do not want to find ourselves pushing a rewind button and arguing over core curriculum and Ruhi.”

If you have no idea what this is about, then this short summary should be illuminating.

The reason that excerpt stands out for me is that it means there were disagreements over Ruhi and core curriculum with some obviously feeling very strongly against it. And so much so that the NSA as a body wrote that letter basically calling both Ruhi and core curriculum, bunk. But the UHJ came down on them like a tonne of bricks. Sending an enforcer to oversee the National Convention from the ITC as well as erasing the NSA’s own annual report and replacing it with their own.

I’ve uploaded the annual report for the largest Baha’i community in Canada. The most interesting part is Appendix 5 on page 3 which outlines the results of the implementation of the core activities for the past 5 Baha’i years, from 2004 to 2008.

I thought it may be fruitful in our discussions of Ruhi, the core curriculum and their acceptance by the community. According to the data in this report, there are

It is fascinating that after so many years and after such an intense focus and increasing insistence upon these rote activities, it has only resulted in about a third of the community to complete Book 1 of Ruhi and less than a tenth to complete Book 7.

Book 5 is also especially rejected/ignored by the community since only a handful have completed it. Book 5 is Raising up Animators of Junior Youth Groups. It may be because it was once a part of Book 3 and in 2005 inserted as its own ‘Book’.

“We welcome the decision of the Institute…to move the book currently occupying the fifth position in the sequence to a set of courses branching out from Book 3 for preparing Baha’i Children’s class teachers and to insert in the fifth place a new book for raising up animators of junior youth groups.”
- Letter from the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 28 December 2005

Or perhaps because it is a specialized ‘course’ only a few people are interested to take it or need to take it to become ‘junior youth animators’.

In most communities, Ruhi is presented as a cumulative course and an individual can only take a subsequent book or course if they have done a previous one. So the fact that only about a hundred or so out of more than 1500 Baha’is (adults and youth) is very telling.

It is well known and accepted that for almost all Baha’i communities, there is a range of accuracy when it comes to membership data. The larger the community, the more difficult to get a truly accurate measure of membership. So instead of the 1560 number which includes all adults and youth, a more accurate number would be those with “good” addresses who still consider themselves Baha’is.

So lets be kind and estimate a more accurate measure of the population of Baha’is in this community by going with the number of people who have contributed to the Fund at least once during the year. This isn’t a perfect qualifier but it does mean that we are counting those who are, at minimum, involved with the community emotionally and physically. That number is roughly 40% or roughly 620 people. That gives us about 21% of these ‘active’ members having done the full Ruhi courses.

Is that a “success” or “failure”? Ultimately that will depend on your views about Ruhi and your built in biases. Some will say that is a resounding success while others will see it as utter failure. Since the conclusion relies on what or how we define success or failure, it is open to debate.

Personal I think that it would be a stretch to call this a success. After all, the active membership of the community would as easily and exuberantly take up tether ball or bird-watching if they were directed to do so in the same fervor and intensity that the ITC and UHJ has pushed Baha’is to take up Ruhi.

For me, among other measures, success should be demonstrated by how many regularly inactive Baha’is are drawn to Ruhi and finish it. After all, they are 60% of the community. As well, I have to wonder, if Ruhi is the bees knees, why haven’t 100% of ‘active’ Baha’is completed it. It has been ongoing for, what? 8 years now. How many years will it take to convince the most loyal and active membership? And if Ruhi can not hold their attention or inspire these most loyal and devoted Baha’is, what hope does it have for the less active? the less devoted?

While the above example comes from one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, we have another from a very different part of the world which shows remarkably similar levels of rejection for Ruhi. I say this because many believe that while Ruhi may be ineffective for western cultures, it is useful for less developed ones.

From the international convention held recently to elect the membership of the Universal House of Justice, we have official reports that in India, more than 80,000 people have completed a Ruhi course, and some 6,000 people have completed all seven books in the series.

That number may seem amazingly large… until you consider that there are by some accounts 1.8 million Baha’is in India. So let’s see, that would mean that less than 4.5% have done one single Ruhi course and about 0.0033% have done all 7.

Another idea is that while there may have been growth in devotional meetings and other worship related social events, how do we know if this was brought about as a consequence of Ruhi or core curriculum? how do we separate causation with just correlation?

Finally, what no one can answer is what benefits and successes the community has given up by diverting attention to this end. How many individual initiatives were ignore? how many unrelated projects were sidelined in the single-minded quest to press everyone to walk in lock-step? Take a look at this 1987 document full of recommendations for the revitalization of the American Baha’i community.

I wonder how many more years of this we will have to endure until this latest fad is finally dropped for its obvious ineffectiveness and rejection by the Baha’i community?

The problem is that there is group think gripping the highest levels of Baha’i administration. This is not the same as unity. For unity allows diversity of thought, action and methods. Instead, through the trend of ITC members being elected to the UHJ, and then turning around and appointing ITC members… we have now a situation where there are many individuals at the highest levels of office who have a very personal vested interest in the success of Ruhi.

It is not an impartial question or concept. It is deeply embedded and deeply part of their contribution to the Baha’i world community. For it to be seen to have failed, or for them to admit that it has failed or been rejected by the membership, is not just a simple realization. It means accepting that their contribution has fallen short. Most people simply can not take that. Compound that by several like minded individuals and you have: group think.

No where is the death grip of group-think more apparent than the categorical denial by the UHJ/ITC of the report prepared by the NSA. Who is more adept at gathering, analyzing and reporting what is going on within a community? the community itself? or a body that is half-way around the world?

Oh, right. Silly me. I’m trying to see with my own eyes and hear with mine own ears.

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