Reflections on 3 Years of Blogging

I can’t believe it has been 3 years since I started writing. I don’t make it a habit to lapse into navel gazing but since we are at a sort of road marker, perhaps you will be so kind as to overlook this weakness.

Yes, really. Its been three whole years (and a fraction more). This is what I wrote as my first foray into this uncharted territory: Introduction.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot off my chest – as they say. Unfortunately, I’ve been given reason to say things. For example the whole Kalimat Press boycott, I’d rather not be handed such material by the Baha’i powers that be. However, when they do such knuckle-headed things, I can’t help but rant about it.

Positively Negative
I’m not sure how much I’ve ranted and how much I’ve been actually coherent. One thing I’d like to do is to be more positive and to see the lighter side of things. The primary reason why I haven’t done more of this is that there are already a plethora of wide eyed and bushy tailed Baha’i bloggers who do nothing but that.

I’d rather be a unique voice and stay true to myself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t see the good or that I don’t celebrate the positive events of my faith along with my fellow believers. But that I see no point in being the 16th blogger to write about Nouruz.

So what some may interpret as being excessively negative, is in reality my attempt to bring some sort of attention to things that I believe need attention desperately.

When I do write about positive things, you can bet it will be something no one else is mentioning 😉

The Song Remains The Same
Sadly, not much has changed within the Baha’i community from three years ago. Oh sure, things have been rearranged but the change is superficial.

None of the really important issues which have made appearances on Baha’i Rants have been addressed. If anything, things have been going the other way.

That’s A Lot of Zeros
Which might explain a surprising fact: people are actually reading my blog.

To be specific, in 2006 Baha’i Rants got more than 200,000 pageviews. And in 2007, 400,000 pageviews. And every month the traffic is growing, even when I don’t write much. Or maybe because I don’t write much.

I certainly never thought this would happen nor that it would be even possible for such a micro-niche blog to get such traffic!

I’m not a competitive person, nor is this a race but my traffic easily trounces the largest and most well known traditional Baha’i blogs. I won’t mention them to protect the innocent – but they know who they are :-)

I don’t think it is a reflection on this blog, or the quality of its content but rather the interest that Baha’is have taken in this medium of communication. The search engine traffic and the keywords that bring people to my blog is astounding.

Baha’is find this blog because they feel the same way I do about things and are out here on the internet — the only open and free platform for exchange of ideas — seeking more information and perhaps like minded peers.

As Shoghi Effendi wrote in 1931:

A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity.

They’re still working on the “national hinderances” in places like China and Iran. But as prophecies go, it’s a pretty darned good one. And here we are, you and I, communicating through it. It certainly is marvelous, isn’t it?

And just look at how many different countries you all come from!

All the large English speaking countries, as well as European ones (I guess they know English or use an online translator?) but also there are readers from the Middle East: UAE, Iran, Israel (big smile and wave to the good folks on top of Mount Carmel).

br-countriesI can understand the curiosity when this humble scribe is anonymous. If you are really curious and want to find out more, read “Who is Baquia?”

I just noticed that a fellow Baha’i blogger has plopped me down into the apostate category. Thanks Moojan! Lovely addition to the Baha’i lexicon and a wonderful legacy for yourself as a theologian.

Believe it or not, I’m a Baha’i. Fully enrolled and in good standing. But since when has that ever stopped a fellow Baha’i from casting stones?

Which brings us full circle because this whole thing, the blog, my thoughts, my anguish at the way the Baha’i Faith is careening outside the path it once travelled… it was all started quite innocuously when a fellow Baha’i by the name of Dr. Susan Maneck viciously attacked me in an online discussion.

I was taken aback by such treatment because online or off, no one had ever twisted my words, perverted my intentions and poured such personal hate on me. It caused me to wonder what was really under it all. The discussion we were engaged in was benign – so why such a harsh reaction?

That’s when I decided to give this more attention and stumbled in short order on such chapters of history as the LA Class in the 1970’s, the Dialogue magazine mess, the Talisman crackdown, the practice of “unenrollment” and others (Karen deals with most of the big ones here). So in essence I owe Dr. Maneck a heartfelt thank you. Her words on that day helped to open my eyes – when they may never have been. Who knows, I may have turned into one of those Ruhi-parroting “good” Baha’is. So thank you Dr. Maneck. THANK YOU !! :-)

Ah, well. Enough navel gazing for now.

LA Class Newsletter [#32]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER

My Notes:

This newsletter is noteworthy not only because it contains a report about a scholarly conference held in England but also because it was later cited as an example of naughty behavior by the NSA of the United States and figured into their decision to ban further publication and dissemination of the LA Class Newsletters.

The class also discusses the crisis brewing in the cradle of the Faith. This discussion was held in October 1978; you may wish to refer to the time line of events leading up to the Iranian revolution for context.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70’s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]

[Ed. personal address]
Hermosa Beach, California
?Impiety is our only Sacred Cow?

November 1978
Volume III. No. 10

Our October study class meeting featured a report by Tony Lee on the two-day Baha’i Studies Seminar at Cambridge University held from September 30 to October 1. It also took up the topic of the current political unrest in Iran and how that affects the Persian Baha’i community.

Tony reported that the Baha’i Studies seminar was called to survey a variety of scholarly topics. Those participating included Peter Smith1 studying sociology at. the University of Loncaster; Moojan Momen, research assistant to Hasan Balyuzi (now assisting the Hand of the Cause with an upcoming book on Baha’u’llah); Denis MacEoin, pursuing a doctorate in Oriental Studies at Cambridge and working on Babi history; Wendy Momen, who holds a doctorate in International Relations; Loni Bramson, studying the history of religions as the Catholic University of Luvain and doing her dissertation on the Faith; Viva Perdu, doing a doctorate in theology at Oxford and writing a dissertation comparing Baha’i and Christian notions of the Kingdom of God. In all, about 35 people attended the conference. Most were spectators. (An official report, of the seminar can be obtained by sending the equivalent of one British pound to Denis MacEoin, Kings College, Cambridge University, England.)

Most of the discussion at the seminar centered on the justification of Baha’i Studies at this point in Baha’i history, the methodology which the Baha’i scholar should use and the role of the Baha’i scholar in the community. Tony summarized some of the highlights of the session which interested him most.

Several of those attending the seminar agreed that, within the last 30 to 40 years, there has been very little Baha’i scholarship. Most of the commentaries on the Faith which we use now in the West were written during the 1920’s and 1930’s. They focus on the problems of that time: war and peace, international cooperation, race relations, etc. Since that time there have been few new ideas introduced into the Baha’i community.

This is because Shoghi Effendi, beginning in the late 30’s turned the attention of the Baha’i Community toward the urgent need for the Baha’i Faith to become a world religion. Scholarship dwindled under the Guardianship. However, in the 1930’s most outside observers who noticed the Faith at all came to the conclusion that it was a Persia religious movement which had spread in some circles in the West, but had gone about as far as it would go outside of its native land.

Shoghi Effendi directed a series of global campaigns which were able to spread the Faith all over the planet and forever change the character of the Baha’i community. Nonetheless, the activity of expansion and multiplication occupied the Faith and its followers almost exclusively on through the 1960’s and into the 1970’s. And it was argued, that emphasis left the Faith largely unprepared to face the social crises which the world must deal with today. While it is true that the Faith has solutions to the world problems today the major works by the believers which interpret what these solutions might be — such as those of Horace Holley and John Esslemont were written in a different period and in the idiom of a different age. The remedies offered in those books are largely obsolete and irrelevant to current considerations. This leaves the average believer simply unprepared to address contemporary social issues, such as world starvation, population explosion. neo-colonialism, world socialism, ecology arid pollution, women’s liberation, economic exploitation, the alienation of industrial society, dwindling fuel resources. etc.

It was argued at the conference that the American Baha’i Community is in a State of stagnation due to a lack of ideas arid a paucity of discussion which fosters change and growth. Therefore, Baha’i scholarship is an essential priority at this time, if the community is to grow arid develop. Often teaching at the local level has become a formula recitation of the ?12 Principles? (most of which are already realized or have been supplanted as front-rank social concerns in most parts of the world). While the conferees seed to agree that a steady stream of ideas and proposals is essential to the development of the Faith, they also argued the lack of fresh impulse is one of the reasons that the teaching work is now so difficult and consolidation such a problem in most parts of the world.

Many of those attending the Cambridge seminar were concerned that new ideas should be presented in a gentle and non-threatening manner. Challenging old ways of thinking or overturning popular myths may well shake the faith of some. There is a need for Baha’i scholars to exchange ideas and devise some way to have them filter through to the community at large. As things stand now, the practices and concerns of the scholar are not those of the mass of the faithful. To most Baha’is, tracking down the historical errors in “The Dawn Breakers” is not only a pointless exercise, but possibly heretical as well. How can the scholar communicate what he is trying to do to the body of the believers?

Also discussed was the issue of censorship and review, Although Shoghi Effendi declared that the review of any materials on the Faith written by Baha’is by the administrative institutions which is now required was a temporary measure, it has been in force now for more than 50 years and shows no signs of withering away. How much, if any censorship ought to be permitted in the Baha’i community? If a scholar spends several years researching some topic in the Faith. who is qualified to review his work? Who can challenge the accuracy of his conclusions besides someone who has spent as much time researching the topic as he has. Doesn’t this place the scholar in the position of having to submit his work to a committee which may be wholly ignorant of the topic upon which he has written. And this committee has the absolute right (with the approval of the National Spiritual Assembly involved) to prevent his work from being published.

The topic of Baha’i methodology, especially in the area of history, raised questions of what assumptions the Baha’i scholar ought to make. Is “methodological agnosticism” (where the scholar essentially becomes a non-Baha’i for purposes of research) essential or ever legitimate? If the teachings of Baha’u’llah are for the illumination of the whole world, surely they can illumine scholarship at well. But how? As scholars how are we to regard the Central Figures of the Faith? What about the question of infallibility? Is it absolute or specific? We know that Shoghi Effendi is not to be regarded as infallible in matters of history. Where does this put Cod Passes By When accounts from Baha’i sources and Covenant-breaker sources differ diametrically and there are no third party accounts (there are dozens of historical incidents in which this is the case) should the Baha’i automatically accept the Baha’i version?

If the Cambridge Seminar wondered about these provocative topics, so did our class members as they discussed the same issues. In class, it was argued that we must establish new standards of scientific investigation. Our concepts of empiric investigation were formed during the Renaissance, when the basic criterion required that the scientist look with a neutral, unbiased eye at how natural phenomena performed. The outgrowth of this training is that now we have a scientific method which is devoid of faith. Perhaps a new form of scientific method must be developed, one that acknowledges the appearance of a Messenger of God Who has proclaimed the interdependency of science and religion. Still, an issue that was raise, but not resolved, is what impact this change might have on scientific investigation.

In our rambling discussion, we examined our own role as a class of interested observers (scholarship, in the strict sense of the word cannot be applied to our class), Over the past couple of years, we have examined a variety of topics, raised some provocative questions, but without any real effect on the Baha’i community at large. It was argued that we should intensify our efforts with the aim of making an impact with ideas on the policies and practices of the Baha’i community. The prevailing attitude iii the American community, at least, is that the Prophet comes and delivers a package (an instruction manual, perhaps) to the world. Then it is the simple task of His followers to just apply what has been revealed (that is, follow instructions). But, this notion leaves no room for thought or creativity on the part of the believers. Their only task is to become good robots. In fact, creativity is to be looked upon with suspicion and innovation avoided as possible heresy. But this view supposes a static society with no social change, and this is just not the history of man. Class members agreed that the Faith works best as an interchange between the individual and the institution. New ideas and new approaches are needed or religious notions become antiquated and a kind of spiritual arteriosclerosis sets in. Very often in the recent history of the Faith policy has come about as a result of just such an interchange. But that spirit seems to have evaporated, and now, more often than not, the body of the believers are expected to only carry out policies, rather than help form them.

Ironically, as the Faith became more institutionalized, the result of Shoghi Effendis work, individual Baha’is became less innovative and more dependent on the administrative institutions to do their thinking for them. This they are incapable of doing of course, because they were never intended to act as a substitute for individual thought.

As a result; in recent years, the Faith has become neglectful of the pressing social issues of our day. What (for example) are our stands on the issue of illegal aliens entering the United States?

What about busing to achieve school integration? What is the Baha’i response to the Marxist view of capitalist exploitation? (See also above.)

Some class members even objected that the same Baha’i principles which may have been clear 50 years ago are so no longer. The principles raise all sorts of questions. What is the equality of men and women? What does that mean for changing sexual roles? How do we apply this principle to real situations? How are men and women equal? it was pointed out that, looking at the Baha’i communities around the world, this principle seems to mean little in practice. The Baha’is have not distinguished themselves as models of sexual equality, but have followed the customs of their respective cultures. If we are supposed to be in the vanguard of social change why have we failed? For lack of fresh and new ideas to spur us on?

In our discussion, it was suggested that a series of weekend seminars on different topics involving Baha’is who are professionals or scholars in various fields ought to be formed to offer advice and suggestions to the National Assembly. But,others contended that it is just not that simple. One does not sit dawn on a weekend and bash out a raft of bright, new ideas. Such ideas must rise naturally from debate and discussion, within the Baha’i Community as a whole.

For such developments to take place, we must first agree that new ideas are necessary at all and commit ourselves, as a community, to some degree of intellectual life. Right now, the entire National thrust is towards spreading the Faith and multiplying its institution and nevermind new ideas. The achievement of statistical goals has gotten to the point that it is pointless and uninspiring. After a while no one cares if we have 1,400 or 1,800 local Spiritual Assemblies or how many languages Baha’i literature is translated into. The excessive concentrattons on such ?shopping list? goals has left the Baha’i community without any sense of culture or unique identification.

And what happens if our zeal for expansion pays off big? Suppose there is a massive influx of new believers’? Is the Baha’i community prepared to handle such an influx. Do we have the flexibility and adaptability to receive large numbers of people into the Faith and socialize them quickly — bringing them into the mainstream of Baha’i life and allowing them to change the course of that mainstream? Experience shows that we do not. Even the recent influx of deepened Persian believers into the United States has caused problems which we are not prepared to handle because we have never thought about them. How does a Baha’i community overcome a language barrier? Some communities in the Los Angeles area have chosen to have translations at the Feasts, while others have steadfastly refused to have them (except, perhaps, for the Treasurer’s Report). And what if Armenians and Chinese and Mexicans enter the Faith in large numbers all at once? Do we then translate into four languages? Do we ignore then and go on only in English?

Questions like these came a lot easier than answers. While we could ask how we should socialize ethnic minorities in the Baha’i community, we could not agree on the best methods, or how to safeguard the rights of Baha’i minorities. The unhappy conclusion we arrived at is that the administrative institutions have not identified problem areas. And barring some major re-thinking on the highest levels, we will continue with what one class member termed the ?body count’ theory of expansion which ignores the question of quality in the quest for quantity.

After a break our discussion shifted to the political situation in Iran, Attending our class session were a number of Iranian Baha’is, including one man who had recently returned from that crisis-torn country. He reported that the recent wave of anti-government demonstrations, strikes and riots has left Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi in a very bad situation. The Baha’is of Iran have not gone untouched by this widespread social upheaval. There have been hundreds of incidents of beatings, torture and other persecutions outside of Tihran, Our class was told of a Baha’i Center in Gurgun in the province of Mazindaran [Ed. alt spelling: Mazandaran] that was burned to the ground by a mob. Baha’is have been purged from all high government positions. Gen. Khademi, the head of Iran Air and a Baha’i, was fired from his job and them murdered by a group of Muslim youth.

Behind these incidents lies the fact that opposition to the Shah is spearheaded by religiously super-orthodox mullas who have deep antipathy for the Baha’i Faith. Since the pulpits of the mosques have remained for the last many years the only avenues of dissent which have not been crushed by the government of Iran, the frustrated masses of a nation have rallied behind these reactionary leaders. This places the Baha’is is a very dangerous position — especially if the Shah should fall.

Beyond this, there is an even more serious problem. Baha’is in Iran are popularly regarded as firm supporters of the Shah’s regime. In the eyes of the leftist revolutionaries, the Baha’i community is committed to the Pahlavi dynasty and, therefore is a common enemy. This is largely due to the fact that some prominent Baha’is have made fortunes by placing themselves in partnership with the royal family and participating in their corrupt dealings) and partially due to a general misunderstanding of the Baha’i Teachings on obedience to government. However, the Baha’i Community has not taken steps to make its neutrality in the current crisis clear.

Beyond this, the Persian Baha’is themselves have cone to confuse loyalty to government with support for the Shah. It was reported, for example, that it is a well-known fact that there are Baha’is who work for SAVAK, the Shah’s brutal secret police, notorious for systematic torture, of political prisoners. Rumors are rife in Iran that Amir Abbas Hoveida, the now-jailed ex-prime minister, is a secret Baha’i. (His father was a Covenant-breaker.) For years the Baha’i community did nothing to discourage these rumors. It was evidently felt that such misinformation would provide a measure of protection for the Baha’i community, With the fail of that minister and the wholesale expulsion of Baha’is from government posts, the community is suffering a double blow — partly of its own making.

The bottom line here appears to be that the Baha’i community of Iran is isolated and without allies in Persian society. Even the intellectual classes, who might have opposed the persecution of Baha’is on humanitarian grounds, have written off the Baha’is as servants of the Shah and, therefore, traitors to the nation. As for the Shah himself, his continued reign seems to be the only hope the Baha’is have of avoiding full-scale persecution. But, several class members agreed that the Shah would throw the Iranian Baha’i Community to the mobs without hesitation if he thought that it might shore up his tottering rule.

The Persian Baha’i Community may not be the only one to suffer from having become too identified with a repressive regime. One member of our class had received a letter from some American pioneers in South America. They reported that some native believers in their part of the world had been distressed by a photograph published in a recent issue of Baha’i News (June 1978, p; 13). That picture showed a group of Baha’is (including members of the Continental Board of Counsellors and the Chilean National Spiritual Assembly) posing with Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, the dictator of Chile. Gn. Pinochet, it is widely acknowledged, runs one of the most brutally regimes in Latin America. Further, in the picture in the Baha’i News, television cameras were clearly recording the event for the Chilean masses. By posing for pictures with the General, some class members argued, the Baha’is were allowing themselves to be used as pawns in a political game of power. They were giving a de-facto seal of approval to Pinochet’s government – a fact that may be remembered some day, if and when his regime is overthrown. And sometimes military regimes do not last long in South America.

Another class member related a story about the political naivet? of the Baha’is. In Belgium at one time the Baha’i community was asked to send some Persian believers to greet the Empress of Iran as she arrived in the airport in Brussels. Every Persian Baha’i in Brussels, save one, turned out to greet the Empress with smiling faces. The news media duly recorded the event. It turns out that no other Persians (non-Baha’is) in Belgium were told that the Empress was to arrive, because the government feared negative demonstrations which would cause some bad publicity, it seems that the Baha’is could he counted on to provide just the political support that the Persian government wanted. And the Baha’is went along, naively thinking that they were being honored by the government and, apparently without the slightest idea that their actions had any political implications.

NEXT CLASS

Actually, the next class has already been held. You will get the notes from that one shortly. But, the class after that will he held on December 17th (a Sunday) at 3:00 P.M. at the home of Anthony A. Lee (also known as Tony) [Ed. personal address and phone number follows] It is not clear just what the topic of the class will, be, bt uTony has been urged to give a lecture on African Traditional Religions and their relationship to the Baha’i Faith. And, if no one comes forward with some other presentation, then that’s what it will be. Everyone is requested to bring a needle or two to stick into some object which Tony is preparing. Come prepared!

[END DOCUMENT]

Related Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

LA Class Newsletter [#31]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER

My Notes:

This newsletter contains a summary of the presentation of Dr. Daniel Jordan on ANISA – a framework for education. Unfortunately, Dr. Jordan’s life was cut short by murder approximately four years from this LA class presentation; which left ANISA without a champion.

ANISA sounds very promising and it is most tragic that its founders’ life was so untimely cut. Who knows what it may have flowered into had it been given a chance? Searching on the internet, there are a few people (no doubt associates and partners of Dr. Jordan) who are continuing to work along similar lines. If you wish to learn more about Dr. Daniel C. Jordan, here is a biography written 10 years after his death.

It also bears highlighting that Dr. Jordan was inspired by Baha’i principles and values but that the framework that he developed was based not truly based on them. This is a limiting factor that I’ve seen in Baha’is of all fields – they automatically assume that the Baha’i Faith contains the answer for their field… be it agriculture, biology, commerce, etc…

The Faith is beautiful but it isn’t everything. Baha’i specialists may start with the Writings but to corral oneself inside them and insist that nothing else outside is of value is devastating. Sadly I’ve seen many Baha’is take this approach and their projects suffer for it. The Baha’i Faith can’t be wrangled and coerced to give answers to everything under the sun. Do you really think that God would make things as simple as that?

Or provide some sort of infallible oracle to which one can put all questions for the final answer?

Finally Dr. Jordan’s comment on Baha’i pioneers is interesting. His prediction hasn’t become reality but it is true that people are skeptical if all you offer is to preach. They’ve had enough of that. Especially in poverty stricken countries. What they need are real answers and solutions which are borne out of the seed of Faith that pioneers take with them.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70’s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]

[Ed. personal address]
Hermosa Beach, California 90254
October, 1978
Volume III, No. 9

Most of us went to school under an educational system that functioned as a kind of crude computer theory. Students, like machines, it was believed, could be programmed with knowledge by stuffing their heads full of facts — the multiplication tables, important dates in history, the parts of speech, etc. This approach to leaning is based on the notion that students are empty vessels, in school to be filled with a universe of knowledge. It has always found greater acceptance among educators than educatees.

But suppose that someone developed a theory of education that was less concerned with instilling some state-approved curriculum into the heads of pupils; but was more attuned to the development of the students’ inherent potential? In fact, such an event has already taken place and, at the September meeting of our study class, some 50 people crowded into the home of Sid and Karan Morrison to hear about it.

The speaker was Dr. Daniel Jordan, chair of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, discussing ANISA, a unique educational program he has developed over the last 18 years. In a lecture lasting more than two hours and representing ?only the tip of the iceberg,? as Jordan termed it, he outlined what the program is and how it works. Here is a summary of his talk:

The ANISA project recently has moved to the West Coast and is now centered in Escondido, California, a city about 100 miles south of Los Angeles. ANISA was refined at the University of Massachusetts but, after a ten-year association with that institution, the program had to decamp. Its departure was occasioned partly because of a $700 million state budget deficit which threatened to end the project’s funding and partly because of a restructuring of the university’s academic hierarchy which forecast a limited future for the experimental model.

Jordan, the founder and program head, decided to take ANISA out of the public sector, and put it under the sponsorship of a private university — an educational institution he founded. The decision to end ANISA’s association with recognized educational establishments was not an easy one to make. When it became apparent that the program at U. Mass. faced diminishing odds, some 27 colleges and universities were sounded out about giving it a home. There was some interest, but as Jordan recalled, “Their first questions were not about the quality of the ideas but were on political issues and money.”

That was not the only problem. In a couple of cases, university officials showed interest in the ANISA program and called back to
U. Mass. for references. They were told that ANISA was a Baha’i front organization for religious proselytizing. Interest waned after such misinformation was given them, despite ANISA denials.

There is considerable confusion, especially in the minds of Baha’is, about the nature of the ANISA program. Although ANISA draws some of its inspiration from the Baha’i Writings (and less than many Baha’is believe), it is not a “Baha’i educational system”. However, Anisa is an Arabic term meaning ?the tree of life? and, in a Baha’i context, has been identified by Abdu’l-Baha as symbolizing the Baha’i Covenant. In the early days of the program, the word ANISA was used as an acronym for “American National Institute for Social Advancement”. This usage seems to have been discarded now.) In the Baha’i Writings, a great emphasis is place on education, the purpose of which is to develop latent human potentials, according to Baha’u’llah. However, Baha’u’llah never specified what would constitute a proper education and Shoghi Effendi wrote that future scholars would have to figure out what such an education would entail.

When ANISA was moved to the West Coast, Jordan took over a financially ailing institution called California American University and started a Master of Science program in education at the new school. It is here that the experiment resumes.

ANISA came into being during the early 1960’ s when Jordan began wondering why the educational system all but ignored the exploration of how humans develop and learn. While new discoveries generally take about three years to penetrate the scientific community, in education, 50 years can pass before any innovative thinking makes its influence felt in the classroom. Learning in America and elsewhere has concentrated on the development of curriculum, excluding much consideration about the person to be educated. There is no fundamental statement about the nature of man [and] the direction of his development through education.

ANISA is one approach to such a system, and one that attempts to create an educational system based on spiritual, and scientific values. The initial work for creating such a system began with a survey of the Baha’ i Writings regarding learning, but that was not satisfactory, for there still was not enough there on which to base an educational system. The groundwork made progress when a survey of the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, and English philosopher, turned up his observation that the success of any unified system requires a basic principle around which everything else is organized. That discovery led ANISA researchers to ask themselves what the first principle of education is. Queries to professors of education did not help much, for none of them knew what such a first principle might be and a few dismissed the importance of even having such a basic statement.

The search for a first principle led to a survey of the educational literature of the twentieth century and a tabulation of statements about the nature of man. But the search kept returning to Whitehead’s writings and his musings on the nature of the Universe. Whitehead observed that when one sees the universe, what one sees is change. Change is process and it presupposes potentiality. Translating potential into actuality is creativity, the philosopher wrote. Based on this notion, the ANISA founders decided that the purpose of their system would be to translate a child’s potential into actuality. That became the organizing principle.

Ironically, for a system that is designed to develop a child’s potential, ANISA has never commanded enough money to run its own school. It has, for the most part, concentrated on training teachers. As Jordan explained it, what a teacher believes about a child influence how the teacher will instruct and the child will learn. “If you think that kids are mean little monsters, then you will relate to them in that way and on that basis, and help create a self-fulfilling prophecy Therefore, ANISA programs have concentrated on teaching teachers not reduce the ability of students to absorb education by patronizing or humiliating the children.

Over the eighteen years of its existence. ANISA has refined a philosophical statement that is expressed through its theory of development. Since development is the realization of inner potential, ANISA programs, in part, focus on problems of development. It was discovered, for example, that development was brought about through interaction with the environment. Therefore, from the ANISA point of view, teaching means arranging the environment so as to foster the development of the child’s potential. Two factors were revealed to come into play here: biological and psychological.

After examining the matter, ANISA researchers came to the conclusion that the basis of biological development is nutrition. As Jordan put it “A significant percentage of the world’s children are mentally deficient — simply because of inadequate diet.” ANISA spent $1.5 million in grant funds on this aspect of education alone, field testing the nutrition theory over a five-year period and proving a link between proper diet and the ability to pay attention to what the teacher is saying. “Poor nutrition leads to limited attention and limited learning,” Jordan said, adding, “We find a large number of kids with learning deficiencies that are nutritionally related. Under the ANISA system, even teachers have to understand the importance of proper diet for themselves. “Being with kids is stressful, in case you haven’ t noticed,” Jordan quipped.

Tuning to the psychological aspects of development potential, the ANISA model divides these into five categories: psychomotor, perceptual, cognitive. affective and volition.

PSYCHOMOTOR development was defined as the capacity to differentiate between body muscles and control them. The point here is that gaining psychomotor control of one’s body increases one’s potential and leads to success in other learning areas. A child who is not confident about using his body will shy away from new learning environments out of fear and will limit his own growth.

PERCEPTION relates to the ability to take in visual information and make sense out of it. This ability varies from child to child and must be developed for the student to gain better advantage of the learning process.

COGNITIVE development has to do with thinking, which everyone agrees is important, but no one can define with precision. ANISA has a cognitive competence curriculum that focuses on teaching a child how to think. Most schools concentrate on teaching children what to think but not necessarily how to think or use critical judgment.

AFFECTIVE deals with learning and organizing emotion, one of the most powerful and least understood influences on human behavior. Jordan noted that people are seldom in charge of their emotions, and it is feeling, more than abstract thinking, that influence human behavior. Under the ANISA model, emotions are placed in two categories: those which relate to hope and enhance development and those that have their basis in fear and impair development.

VOLITION (Will): relates how to pay attention, a subject that is never taught in schools. Young students are required to hold their minds on a particular subject, but never taught how to do so. Volition training centers on the ability to set goals and create steps to accomplish those goals.

During the question period, Jordan was asked whether ANISA had ever attempted to prove its theories through field experience. He responded that ANISA had been field tested, for five years, but that, there had never been enough money to found an ANISA school to verify the system’s fundamental ideas. One overall test was conducted in Springfield Mass. school system where an ANISA program was temporarily installed. Jordan said that data collected found reading scores were significantly higher for the ANISA-trained students than a non-ANISA control group. He also appeared to reject the notion of strict scientific proof, at least in part. The rigid and narrow criteria demanded for accurate field testing have only limited meaning in proving our ANISA, he said, because such variables as personal belief simply defy measurement. Even the ANISA modal rests on the recognition that a child has some control over his own development. There is no way one can predict with 100% accuracy what humans will do; they are just too complex to be measured with reliable accuracy.

Along the way, Dr. Jordan mode one interesting digression in which he touched on the future of Baha’ i pioneering. The influence of the Faith is not spreading through its assimilation in the American population. He noted, for example, that the birthrate in the United States is about 10,000 babies born every day “and our enrollment isn’t even close to that.” But, bypassing American society, the Baha’i Faith could make significant inroads in the world’s social agencies, a more important target group. This could come to pass by training Baha’is in any of a variety of occupational skills, such as agronomy, land reclamation, and the like. These are skills essential to developing nations. As the world’s political situation hardens, it is less and less likely that Baha’is will gain admission to Third World countries if their approach is purely as religious missionaries. But, if they can offer the technical skills that match their religious dedication, they can have a potent influence on the course of events in such nations.

Dr. Jordan was asked about the likelihood of having the ANISA model adopted by some major school district. He said that he hoped that would happen, but that the ANISA program would not compromise its principles for the sake of being so adopted. He related his presentation of ANISA to the chiefs of the Navaho Reservation. Some of the traditional old men asked if a child, having gone through the ANISA system would still participate in rain dances with his tribe. Jordan replied carefully that the ANISA child might dance for reasons of social solidarity, but would not believe that the dance would bring rain. The chiefs were not happy with his answer.

One class member remarked that if ANISA intends to socialize children into a full, new cosmology, it is unlikely that it will find acceptance by any society, since they will quite naturally want to protect, their own cultural values.

POSTSCRIPT DEPARTMENT…

Betty Conow of Hacienda Heights sent us a letter to clear up some points Which she feels were incorrectly summarized in the previous newsletter and not presented in the way she would have done. Regarding the newsletter report on Wittgenstein’s paradox, she wrote that the view presented in the notes was not what she presented in the class: “Your view is from his ?Tractatus’ a philosophical stand he completely reversed later.” {Actually, the newsletter summary of “Wittgenstein’s paradox” was culled from notes taken when a college philosophy instructor was contacted for an explanation of the term.} To resume from her letter: “His paradox is quite of a different order. In his first view, he distinguished between mind and matter (objects in the world) and said language merely labels object, etc., in the manner of the logical positivists. This view still admits to the reality of both subjective and objective principles. Later, in ?Philosophical Investigations? and his lectures, he essentially denies that mind and matter exist at all, except as words we invent to give order to things. He says that language creates reality God, Mind, etc. are all part of our language games. If enough people agree on what a word means and agree as to how the word should be used, then order is created. That is the Wittgenstein dilemma — all philosophy, religion, mysticism, then are simply games we play within a context we all agree to abide by
the rules. I am not an expert on Wittgenstein; I am only interested in creating a framework of intelligibility that destroys his paradox. His own argument is of course, based upon just another language game itself.”

Continuing she wrote, “I’m not say that ?God exists within the cosmos as a Creative Force’ to imply that God apportioned a part of Himself as a Force with discernible properties. What I talked about was the important distinction between creation as emanation rather than as manifestation and is the crucial point of argument between Baha’i and those religions which are pantheistic. I remember speaking to that point extensively.

“I never did explain the smaller separate chart that appeared on the handout. It should have been framed or blocked to show that it was not a part of the larger chart. However, it portrays as a symbol what the other chart portrays in words. ‘Reality of realities’ signifies all that is fundamental or all that which underlies all reality. Sometimes Abdu’l-baha uses this phrase to mean this and sometimes He uses it to mean God. There is no cut and dried definition for it — if there were any further meditation upon this idea would effectively be cut off.

“The smaller chart shows Reality as One, portrayed by a Sphere. In the material world of relativities we all look at Reality and see it, not as One but as separate ‘points,’ dissimilar aspects of one thing. The popular Sufi fable of the blind men feeling the elephant, all touching different parts of it, and so all supposing only ?his’ sensory experience is correctly describing the elephant, and getting into endless arguments about it. That is what the smaller chart was supposed to convey, although no one even asked me what it meant…

“It is right that I didn’t want to use the intellectual tools that most of us apply to solve all problems. To do so means we have not escaped Wittgenstein’s paradox — that we will only end up talking about definitions of words and not best to use them. It was the very problem I set out to answer a different way, using different tools…”

NEXT CLASS:

The next class will be held on October 29th on a Sunday afternoon at 3:00 P.M. at the home Mehrdad Amanat. His address is [Ed. personal address follows]. At this class Tony Lee will present his resent trip to England where he attended a Seminar on Baha’i Studies held at Cambridge University. He will speak on some of the issues that were raised at that seminar and some of the controversies which were left unresolved. You all be there, y’heah!

[END DOCUMENT]

Related Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

LA Class Newsletter [#30]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER

My Notes:

I found this newsletter a bit dry and boring. But maybe that’s just me. Hope you enjoy it more than I did.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70’s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]

[Ed. personal address]
?Land of the Slightly Fat?

Vol. III, No.8
August, 1970

“Hierarchies, Analogies, and Degrees of Reality: A Model,? represents an ambitious effort by Betty Conow of Hacienda Heights (a town east of Los Angeles) to set out a Baha’i view of Reality. Her cosmology, based on the Baha’i Writings, presents an approach to explaining existence as an ordered system, describing what is and how it works.

Conow made her presentation to our study class on August 27, as we met in the lavishly appointed environs of Tony Lee’s apartment, renowned for its sumptuous delights including newly installed hot arid cold, running wenches. Her paper was offered to our class, partly in reaction to an earlier class discussion of John S. Hatcher’s essay ?The Metaphorical Nature of Physical Reality,? In that paper, originally presented to the Canadian Association for Studies on the Baha’i Faith, Hatcher outlined the reasons that mankind, which is fundamentally spiritual, should have a material plane of existence. The Conow reaction to some of Hatcher’s concepts amounted to an elaborate survey of Reality, as viewed through the vehicle of religion. She asserted that the fundamental purpose of religion is to reveal truth to humanity which it does by showing mankind how to understand Reality.

Here, is a summary of her presentation: (The attached charts and short statement were passed out during the course of the class.)

Once we know the reality of things, we can understand what truth is. Truth is those statements made about the condition of reality. And, Reality is all that exists potentially, presently or in the past. There are two ways of considering reality. One is man’s way, that is, from within the system of the universe as part of it. The other lies outside the system, and it is God’s way. Human knowledge uses its own criteria, learned through intellectual discovery, to judge reality. Religion, however, establishes a different standard.

This presents a formidable problem, especially in contemporary philosophy. For instance, two twentieth-century thinkers, Kurt Godel, a German scientist, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher, both argued that the language we use to discuss Reality itself limits our inquiry.

Wittgenstein, for example, wrote that when men wish to discuss a concept, say, a chair, they do so not by considering the chair, but through the use of language to describe the object. The use of language involves symbolic representations. And these representations themselves limit the field of inquiry. Wittgenstein argued, therefore, that it is not possible for man to look outside the system in which he lives because his language — the tools of his exploration — limit him in finite terms.

Conow challenged that assertion, countering that one of the roles of the Manifestation of God is to present an ?outside view of reality, one that is not constrained by human limitations, riot the limited proofs the mind of man can muster. Her thesis has it that religion, even from ancient times, has presented Reality as existing in various degrees or, as she called them, hierarchies, which stem from one Source which we call God.

Her theme was not an easy one to follow. Consider this passage from the pr?cis she presented to the class: ?The created universe of existence, being composed of matter, reflects Reality on different levels, depending upon which material level each created thing occupies in the cosmic hierarchic order. Each level or hierarchy can reflect only certain aspects of Reality dictated by the laws of that particular hierarchy. We, from the vantage point of our own limited conditions, occupy a unique hierarchy which is simultaneously both the lowest and the highest of all Hierarchies. At our level, Reality is the most differentiated, thereby presenting us with an enigma which speaks both of Oneness and its Appearances.

?Science and philosophy interpret these multiplicities as the standard of Truth whereby all truth and knowledge can be known. The material, visible world encloses us in logic based on probabilities and relativities. inside the system, we define it only by the criteria the system itself provides.

Conow’s presentation continued with a section on analogies and. hierarchies. Reality exists within a setting Like a series of Chinese puzzle boxes, each level lodged within a larger level. This order of things resembles the set Theory of science which holds that everything that exists operates in obedience to the rules of a system. For instance, an atom functions within a system which itself is part of a larger system o the molecule, and so on up the line.

Although mankind is part of this system, human knowledge of it can transcend the limits of the levels through the Manifestation. The Prophet, with Divine Knowledge, understands and explains the entire system, helping man become informed of the workings of the material universe. Manifestations explain the Divine workings by using analogy and symbolism in their language. The purpose of such indirect language is to open up humanity’s inner consciousness. Language is not used so much to communicate ideas as it is wielded to achieve a spiritual reflect on the reader.

The model of Reality presented in the Baha’i Faith amounts to a recasting of an older religious model, connecting the finite, material world to the infinite. In an attempt to demonstrate this link, Conow passed out a chart (see diagram) She defined ?cosmos? as everything, that exists, either in potential or in reality. (This definition struck one member of the class as being disturbingly close to the definition of Reality.) Within the cosmos is the material universe. God, she said, exists within the cosmos as a Creative Force, a Fashioner of all that is, and outside of it as an unknowable Essence. God than has a ?Hidden Aspect?, which we can be told of but do not know of, and a ?Manifest Aspect?, the evidences of which exist as the created, material universe.

Our discussion of Mrs. Conow’s presentation proved to be somewhat of a frustrating experience, for her as well as for the class members. For example, on her chart, Conow placed ?The Reality of Realities? outside the cosmos. But she had, in response to a question, defined the cosmos as everything, all potential and all that exists. A similar definition had been given to ?Reality.? So then, it was asked, how could there be a separate ?Reality of Realities? outside of what she already defined as Reality? And what would such a thing be, anyhow? Conow said that the term ?Reality of Realities? was used by Abdu’l-Baha, but failed to explain its place in the scheme of things or why she chose to include it as part of her chart.

A similar collapse in communication occurred over the concept of what she called ?The Inner Path of Mysticism,? Linking certain enlightened men to God. (See chart.) Essentially, this mystic path is one taken by religious devotees and mystics in an effort to attain unity with God. It is an important concept in Sufi lsam. Baha’u’llah’s work, The Seven Valleys, which traces the journey of the soul back to its Creator, uses the Sufi model of seven stages. Mystics of all stripes, Sufis, Buddhists and the rest, all have claimed to have taken this path (using whatever means their religion prescribed) to attain oneness with God. Baha’is do not believe that such union with divinity is possible. As such it is not possibe to transcend finite limitations to attain a meeting with the infinite.

Still, such a path exists on Conow’s chart and it appears that it leads directly to God. If such is the case, she was asked, why bother with all the rest. What is the use or the Manifestations? Conow replied that, though mystics believe that they have encompassed the whole cosmos within themselves, they have only traveled the path, which is just a small part of the cosmos. So, what is ?the path?? And, if it lends directly to God, why bother with anything else?

Class members received no satisfactory answer to this question, partly because Conow said that she did not wish to become trapped in Wittgenstein’s paradox — being hampered by the limits of language used in an argument. In essence, it appeared that she was unwilling to get into an intellectual analysis of her elaborate system. In particular she felt that a precise definition of terms was inappropriate. That, she implied, would eliminate any possibility of understanding what lies outside the material system because the meanings of words torpedo such an exercise.

When her refusal to talk in specifics became clear, discussion was impossible. The Conow thesis was presented on what amounted to a ?take it or leave it? basis. At least some of the class members chose the latter course.

ABOUT TRANSITIONS

Our valued class members, Jon and Chris Hendershot have left the Los Angeles area and are pioneering in Venezuela. We wish then well and miss them, especially Chris, who patiently typed up and proofread these newsletters. She denies that an overwhelming desire to escape the tedium of such activities played a major role in the decision to go pioneering.

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

Tony Lee, our class leader, has forsaken his life of posh lassitude to become a partner in the newly created publishing firm of ?Kalimat Press? based in Los Anqeles. Actually, the company is a partnership between Tony and one other Baha’i. The object of the company is to produce Baha’i-related materials. Tony and his partner feel that an alternative to the Baha’i Publishing Trust in Wilmette is needed in the United States (similar to George Ronald in England).

Right now the company is working on Baha’i children’s materials. But if there are any good manuscripts floating around out there in need of a Baha’i publisher, their starry-eyed authors might write to Kalimat Press, [Ed. business address follows]. (Remember: It never hurts budding authors to be obsequious.)

YES THERE WILL BE A NEXT CLASS:

Dr. Daniel Jordan, member and chairman at the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, recently moved to California with his family. His Anisa program, an approach to education based on Baha’i principles, has moved with him. At our next class Dr. Jordan will speak about Anisa and the Baha’i view of childhood education.

The class will be held. on Saturday evening, September 23rd at 8 P.M. at the home of Sidney and Karan Morrison. The address is: [Ed. personal address and telephone follows]

See you all there !

HIERARCHIES, ANALOGIES, THE DEGREES OF REALITY
A MODEL

Click to make bigger:

mysteries-of-reality-conow

Click to make bigger:

reality-conow

This presentation covers two ways of looking at Reality–from inside our system, or man’s way and from outside the system, God’s Way, or Revealed Religion. The mainstream of Revealed Religion and the ancient religious traditions have all presented Reality as existing in degrees, gradients, or hierarchies, emanating from the Undifferentiated Whole as One Reality. The created universe or existence being composed of matter, reflects Reality on different levels, depending upon which material level each created thing occupies in the cosmic hierarchic order. Each level or hierarchy can reflect only certain aspects of Reality dictated by the laws of that particular hierarchy. We, from the vantage point of our own limited conditions occupy a unique hierarchy which is simultaneously both the lowest and the highest of all hierarchies. At our level, Reality is the most differentiated thereby presenting us with an enigma which speaks both of Oneness and Appearances, Science and philosophy interpret these multiplicities as the standard of Truth whereby all truth and knowledge can be known. The material, visible world encloses us In logic based on probabilities and relativities. Inside the system, we define it only by the criteria the system itself provides.

If the Holy Teachers did not exist, there would be no way to make any statements about anything outside our system. All knowledge of the non-visible or the Divine Spiritual World comes from these Holy Beings. They alone experienced, lived in, and shared with humanity the living Reality behind all realities. With knowledge from that World They were able to establish the relationships and correspondences that exist between the Spiritual World and the created universe of phenomena, They explained the motions, the energies, and the forces which manifest themselves eternally as Universal Laws in both worlds. Through Their religions they balance our laws as social beings so that the two-worlds may be in harmony and connected,

8/22/78
Betty Conow

[END DOCUMENT]

Related Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

LA Class Newsletter [#29]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER

My Notes:
This LA Class newsletter is interesting because it contains the research of Ms. Loni Bramson-Lerche. A quick search on the internet found this paper she wrote in “Studies in Babi and Baha’i History”, titled: Some Aspects of the Development of the Baha’i Administrative Order in America.

She presents her preliminary research resultson Horace Holley, NSA secretary and in his era, the most prominent member of the American Baha’i community. I had already read from other Baha’i theologians that Holley played a pivotal role, as secretary of the NSA, in forming the community and making decisions. The impression given was that he had an autocratic streak. But what Ms. Bramson reveals is even beyond this.

The newsletter also contains information about an upcoming Baha’i Studies seminar to be held in Cambridge, UK.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70’s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]

[private home address]
Hermosa Beach, California 90254
August 3, 1978

Newsletter
Vol. III, No. 7

Dear Friends,

Well, much to everyone’s surprise yet another issue of the class newsletter is being sent out. The study group is still on shaky ground, however, especially where finances are concerned. This mailing will use up our last few dollars. Our mailing list has grown quite large and of course, subscribers outside of the United States have not (so far) been asked to pay. Since we do not know how many issues of this newsletter will see the light, we are reluctant to ask for more subscriptions. But, if any of you out there (especially the overseas folks) would like to make a voluntary donation to our worthy cause, please send same to the above address made out to Anthony Lee. Otherwise, we are broke.

Baha’i Studies Seminar, Cambridge — Sept. 30 – Oct. 1

The last page of this newsletter reproduces information on the Seminar on Baha’i Studies organized by some English Baha’is doing academic work on the Baha’i Faith which will be held later this year. You will note that you may obtain a copy of the seminar report (notes on the proceedings) for just 50p (about $1). We hope that many of our readers will take advantage of this opportunity and that some of you will even be inspired to attend in person. Remember, air fares are cheap nowadays!

LONI BRAMSON’S PRESENTATION

At our last class we had the pleasure of having Loni Bramson give a presentation on her work on her doctoral dissertation and her research is the National Baha’i Archives in Wilmette. Ms. Bramson has been a pioneer to Belgium for the last four years. She is currently studying at the Catholic Univerity of Louvain, majoring in contemporary history. Her dissertation will be on the history of the Baha’i Faith. She is focusing on the early years of the Guardianship, from about 1921 to 1937. It will be concerned with the transformation which Shoghi Effendi wrought in the Baha’i community during those years and the opposition which he faced within that community. Before coming to Los Angeles, Ms. Bramson spent two weeks during research in Wilmette.

Ms. Bramson explained to the class that it seems that within the last two or three years Baha’i Studies in Europe has really begun to take off. She named several Baha’is and one or two non-Baha’is who are doing academic work on the Baha’i Faith in England, France, Austria and elsewhere. She estimated that there may be ten scholars now doing graduates work on some area of Baha’i Studies. She pointed to the two seminars which have been held at the University of Lancaster (under the direction of Peter Smith) and the one whcih will soon be held at Cambridge. The hope is that these seminars, sponsored by academic institutions will help to give Baha’i Studies a “stamp of academic approval.”

Ms. Bramson also noted that there has been a revival of interest in the Babi Faith generally in academic circles. Recent books written by non-Baha’is have dealt with this subject extensively. Our speaker expressed the hope that these developments would one day lead to the teaching of courses on the Babi and Baha’i Faiths at major universities around the world.

Anthony Lee suggested that there may not be a real upsurge of Baha’i Studies in Europe, but rather an upsurge in communication between scholars doing this kind of work. He guessed that there must be more Baha’is doing academic research on aspects of the Faith in the United States than there are in Europe, but that the American scholars are lamentably out of touch with one another.

Dr. Amin Banani asked for a definition for a definition of “Baha’i Studies.” Loni responded that she felt that anyone doing graduate or post-graduate research at a university on some aspect of the Baha’i Faith was involved in Baha’i Studies. This is a loose term which applies to a wide area.

At this point, Dr. Banani asked an interesting and pointed question. How do the Baha’is who are presently studying the Faith on an academic level in Europe see themselves, especially in relation to earlier Baha’i scholars? How do they see the work that they are doing in relationship to the work which has gone before, for instance the work of Mirza Abu’l-Fazl [Ed. alt. spelling Mirza Abu’l-Fadl]? are they continuing in a tradition or are they starting a new tradition?

Loni replied that she felt that the scholars studying today were aware of the past and saw themselves in some way carrying on a tradition. However, Anthony Lee objected that he felt that Baha’is studying the Faith in Europe today very much saw themselves as a new breed. Though they may be aware of the scholarship which has gone before, they see themselves as distinctly different from Baha’i scholars of the past… more detached, more “scientific”, perhaps, more “objective”. They are not acting as apologists for the Faith, but as detached academics.

Loni admitted that she could not speak for the other Baha’is studying the Faith in Europe, but that her work at least is something new. There has been no academic work or serious research done on the Ministry of Shoghi Effendi. One reason that she picked that field was that it is untouched.

Dr. Banani was asked to clarify his point. He replied that he felt that the consciousness of any group of intellectuals who see themselves as breaking new ground must include their own relationship to the past. Part of any ?scientific method” must be a firm knowledge of the intellectual history of one’s field. He wondered how equipped present Baha’i scholars are to see themselves in the history of Baha’i scholarship? Can they really see where they stand? Others objected that it really may not be fair to ask where present scholars stand in relation to history? Does anyone know where he stands? Can he see himself that clearly? And besides, it is probably too soon to say.

Our speaker explained that one reason that Baha’is have been drawn to enter Baha’i Studies on an academic level is their desire to rid the Faith of misinformation which is commonly passed around and believed Baha’is. She explained that she was partially motivated by that reason. For instance, Baha’is often say that there is no ritual or dogma in the Baha’i faith. But, this is simply untrue. There is plenty of both. [Ed. Hand written note: ?Can’t say this unless you define terms! SR]

One class member wondered if there are really major adjustments to be made in our understanding of the Baha’i Faith. Are Baha’i scholars really liable to change the way we look at things, say, fifty or hundred years from now? Several Baha’is thought that the answer is decidedly ?yes?. Moreover, they maintained, the whole Baha’i Faith is changing. After all, the way Baha’is say the Faith fifty or one-hundred years ago has changed drastically.

Ms. Bramson pointed out that one of the problems with doing work on the Faith at a Catholic University is the lack of supervision and assistance from professors. Both of her supervisors are Catholic priests who, know next to nothing about the Baha’i Faith. They have simply left her alone and she has had to seek guidance from within the Baha’i Community. Even here there is little help.

Dr. Banani suggested that is probably better for Baha’is to take up Baha’i Studies after they have already obtained a higher degree in some other field. There is a general lack of supervision and sympathy on the part of one’s superiors. Beyond this there are positive hindrances. Most non-Baha’i scholars will be suspicious of the motives and objectivity of any Baha’i who is studying his own religion, scientific method notwithstanding. After one has proved himself in a neutral field, then he can enter the arena of Baha’i Studies with firm academic credentials.

Ms. Bramson explained to the class that her work had gone through a number of stages. She first intended to do a doctoral thesis on the history of the Faith during the stewardship of the Hands of the Cause —1957-1963. She wrote to the House of Justice concerning this matter and they wrote back to her suggesting that she not use this as the topic of her thesis. They gave no reason. The Rouse also expressed concern that she was going to do work on the Faith at such an eminent Catholic University and asked her to work closely with her LSA and the Counsellor for her area. Loni said that she is happy that she did not pursue her topic on the Hands of the Cause since she feels that too little time has elapsed to give us a proper perspective on those years.

Ms. Branson introduced the class to the work which she had done in the National Baha’i Archives by reading a statement which was presented to the government by the Baha’i community shortly before the turn of the century and recorded in the United States Census of 1900. The statement made it clear that one could be a Baha’i and still be a member of another church or religion. It said that the Faith had no organization of its own, but that it as spread through meetings called ?Assemblies? which were open to all who wished to attend. This statement was repeated in the U.S. Census of 1920, apparently with the permission of the Baha’is.

Our speaker explained that the Faith was in this unstructured state at the time that Shoghi Effendi became the Guardian and that he transformed the community into something else. She is interested in studying the history of this transformation — how it came about, what ideas had an influence on Shoghi Effendi, what internal opposition he faced, etc.

At this point some members of the class cautioned against too great an emphasis on the unstructured nature of the Baha’i Community before 1921. They pointed out that the statement published by the Census Bureau was written only six or seven years after the Faith had been introduced into this country and when the believers were still fuzzy about its true nature. It cannot really be used as a statement of the Baha’i situation in 1920, regardless of whether or not it happened to be reprinted. The class recalled the report on Peter Smith’s paper on the history of the American Baha’i Community which was given at an earlier class meeting, (See Vol.. III, No. 5.) Smith noted that there had always been a faction of the Baha’i Community which was interested in organization and structure. It was true that there was also a part of the community opposed to organization, but Abdu’l-Baha had Himself given approval for a substantial transformation in the community by the time of His ascension. So we cannot say that Shoghi Effendi was doing something entirely new when be began to construct a uniform administrative order for the Faith.

Loni acknowledged that this is true. She further noted that her research indicated that the two factions of the Baha’i Community —- the organizers and the anti-organizers — continued to exist until about 1940. By then almost all of the Baha’is had accepted the need for an Administrative Order and acknowledged its importance.

Our speaker explained that most of her research in the National Archives consisted of a study of the letters of the National Spiritual Assembly to the Guardian. These were written by Horace Holley. The letters are organized up to about 1940, so that is as far as she could go. Loni explained that Horace Holley played in the early years, carried on an extensive, almost personal, correspondence with the Guardian in the early, formative years of Baha’i Administration. She said that she was deeply impressed by the important role which Horace Holley played in the development of Baha’i Administration. It seamed to her that many of the ideas end institutions which later became part of the Administrative Order were first suggested by Holley to the Guardian. The Guardian then picked up on then ideas refined and modified them and made them part of the Baha’i Faith.

Loni cautioned that her research findings were only tentative. She has not had a chance to study her notes or to really develop firm ideas yet. In any case, her impressions were extremely interesting and useful.

Loni explained that the Archives facilities at the National Baha’i Center are still quite small. By no means is everything there organized for use by researchers. Only one archivist is employed there, Mr. Roger Dahl. When Loni was there he was in the process of organizing the papers of Agnes Parsons.

She was able to use some materials in the Archives, but unable to see other things. The files of the International Goals Committee are closed to researchers, for instance, probably because they contain personal information about pioneers – The minutes of the National spiritual Assembly are not open. Neither are the letters of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly, primarily because they are not yet organized. Loni noted that the personal papers of Horace Holley collected in Wilmette are extremely sparse, primarily because most of his correspondence was carried on as the secretary of the National Assembly.

AND, ANOTHER LETTER FROM PETER SMITH:

?Humble apologies for once again writing to your esteemed journal with comments on your presentation of a paper given by myself. This time it’s concerning the Vol. III, No. 5, May 1979 issue.

?The account is generally fine but the comments on early Baha’i factionalism grossly overstate my argument. Whilst the larger communities of Chicago and N.Y. were often badly divided by cliquishness, even they were not characterized by completely mutually antagonistic groups. The situation was one of fluidity. There were cliques and there ware tendencies towards division, but there was also co-existence and a fair degree of tolerance. The sense of common identity as followers of ?Abdu’l-Baha overrode much of the division. In Chicago, where the situation was probably worst, the crunch came in 1917/18 with the allegations of Covenant-breaking and the resultant departure of one of the ?factions’ from the community. In the smaller communities the situation was more straightforward and united — after all, there are difficulties involved if a group of less than 20 people are divided into ?5 or 6 mutually antagonistic groups.’

Advance notice: The next Lancaster seminar will be in 1979 — provisional date, April 6-8. Those wishing to attend must complete a three minute intensive training programme in how to be English (We tried to convert Tony when he was over here but I notice he’s still saying that everything is ?cute’) and send a blank cheque to a numbered Swiss bank account.?

THE NEXT CLASS

The next class will he held on Sunday, August 27th at the home of Anthony Lee, [Ed. Personal address follows]. The speaker will be Mrs. Betty Conow who will make a presentation entitled, ?Hierarchies, Analogies and the Degrees of Reality: A Model.?

She explains her topic in these words:

?Any serious attempt to ?explain’ Reality must make use of certain mental constructs, such as metaphors and similes, analogies, and in the more ambitious attempts, theoretical models. The use of hierarchic order in General Systems Theory is, in many ways, a composite of all of them. (For comparisons, think of Set Theory, Carl Hempel’s ?Covering Law,’ Aristotle’s ’Greate Chain of Being,’ and ?Abdu’l-Baba’s ?Kingdoms of God.’). A model is offered to the class, based en ?Abdu’l-Baha’s, for approximating Truth, for making statements about the ?really real,’ and which demonstrates the inadequacies of traditional logic to encompass Ultimate Reality. It’s the old saw about the part trying to extrapolate the whole.’ We have to reverse the logic process. My argument is that only the Divine Teachers have knowledge of the Whole, or of the Divine World, which our created phenomenal world mirrors. By using a model, we can establish the correspondences which exist, and discover that there is only one Reality, but that it is seen and interpreted according to where the observer is positioned in the universal hierarchic order.?

So, everyone be there. August 27th at 3:00 P.M. at Tony’s house. We can see what we can make out of this.

[Ed. Supplemental information re the then upcoming Baha’i Studies Seminar]

BAHA’I STUDIES SEMINAR
CAMBRIDGE
30 September — 1 October, 1979
PROVISIONAL PROGRAMS

Saturday, September 30th

I. Morning Session, introduced by Peter Smith

JUSTIFICATION FOR BAHA’I STUDIES

Suggested Topics:
Are different areas more justifiable than others at present? Are there areas into which it may not be appropriate to enter now?. How can we justify the use of sensitive biographical arid other material?

2. Afternoon Session, introduced by seo5n 1(omen

METHODOLOGY OF BAHA’I STUDIES

Suggested topics:
?Baha’i’ or ?academic’ standards? Possible variations in approach between Baha’i and non-Baha?i scholars? Discussion of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith. Methodological problems in cases of cooperation between Baha’i and non-Baha’i scholars. Double standards in Baha’i and non-Baha’i work? Linguistic style and its bearing on method. The use of confidential archives of LSA’s, NSA’s, etcetera

Sunday, October 1st

3. Morning Session, introduced by Denis MacEoin

RELATIONS BETWEEN BAHA’I SCHOLARS AND THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY

Suggested topics:

Prejudice against scholarship and its removal. Attacks on scholars — what measujres can be taken for protection? The responsibility of scholars to other believers. The review of scholarly works for publication. The role of scholars in fixing limits on the growth of myth and legend in popular Baha’i historiography.

4. Afternoon session

WORK. IN PROGRESS

Suggested Topics:
Progress reports from individuals. Sharing ideas and problems. The production of a bibliography. Difficulties in obtaining materials in various languages. International coordination of efforts. Oral and manuscript history projects. Concrete proposals for future developments Establishment of an International Institute for Baha’i Studies.

BAHA’I STUDIES SEMINAR
CAMBRIDGE

30 September — 1 October, l97

BOOKING FORM

It is hoped to provide accommodation, possibly in College guest rooms at King’s and/or John’s, for those taking part. A limited amount of accommodation in private homes may be available to those booking early. The sessions will, it is hoped, take place in a suitable roan at either King’s or John’s College- There are several cheap but excellent restaurants (largely catering for students) in the city, and it is proposed that we eat at one of these. Those arriving on Friday evening should proceed to the MacEoin’s flat, [Ed. personal address and phone number]. It is suggested that a party go for dinner to a good restaurant (probably Strudel’s) on the Saturday evening. Please fill in the form below, placing a cross against, those items which are applicable.

Baha’i Studies Seminar, Cambridge, September—October, 1978

( ) I plan to attend the seminar or. both days (Registration fee ?1)
( ) I plan to attend the seminar on Saturday only (Fee ?1)
( ) I plan to attend the seminar on Sunday only (Fee ?1)
( ) I shall be unable to attend
( ) I shall require a copy of the seminar report (Charge 50p)

( ) I wish to join the party for dinner on Saturday evening

Please return the completed form to: Denis MacEoin, 961, King’s College, Cambridge by Wednesday 23rd. at the Latest. kny queries or requests for extra forms should be directed to the seine address.
The registration fee includes a 50p charge for the seminar report. Please enclose a cheque or postal order for the appropriate amount.

[END DOCUMENT]

Related Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.