LA Study Class Newsletter [#7]

My Notes:This newsletter is a bit underwhelming. But what did you expect? They can’t all be about taboo subjects like women on the House of Justice, abortion and contraception, covenant-breakers, etc. There are really good stuff coming up, so bear with it for now.

Before proceeding, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70′s class . . .

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[Ed. personal home address]
Jan. 14 (or thereabouts) 1977
Dear Baha’i Friends –

The Jan. 9 meeting of our still un-named study class got underway with about 14 people present, which is about all Tony’s apartment can hold. If attendance grows much more, admission will be standing room only. A few people trickled in late, their arrival delayed by the telecast of the Superbowl. (For those who might have missed that event, attended with all the ballyhoo that one might expect to be reserved for the Second Coming, the Oakland Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings 38-14. It was strictly a rompf for Oakland; Minnesota was never in the game. The Vikings have made it to the Superbowl four times, and lost the game on every occassion. The time has come to label the Vikes for what they are: choke artists. They freeze up and can not win the Big One.)

The session’s discussion topic was presented by Joel Roth, a sociology student at UCLA. She reviewed two articles written by James Keene, a Baha’i, in Sociometry and, ahem, The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion on the Faith. (Is there some allied publication along the lines of Religious Study of Science?)

Here, with apologies with Ms. Roth (who also hereby is offered the right of corrective reply), is a summation of her presentation:

The object of Mr. Keene’s research is to determine the influence of religious belief and behaviour on personality, particularly neuroticism, sponteneity and worldmindedness. He set out to discover how much characteristics of religious behaviour and personality interaction differ between Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Baha’is and those without any religious affiliation.

“There is little agreement among psychologists and sociologists about the relation of religious beheviors to other personal and social behaviors. For example, Freud maintained that religion can act as the “universal obsessional neurosis of humanity,” fixating individuals in an infantile stage until the illusive doctrine is discarded,” Keene writes. He contrasts that with the view of Jung who held that participation in a “living religion” has a therapeutic effect on personality disorders.

Mr. Keene’s study created some experimental variables and subjected these to factor analysis as a means of keeping his research bias-free. He also used four factors in his work that ought to be briefly described here. The first of these is “Salient / Irrelevant,” representing the role of religion in the life of modern man. It measures the importance the test subject places on and participates in his religion. The second factor is “Spiritual / Secular,” dealing with intangible notions such as afterlife, prayer, the soul and so forth.

“Skeptical / Approving” is used to measure the validity of religious belief in the minds of the subjects versus scepticism about its value and role. Finally, Mr. Keene sets up “Orthodox / Personal” to describe whether religion is perceived and experienced in the context of doctrine and ritual or in terms of meditation, spiritual contemplation and respect for nonbelievers.

Ok, so after gathering all his test data and buzzing it through the computer, Mr. Keene arrived at the conclusions that the most “ethnocentric” groups were the Protestants and Catholics. They tended more towards doctrinaire religious attitudes and were less flexible in their tolerance. While both the Jews and the nonaffiliates were more “worldminded,” the Baha’is ranked highest in this category.

His sampling led him to conclude that “For Baha’is, engaging in bahavior Salient to religion with a Personal and Approving outlook on religion is highly correlated with a pattern of Worldminded, Spontaneous, and Adaptive behaviors . . . these Baha’i personality and religion patterns are not typical in other groups studies.”

“This interaction seems to support Jung’s association of religious conversion with an adaptive transformation of personality,” Mr. Keene notes.

His conclusions were greeted with considerable scepticism on the part of Baha’is in the class. It was pointed out, for example, that religious conversion played a major role in influencing the results of Keene’s study. Those who adopt a religious belief or change beliefs experience what amounts to a spiritual crisis which forces them to examine their spiritual concepts. It is only after this crisis that a resolution can come in the form of acceptance — after examination — of a new set of religious beliefs. This is a capsule summary of what most Baha’is have gone through, since the vast majority of the Western believers are converts.

Members of the class wondered what would have happened if Keene, taking this matter into account, had sought out converts to other faiths, deliberately including them in his study. The suspicion was raised that the Jews, Protestants and Catholics used as test samples, probably were born into Jewish, Protestant and Catholic families and might, for that reason, test out differently than converts to those religions.

It was noted that religious systems with an elaborate dogmatic structure, the Catholic church for example, tended in the Keene study to be more ethnocentric and less flexible. Might not that same thing occur to the Baha’i Faith in, say, 200 years when its own involved administrative structure and complex theology have taken root?

It is a fair statement to report that Keene’s thesis bafflement as it did argument. And, no wonder. Consider his description of his procedures: “Using the personality and religion factors as input variables, a canonical analysis was performed for each matched sample and for all subjects in the five matched samples together, thus including within – and among – group variances. For purposes of interpretation, ‘canonical variate patterns’ were obtained from the usual canonical coefficient matrices by calculating the right general inverses of the transposes of the matrices scaled to unit variances. A canonical variate pattern, consists of a correlated pair of personality and religious variates, defined by factors.”

You got all that, right?

Ms. Roth did her best, and with jargon-soaked language like that, it wasn’t easy. It was not possible within the confines of our class, nor with the limited time available, to really evaluate Mr. Keene’s study. The suspicion persisted that he set up a series of straw men and proceeded to bowl them over. And so it went.

Still grappling with the elusive concepts of “cognitive”, “experiential” and “self-defining,” and neck deep [Ed. neap?] tide water of sociology (and they call economics “the dismal science”), we threw in the towel. And we adjourned in frustration to go out and get roaring drunk (had you there for a minute, right?)

We had to postpone one class scheduled for this time. So, at the NEXT CLASS, on Sunday, Jan. 23 at 3pm (mark your calendars) Bonnie Barnes will present a paper on “A Baha’i Theory of Personality,” (subtitled “Is there life after birth?”). Also slated for presentation is Jon Hendershot’s review of St. Paul’s use of symbolism in I Corinthians.

And, for you fright fans, Greg Wahlstrom, on Jan. 30, [will] outline the Calamity in the Baha’i Writings. With the catastrophe arriving on the 30th, you are advised to get your tickets early. Due to a lack of existence, the 31st will be cancelled.

And, on more mundane notes, (after the world ends its all downhill from there), we decided to make next time a pot luck supper, but did not assign foods to anyone . . . so lets not all show up with potato chips, hah? Future events, Steve Barnes has promised to present a paper on economics and the Faith. And Bob Ballanger is toying with the idea of sex and the Faith (slide show optional). He says he might be out of touch for a while, purportedly doing (heh, heh) “field research”.

For those of you who keep track of such things, we’ve some new names to add to our mailing list: [Ed. first name 'Richard Kunez' is struck out with the handwritten note 'dropped'] And: Vivian White [Ed. personal home address follows] Anyone who has read this far deserves it. Bob Ballanger prepared (?) these notes. Those whose ruffled honor to demand satisfaction ought to remember that choice of weapons belongs to the challengee, not the challenger. Ol’ Ballanger will probably opt for water pistols filled with cherry kool-aid at 5 feet.
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[Ed. the following appears to have been added after the above several pages - the text is much more prominent and dark]
THE NEXT MEETING will be held at the home of Anthony Lee [Ed. home address and phone number follows] AT 2 PM. Bring a pot and we will eat dinner and make merry far into the night.Other corrections and additions to our list:

[Ed. ten names follow (with addresses) but they were struck out and by handwriting noted 'dropped' - only Sandra Parr Tjitendero's name is not struck out]
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Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.