Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #118 (English)

Centre for Bahá'í­ Studies: Acuto, Italy

June 30 – July 4, 2013.

`Abdu'l-Bahá and the Peace Movement in America

by Amin Egea

'Abdu'l-Bahá defined as one of the purposes of His travels in the West the establishment of "the spiritual foundations of international peace." During this period He personally met with various leaders of the peace movement such as Edward Carnegie, David Starr Jordan, William H. Short, Albert K. Smiley or the Nobel prized Baroness von Suttner. He was also invited to participate in various peace conferences such as the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration and some organizations arranged special public meetings for Him.

This presentation will attempt to survey these contacts between `Abdu'l-Bahá and the peace organizations in the West. It will also offer a preliminary comparison of `Abdu'l-Bahá's discourse on war, peace and international arbitration with the prevalent discourses at the time on these areas, and will finally offer a tentative analysis of how His comments on these topics were received by the western public.


`Abdu'l-Bahá's Articulation of the Bahá'í­ Concept of Peace During His Western Travels

by Wendi Momen

A primary teaching of the Bahá'í­ Faith is that world peace is not only possible but inevitable. The Bahá'í­ writings describe two stages in the achievement of world peace: the Lesser Peace, which is a political peace agreed by national governments, and the Most Great Peace, which is associated with the evolution of a world civilization that is imbued with spiritual characteristics. As the clouds of the First World War were gathering across Europe, `Abdu'l-Bahá accepted an invitation to the speak at the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration in May 1912. He continued to develop the theme of world peace as He travelled in the West in 1911 and again in 1912-13. He spoke extensively about this principle in numerous meetings, challenging His followers and His listeners to establish peace before humankind was overwhelmed by war.

This paper looks at `Abdu'l-Bahá's elucidation of the principle of peace in His talks in the West, primarily in the United States.


`Abdu'l-Bahá's contacts with the Theosophical and Spiritualist movements

by Amin Egea

In the first decades of the twentieth century two alternative religious movements, the Theosophical Society and spiritualism were at their peak. Some of the early Bahá'í­s in the West either had belonged to one of these movements or still retained membership in them at the time of the travels of the Master. Thus, both movements had strong ties with the Bahá'í­ community.

During His travels in Europe and America, `Abdu'l-Bahá met with many representatives and leaders of the two movements. He was also invited to speak at public and private meetings specially arranged for Him and also wrote to some of the journals of these organizations as well as to their leaders.

This presentation will survey these contacts and will attempt to analyze some of the comments made by `Abdu'l-Bahá on some key issues for theosophists, such as reincarnation and the coming of a world savior, and for spiritualists, such as the powers of the soul and the communication with the departed ones.


"At Dawn the Friend Came to my bed": An early fruit of the Supreme Pen

by Julio Savi

This paper attempts to analyse a poem revealed by the Blessed Beauty, both in its form and in its contents. This poem seems a qaá¹£ídih. The features of qaá¹£ídih are briefly explained. Some of the literary devices used in the poem are described. Of the four major themes of Persian lyrical poetry as described by Bausani, that is 'wine, love, springtime and mystics,' only wine is absent. Associated with springtime motifs are a number of nature tropes. Also theological and scriptural motifs are used in this poem. Moreover, this ode offers didactic themes, the early seeds of the new mystical way that Bahá'u'lláh was opening to His lovers. This poem also has many biographical references. Qaá¹£ídihs can be usually divided into three parts. In this ode, the first part tells the state of the lover. In the second part, usually a eulogy of the addressee of the poem, only two verses, 15 and 16, depict the Beloved. The other verses continue portraying the Poet, in His relation with the Beloved, and especially in His faithfulness to His love for the Beloved. In the third part, usually a petition to the addressee of the poem, the Most Great Spirit is implored, His advent is invoked, for the good of all "mortals," "pilgrims and companions" on the spiritual path.

Bahá'u'lláh's poem which begins with the verse Sa ̇ar ámad bi bistar-am Yár, "At dawn the Friend came to my bed," is one among eight Persian poems he signed "Dervish." In this poem Bahá'u'lláh adopts a loose form of qasidih, introducing formal and thematic innovations and making several exceptions to the classic model of this poetical form. The whole poem is a kind of dialogue between the Beloved and the Poet as a lover.

See also the ghazal "O Cup-Bearer, give me a drop:" A hymn to love offered by the Blessed Beauty.

Click here to read this paper online.

Child Education and Development: Comparing guidance given by `Abdu'l-Bahá during his North American visit with some academic theories of the time

by Saba Ayman-Nolley

This presentation will systematically examine the guidance and advice that `Abdu'l-Bahá gave to various audiences throughout his talks during His North America travels in 1912. The structure and content of these passages will be analyzed and consolidated to clarify the cohesive approach that `Abdu'l-Bahá offered parents and those working with children. The roles and tasks of the various components of human society in this approach will be examined as well as variations He may have suggested across child developmental lines such as varying approaches to infants, children, or adolescents. In addition there will be a preliminary comparison of `Abdu'l-Bahá's ideas on education and child development with early 20th century theories of human development and educational psychology.

Conflict Transformation: A Case Study of the Universal House of Justice Messages to the Bahá'í­s in Iran

by Mahyad Zaerpoor-Rahnamaie

In the Old Testament, the history of conflict is as old as human history, starting from the Genesis. This talk comprises of two parts: it will first cover the gradual developments of how humans have been dealing with conflicts both on interpersonal and community levels. There are at least five distinct but overlapping stages of facing conflicts. The two more traditional forms of "conflict eradication" and "conflict denial" use power and aggression as the basic modes of operation. The two more recent stages of "conflict management" and "conflict resolution" use modern tools of consultation rather than confrontation. After a brief review of these familiar stages, the newest stage of "Conflict Transformation" will be more fully discussed. This recent concept welcomes social conflicts as effective catalysts to foster constructive changes that reduce violence, increase justice in direct interactions and social structures, and respond to real life problems in human relationship. Clearly, most of these recent ideas have obvious counterparts and examples both in the Bahá'í­ Sacred Writings and its history.

In the second part of the talk, an attempt will be made to detect components of "conflict transformation" in the contents and tone of the letters written by the UHJ to the Bahá'í­s in Iran. In the past thirty some years, Bahá'í­s of Iran have been subjected to horrendous human rights violation and bravely endured their ghastly conditions. The dynamics of growth and maturation within the community has been, to a great part, due to the continual guidance received from UHJ. It seems that the tone and the content of these letters have themselves gone through a gradual change and more in line with the underlying concepts of "conflict transformation." It seems that the letters from the House are more and more encouraging the Persian Bahá'í­s to see the present conflicts and the adversarial role of the government as a propelling force for growth, creating positives from the difficult or negatives.


Consultation in the Bahá'í­ Faith: A Review of its Developmental Process

by Moojan Momen

This paper looks at consultation in the Bahá'í Faith. It starts from the mention of this process in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and the manner in which this was initially put into practice in Iran in the late 1870s. It then looks at the ways in which each of the successive leaders of the Bahá'í Faith — Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l- Bahá and Shoghi Effendi emphasized the importance of consultation and promoted its use in the community. Finally, the paper looks at the role of consultation in the transformation of society from the present established and customary practices in the world towards the new World Order that Bahá'u'lláh envisaged.
Click here to read this paper online.

Ego: Scientific Investigation of the Spiritual Man: Body, Mind, and Spirit Spaces

by Mehrdad Ehsan

This third talk on scientific investigation of the spiritual man concentrates on body, mind, and spirit spaces. These are dimensions not yet fully captured by science: the inner and the outer dimensions of reality.

Anthropology notes that the human brain is about three times larger than expected from our species body size, compared to other mammals. It cannot explain this brain size that is not needed for man's life functions on the planet.

Neurology claims that human experiences are explained by brain activities and can be studied by instruments. Consciousness is simply a physical brain function that can be externally studied.

However, this outer dimensional focus misses the important inner human dimension that includes the mind and spirit. We will explore some of the attributes of the inner and outer dimensions. Then, we will focus on the human ego which is the way the mind copes by providing itself with a sense of the inner and outer realities. This ego also makes us insane from the perspective of the deeper inner dimension of spirit.

Awareness of this ego and its attributes is the gateway to liberation from suffering and to real consciousness. We will explore this possibility and its emphasis in Baha'u'llah's teachings.


How Economics and Business is Addressed in the Bahá'í­ Faith

by Lagha Momtazian

Bahá'í­ principles are multi-dimensional in their concepts application. The Bahá'í­ principle of "solution of the economic problems" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1979, p. 32) does not refer to a Bahá'í­ economic system but can refer to reforms and development in the economic and business structures and goals and performance to be more ethical and responsible towards the society. Shoghi effendi describes this matter as:
"Cause is not an economic system, nor can its Founders be considered as having been technical economists. The contribution of the Faith to this subject is essentially indirect, as it consists of the application of spiritual principles to our present day economic system. Bahá'u'lláh has given us a few basic principles which should guide future Bahá'í­ economists in establishing such institutions as will adjust the economic relations of the world." (Shoghi Effendi, 1974, pp. 27-28)
There are specific values discussed in Bahá'í­ writings which are discussed differently in other religions or not mentioned before. This paper tries to investigate the principles in common with regards to economics and business in the Bahá'í­ Faith, Islam, Christianity and Judaism; and to discuss in more details how Bahá'í­ principles can have a distinctive impact on betterment of the business decisions and practices through establishing a value based system with specific characteristics.

Among the principles distinctively discussed in the Bahá'í­ Faith is the spirit of service! Work has been regarded as "calling" (Miller and Timothy, 2010) in different religions and as a way of worship. It is similar in Bahá'í­ principles but under a significant condition. `Abdu'l-Bahá says work is the highest form of service if "done in the spirit of service" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1918). This seems a simple distinction but might make huge differences in application of this principle and its results! (It becomes more clear when compared to Weber's ideology of protestant ethics and capitalism.) The question for discussion is how the spirit of service can be applied in business? Another principle is the noble human being with spiritual qualities which need to "reveal its treasures" through education! [GWB 259] The economic world has known human as a rational being driven by self-interest (Smith, 2005). This is the foundation on which the economic system has been built over the years. If man is regarded with the dual nature and the spiritual nature attended and educated at the first place, his/her decisions and actions might be different which can result in different economic structures than currently exist. The implications of viewing man with spiritual qualities will be discussed shortly.

Yet another principle is consultation. The shining spark of truth `Abdu'l-Bahá says "comes forth after the clash of differing opinions" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1982, p.87). The members of a village, profession and industry are advised to refer to consultation to find the right solution but with its essential characteristics. Consultation is widely advised with different disciplines and contemporary schools of thought advocate the significance of consultation. The effective consultation in Bahá'í­ writings necessitates attainment of some pre-requisites. `Abdu'l-Bahá says : "The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1982, p.87)

Unlike the general trend to consultation in business matters, this principle can suggest a distinctive structure to consultation. Based on the above mentioned prime requisites, the members to consultation need to free themselves from self-interest and enter the conversation with the motive to find the truth and the best solution to the matter under consultation rather than trying to gain their benefit or follow their cause. This is hard to practice knowing that business has operated in a different manner for a long time and has expanded its roots deep in monetary and immediate gain! This is an application to recognition of the spiritual qualities of human being at the same time with his/her material qualities.

Another application of this approach is the introduction of the concept of sacrifice to the business terminology! `Abdu'l-Bahá says:

"And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is voluntary sharing of one's property with others among mankind. This voluntary sharing is greater than equality, and consists in this, that man should not prefer himself to others, but rather should sacrifice his life and property for others. But this should not be introduced by coercion so that it becomes a law and man is compelled to follow it. Nay, rather, man should voluntarily and of his own choice sacrifice his property and life for others, and spend willingly for the poor, just as is done in Iran among the Bahá'í­s. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1976, p. 288)
In the above mentioned passage, the ready willingness to share is discussed which is different from the 'sharing' in its common practice. The 'sharing' currently practiced in business is generally with the purpose to increase the employee productivity and sense of belonging, or towards an improved image of the company! In a rather deeper level, it is spoken about sacrifice in the above mentioned paragraph! It implies that man would willingly and voluntarily sacrifice his wealth for the poor! Neither of the above mentioned qualities can be perceived nor practiced without appreciation and education of the spiritual nature and qualities of human soul!

Another yet essential principle is love of God! Ives (Ives quotes from `Abdu'l-Bahá, 1983, p. 156) as "All economic problems may be solved by the application of the science of the Love of God." How application of the science of love of God can solve economic problems is a serious question, for both the believers in God and non-believers! In business it can be described with some measurable terms such as responsibility and accountability and consciousness (Robinson, 2007).

How these principles might be applied in business will be discussed in more details in order to be a cause of an inspiration to the participants to connect the Bahá'í­ values to their businesses and to raise the question of how to apply them in their own ways and to their own decisions and financial performances.

The session can incorporate periods of short consultation by participants in order to best achieve its objectives and provide an environment for clash of differing opinions in finding the unique methods each participant might prefer to employ!

References

    `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1982). Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'í­ World Centre
    `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1979). Foundations of World Unity. US Bahá'í­ Publishing Trust, sixth printing. p. 32
    `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1976). Bahá'í­ World Faith —`Abdu'l-Bahá Section, US Bahá'í­ Publishing Trust. p. 288
    `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1918). Divine Philosophy. The Tudor Press. Boston, MASS
    Ives, H. C. (1983). Portals to Freedom. George Ronald. Oxford. P. 156
    Miller, W. D. and Timothy, E. (2010). Rethinking The Impact of Religion on Business Values: Understanding its Re-emergence And Measuring its Manifestations. Journal of International Business Ethics. 3(2)
    Robinson, S. (2007). Spirituality and responsibility: Consciousness and care. Oxford University Press
    Shoghi Effendi. (1974). Principles of Bahá'í­ Administration. US Bahá'í­ Publishing Trust. Pp. 27-8
    Smith, A. (2005) Wealth of nations, Penn State Electronic Classics, the Pennsylvania State University

Integration of Centralization and Decentralization in the Bahá'í­ Administrative Order

by Iraj Ayman

The Universal House of Justice is a unique institution in the field, and discipline, of Public Administration. It is the only international governing council whose members, every five years, are internationally elected by all the members of its community, namely the Bahá'í­ s around the world, in a three-stage election, which is free from any kind of electioneering. It is the center of an order that "constitutes the very pattern of that divine civilization which the almighty Law of Bahá'u'lláh is designed to establish upon earth" [WOB 152]. Among its many features, it functions as the nerve center of an unprecedented administrative structure that combines the advantages of both centralized and decentralized systems of administration and management.

The Bahá'í­ Administrative Order is an organic entity, gradually growing and developing under the care and guidance of the Universal House of Justice, which presents a solution to many of the challenges and problems in the field of Public Administration. This study concentrates on one of those issues and problems, i.e. centralized versus decentralized systems of administration, from the perspective of the Bahá'í­ pattern of administration. It also discusses the role and function of the Universal House of Justice, as well as other Bahá'í­ senior administrative intuitions, in relation to centralization and decentralization.


Leadership and Succession in Taoist-Buddhist Temples

by Phyllis Ghim Lian Chew

While there is a large body of research on religion, there is very little on the internal structure of religious organizations. More specifically, on the topic of leadership and succession, a keyword search on Amazon produced more than 7000 titles, which indicate these are topics of wide appeal. Yet there is hardly anything on leadership and succession in Chinese religious organizations.

This paper examines leadership hierarchical structures and processes in traditional Chinese temples. My research questions fall into three major clusters:

    STRUCTURE -- Who chooses the leader or the assembly? What is the length of the appointment (for life or for a fixed term length)? How powerful are the leadership positions? How does the leadership of Chinese temples and mosques compare with each other?

    PROCESS & IDEOLOGY -- What are the ideologies and presuppositions behind the internal structure of these religious organizations? How do Chinese temples and mosques influence their membership or help their group to live out its purpose and character?

    CHALLENGE & CHANGE -- How do Chinese religious organizations keep relevant in the winds of globalization and change? Are leadership and succession policies in both the Chinese temple and the Chinese mosque able to meet the challenge of operating in highly demanding political, social, and economic climate?


Preliminary Contemplation on What May Be Considered as a Bahá'í­ Theology

by Shahla Mehrgani

Basic beliefs are probably the main source for particular social actions and interactions. Therefore, it is necessary to understand these basic beliefs and insights to be able to interpret and understand those actions and interactions properly.

Theological studies used to be among the first areas of religious education in previous religions. Bahá'í­ Faith has not yet produced a systematic body of knowledge known as Bahá'í­ theology. It seems that almost the time has come to ask ourselves, why?

This paper is not supposed to sketch out the substance of Bahá'í­ theology, which is a huge task in its own right. It intends to explore the ways that Bahá'í­ scholars have proposed and indicated Bahá'í­ theology. This research may be regarded as a primary attempt in sociology of knowledge and religion rather than theology per se. It discusses the following questions:

  1. Will Bahá'í­ theology be proposed and designed in classic frameworks such as the theology of the previous religions? In other word: is Bahá'í­ classic theology possible?
  2. What are the key features of the Bahá'í­ theology?
  3. How can Bahá'í­ theology become possible?

Bahá'í­ theology may be identified, explored and proposed not just from Bahá'í­ writings and by intellectual struggles, but through social actions and interactions of everyday life among all Bahá'í­ believers. Some of the features of the Bahá'í­ theology:

  1. Pluralism vs. Exclusivism
  2. Relativism vs. Absolutism
  3. Apophatic vs. Kataphatic
  4. Rational and disenchanted vs. Enchanted and mythological
  5. Developing vs. Accomplished
  6. Pragmatic vs. Dogmatic
  7. Subjective vs. Objective
  8. Existentialism vs. Determinism

What we can derive from the expositions of Bahá'í­ scholars could be summarized as follows:

  • Bahá'í­ writings are supposed to give the criteria for practice and action
  • The word of God is the criteria for knowledge and cognition
  • The believer is in interaction with "the others" and him/her self, and can evaluate his/her experience and knowledge through rationality and mind.
  • Bahá'í­ theology is beyond just reading and understanding the Bahá'í­ writings, it requires experiencing these writings through social actions and interactions. As far as it is a product of experience, it can be varied from time to time and location to location. And while the world is changing, its requirements are changing as well. Hence, we have to be ready to forget and give up our old beliefs and establish new ones in accordance with the changing world. Therefore, Bahá'í­ theology is always under construction and deconstruction.
  • Bahá'í­ theology is not for reading and discussion among the intellectuals and elites; on the contrary, it is for practice and to live our lives in accordance with. Our realization of it is also affected by our social interaction requirements.
  • Everyday life is as a laboratory to test and evaluate our understandings and interpretations of Bahá'í­ theology as well as construction, reviewing and deconstruction of it.
  • Bahá'í­ theology, thus does not claim dogmatism and absolutism, it is as much relative and plural as other aspects of the faith and is based on practice rather than theory.
  • As the nature is a manifestation of His creative Name, every single effort in science is regarded as an effort in cognition and recognition of Bahá'í­ theology.
  • Bahá'í­ theology is creative, not only because it is disenchanted and interpreted and explained by the official interpreters of the faith, but also because it is under construction by actions and interactions of a massive range of cultural backgrounds of believers all around the world.
  • Nevertheless, Bahá'í­ theology is not banal and vulgar, because it is necessary for Bahá'í­s to be knowledgeable in history, Holy Bible, Holy Quran, at least basic philosophy, and literature to be able to understand Bahá'í­ writings at the first stage and then practice them in their daily life.
  • This theology can be identified as an empirical and experimental theology.

Scientific Insights into "Here Am I": Consciousness and Space-Time

by Mehrdad Ehsani

In the Long Obligatory Prayer of Bahá'u'lláh there is a passage:

"¦ I entreat Thee by Thy footsteps in this wilderness and by the words 'Here am I, Here am I' which Thy chosen ones have uttered in this immensity "¦
We will use "Here Am I" as the gateway to a scientific investigation of the nature of consciousness and its significance in our spiritual development and in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.

Through a simple review of the special theory of relativity of Einstein and Lorentz transform equations, we will establish the relationship between consciousness and space-time. Further, we will show that there exists for every entity a privileged present moment of time and that the present moment has an almost magical nature, as it is only in the present moment that reality lives and things happen. All entities must exist only in the same present moment to be able to interact. This is the only place in time in which anything actually exists and has reality.

It will become apparent that there is clearly something incredibly mysterious that only this one instant actually exists. There is a present moment independent of clock time through which clock time flows, that this flow carries a sequence of seemingly connected 'experiences' that become real only as they pass through the present moment. This will lead us to the spiritual concept of "ancient-eternal", "domain of eternity", and seeing "the end and the beginning as one" according to Bahá'u'lláh's Seven Valleys.

We will use this physical insight as a stepping stone into spiritual approach to "consciousness", "enlightenment", and the state of "Absolute Nothingness", as described by Bahá'u'lláh in the Seven Valleys.

The talk will end with describing some of the attributes and consequences of human enlightenment, how this is the purpose of our being, and the greatest obstacle to its realization: the human ego. The topics of ego and liberation from "self and passion" will then be the subject of follow up talks in this conference or future conferences.


Successorship and the Election of the Universal House of Justice: The Universal House of Justice 1963 —2013

by Ali Nakhjavani

The advent of the 50th Anniversary of the election of the Universal House of Justice is an appropriate time to recall the bewilderment of the Bahá'í­ world at the sudden passing of the beloved Guardian in November 1957, the pivotal role played by the Hands of the Cause of God, as Chief Stewards and Custodians of the Faith during the interregnum, the emergence of the Universal House of Justice, on the Hundredth Anniversary of the Declaration of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, and the holding of the Most Great Jubilee in London to mark the conclusion of Shoghi Effendi's monumental Ten Year Crusade.

The friends were on the one hand grieved because of the physical absence of the beloved Guardian, but, on the other, they were rejoicing at the victories won during the Crusade, and at the inception of an Institution ordained in the Most Holy Book and destined to become the "last refuge of a tottering civilization".

There was a need, however, for the friends to be assured that the year 1963 had been anticipated in our texts. They also wondered: Will there be new Teaching Plans? Will there be future Guardians?

Opposition to the Faith was clearly anticipated in the Writings. If the Administrative Order were to be attacked on the grounds that no living Guardian existed, as foreshadowed in the first section of `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament, how were the friends to respond? Was there any text to indicate that the Guardianship will not be an on-going Institution throughout the Bahá'í­ Dispensation? Had Shoghi Effendi given any hints in his writings on the future leadership of the Faith after his passing?

This presentation will deal with such issues. Its main purpose is to help the friends in defending the Administrative Order in its present form. An important part of this presentation will deal with historical facts after the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, the defection of Mirza Muhammad-Ali, the similarity of method and purpose in the application of the Law of Succession by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, the resolution of apparent problems arising from statements made by the Guardian in his The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh, and the guarantees stipulated in the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice that the Covenant of God's Holy Cause will continue to be impregnable, unassailable and incorruptible till the end of the dispensation, when God's new Manifestation will appear, to Whom, in the words of the Constitution "will belong all authority and power".