About the Irfán Colloquium session #2 (English)
Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois USAMarch 25–27, 1994.
The Second Haj Mehdi Arjmand Conference on Scripture was held at the Bahá'í National Center, Wilmette, Ill., on the weekend of 25-27 March 1994. The purpose of the conference was to explore scripture, both Bahá'í scripture and that of other religions, using perspectives derived both from the Bahá'í revelation and from academic scholarship. About 65 persons from Canada, Japan, four European countries, and eleven states attended.
Twelve presentations were given during the course of the weekend. The conference opened Friday night with several brief remarks, including a talk about Haj Mehdi Arjmand (1860-1940) by one of his great granddaughters, Ms. Nikoo Mahboubian. Of Jewish background, Haj Mehdi Arjmand became a highly effective Bahá'í interpreter of both the Old and New Testaments; for two years he regularly debated an American Protestant missionary in Iran about biblical prophecy, and his arguments were eventually published in Persian.
Saturday morning Dr. John Hatcher opened the conference with a presentation titled "The Validity and Value of An Historical- Critical Approach to the Revealed Word of Bahá'u'lláh," which argued that Bahá'u'lláh's revelation can be examined using the same techniques of literary criticism as works that are not revelation. Mr. Frank Lewis's presentation, "Scripture as Literature: The Writings of Bahá'u'lláh in their Literary Context," reinforced this point by examining instances where Bahá'u'lláh quotes Persian poets and noting that when one recognizes such quotations one's understanding of Bahá'u'lláh's meaning is often improved. The morning closed with Dr. Ross Woodman's presentation, "The Inner Dimensions of Revelation," which explored revelation as a divine seizing and possessing of a chosen individual, a seizing and possessing during which his human station is momentarily annihilated.
Saturday afternoon the conference heard four presentations on scripture. Dr. Susan Brill's "Reading With or Against the Book, or the Avoidance of Interpretive Chaos," presented the theoretical insights of chaos theory and their value in interpreting Bahá'í scripture. Mr. Thomas May's "Entombed in a Dead Language: the Saints Raising out of their Graves" stressed the importance of a symbolic approach to understanding biblical texts fully and used four episodes from the gospels as illustrations. Mr. William Barnes gave a paper titled "Mythoi: Stories of the Origin, Fall, and Redemption of Man" in which he examined the meaning of the Garden of Eden and Tower of Babel stories in the light of `Abdu'l-Bahá's interpretations and the universal pattern of stories dealing with the fall and redemption of humanity. Finally, Craig Loehle's "Bahá'í Parables" discussed the themes of the prison, the journey, and the search in Bahá'í historical literature.
Saturday evening, after a sumptuous Persian dinner, an informal panel presentation allowed speakers and the audience more time to discuss subjects raised during the day. Sunday morning the conference heard four more presentations. Dr. Kamran Ekbal's "The Koranic Roots of Some Legal and Theological Terms in the Kitab-i-Aqdas" stressed the importance of familiarity with the Qur'an and its legal language to an understanding of many of Bahá'u'lláh's laws. Dr. Julio Savi's "The Love Relationship Between God and Humanity: A Commentary on Bahá'u'lláh's Hidden Words" examined the poetical-spiritual atmosphere of the Hidden Words and their theological and philosophical content. Mr. Michael McCarron's "The Resurrection of Divine Wisdom: A Study of the Ontology of Greek Philosophical Theology and Jewish Theology in the Context of Wisdom Revelation and its Realization in the Bahá'í Religion" noted parallels between Bahá'u'lláh's terminology and ancient ideas found in Greek philosophy, gnosticism, and Jewish wisdom literature. Mr. Aram Gomez closed the program with "The Tree of Peace and the Coming of Bahá'u'lláh," a presentation discussing the teachings and prophecies of the Iroquois sage Deganawida as they relate to the Bahá'í Faith.
A volume of selected papers from this and the earlier Arjmand Scripture conference, held in the United Kingdom in December 1993, is planned. The abstracts of the conference may be obtained by sending a check for $3 to the Research Office, Bahá'í National Center, Wilmette, Ill. The check should be made out to "Bahá'í Services Fund" and should be marked "Arjmand Abstracts."
The conference was extremely successful and already another is being planned for March 24-26 1995 on the theme of the Kitab-i- Aqdas.