About the Irfán Colloquium session #9 (English)
Bahá'í≠ National Center: Wilmette, Illinois USAMarch 29 – April 1, 1996.
Theme: "Responding to anti-Bahá'í≠ Polemic"
Report: The Institute for Bah√°'√≠ Studies and the Haj Mehdi Arjmand Memorial Fund just held their ninth colloquium at the Bah√°'√≠ National Center, March 29-31 1996.
The program, called an "Irfan Colloquium" after the Persian word for mystical, spiritual, or theological knowledge, had the theme of "anti-Bah√°'√≠ polemic" and ways to respond to it. The conference began Friday evening with a general introduction to the Irfan Colloquia by Robert Stockman. After the various participants introduced themselves, Iraj Ayman gave a presentation about Haj Mehdi Arjmand's life, teaching methods, and his scholarly works in response to polemic against the Faith.
Saturday morning began with Jena Khadem Khodadad's "The Question of Exclusivism: A Scientific Perspective," a presentation that focused on the emerging problems with the idea of religious exclusivism, as promulgated by many Christian churches, and the advantages of the Bah√°'√≠ relativistic approach to religion.
Richard Harmsen then presented on "Discordant World Views within Bah√°'√≠ Studies and the Detraction They Encourage." He noted that many Bah√°'√≠ researchers had slavishly adopted scholarly standards from the outside academic world, and that the Bah√°'√≠ community's challenge was to apply the Writings to current problems in ways that are palatable to the wider secular society, while simultaneously upholding the unique status of a Bah√°'√≠ world-view.
Saturday afternoon the audience heard three presentations. Gary Selchert's "The Dream of Uniting the Nations: The Culminating Vision of the Hebrew Bible" proposed that Bah√°'√≠ biblical researchers transcend the simplistic "proof text" approach to scripture that has permeated Bah√°'√≠ popular literature dealing with biblical prophecy and focus instead on a thorough-going Bah√°'√≠ hermeneutic of the Bible grounded in the discussion of the major themes discernible in the writings of the Hebrew prophets. These themes, he argued, strongly support the advent of Bah√°'u'll√°h.
Benjamin H. La Framboise's "Understanding the Bah√°'√≠ Faith through Study of the Christian Faith" argued a similar point by advocating that Bah√°'√≠s teach the Faith to others by using the principles and perspectives of other religions. Such an approach was taken by Bah√°'u'll√°h in the Kitab-i-Iqan and by `Abdu'l-Bah√° in His trips to the west.
The afternoon concluded with Stephen Vaccaro's "The Good Tree: Distinguishing the Bah√°'√≠ Faith From Destructive Cults," a presentation of the five major sociological criteria of a "destructive cult" and an explanation of how the Bah√°'√≠ Faith did not fit any of them. Mr. Vaccaro presented by videotape, the audience then asking him questions by speakerphone.
Saturday evening there was a general discussion of the topic of opposition to the Faith and questions about the various presentations of the day.
Sunday morning saw three more talks. Dr. Behrooz Sabet opened the program with "The New World Order and the Convergence of Religious and Secular Opposition," a paper that described some of the characteristics of the new world order as the Bah√°'√≠ Faith understood it and discussed some of the religious and secular opposition to the idea. He concluded that possibly once the Bah√°'√≠ teachings are understood the religious and secular forces may come to view the Bah√°'√≠ Faith as the missing link in the world-wide web of conspiracy to establish a new world order, and, thus, will feel compelled to oppose it.
Kim Bowers then spoke about "The Continuity of Consciousness and Phenomena: Analytical Foundations for a Rational Synthesis of Scientific, Traditional, and Religious Cosmologies," a paper about the need for a new cosmology based on the Bah√°'√≠ writings and the importance of this foundational cosmology to the advancement of science.
The morning closed with Sen McGlinn's "The Theology of Church and State in the Bah√°'√≠ Order," a presentation that laid out principles in the Bah√°'√≠ writings suggesting that the state will always exist separate from but parallel to the Bah√°'√≠ administrative order. If this is true, Mr. McGlinn noted, it means the civil state is a divinely mandated institution, and the Bah√°'√≠ Faith will never seek to establish a "church state."
All the papers received a lively and enthusiastic discussion. A significant aspect of the colloquium was the fact that most of the speakers had never presented at a scholarly conference before, and all had a positive experience. Next year's Irfan Colloquium, tentatively scheduled for the last weekend of March, will focus on the theme of "The Bah√°'√≠ Faith and Christianity." It is hoped that many Bah√°'√≠s, when setting personal goals for the Four Year Plan, will consider the goal of giving a talk at one of the many scholarly Bah√°'√≠ conferences now being held. Next year's theme may give many opportunities for new people to present.