About the ‘Irfán Colloquium session #9 (English)

Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois USA

March 29 – April 1, 1996.

Theme: "Responding to anti-Bahá'í Polemic"

Report: The Institute for Bahá'í Studies and the Haj Mehdi Arjmand Memorial Fund just held their ninth colloquium at the Bahá'í 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-Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í relativistic approach to religion.

Richard Harmsen then presented on "Discordant World Views within Bahá'í Studies and the Detraction They Encourage." He noted that many Bahá'í researchers had slavishly adopted scholarly standards from the outside academic world, and that the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í biblical researchers transcend the simplistic "proof text" approach to scripture that has permeated Bahá'í popular literature dealing with biblical prophecy and focus instead on a thorough-going Bahá'í 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 Bahá'u'lláh.

Benjamin H. La Framboise's "Understanding the Bahá'í Faith through Study of the Christian Faith" argued a similar point by advocating that Bahá'ís teach the Faith to others by using the principles and perspectives of other religions. Such an approach was taken by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitab-i-Iqan and by `Abdu'l-Bahá in His trips to the west.

The afternoon concluded with Stephen Vaccaro's "The Good Tree: Distinguishing the Bahá'í Faith From Destructive Cults," a presentation of the five major sociological criteria of a "destructive cult" and an explanation of how the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í Faith understood it and discussed some of the religious and secular opposition to the idea. He concluded that possibly once the Bahá'í teachings are understood the religious and secular forces may come to view the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í Order," a presentation that laid out principles in the Bahá'í writings suggesting that the state will always exist separate from but parallel to the Bahá'í administrative order. If this is true, Mr. McGlinn noted, it means the civil state is a divinely mandated institution, and the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í Faith and Christianity." It is hoped that many Bahá'ís, when setting personal goals for the Four Year Plan, will consider the goal of giving a talk at one of the many scholarly Bahá'í conferences now being held. Next year's theme may give many opportunities for new people to present.