Learning in Action: Scholarship and the Generation of Knowledge
The Revelation proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, His followers believe, is divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men.
(June 1933, from a letter written by Shoghi Effendi to the High Commissioner for Palestine)
Bahá’í scholarship, as explained by the Universal House of Justice, encompasses a “wide range of approaches and endeavors,” in every field. The 2013 conference will focus on the nexus between learning and action – how Bahá’í scholarship underlies and contributes to the process of social and cultural transformation described by the House of Justice in its Ridván Message of 2010:
Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation is vast. It calls for profound change not only at the level of the individual but also in the structure of society. . . . There are no shortcuts, no formulas. Only as effort is made to draw on insights from His Revelation, to tap into the accumulating knowledge of the human race, to apply His teachings intelligently to the life of humanity, and to consult on the questions that arise will the necessary learning occur and capacity be developed (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2010, para. 25).
Knowledge is central to social existence. Every human being has the right to access to knowledge and to participation in its generation, application and diffusion:
Though conditions will vary from country to country, and perhaps from cluster to cluster, eliciting from the friends a variety of endeavours, there are certain fundamental concepts that all should bear in mind. One is the centrality of knowledge to social existence. The perpetuation of ignorance is a most grievous form of oppression; it reinforces the many walls of prejudice that stand as barriers to the realization of the oneness of humankind, at once the goal and operating principle of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. Access to knowledge is the right of every human being, and participation in its generation, application and diffusion a responsibility that all must shoulder in the great enterprise of building a prosperous world civilization--each individual according to his or her talents and abilities. Justice demands universal participation. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2010, para. 29)
How is this perpetual process of generating and applying knowledge for the betterment of the world carried out? What does it look like at local, national, or international levels? What is the Bahá’í community learning about this? The Association for Bahá’í Studies invites all those engaged in such generation, application and diffusion of knowledge – from every field of endeavor and using diverse approaches – to analyze and explore what they have learned so far at its 37th Annual Conference.
APPENDIX OF QUOTATIONS
Those considering submitting proposals for the conference are encouraged to refresh their understanding of the guidance below, and more generally of the documents from which the selections below are drawn.
The Cause needs more Bahá'í scholars, people who not only are devoted to it and believe in it and are anxious to tell others about it, but also who have a deep grasp of the Teachings and their significance, and who can correlate its beliefs with the current thoughts and problems of the people of the world.
(Shoghi Effendi, from a letter written on his behalf to an individual believer, 21 October 1943, reprinted in Compilation on Scholarship, no. 13)
Over the decades, the Bahá'í community has gained much experience in these two areas of endeavour [social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society]. There are, of course, a great many Bahá'ís who are engaged as individuals in social action and public discourse through their occupations. A number of non-governmental organizations, inspired by the teachings of the Faith and operating at the regional and national levels, are working in the field of social and economic development for the betterment of their people. Agencies of National Spiritual Assemblies are contributing through various avenues to the promotion of ideas conducive to public welfare. At the international level, agencies such as the United Nations Office of the Bahá'í International Community are performing a similar function. To the extent necessary and desirable, the friends working at the grassroots of the community will draw on this experience and capacity as they strive to address the concerns of the society around them.
(The Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2010, para. 28)
To read the writings of the Faith and to strive to obtain a more adequate understanding of the significance of Bahá’u’lláh’s stupendous Revelation are obligations laid on every one of His followers. All are enjoined to delve into the ocean of His Revelation and to partake, in keeping with their capacities and inclinations, of the pearls of wisdom that lie therein. In this light, local deepening classes, winter and summer schools, and specially arranged gatherings in which individual believers knowledgeable in the writings were able to share with others insights into specific subjects emerged naturally as prominent features of Baha'i life. Just as the habit of daily reading will remain an integral part of Bahá’í identity, so will these forms of study continue to hold a place in the collective life of the community. But understanding the implications of the Revelation, both in terms of individual growth and social progress, increases manifold when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently. There, in the field of service, knowledge is tested, questions arise out of practice, and new levels of understanding are achieved.
(Ibid., para. 9)
Effective social action serves to enrich participation in the discourses of society, just as the insights gained from engaging in certain discourses can help to clarify the concepts that shape social action. At the level of the cluster, involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Baha'i ideas into everyday conversation to more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern--climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few. It entails, as well, meaningful interactions with civic groups and local organizations in villages and neighbourhoods.
(Ibid., para. 30)
Other elements that speak to the nature of social action are derived from a particular perspective on the role of knowledge in the development of society. The complementarity of science and religion, the imperative of spiritual and material education, the influence of values inherent to technology on the organization of society, and the relevance of appropriate technology to social progress are among the issues involved. Views related to the generation and application of knowledge have implications not only for the nature of development but also for the question of methodology, which is the theme of Section IV.
(Office of Social and Economic Development, Statement on Social Action, November 26, 2012, Sec. II, para. 5)
Further involvement in the life of society should not be sought prematurely. It will proceed naturally as the friends in every cluster persevere in applying the provisions of the Plan through a process of action, reflection, consultation and study, and learn as a result. Involvement in the life of society will flourish as the capacity of the community to promote its own growth and to maintain its vitality is gradually raised. It will achieve coherence with efforts to expand and consolidate the community to the extent that it draws on elements of the conceptual framework which governs the current series of global Plans. And it will contribute to the movement of populations towards Baha'u'llah's vision of a prosperous and peaceful world civilization to the degree that it employs these elements creatively in new areas of learning.
(The Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2010, para. 32)