Baha’i Studies conference attracts 1,400 people from 23 countries

1 October 2008

SAN DIEGO — The 32nd annual conference of the North American Association for Baha’i Studies drew some 1,400 people from 23 countries - the largest-ever representation from outside the United States and Canada.

The gathering, held this year in San Diego, had as its theme “Religion and Social Cohesion.” The four-day conference concluded on 1 September.

The presenter of the 26th Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture was Hushmand Fatheazam, former member of the Universal House of Justice, who offered “Some Observations on the Scope and Value of Baha’i Scholarship.”

The speaker for the opening plenary was Paul Lample, member of the Universal House of Justice, who spoke on “Learning and the Unfoldment of the Baha’i Community.”

In the past decade, Baha’is around the world have focused on how to develop a “culture of learning,” a concept that was central to Mr. Lample’s talk.

Hushmand Fatheazam, former member of the Universal House of Justice, presents the 26th Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture at the conference of the North American Association for Baha’i Studies.SLIDESHOW
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Hushmand Fatheazam, former member of the Universal House of Justice, presents the 26th Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture at the conference of the North American Association for Baha’i Studies.

“The culture of learning that is emerging is characterized by dialogue rather than debate, by constructive experience at the grassroots level rather than elaborate planning from the top, by systematization rather than freneticism, by reflective refinement rather than derogatory criticism,” he said.

Mr. Lample elaborated several times on the well-known Baha’i belief that science and religion are not in conflict.

“The Baha’i teachings,” he said at one point, “offer an approach to reality that encompasses a scientific worldview but is more comprehensive, addressing a wider range of questions that are essential to human progress.”

(A copy of Mr. Lample’s speech is available at http://www.bahai-studies.ca/conferences.php.)

Mr. Fatheazam shared personal stories and insights drawn from his decades of Baha’i service, including 40 years as one of the nine elected members of the Universal House of Justice.

While underlining the vital contributions of Baha’i scholarship to the development of the Baha’i Faith and the progress of society, he cautioned against the temptations of intellectual pride that scholars from all traditions have historically been susceptible to, and urged Baha'is to pursue paths of scholarship with the utmost humility.

Mr. Fatheazam promoted scholarship as the continued independent search for truth incumbent upon all human beings. He highlighted the importance of this role by emphasizing the two identities of the Baha’i Faith, one as a religion, described through the analogy of the tree, and one as a limitless reality, described through the analogy of light.

Others who addressed the conference during plenary sessions, and their topics, included:

-- Joy DeGruy, “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome.”

-- Robert Rosenfeld, “Creating a Mosaic: A Journey to Social Cohesion.”

-- Ismael Velasco, “Achieving Reconciliation in a Conflicting World.”

-- Mary Darling and Clark Donnelly, who talked about their television series “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” broadcast in more than 80 countries.

-- Mojgan Sami, “From Counting to Contributing: Moving from Participation to Partnership in the Advancement of Civilization.”

-- Nazanin Zargarpour, chairing a panel of young scholars who addressed “Scholarship, Practice, and the Five Year Plan.” Panelists included Ashkan Monfared, Eric Harper, Kamal Sinclair, and Jenny Wilson.

Dozens of other speakers gave presentations in the break-out sessions. (See article about prayer and healing.)

More information about this and past ABS conferences is available on the ABS Web site.