Speakers urge spiritual and intellectual solutions

5 September 2004

CALGARY, Canada — Spiritual ideas are an essential component in solving the world's complex problems, according to the opening speaker at the annual conference of the Association for Baha'i Studies-North America.

"The global problems of the contemporary world make interdisciplinary research a necessity," said Harold Coward, founding director of the Centre for Studies of Religion and Society at the University of Victoria in Canada.

The inclusion of religious and spiritual ideas in any such interdisciplinary approach is important, Dr. Coward told the conference, held here 3-6 September 2004.

Dr. Coward, who is not a Baha'i, said his own center was established to ensure "that the wisdom of the religious traditions is included alongside the best that science, social science and the humanities have to offer when major global problems are addressed."

Contributions by the other 58 major presenters addressed various aspects of the theme of the conference -- "Spirit and Intellect: Advancing Civilization" -- to the more than 1,200 participants. It was the association's 28th annual conference.

In an address titled "The New World Disorder: Obstacles to Universal Peace," scholar Andy Knight outlined how insights from the Baha'i teachings could help in developing solutions to conflict and other problems affecting the planet.

Although the world yearns for peace, an exercise of volition and action is required to bring it about, said Dr. Knight, the McCalla Research Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

"It is not ephemeral, it won't fall from the sky into our laps because we hope for it -- it requires extraordinary effort and it will require fundamental change to the present world order," said Dr. Knight, who is a Baha'i.

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Dr. Kimberley Naqvi, one of the organizers of the conference.

The Baha'i writings, said Dr. Knight, provide the most comprehensive view of the requirements for peace to be established. Primary among them is the recognition of the unity of the human race.

"We have to reach out to the non-Baha'i world, not to proselytize, but to let them know what is possible in terms of world order," said Dr. Knight.

Other speakers and sessions covered a wide range of issues, including the arts and architecture, issues affecting indigenous peoples, spiritual and moral principles, and community in the workplace.

Siamak Hariri, a partner in Hariri Pontarini Architects in Toronto, spoke of the process involved in designing the first Baha'i Temple of South America, to be located in Santiago, Chile.

Mr. Hariri described how the concept for the temple emerged from a broad collaboration among a team of Baha'i and non-Baha'i designers. The process was in marked contrast to the milieu in contemporary architecture, which he said fixates on deconstruction and frenetic experimentation.

"In a sense, we tried to abandon what we knew. We wanted a structure that is whole, with a sense of its completeness that leaves exploration of disharmony to others, without going back to pastoral expression," said Mr. Hariri.

Mr. Ali Nakhjavani, who until recently served as a member of the Universal House of Justice, presented the Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture.

Mr. Nakhjavani described how the former head of the Faith Shoghi Effendi carefully prepared the Baha'is of the world for a ten-year plan (1953-1963), which achieved its aim of opening the majority of the nations and territories of the world to the Baha'i Faith.

Kimberley Naqvi, one of the conference's organizers, said that part of the importance of the conference was that it expanded the Baha'i community's world view and its knowledge of critical social issues -- and directed it toward action.

Conference chairman Ridvan Moqbel said that Baha'i scholarship involves a community of learning, where everyone -- with or without academic credentials -- can learn from each other and contribute to the betterment of the world.

"The association strives to promote diverse approaches to scholarship that apply the insights of the revelation of Baha'u'llah to the critical problems facing humanity," said Mr. Moqbel.

[Paul Hanley contributed to this report.] [Photos by Michael Adachi and Omid Rahimzadeh.] For more information, see http://www.bahai-studies.ca/.