Annual ABS conference explores theme of religion and social cohesion

Scholarly pursuits should be governed by a humble posture of learning. According to Mr. Paul Lample, this describes the activities of local Bahá’í communities throughout the world as they strive to make intellectual, moral and spiritual education more and more systematic.

Mr. Lample, member of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council of the Baha’i community, spoke at the annual Conference of the Association for Baha’i Studies (ABS) in San Diego, the last weekend of August. Mr. Lample said that this humble learning posture could serve to advance many human endeavors.

Quoting the Bahá’í writings, Mr. Lample emphasized that knowledge “cannot instantaneously evolve from the nadir of defectiveness to the zenith of rightness and perfection”. Rather, progress is made as individuals “strive by day and by night”, reflect on their action, and “develop along every line from day to day”.

Viewed in this light, divine guidance and learning in action do not compete with each other. A scholar functions more like a scout rather than a person studying a molecule.

These were among the many insights shared at the conference attended by well over a thousand people, eighty of whom presented on diverse topics during simultaneous breakout sessions addressing areas of psychology, philosophy, history, education, international relations and more.

Drawing upon the conference’s theme on “Religion and Social Cohesion”, plenary sessions included a dynamic presentation by Joy DeGruy Leary, an assistant professor at Portland State University, on “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”. Using various facts, statistics and documents, Dr. Leary demonstrated how centuries of slavery, racism and oppression have resulted in multigenerational adaptive behaviors.

Mr. Ismael Velasco, a graduate from Edinburgh University, explored the dynamics of conflict - philosophical, personal, communal and socio-political – against the backdrop of globalization, with a focus on religion’s role to both foster, and overcome conflict. He argued that while the Bahá’í writings do not deny or ignore conflict, the Bahá’í principle of unity offers a dynamic “logic of reconciliation”.

The Conference was enriched also by various artistic performances, including Saskatoon born musician and producer JB Eckl who has worked with such artists as Carlos Santana and the musical group Buena Vista Social Club.

A keynote address was given by Mr. Hushmand Fatheazam of Vancouver, who shared some observations on the scope and value of Bahá’í scholarship. A former member of the Universal House of Justice, Mr. Fatheazam noted that one could view the exhortation of Bahá’u’lláh, that His followers read from Bahá’í scripture every morning and evening, as an exercise of scholarship.

Echoing the words of Mr. Lample about a humble posture of learning, Mr. Fatheazam stressed that scholars should not take lightly the admonition in the Bahá’í writings that “If two souls quarrel and contend about a question of the divine questions, differing and disputing, both are wrong.” Scholarly pursuit is therefore a cooperative, as well as an intellectual, exploration of knowledge.

Overall, the Conference provided a variety of perspectives on how religion interacts with the processes of social cohesion, allowing participants an inspiring opportunity to explore the important role which scholarship can play in that process.