Cohorts of university students inspired to act

 

ISGP’s seminars for university students will be held in more than 40 countries this year. These participants gathered at a seminar in Brazil.
ISGP’s seminars for university students will be held in more than 40 countries this year. These participants gathered at a seminar in Brazil.

 

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Dozens of university students in southern Florida in the United States recently spent two weeks — the beginning weeks of their summer holidays — in what might be regarded as an unusual way. They have been focused intensively on studying and consulting about social transformation. They have been thinking about their part, individually and collectively, in the emergence of a peaceful and just global civilization.

In the next six months, groups like this will gather in many regions throughout the world. Thousands of university students, from North, Central, and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia, will immerse themselves in similarly intensive learning environments. They will do this without the traditional incentives of grades, certificates or diplomas, or a pathway to a job.

“We talk a lot about how youth have capacity and want to bring about change. But then, I think, in this space you actually get a glimpse of what they are capable of and the idealism within them to transform society. You catch a glimpse of how, if youth have an opportunity to participate in an educational program that assists them to pursue their intellectual and spiritual growth and to develop their capacity to contribute to the transformation of society, they can become such a profound source of change,” explains Arash Fazli, who has worked with this program in Asia for many years.

“For me personally,” continues Dr. Fazli, “seeing the sincerity of some of these participants, the way they respond to concepts in the material, the kind of attraction that they have for these ideas, for a vision of nobility that is expressed in the materials, that helps dispel a lot of the cynicism that unfortunately young people absorb from society.” The program is offered by the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity (ISGP). Founded in 1999, ISGP is a non-profit research and educational organization inspired by the Baha’i teachings. One of the purposes of ISGP is to explore, with others, the complementary roles that science and religion — as evolving systems of knowledge and practice — can play in the advancement of civilization. As part of its efforts to build capacity in individuals and to create spaces for learning about the betterment of society, ISGP offers a sequence of four annual seminars.

Just over a decade ago, 30 participants attended the very first ISGP seminar for undergraduate students, which was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Since then, the program has reached over 5,000 students from 103 countries.

Among the aims of these seminars is to assist participants to see their university education as integral to their efforts to contribute to the transformation of society. The seminars seek to strengthen their aspirations for a more just and unified world by giving them an opportunity to reflect on the nature of profound change — on what it requires and how it might occur.

A group of youth attend the seminar in Kazakhstan, where the seminars have taken place since 2010.
A group of youth attend the seminar in Kazakhstan, where the seminars have taken place since 2010.

“Many students come to the seminars understanding that youth have a very particular role to play in processes of social transformation,” explains Talia Melic, who is part of the ISGP coordinating team in France. “They want to be able to lead lives of service and to contribute to humanity in all aspects of their lives. They come in with some practical questions, which are a source of motivation for them to learn more, for example, ‘How can I put my studies and future profession to the benefit of humanity?’”

“The students ask very serious and conscientious questions about their future and how to make these kinds of decisions in an integral way,” Ms. Melic says. “One thing that I’ve heard from participants that really resonates with them is the understanding that the university space has intrinsic value: it’s a space where they can serve as well as build capacity to serve. And this occurs through the knowledge they’re acquiring or through the opportunities that are open to them to converse with their peers and professors or through exploring how Baha’i principles apply in their fields.”

“The seminars help them explore religion not only in terms of their personal lives but also how it relates to civilization building. They explore how spiritual principles relate to the issues that humanity is grappling with, like climate change, racism, and economic inequality,” she continues.

Students are also assisted to think beyond superficial or simplistic conceptions of change. At the same time, the seminars aim to buffer participants from the cynicism that seems to set in as young people pass through tertiary education and enter the work force—a cynicism that stems from disillusionment about whether their own contributions can make a difference and more generally whether the world can really change for the better.

The content studied over the four years of the seminars helps them see their education as more than merely a path to a job or a vehicle for the advancement of an individual career; it helps them to see how their fields of study can be highly valuable to their ability to contribute to society’s movement in a positive direction, toward unity, justice, and the realization of the oneness of humankind.

“They explore how spiritual principles relate to the issues that humanity is grappling with, like climate change, racism, and economic inequality.”

– Talia Melic

Over the course of the four years, students explore a range of subjects, such as the relationship between science and religion, in which they contemplate the importance of developing scientific capabilities. They learn to analyze social forces and consider how they can channel their energies most effectively for the benefit of society. In addition, they also have the opportunity to explore how the spiritual and material dimensions of life reinforce each other, especially at that important juncture of their lives as they choose their professions and determine a path for their future.

“University students have to navigate very difficult challenges during their undergraduate years. They are bombarded by so many messages about what the purpose of life is, what is success, what is happiness, what is a good life, and how important it is that you fight to achieve that life for yourself,” reflects Aaron Yates, who is part of a coordinating team for the seminars in North America.

Mr. Yates discusses how contemporary education often does not provide students with an understanding of the complexity of society. “A lot of educational programs do not assist students to have a grasp of society as something more than a collection of individuals. Even the idea of institutions is not something that is often explored in depth. So attention is not given to understanding what an institution is or the ways that institutions actually give structure to our society. That limits our ability to think about what it means to contribute to the betterment of the world beyond the individual level.”

“What appears to motivate many of the participants who attend the seminars is that they see in Baha’u’llah’s Revelation a vision of a better world, and the seminars represent an opportunity for them to come together with others who are like them—who are facing similar challenges, who are in a similar stage of life,” Mr. Yates explains. “This is actually a really critical moment in their lives when they’re making decisions about their futures and the direction that they are going to take, and the seminars are an opportunity for them to think very carefully, very deeply about how they can translate the vision in Baha’u’llah’s Writings into practice in their lives in order to contribute to the betterment of the world that we all have to live in.”

“The space that the seminars offer for young people to explore these kinds of questions is not very easy to find anywhere else,” he says.

Linnet Sifuna, who coordinates the seminars in Kenya, reflects on the growth of the program there over the past several years. “In the first year of the seminars, we had a small group which we had gathered through various outreach efforts. But after that first year, the youth who participated went back to their homes and shared with the rest, so the numbers we received the next year were very high, much higher than the first year.”

“At first we thought maybe it’s just the excitement of youth coming together, but later we came to understand that they’re gaining a lot from the seminars. It is helping them to think about their university education in new ways and inspiring them to learn and to be of service in their communities,” continues Ms. Sifuna. The unfoldment of the seminars over the past decade is an inspiring story. At its heart is the conviction that young people have a fundamental role to play in the transformation of society and in the progress of an ever-advancing, global civilization.

Advancement of women and girls featured at major forum on development

 

The European Development Days is a major forum organized by the European Commission to bring together the development community for the exchange of experiences and ideas. The theme of this year’s forum was “Women and girls at the forefront of sustainable development.” Photo Credit: EDD 2018
The European Development Days is a major forum organized by the European Commission to bring together the development community for the exchange of experiences and ideas. The theme of this year’s forum was “Women and girls at the forefront of sustainable development.” Photo Credit: EDD 2018

 

BRUSSELS — Eight thousand people gathered earlier this week for a major forum focused on the theme: “Women and girls at the forefront of sustainable development.” The occasion was the European Commission’s annual event, European Development Days, which was held on 5 and 6 June in Brussels. Among the many participants, which included non-governmental organizations and faith-based groups, were heads of government, members of royal families, and European officials.

“The advancement of women is not simply about women occupying the same positions as men in our current society or opening room for women to participate within the existing social structures,” said Baha’i International Community (BIC) representative Rachel Bayani in her remarks at a session organized by the BIC Brussels Office on the first day.

“We need new structures and relationships, conceptualized and shaped by women and men together, responding to the needs of an increasingly global and interconnected society,” she continued.

The session, held on 5 June, focused on the education of the girl-child, a subject that the BIC has addressed for many decades and which is rooted in the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Vice President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala, who addressed the BIC event, emphasized the critical importance of ensuring education for girls in social and economic development efforts.

At the session, the BIC screened Mercy’s Blessing, an award-winning film about the education of girls.

The conference, which closed Wednesday, covered a wide range of topics relating to women’s empowerment and the protection of women’s rights in the context of social and economic development.

Counsellors’ conversation on spiritual transformation and social change: Part 1

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE, 1 June 2018, (BWNS) – Some 80 senior officers of the Baha’i Faith, referred to members of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, recently met for a conference at the Baha’i World Centre following the 12th International Baha’i Convention. On that occasion, the Counsellors were able to reflect on major developments in Baha’i communities around the world.

The Continental Boards of Counsellors assist Baha’i communities in their efforts to work toward social transformation by encouraging action, promoting learning, and diffusing insights being gained at the grassroots across a global community. They are appointed by the Universal House of Justice for five year terms.

During their recent meeting at the Baha’i World Centre, small groups of Counsellors joined in conversations with the Baha’i World News Service for a series of podcasts on community building, spiritual transformation, and social change.

In the podcast episode associated with this story, Counsellors discuss the impact of spiritual and moral education programs offered by the Bahá’í community on youth and the communities in which they live, drawing on experiences in Cambodia, Kiribati, India, Norway, Spain, and Timor Leste (or East Timor).

One of the contributors, Daniel Pierce Olam, who has been working with communities in Timor Leste, says: “There’s such a desire in the youth to contribute to raising up their country, and in the last couple of years we’ve seen many of the youth in the capital of Timor Leste, in Dili, have been attracted to the programs of Baha’i community, which equip them to contribute to this process of lifting up their community …. You see big groups of youth have come together, and they’ve started walking this path of service. This concept has really attracted them and they’ve really taken it up with great gusto.”

“We have seen the impact young people are having on their neighborhoods where they live,” explains Zoraida Garcia Garro, speaking about the Canary Islands in Spain. “And we are seeing the transformation within them as well”

Speaking about the experience of the Bahá’í community in New Delhi, India, Gloria Javid says: “The large groups of youth that support each other build an environment of positive peer pressure. We always think about in schools the peer pressure that pulls them in the wrong direction …. When there are large group of youth doing similar things, serving their society, being more respectful towards teachers in school, doing things for their younger siblings at home, it creates an environment where it makes doing good things more popular. And they support each other in that good work, so they don’t feel … they are the odd ones out.”

The podcast episode can also be found here.

Wave of Baha’i Arrests in Iran Raises Alarm at Faith’s UN Office

maxresdefault-5-e1527279333979-1024x623The Baha’i International Community (BIC) at the United Nations has expressed alarm over a spate of arrests of Baha’i faith members in three Iranian provinces by agents of the Intelligence Ministry.

“Baha’is have been arrested since the inception of the Islamic Republic. But this new wave of arrests, that is taking place more rapidly and throughout Iran, raises concern for the BIC about their situation and the fate of all the Baha’is living in Iran,” said Diane Ala’i, the non-governmental organization’s representative to the UN in Geneva, in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 25, 2018.

On May 1, Baha’i faith member Kaviz Nouzdahi was arrested at his home in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province, and taken to the city’s Vakilabad Prison. He had been previously arrested in 1989 and spent two years in prison, according to Ala’i.

On May 3, a man identified only as “Motahhari” was arrested at his home in Isfahan, central Iran, and on May 6 four individuals were taken into custody in Karaj, west of Tehran, including Noushin Afshar, Neda Sabety and Forough Farzaneh.

They were all arrested by agents of the Intelligence Ministry, which confiscated their personal items, including computers, phones and religious books.

Some of the detainees were released after a few days but are facing charges because of their religious beliefs according to the BIC representative.

A statement issued by the BIC in Geneva on May 25 said the systematic nature of the arrests “suggests a coordinated strategy on the part of government authorities.”

“In many cases, detentions have been accompanied by raids on personal homes and the seizure of religious books and writings. This upsurge in orchestrated persecution has been noted by a variety of news agencies and is the latest in the ongoing campaign of harassment against the Baha’is in Iran,” said the statement.

Iran’s Constitution does not recognize the Baha’i faith as an official religion. Although Article 23 states that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” followers of the faith are denied many basic rights as one of the most severely persecuted religious minorities in the country.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on April 23, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied that Baha’is are persecuted in Iran for their religious beliefs.

“Being a Baha’i is not a crime,” he said.

He continued: “We do not recognize somebody as a Baha’i, as a religion, but that’s a belief. Somebody can be agnostic; somebody can be an atheist. We don’t go—take them to prison because they are an atheist. So this is the difference that you need to make. But being—also, being a Baha’i does not immunize somebody from being prosecuted for offenses that people may commit.”

 

Watch, “Light To The World”

There is a story that is unfolding before your eyes. It is a story of humanity’s progress through history, propelled by the teachings of Messengers of God Who have guided humanity through its stages of development, and now to the dawn of its maturity.

Two hundred years ago, such a prophetic Figure appeared: Bahá’u’lláh. He brought teachings for this age that represent an end to division and otherness, through which–at long last–the oneness of humankind can be realized.

Discover more through accounts of people from diverse nations whose lives have been transformed by the light that Bahá’u’lláh brought to the world.

 

The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith

The-GateAs the world suffers from the divisive forces of strife and intolerance, a new Faith advocates the oneness of humanity’s major religions as a path toward world peace.

The Gate: Dawn of the Bahá’í Faith is the groundbreaking documentary that tells the amazing, true story of the Prophet Herald known as The Báb, His message and the origins of a new era in world religion.

Watch the trailer here.

WAAY-TV will broadcast the documentary at 4:30 AM, May 20.  Set your recorders.

Information a local screening at an earlier hour in the evening will be available soon.

South America Temple bridges two eras

 

The Baha’i House of Worship in Santiago, Chile, sits in the foothills of the Andes.
The Baha’i House of Worship in Santiago, Chile, sits in the foothills of the Andes.

 

SANTIAGO, Chile — On the edge of Santiago in the foothills of the Andes, the continental Baha’i House of Worship for South America has been illuminating the mountainside for over a year and a half. In that time it has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to its radiant edifice, which has received multiple prestigious architecture awards.

Since its dedication in October 2016, the Temple has been a recipient of an International Architecture Award as well as awards for structural artistry from the Institution of Structural Engineers, for innovation in architecture from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, for innovation from the American Institute of Architects, for design excellence from the Ontario Association of Architects, for “Best in Americas, Civil Buildings,” from World Architecture News, and for Architectural and Cultural design from American Architecture Prize.

But the Temple’s impact has been much more than that. It has also impacted the hearts and minds of the people in Santiago and beyond.

“People understand that the House of Worship is here to help with the spiritual development of our society,” explained Rocio Montoya, from the public affairs office of the Chilean Baha’i community.

“There are many families that are coming to the Temple. Religious groups come to pray together. Many people in their advanced years also come for hours and sit at the picnic tables and enjoy fellowship. People here see the House of Worship more and more as their Temple.”

Marble interior surface of the nine panels of the continental Baha’i House of Worship of South America
Marble interior surface of the nine panels of the continental Baha’i House of Worship of South America.  More views can be seen here.

 

The House of Worship has become a sanctuary for thousands upon thousands of visitors. They gather on its grounds each week to immerse themselves in the beauty of the natural landscape. They pray and meditate in the tranquil atmosphere of the central edifice. They participate in a range of uplifting conversations and activities oriented toward the betterment of the surrounding communities.

“Young people especially are finding that programs on the Temple grounds help them to gain a deeper and nobler sense of purpose,” said Jenny Perez, a representative of the Chilean Baha’i community. “They focus not only on their personal development, which is very important, but also on the development of their communities.”

Like other continental Baha’i Temples, the House of Worship for South America was an innovative architectural endeavor that had international scope. The project broke new ground in architecture and engineering, and it drew on the material support of the worldwide Baha’i community. Yet the more than decade-long project emerged at a time when Baha’i communities were also learning intensively about the spiritual and social development of neighborhoods and villages, and the construction process developed in parallel with community-building endeavors in the surrounding area.

“It is in the consciousness of the people,” said Ms. Perez. “They feel its impact. People are asking, why is this beautiful structure here? How did it come about? What is its purpose? How can we learn more?”

“People here see the House of Worship more and more as their Temple.”

– Rocio Montoya, Chilean Baha’i public affairs office

The award-winning House of Worship—the final continental Baha’i Temple—is a bridge between two eras. With its complex aerospace engineering technology, it embodies the architectural ingenuity and uniqueness of the Baha’i continental Temples. But like the Temples now rising for local and national communities, it has emerged in the midst of a vibrant community-building process.

The Temple has become a focal point for learning about the dynamic relationship between worship of God and service to humanity. The surrounding community has contributed to a native flora project on the land. The Temple hosts programs for the moral and spiritual empowerment of youth, who become committed to the progress of their communities. And on its grounds are numerous events, some held in collaboration with the municipality and some with local and national NGOs.

With the dedication of the local Baha’i House of Worship in Battambang, Cambodia, last year and several more local and national Temples planned for the coming years, Baha’i communities will no longer focus on innovation in an architectural sense. They will be learning much more about how these structures, embedded in a locality, can be in harmony with the social and material environment and support the advancement of a population.