Poster: The movement between social realities: The case of the Bahá’í Faith

Movement between social realities The case of the Bahá’í Faith

The movement between social realities: the case of the Bahá’í Community

jean-marie nau Master in learning and development in multilingual and multicultural contexts


As a member of the Bahá’í Community in Luxembourg, I have the opportunity to experience how members worldwide are engaged in promoting a culture of learning and change. How is it done? Could their interactional educational activities provide tools in educational practices at large? (Hatcher & Martin, 2003)

Better, deeper and more humane interpretations can be discovered when we sit back and reflect on what people have said and written. This is the tool of discourse analysis (Gee, 2009).

23 short video-recorded interviews have been an exciting start in the collection of relevant data. What is it that makes someone read a text and then puts it into action in their daily lives?


The interdisciplinary field of learning & development strives with abundance of old and new theories. The Bahá’í Faith is rich with authoritative Writings from Bahá’u’lláh, their prophet-founder (1817-92), Abdu’l-Bahá’, eldest son and successor (1844-1921), Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957) and the Universal House of Justice, supreme ruling body established in 1963. “It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action” (Bahá’u’lláh, 1983, p. 250). Which theories shed light on this process of translating what has been written into reality and action?

The analysis of language-in-use is one approach to discourse analysis used by Gee that I may use in the study.

Consultation is a process Bahá’ís are engaged in when trying to put into action their belief and gaining a better understanding of the requirements of our world. Vygotsky, developed the concept of a zone of proximal development. (ZPD) Applying it to the research in question may provide valuable insight how learning takes place. The ZPD is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. Scaffolding was developed by other sociocultural theorists applying Vygotsky’s ZPD to educational contexts, such as Ann Leslie Brown (1943-1999). Scaffolding is a process through which a teacher or more competent peer gives aid to the student in her/his ZPD as necessary, and tapers off this aid as it becomes unnecessary, much as a scaffold is removed from a building during construction.

Cultural activity theory doesn’t limit learning to what happens underneath the skin of one individual. Learning and all cognitive processes should be understood as something which is distributed between individuals, their colleagues and their material artifacts, tools, and their semiotic resources. The unit of analysis of learning is expanded. It’s not just the individual but a functioning activity system which learns. (Engeström, 2009)

Methodology & Data analysis

Members of the Bahá’í community are engaged in a number of core activities open to everyone. I wish to collect data for some of them.

· Moral and Spiritual Education for the Next Generation. The Bahá’í writings attach great importance to the periods of childhood and youth, providing clear guidance to parents and communities to raise children in a nurturing and unambiguous environment.

· Collaborative Study for Individual and Social Transformation. At the heart of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is the force of transformation, both of the individual and of society. The transformation of the individual is not an isolated process, not ascetic nor centered wholly on one’s self-fulfillment.

· Devotional Gatherings for Inspiration and Renewal. Inspiration, rejuvenation, motivation, purpose, meaning—all are essential ingredients to one’s sense that his or her life is on track, is worth living.

· A New Framework for Social and Economic Development. Bahá’í development projects are a global enterprise where Bahá’ís act locally to learn to translate Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings into action to resolve problems. (

During a weekend near Nancy in France on the subject of: non-violent communication within the family, I have collected 23 video-recorded guided interviews with individual members, including children, youth and adults. They briefly introduced themselves, explained why they attended this Bahá’í event, what they found significant in an important Bahá’í document and how they were actors, agents of change in their daily lives.

I will look at Bahá’í texts as tools for change and compare them with relevant recorded data, looking for appropriate methods.

Sample of data collected: Passage from the Ridvan 2010 message: “… At the level of the cluster, the coordinator must bring both practical experience and dynamism to his or her efforts to accompany those who serve as tutors. … And as men and women of various ages move along the sequence and complete their study of each course with the help of tutors, others must stand ready to accompany them in acts of service undertaken according to their strengths and interests, …”

Part of transcript: “ Alors dans le message de Ridvan 2010 hm je dirais il y a plein de choses (hand moving up), c’est riche, c’est riche, hm mais en ce que je retiens (fingers closing) le plus c’est la notion d’accompagnement. C’est quelque chose (hand movement) qu’aujourd’hui j’ai mis eh bien 50 ans de ma vie à comprendre, hm. Cette notion d’accompagnement telle que je l’ai comprise est une notion pour moi fondamentale dans l’enseignement, (hand movement towards head) donc je reviens au métier, dans l’enseignement, parce que j’ai compris que, qu’enseigner j’ai compris que éduquer quelqu’un c’est pas moi qui a un savoir ou qui a un savoir-faire (hand movement) et qui l’amène à l’autre. Je suis avec lui (hm) sur le sentier de la découverte, c’est-à-dire qu’au fur et à mesure (hm) en enseignant on s’enrichit soi-même (hm) et aujourd’hui (hm) je suis persuadé (hm) qu’un professeur de mathématique qui hm, qui fait (hm in search for words) le théorème de Pythagore avec ses élèves, soi il vient en disant je sais et je vous montre, soi il accompagne les les élèves dans une démarche, et dans ce cas là lui-même (hm, making circles) il apprend à ce moment là, il s’enrichit. Je crois au bout de sa journée d’enseignement les élèves sont plus riches et le professeur est plus riche. ”

Conclusion & Results

Ethnographic information furnishes the background against which video analysis is carried out, and the detailed understanding provided by the microanalysis of interaction, informs general ethnographic understanding.(Jordan & Henderson, 1995, p. 43) I hope to present with this thesis an informed picture how the Bahá’í Faith, probably the most diverse organised community on the planet, moves from one social reality to another. It is exciting and I hope to discover more during the process; this is part of ethnographic study.

Starting the project will clarify open questions: will the theories mentioned above fit the research questions? Can new ways of analysing ‘data’ be conceived?

Relevant literature

Bahá’u’lláh. (1983). Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Engeström, Y. (2009). What is Activity Theory? found on youtube 6.6.2010, embedded in a blog. Cultural. Blog, WordPress, . Retrouvé Juin 6, 2010, de

Gee, J. P. (2009). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis ebook download James Paul Gee (2 éd.). United Kingdom: Routledge. Retrouvé de

Hatcher, W. S., & Martin, J. D. (2003). The Baha’i Faith: The Emerging Global Religion. Baha’i Publishing.

Jordan, B., & Henderson, A. (1995). Interaction Analysis: Foundations and Practice. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 4(1), 39. doi:10.1207/s15327809jls0401_2


My heartfelt thanks go to: Gudrun ZIEGLER, Charles MAX, Jean-Jacque WEBER, Jaan VALSINER, Marie DELAFONT & all our lecturers for their encouragement, help & advice; my colleagues for their listening abilities; the university of Luxembourg for making all this possible and Esther for her patience.

For further information


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s