This paper focuses on Bahá’í literacy, official Bahá’í discourse and on aspects closely linked to this ma program on learning & development in multicultural and multilingual contexts. Relevant literature discussed in our courses on literacy and D/discourses will be presented as well as additional academic resources by Bahá’í academics. These initial steps in research will hopefully serve as a learning & development tool and provide a stepping stone for further research, such as the concept of Bahá’í scholarship.
· Introduce the Bahá’í Faith
· Introduce the concept of Bahá’í literature and what it means for its members.
· Present a Bahá’í literacy sample from an official source where the concept “developing culture” appears.
· Ask guiding questions that lead to possible ways to analyse the data.
· Draw some conclusions and further research questions.
1. Introduce the Bahá’í Faith
A concise introduction to what the Bahá’í Faith is can be found on the international website of the Bahá’ís of the world. It is here provided as background information.
Let your vision be world embracing… Bahá’u’lláh
Throughout history, God has revealed Himself to humanity through a series of divine Messengers, whose teachings guide and educate us and provide the basis for the advancement of human society. These Messengers have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Their religions come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, brought new spiritual and social teachings for our time. His essential message is of unity. He taught the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, and the oneness of religion.
Bahá’u’lláh said, “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” and that, as foretold in all the sacred scriptures of the past, now is the time for humanity to live in unity.
Founded more than a century and a half ago, the Bahá’í Faith has spread around the globe. Members of the Bahá’í Faith live in more than 100,000 localities and come from nearly every nation, ethnic group, culture, profession, and social or economic background.
Bahá’ís believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the nature and purpose of life and of the future of society. Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. (Baha’i International Community, 2010)
2. Introduce the concept of Bahá’í literature and what it means for its members.
Bahá’ís engaged in any form of intellectual activity begin with their belief in the validity of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. They perceive the universe as having spiritual as well as material dimensions.
The writings of Baha’u’llah are considered by members of the Baha’i religion to be the revealed Word of God. Baha’u’llah, Whose given name was Mirza Husayn Ali (1817–1892), was a Persian nobleman Who claimed to receive a new revelation from God that fulfilled the prophetic expectations of all the major religions while laying the foundation for a world civilization.
In addition to the writings of Baha’u’llah, Baha’is also recognize as divine scripture the writings of His Herald, the Bab (Siyyid Ali Muhammad, 1819-1850); the Quran; the Old and New Testaments; and the sacred writings of Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. (http://www.bahai.us/sacred-writings)
3. Present a Bahá’í literacy sample from an official source where the concept “developing a culture” appears.
I wish to look at one important document, the Ridvan 2010 message, by the Universal House of Justice, highest governing body in the Bahá’í Faith, addressed to all believers worldwide. It starts like this:
To the Baha’is of the World
Dearly loved Friends,
With hearts filled with admiration for the followers of Baha’u’llah, we are pleased to announce that, …
Such an opening says much about the kind of relationship the highest governing body seeks to have with every one of its members.
The word ‘culture’ appears 8 times in this 10 page message with 33 paragraphs and 6689 words, ‘development’ (14), developing (1), develops (3) and developed (1) appears 19 times, ‘learning’ (14), learn (4) and learned (1) appears 19 times, ‘change’ appears 7 times.
The following passage is the paragraph 10 and includes the concept ‘developing a culture’.
1 Let no one fail to appreciate the possibilities thus created. Passivity is bred by the forces of society today. A desire to be entertained is nurtured from childhood, with increasing efficiency, cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions. Even in many educational systems students are treated as though they were receptacles designed to receive information.
6 That the Baha’i world has succeeded in developing a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service –
8 supporting one another and advancing together, respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment and avoiding the tendency to divide the believers into categories such as deepened and uninformed – is an accomplishment of enormous proportions. And therein lie the dynamics of an irrepressible movement. (Universal House of Justice, 2010, para. 10)
A first general analysis of the paragraph
Lines 1–5 clearly describe one of the dangers in society today. In contrast with a passive way of doing things, lines 6-13 describe a different movement in the ‘Bahá’í world’. Culture here is perceived as an element that the Bahá’í world ‘has succeeded in developing’. This shows a clear volition to change present culture towards a culture ‘which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting’. What way of thinking, studying and acting should that be? This question is answered by stating that ‘all consider themselves as treading a common path of service’. The notion of service is well developed in Bahá’í writings, is a fundamental aspect of education. The nature of man is well described in the following passage from Bahá’u’lláh (1817-92), founder of the Bahá’í Faith.
Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. (Bahá’u’lláh, 1983, p. 260)
Analysis of the paragraph by using the seven building tasks and the discourse analysis question to which each gives rise. (Gee, 2005, p. 11)
Significance: How is this piece of language being used to make certain things significant or not and in what ways?
This paragraph is preceded by an observation that it is an obligation laid on every member of the Bahá’í community “to read the writings of the Faith and to strive to obtain a more adequate understanding of the significance of Bahá’u’lláh’s stupendous Revelation.” The paragraph goes on stating that “understanding the implications of the Revelation, both in terms of individual growth and social progress, increases manifold when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently. There, in the field of service, knowledge is tested, questions arise out of practice, and new levels of understanding are achieved.” This is clearly leading to the next paragraph that speaks of the danger of being passive, as society today is almost encouraging this. This is being shown in lines 1-5. It compares elements of society today “a desire to be entertained is nurtured from childhood, … cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions” with the “development of a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service.” Here the language of comparing, putting side by side is used to make things significant.
Activities: What activity or activities is this piece of language being used to enact (i.e., get others to recognize as going on)?
By starting the paragraph stating what kind of things are being cultivated, “cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions”, the sort of activity encouraged by the authors is being highlighted and made more visible, the “development of a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service.”
Identities: What identity or identities is this piece of language being used to enact (i.e., get others to recognize as operative)?
From line 8 there is move towards identity building, “the Bahá’í world … supporting one another and advancing together,” and continues by stating “avoiding the tendency to divide the believers into categories such as deepened and uninformed.” Being able to do this is valued by saying that it is “an accomplishment of enormous proportions.” At the height of this identity building is the last sentence of paragraph 10. “And therein lie the dynamics of an irrepressible movement.”
Relationships: What sort of relationship or relationships is this piece of language seeking to enact with others (present or not)?
While this message is primarily addressed to all believers in the Bahá’í community, the paragraph starts by stating, “let no one fail to appreciate the possibilities thus created”.
Politics (the distribution of social goods): What perspective on social goods is this piece of language communicating (i.e., what is being communicated as to what is taken to be “normal,” “right,” “good,” “correct,” “proper,” “appropriate,” “valuable,” “the ways things are,” “the way things ought to be,” “high status or low status,” “like me or not like me,” and so forth)?
“Passivity,” “a desire to be entertained,” “willing to be led by whoever proves silful at appealing to superficial emotions,” educational systems where “students are treated as though they were receptacles designed to receive information” here are seen and put in a way as being “not good”. To contrast with this, “good,” “appropriate,” “valuable” is “a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service – supporting one another and advancing together, respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment”.
Connections: How does this piece of language connect or disconnect things; how does it make one thing relevant or irrelevant to another?
There is a definite move where the author wants the reader to connect with the Bahá’í world because of the use of at least nine verbs, all of them with a positive twist to it “has succeeded in developing … promotes … thinking, studying, and acting, tread a common path … supporting one another and advancing together.” The last sentence is significantly placed, because who would not want to be part of an “irrepressible movement.”
Sign systems and knowledge: How does this piece of language privilege or disprivilege specific sign systems (e.g., Spanish vs. English, technical language vs. everyday language, words vs. images, words vs. equations) or different ways of knowing and believing or claims to knowledge and belief?
At first sight, it seems difficult to define whether or not this piece of language privilege or not a specific sign systems. Obvious is however, that it favours active participation, rather than “passivity”. It disprivileges “superficial emotions” and privileges “supporting one another and advancing together” and it doesn’t favour the division of believers into “categories such as deepened and uninformed.” There may be a genuine desire to deliver a message to a world community that is neither academic nor informal, neither purposefully vague, allowing thus for too many interpretations.
4. Ask guiding questions that lead to possible ways to analyse the data.
When analysing the above data, it is important to know in what context this message has been written. The Universal House of Justice is the highest governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, elected by the national assemblies every 5 years at an international convention and has its seat on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. It draws information from all countries where Bahá’í reside and receives regular minutes from national Bahá’í assemblies, elected annually democratically by secret ballet. From this perspective it can be argued that their Discourse has the possibility to reflect truly a ‘world culture’. How then can this passage be analysed when ‘according to Street (1984), literacy is conceptualised in terms of social practices as the ‘broader cultural conception of particular ways of thinking about and doing reading and writing in cultural contexts’? (Portante 2009) How useful then will it be look at the three-dimensional conception of discourse? Fairclough states that
It is an attempt to bring together three analytical traditions, each of which is indispensable for discourse analysis. These are the tradition of close textual and linguistic analysis within linguistics, the macrosociological tradition of analysing social practice in relation to social structures and the interpretivist or microsociological tradition of seeing social practice as something which people actively produce and make sense of on the basis of shared commonsense procedures. I accept the interpretivist claim that we must try to understand how members of social communities produce their ‘orderly’ or ‘accountable’ worlds. (Fairclough, 1993, p. 72)
In the case of Bahá’í D/discourse, members’ practices are shaped in ways of which they would be made aware by social structures. Essentially all official literacies would find their inspiration in Bahá’í writings, which are binding and authoritative.
5. Draw some conclusions and further research questions.
I would argue that when a certain D/discourse is encouraged & propagated long enough in a community of practice, it will shape that community of practice, influence in turn the D/discourses of its members and thereby construct another social reality. What do I need to do to gather evidence for this assumption within the Bahá’í community?
The 10 page message where the selected paragraph comes from is rich with relevant material to the ma programme and I hope to look deeper how the concepts of learning & development are used together with the volition to change the existing culture.
The seven building tasks used by Gee and applied to the piece of language here has been enriching and given my new insights in the use of literacy.
Working on this paper has been refreshing, seeing what possibilities exist to look at a relevant piece of language.
Apart from the most interesting material suggested during our course, I would like to mention the following articles, which helped me in accessing academic background information on the topic at hand.
Michael Karlberg has written this interesting paper: THE POWER OF DISCOURSE AND THE DISCOURSE OF POWER: PURSUING PEACE THROUGH DISCOURSE INTERVENTION
Abstract: Western-liberal discourses of power and the social practices associated with them are proving inadequate to the task of creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable social order. Having recognized this, progressive scholars and social reformers have begun articulating alternative discourses of power, along with alternative models of social practice. Together, these efforts can be interpreted as a project of discourse intervention – an effort to change our social reality by altering the discourses that help constitute it. In order to advance this project, this paper deconstructs the dominant Western-liberal discourse of power, clarifies elements of an alternative discourse of power, and presents a case study of an alternative discourse community and the alternative models of social practice that it is constructing. (Karlberg, 2005)
Peter J. Khan has written this paper on: Some Aspects of Bahá’í Scholarship.
This essay identifies four core ideas that should characterize Bahá’í scholarship: the central position of the Creative Word in the acquisition of knowledge; the interconnected Bahá’í model of the world; the progressive nature of Bahá’í law; and the organic relationship of scholarship and the Covenant. Bahá’í scholarly activity rests on the constructive interaction of faith and reason, avoiding the extremes of materialism and superstition. Five principal forms of Bahá’í scholarly activity are discussed: study of the Faith’s historical origins, textual analysis, investigation of religious concepts, application of the teachings to contemporary issues, and study of social and historical phenomena in the growth of the Faith. Suggestions for future research are outlined; the spiritual attributes that should characterize individual scholars are discussed; and the article concludes with prospects for the greater unification of knowledge in the future. (Khan, 1999)
Baha’i International Community. (2010). The Bahá’í Faith – The international website of the Bahá’ís of the world. Retrieved June 13, 2010, from http://www.bahai.org/
Bahá’u’lláh. (1983). Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.
Fairclough, N. (1993). Discourse and Social Change. Polity.
Gee, J. P. (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis, Theory & Method (2 ed.). United Kingdom: Routledge.
Karlberg, M. (2004). Beyond the Culture of Contest. George Ronald Publisher Ltd.
Karlberg, M. (2005). The power of discourse and the discourse of power: pursuing peace through discourse intervention. International Journal of Peace Studies, 10(1).
Khan, P. J. (1999). Some Aspects of Bahá’í Scholarship. The Journal of Bahá’í Studies.
Universal House of Justice. (2010). Ridvan Message.