learning & development

nau jean-marie, ma-multilearn 2009/10 se 2/4 – July 2010

Professor Jean-Jacques Weber, multilinguism & education 2 (4 ECTS)

Thematic domain: the interplay of identity discourse, & the politics of language (DIP)

Main assignment (3500-4000 words, excluding transcript & additional material)


This assignment traces the learning & development steps shortly after the beginning of the 2nd semester that will eventually lead to a master thesis at the end of the 4th semester. It will show my current understanding of the possible research area.


Step 1 shows the initial draft of a project that included my main interest, the 2 repositories of knowledge: science & religion.

Step 2 shows how the topic has been redefined and narrowed down. What is the theoretical framework that describes and explains how a community actively engages in promoting a culture of learning and change? Could the interactional educational activities be seen as tools to promote change, encourage the move from one social order to another?

Step 3 has allowed the project to advance considerably as I was able to collect my first data in the form of 23 video interview observations with guided and open-ended questions. After completing a first brief descriptive analysis of all the data collected, it seemed more appropriate to select a meaningful text and relate it to one interview observation by a participant that highlighted the importance of one particular aspect of the text, what it meant to him and how he would try to apply it in his place of work. Step 3 became the basis for a ‘learning poster’ presentation.

Step 4 allowed me to pursue the chosen direction of the research question. While the research question remained in the background, it now seemed more important to start ‘inductive’ research, by taking the relevant piece of text and analyse it using Gee’s seven building tasks. It’s as though this analysis put the text to the test. In step 4, the Bahá’í Faith and the concept of Bahá’í literature is briefly introduced; how important is Bahá’í literature to its’ members? I then present and analyse a Bahá’í literacy sample from an official source that includes the concept of ‘developing a culture’. The piece of text is part of the 2010 Ridván message. Step 4 then goes on to present 2 relevant authors that are members of the Bahá’í community and that have done research that seems closely related to my area of research. It is Michael Karlberg ‘The power of discourse and the discourse of power: pursuing peace through discourse intervention’ and Peter J. Khan ‘Some Aspects of Bahá’í Scholarship.

Step 5 looks at another video observation, using the theoretical approach of face & politeness and speech act. This exercise helped to narrow down appropriate methods of analysis. I will rather look further into discourse analysis used by Gee and critical discourse analysis used by Fairclough.

Step 6 opened up new possibilities for me as I read Fairclough who talks about ‘possibilities for social change.’ This is what I am passionate about. Does the ‘Bahá’í discourse’ promote possibilities for social change?

Step 7 looks ahead towards the master thesis. A detailed analysis of a 7 minute recorded video interview (Daniel H.) should provide, besides the text analysis, further insights of Bahá’í discourse and representations by its members. By using an emic approach, I’m aware of the danger of being an advocate and a militant. It should be made clear that my interest in this research area is shaped by my belonging to the Bahá’í community. Scientific research methods should allow the investigation into aspects of social reality. During my research project, I may find differences in intention of official discourse and the representation of these discourses by some of its members.

Learning & Development – Step 1

In order to get an understanding of the processes and steps involved in completing this interesting task, a task that may lead to the master thesis, an outline is provided here. In early April, I met with Professor Weber to discuss this first outline of a project.

My main interest is in the 2 main repositories of knowledge today: science and religion.

Science and religion need to be put into context, historically and where they stand today. As regards to religion, I will consider the Baha’i Faith and their approach and assumptions on reality and in particular on language discourse.

In order to find a suitable context in which to research, I intend to look at the Bahai community in Luxembourg with about 400 members. How do they deal with multilingualism? How do they interact in their meetings? I’m hoping to get a clearer picture regarding their use of language in their core activities: children classes, junior youth activities, study circles, and other important gatherings and meetings: local and national assembly meetings, 19day feasts, yearly regional and national convention.

The methods used will be mainly ethnographic, considering that I am also a member of the Bahai community. Discourse analysis may be used when interviewing and observing interaction in the community and when looking at the Bahai sacred Writings on the issue of Language. It is noteworthy that Mirza Husayn Ali, the founder of the Bahai Faith has revealed in Arabic and Persian and a combination of both. His successor and son Abdu’l-Bahá’ has added to the Sacred Writings mainly in Persian and Turkish (to be verified) and Shoghi Effendi, authorised interpreter and head of the Faith until his passing in 1957 has written much guidance in English. Today the Universal House of Justice, supreme council on an international level, elected democratically, issues statements in English with translations that are carried out either at the World Centre in Haifa Israel, or by the national assemblies in the respective countries.

The Bahai Faith is, according to an article in the 2004 Encyclopaedia Britannica Yearbook, the most widespread religion in the world, after Christianity.

Learning & Development – Step 2

In early May, changes and adjustments had been made and the project took on a different shape.

Proposal (May 2010)

Research topic

The Bahá’í community (in Luxembourg), multilingual, multicultural.

Hypothesis, problem or question (the core idea)

What is the theoretical framework that describes and explains how a community actively engages in promoting a culture of learning and change? Could the interactional educational activities be seen as tools to promote change, encourage the move from one social order to another?

Importance of topic (why I’m doing this)

I’ve been an active member of the Bahá’í community for over 20 years now. I would like to better understand the workings of this worldwide community, looking more closely into the workings of the community in Luxembourg, from an ethnographic point of view.

Choice of data

I hope to collect and analyse data from some of these different sources:

– Children classes that focus on values with a view that man is in essence a noble being, endowed with potentialities that only education can reveal so that mankind may benefit therefrom.

– Junior youth groups that reflect on how they bring about change in their locality through action.

– Study circles open to all that allow participants to come into contact with Bahá’í Writings and participate actively in the co-construction of a new social order.

– Devotional meetings open to all that are interested in the material as well as the spiritual aspect of human nature.

– 19DayFeast, where members of the Bahá’í community come together to pray, consult about matters concerning their locality and socialise.

– Bahá’í Writings, in particular passages found in Paul Lample; Revelation & Social Reality, 2009, Palabra Publications. (can be downloaded here: http://www.palabrapublications.com/new)

– Reflection meetings, local assembly meetings, regional and national conventions.

As I get started on the project and collect data with the specific focus in mind, I am also aware that ‘in the process of research itself research problems come to be formulated and studied.’ ‘The research process is one of a constant interaction between problem formulation, data collection and data analysis. … Open-endedness in the directions the study takes. (p.228, doing Ethnography, David Walsh, in Seale, C. 2004, Researching society & culture, London, Sage)

From discussions with Professor Max, I understand that interdisciplinarity is to be encouraged when possible. That’s why I would like to include a Bahá’í perspective on postmodernism and the concepts of knowledge and power. This may of course be for the ma case.

Learning & Development – Step 3

This initial proposal was gladly accepted. At this stage, we were preparing for our ‘learning poster’ session. With this initial proposal agreed as something ‘worthwhile’ researching, I was able to use the elements of the proposal to prepare the learning poster, designed to give an outline of our thesis. Further exchanges and suggestions were gladly accepted by visiting Professor Jaan Valsiner with his course on cultural psychology & intercultural education. He had a student who did a research project in Ireland on what were the motivations for joining the Bahá’í community. Here is the text version of the learning poster. The poster is available here: https://jmnau.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/3-nau-poster-ma-a0-final.pdf.

Moving between social realities – The case of the Bahá’í Faith


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. (1817-92) As a member, I have the opportunity to experience how Bahá’ís 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? Better, deeper and more humane interpretations can be discovered when we sit back and reflect on what people have said and written through discourse analysis (Gee, 2009). 23 short video-recorded interviews will be used to find out how people use communicative messages to guide action in their daily lives? I hope to present with this thesis my first attempt of an informed picture how the Bahá’í Faith, probably the most diverse organised community on the planet, moves from one social reality to another.


The interdisciplinary field of learning & development strives with abundance of old and new theories. Bahá’í Teachings provide suggestions to guide our lives. What tools are used and how are they used to “to translate that which hath been written into reality and action”(Bahá’u’lláh, 1983)? The analysis of language-in-use is one approach to discourse analysis used by Gee relevant to this research project. 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. The Zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) and Scaffolding (Brown) are other concepts developed by sociocultural theorists giving insights when analysing interaction. Cultural activity theory doesn’t limit learning to what happens underneath the skin of one individual. Learning should be understood as something distributed between individuals and their material artifacts, tools, and 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) The four levels of semiotic regulation used by cultural psychologist Valsiner provide insights as to what the guiding motivations behind our actions are and I wish to apply them in my analysis. (Valsiner, 2007)

Background of the Materials

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 & Spiritual Education for the Next Generation

Collaborative Study for Individual & Social Transformation

Devotional Gatherings for Inspiration & Renewal

A New Framework for Social & Economic Development (http://www.bahai.org/features)

At a weekend seminar on the theme of non-violent communication within the family, I collected 23 video-recorded interviews with 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. Through appropriate methods, the texts, seen as tools for change will be analysed and compared with relevant recorded data.

Part of data collected From the Ridván 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 videotranscript “Alors dans le message de Ridván 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 quia 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, soit il vient en disant je sais et je vous montre, soit 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. ”


Have a better understanding how Discourses are used & created in the Bahá’í Faith. 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) 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 and raise others. Which Discourses promote learning & development and how do they do it? Will the theories mentioned above fit the research questions? Given the data, should new ways of analysing it 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. https://jmnau.wordpress.com/

Gee, J. P. (2009). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis , Theory & Method, 2 éd.). United Kingdom: Routledge

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)

Karlberg, M. (2004). Beyond the Culture of Contest. George Ronald Publisher Ltd.

Lample, P. (2009). Revelation & Social Reality. USA: Palabra Publications.

Smith, P. (2002). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith. Oxford: OneworldPublications.

Valsiner, J. (2007). Semiotic Fields in Action. In Culture in minds and societies: foundations of cultural psychology. New Delhi. SAGE Publications.


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

Further information jean-marie.nau@education.lu & https://jmnau.wordpress.com for an online version of this poster. Tél: 334210

Learning & Development – Step 4

Having to explain to a number of students and Professor Prodeau the poster was a worthwhile learning experience. Prior to the poster presentation, I was able to do interview observations with a focus group, members of the Bahá’í community. By now, I had a meaningful text together with an interview observation related to the text. Transcribing some of the interviews revealed interesting insights. Those insights were mainly obtained by using the seven building tasks and the discourse analysis question to which each gives rise (Gee, 2005, p. 11). I would like to use part of an assignment for Professor Portante. In it, I used the discourse analysis approach used by Gee. The analysis fits well within the context of this assignment and my research project.


· 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. (Bahá’í 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:

Ridvan 2010

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.


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.

Abstract: Abstract

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)

Learning & Development – Step 5

After having completed an analysis of a meaningful text, the assignment with Professor Dippold afforded me the opportunity to transcribe a video interview with another participant and member of the Bahá’í community, using the theoretical approach of face & politeness (Goffman, 1959) (Brown & Levinson, 1987) and speech act (Austin, 1975) (Searle, 1970). This assignment is available here: https://jmnau.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/transcript-analysis-dippold/. At this stage of my own development and learning, the interviews and transcripts were seen as representations in relation to their membership of the Bahá’í community, ‘showing’ their efforts to translate what has been written (the Bahá’í writings giving guidance for a unified world) into action through their involvement in different core activities. I was aware that I was not observing how they were putting into action what they believed, but their representation, their enactment through their discourse. At this stage, the focus has been on the general transcription rather then the micro-analysis of the transcript.

Development of the assignment – Step 6

While I continue to read through Discourse Analysis by Gee (Gee, 2005), I started to read Norman Fairclough.

Critical social research begins from questions such as these: how do existing societies provide people with the possibilities and resources for rich and fulfilling lives, how on the other hand do they deny people these possibilities and resources? What is it about existing societies that produce poverty, deprivation, misery, and insecurity in people’s lives? What possibilities are there for social change which would reduce these problems and enhance the quality of the lives of human beings? The aim of critical social research is better understanding of how societies work and produce both beneficial and detrimental effects, and of how the detrimental effects can be mitigated if not eliminated (Fairclough, 2003, pp. 202-203)

This was a release for me and a confirmation that it might well be beneficial, useful and productive to analyse Bahá’í discourse with the aim to understand better ‘how societies work and produce both beneficial and detrimental effects’. This I hope to do for the ma thesis in Luxembourg. Already a number of interviews have been collected by participants at a weekend on ‘non-violent communication within the family’ with a focus on the Ridván message, why they attended this ‘Bahá’í’ event and how they are ‘actors’ in their community, at their workplace?

…the language element has in certain key respects become more salient, more important than it used to be, and in fact a crucial aspect of the social transformations which are going on – one cannot make sense of them without thinking about language (Fairclough, 2003, p. 203).

The Bahá’í community is actively encouraging a culture of change, a vast social transformation including its members and their neighbourhood (family, friends, community of interest). What research has been using Bahá’í discourse for analysis?

Gee uses Stanzas in his transcripts and this might be a useful way of separating different units, or thoughts within a transcript (Gee, 2005, pp. 159-162).

Learning & Development – Step 7 – Conclusions

It has been useful to gather some elements of recent assignments in order to develop research on this project and the thesis. Through this task, my research area has been focussed to a smaller area, namely analysis of a meaningful text and analysis of an interview observation. I have started with the transcription of a 7 minute interview, part of the collection of data in May at the weekend near Nancy. The beginning of the transcript can be found above under the poster presentation. Through a combination of analysis theories (Gee & Fairclough), combined with a detailed case study of the Bahá’í Faith, I intend to present through qualitative research a small aspect of an informed portrait of a community that may offer possibilities for social change and enhance the quality of the lives of human beings (Fairclough, 2003, pp. 202-203). I see it as a beginning for further research in field that I am passionate about. I’m aware of the danger of being an advocate for a model of social change, a militant. This I must avoid by learning to apply appropriate scientific methods of observation and interpretation.

I’m quite aware that I have used a slightly different approach in completing the assignment. It seemed important for my own learning to include the steps taken in the completion of the assignment and present the task in this way, thereby showing my efforts and my learning path. This assignment may help me to find the suitable professor guiding me in the preparation of my thesis.


Austin, J. L. (1975). How to Do Things with Words: Second Edition (2 ed.). Harvard University Press.

Bahá’í 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.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge University Press.

Fairclough, N. (1993). Discourse and Social Change. Polity.

Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research (illustrated edition.). Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis, Theory & Method (2 ed.). United Kingdom: Routledge.

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1er ed.). Anchor.

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.

Searle, J. R. (1970). Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge University Press.

Universal House of Justice. (2010). Ridván Message.

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