International MA Symposium, Munich, November 2010

Student: jmnau

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking (Einstein, 1995)

… in the social sciences the study is of people, “the object is a subject” (Lample, 2009, p. 125).

Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value (Bahá’u’lláh, 1983)

Research question

How do participants enact (fr., représenter, ger., verfügen) certain values/principles during the practice of collaborative study circles, organised by the Pierre Becker Institute in Luxembourg? How do the sayings & doings of its participants define these values/principles?

Theoretical model

The inductive approach moves from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories. It is a ‘bottom up’ approach. Research is characterized by inductive reasoning, the researches does not try to fit the data into theories but tries to fit theory into the data observed.

Observation ð Pattern ð Tentative hypothesis ð Theory

Data first, theory later. Theories are grounded in data.

Some research methods state the problem clearly and then pick the best available method for investigating it. A slightly different approach considers that it is in the process of research itself that research problems come to be formulated and studied (Seale, 2004) (Becker, 1998).

Constructionism, as the primary theoretical foundation of contemporary ethnography, is the view that society is to be seen as socially constructed on the basis of how its members make sense of it and not as an object-like reality. Ethnographic writing is grounded in the social and cultural world. (Seale, 2004, p. 227).

Stimulated recall may be a way of validating and verifying observations made and conclusions drawn.


Collaborative study circles are organised by Bahá’í institutes worldwide, open to all that are interested in social change. The Bahá’í Faith is a world religion based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. 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. His writings offer spiritual guidance as well as directives for personal and social conduct.

The transformation of the individual is not an isolated process, not ascetic nor centered wholly on one’s self-fulfillment. In Bahá’í terms, participants in collaborative study circles are engaged in a process of individual development and fulfillment that is tied to the centering of one’s energies on the betterment of humankind and serving the needs of the community and the larger society (Bahá’ís: Collaborative Study for Individual and Social Transformation).

The research looks at participants that follow book 3: Teaching Children’s Classes, Grade 1, which is part of a sequence of courses and observing one or more participants that start or have started a children’s class.

Participants in the courses learn, for example, to teach values to children, to engage in community service activities, to assist and empower others to independently investigate spiritual truths, to learn how to competently express one’s views, and to engage oneself in serving the broader needs of society for unity, justice, and equity.

Participants in study circles often experience a new sense of direction in life, better relationships with family and friends, and a fruitful re-evaluation of the contribution one can make to the wider community (Ruhi Institute, 1995).

Observation & data collection

A variety of techniques of inquiry are brought into play involving attempts to observe things that happen, listen to what people say and question people in the setting under investigation.

A number of sources are available. They include relevant texts in the course material in regards to values/principles that are encouraged and promoted; interviews with participants before the start of, during and after their training; formal and informal interviews and observations with the children participating in the class, before, during and after the class; interviews with parents whose children participate in the class, some counting, the collection of documents and artifacts and open-endedness in the directions the study takes.

Contextual sensitivity is vital to ethnographic study. People do different things in different contexts.

The success of observational work depends on the quality of the relations with the people under study. The observational approach for the researcher is that of the marginal native. (Seale, 2004, p. 226-237).

Sample: The researcher has just presented himself and the children enquire as to what he is doing.

001 C1: du bass op der uni

you are at university

002 C2: hei huel dat dote wech ((giggling by other children))

003 … an da schwätz de (–) an dA schwätz de

hey, take this away and then you talk (–) and then you talk


Participants that are engaged in collaborative study circles may be seen as a ‘community of learners’ that develop certain practices (Wenger, 1999) (May, 2001). Valuable insights may be gained by taking the perspectives offered by these authors and may offer insights in answering the research questions.


A careful reviewing of the corpus of the data may reveal patterns that stand out as puzzling or surprising and how the data relates to social theory (Seale, 2004, p. 226-237). Results will depend on the data collected. It may be expected that some results will differ from the expectations hoped for by those that have conceived the study material.

My own learning has been enriched by moving closer to a position of an observer and being more detached from the context of the research, a context that is very much part of my daily experience.


Bahá’í Texts

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

Lample, P. (2009). Revelation & Social Reality. USA: Palabra Publications. Retrieved from available as download:

The Bahá’ís: Collaborative Study for Individual and Social Transformation. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from

Ruhi Institute. (1995). Teaching Children’s Classes Grade 1 Ruhi Institute, Book 3. Palabra Publications.

Lample, P. (2009). Revelation & Social Reality. USA: Palabra Publications. Retrieved from available as download:

Other Works

Becker, H. S. (1998). Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about Your Research While You’re Doing It. University of Chicago Press.

Einstein, A. (1995). Ideas And Opinions (3 ed.). Three Rivers Press.

May, T. (2001). Our practices, our selves, or, What it means to be human. Penn State Press.

Seale, P. C. (2004). Researching Society and Culture (2 ed.). Sage Publications Ltd.

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.

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