Friday, 16 January 2009

New Letter on Baha'i Scholarship and Entry by Troops from the Universal House of Justice

Dear all,

I share the following letter on Baha'i scholarship from the Universal House of Justice. I think it is remarkable. It is not the entire letter as the details of the addressees and the particular, as opposed to the generic matters addressed in the letter, as agreed with the addresee who gave permission for the letter to be shared, have been removed. The first paragraph includes the most emphatic declaration of the validity of Baha'i scholarship in the current processes, identifying three key contributions and concluding that "Far from being a diversion from the worldwide effort to advance the process of entry by troops, Bahá'í scholarship can be a powerful reinforcement to that endeavour and a valuable source of new enquirers." The next paragraph sets out the Universal House of Justice's vision for the institutional evolution of Baha'i scholarship around the world. The last paragraph validates individual scholarly endeavours, and encourages them to support existing Baha'i journals and, where present, ABS institutions.

With love,

Ismael



---------------------------------------------

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT
24 April 2008

Dear Bahá'í Friends,

Your email letter dated... has been received by the Universal House of Justice, which has asked us to respond as follows.

The House of Justice is fully committed to fostering the development of Bahá'í scholarly activity in all parts of the Bahá'í world. Through their scholarly endeavours believers are able
to enrich the intellectual life of the Bahá'í community, to explore new insights into the Bahá'í teachings and their relevance to the needs of society, and to attract the investigation of the Faith by thoughtful people from all backgrounds. Far from being a diversion from the worldwide effort to advance the process of entry by troops, Bahá'í scholarship can be a powerful reinforcement to that endeavour and a valuable source of new enquirers.

The hope of the House of Justice is that, as the Bahá'í community develops in each country, the concerned National Spiritual Assembly will encourage those so inclined to embark
on Bahá'í scholarly activities. When the number of believers involved reaches a sufficient size, an Association for Bahá'í Studies may well come into being and act as a focus for support and encouragement; in due course, such an association may be moved to launch, under the aegis of its National Spiritual Assembly, a journal by which the findings of those engaged in this pursuit can be shared with others. Such associations are generally formed at a national level, although the situation in Europe is such that transnational associations have, at this time, been permitted within that continent. In time the House of Justice will give consideration to whether or not the objectives of the Faith would best be served by the formation of some international organization to coordinate the work of the associations and to stimulate the creation of new ones in other countries and whether an international journal should be brought into being.

When there are relatively few believers engaged in Bahá'í scholarly activity in a country, the formation of an association there is not viable. However, believers from any part of the world are free to submit papers to Bahá'í journals being published in other countries or to seek to make presentations at meetings arranged by the existing associations elsewhere.

...The individuals having an interest in Bahá'í scholarship are, of course, free to pursue their own scholarly endeavours and to submit their conclusions to existing
journals in Europe, North America or elsewhere. They should also be advised to consider means by which they can participate in the work of existing associations.

With loving Bahá'í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

18 comments:

Alexander M Zoltai said...

Thank you for posting this!

Being of the scholarly bent, I often question my activities in light of the current Plan...

Every Baha'i can be involved in the Core Activities; not all can pursue Baha'i-oriented scholarship.

Thanks again, very much!!!

~ Alex from Our Evolution

Ismael Velasco said...

Thanks again for the encouragement. Every response means a great deal. I feel that the challenge, as the Universal House of Justice wrote in a recent letter, is to integrate all the aspects of community activity into a cohesive and healthy pattern of growth. It is not, for me, an either/or issue between "core" activities, which have priority at this stage in our development, and non-core activity, which, while not being the centre, are an important part of the circumference! In fact, I feel the whole point of the core activities and the institute process is to generate the human resources that will allow the community to grow to the scale it needs to allow the full diversity of its potential, artistic, scholarly, social, diplomatic, communal, etc., to be made manifest, in a way which our current stage of development makes in most cases still a thing of aspiration. This letter is to me the most emphatic and unequivocal endorsement of the element of scholarship as part of the inherent evolution of all Baha'i communities, organically linked to the processes of the plan, without which this same scholarly process too cannot grow to its full potential.

Once more, thank you for sharing, and stimulating this "epistolary" meeting of hearts.

Alexander M Zoltai said...

"... non-core activity, which, while not being the centre, are an important part of the circumference..."

Wonderful way to put it!

Anonymous said...

Since you notified email lists of this letter , your links which take us instead to your own comments about it is not humble as you claim to be. Please put your comments AFTER the letter in both pages instead. UHJ letter can stand alone withiut your intro.

Ismael Velasco said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your feedback. As you rightly noticed, I am painfully far from the humility I yearn for (God grant that my yearning be sincere), and I sincerely hope that you will add your prayers to mine that He may grant me that quality, and more, true fana, and absolute nothingness. For this my heart yearns for, and as my poems testify, struggles to succeed.

As for the intro, it is in fact the standard format of my blog for every posting, and in fact for a lot of blogs, to provide a brief steer or summary to what in my case are generally extended blog postings. I haven't learned how to have that summary intro not appear in the full post when you follow the link "read more", which is why it appears twice. It is irritating to me too.

I hope you do not take it as arrogance for me to keep this format, as I have found that other readers appreciate a bit of intro before deciding whether to read on or not. Of course, normally what I share are my own thoughts, rather than full documents of the Centre of the Cause, and I suppose it's not too much to hope for that if my comments are jarring, they will be mercifully ignored and altogether forgotten in the dazzling light of the Universal house of Justice's guidance.

Whether this resonates with you, or on the contrary reinforces your perception of a hidden arrogance, witting or unwitting (wa allah'u'alam, as the Muslims say, "and God knows best"), I thank you for taking the time to visit, and to comment.

With love,

Ismael

Baquia said...

I read from Sen's blog that the online Journal of Baha'i Studies has been shut down. When I went to the site, I read that "acting on the request of the Universal House of Justice this website has been closed down."

Why would the House order the site to be shut down? It was a wonderful addition to Baha'i scholarship.

Ismael Velasco said...

Dear Bacquia,

The House of Justice did not ask for the site to be closed down, although it did judge, in light of the vision set out in the letter above, that as an international journal, it was a premature venture in light of the relative lack of development of Baha'i studies in different parts of the world, which, I gather from the letter above, it appears to regard as a prerequisite to a genuinely international venture, which it suggests it might revisit in future.

The decision to take down the site was taken by the site-owner, who is moving on to other projects.

With love,

Ismael

Baquia said...

Ismael,
thank you for the explanation. If it was "a premature venture in light of the relative lack of development of Baha'i studies in different parts of the world" then how are we to foment such development if not through such new and innovative enterprises?

Isn't it a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma? Wouldn't such a site actually encourage development of Baha'i studies in parts of the world which do not have an active local presence? How are we to move forward if not one step at a time? If you stop a child from trying to walk, saying that it is too soon, you are not helping the child. It may stumble or fall but it is only through such an attempt that it will, in the end, be successful.

I can certainly appreciate your desire to be obedient to the House but please do try to also acknowledge that there is value in individual initiative. Original thought is precious.

One people, one planet. But let us not become borg. Please.

Ismael Velasco said...

Dear Bacquia, thank you for commenting.

As the founder of OJBS in the first place, I hardly think of myself as a borg, desiring uniformity of thought! It seems ironic that my position on the ending of a diverse initiative that was the fruit of my own inadequate efforts should be characterised as an espousal of uniformity! Look at the papers I published there, and you will surely agree they are not paeans of "yes" men and women! May God grant me fairness, a searching mind, and a loving and sympathetic heart.

Beyond my own admittedly fragile and frequently mistaken perspectives, if you go back to the April 08 letter which we are commenting on, it is clear that individuals around the world are free to publish their work anywhere, and that there is no lack of publishing venues. Ask the editors of BSR, JBS, and World Order, and they will tell you that they are not swamped by excess material, but rather that to find quality contributions is an arduous and persevering task. Having commissioned and secured almost all the material in OJBS myself, I can also confirm the same, and to get such material from anywhere outside of the US, Canada, Britain and Germany, is very difficult, and in the global south a virtual miracle. I spent full weeks of accumulated hours seeking to find materials away from the existing centres of Baha'i scholarship.

So, in this context, what is missing is not journals, and let's remember that very often, the best and most powerful publication ventures are the innumerable non-Baha'i journals, but scholarly infrastructure and the kind of systematic nurturing envisaged in this revolutionary new letter.

The entire approach to community development in the Baha'i Faith, in common with best practice in the non-Baha'i field (that is my own profession), is bottom up. It takes longer, but is more sustainable and in the long-run more versatile. The letter under discussion itself suggests that an international journal may indeed emerge at a later time, on a stronger platform of national scholarly communities than is the case at present, just as it took some 30 years from the first Local Spiritual Assembly being established in Tehran, to the first National Assemblies being elected in Britain, the US, Iran, and two or three other countries, and a further 4 decades before sufficient institutional development at the national level was in place to elect the Universal House of Justice. It took 84 years from the creation of the Baha'i community to the launch of the first national systematic teaching plan, and a further 16 years to the launch of the first global teaching Plan. But each new stage was solid, permanent, and genuinely exponential. Starting is always the hardest, and encounters the greatest resistance, but once a critical mass is achieved, a chain reaction is triggered.

So my own understanding of the guidance, and it is purely my own, is that the Universal House of Justice feels the need for further nurturing of Baha'is scholarship in diverse national spheres for the critical mass to emerge that will make possible, and exponentially so, the launch of an international journal, and in the process will, in community after community, incrementally and simultaneously "enrich the intellectual life of the Bahá'í community, ...explore new insights into the Bahá'í teachings and their relevance to the needs of society, and ... attract the investigation of the Faith by thoughtful people from all backgrounds".

Had there been such an infrastructure, supporting not one, but a whole range of international journals would have been a relative doddle, as opposed to the labour of detective work and reliance upon God that it actually was!

So, I do not expect all to agree with this perspective, but, in the light of the unequivocal endorsement of scholarship in the letter I have shared, the absolute lack of prescriptions as regards methodology, disciplinary focus, academic or non-academic affiliations, the explicit and repeated freedom of every individual to publish in any existing journal, and the support, more, the encouragement of the creation of journals and publications in whatever national communities there are enough believers to sustain and truly own them, where they do not duplicate existing venues, I would see any reading of this guidance, or of the discontinuation of OJBS, as entailing a call to uniformity, as probably unwarranted.

I have recently sent a paper for publication in JBS, a review to BSR, and a book manuscript for George Ronald. I have been working for some time on a paper for a non-Baha'i academic journal. All this since the discontinuation of OJBS. My sense of harmony is not simply a matter of obedience therfore. While the process of initiating new journals has become potentially more systematic and occasionally more restricted since this letter (you could also argue that the endorsement of scholarship as a powerful reinforcement to advancing the processes of entry by troops in fact lifts de facto restrictions that might have been misguidedly put in place in communities which did not see the interconnection of a healthy scholarly culture and a healthy pattern of growth, and thus may actually facilitate the emergence of new publications rather than restrict them) I genuinely do not see my freedom to publish my work as having been affected in any way, and am further aware that my publishing in the venues mentioned will contribute to their strengthening and development, at a time when, as I say, the existing production of scholarship is already, without OJBS, just about able to keep pace with existing academic journals.

I would suggest that the only limitations on individual initiative, are either self-imposed, or reflections of a concrete and temporary moment in community development, aimed, not at its suppression, but on the contrary at its maximisation, but in a sustainable sytematic and long-term manner.

If you know anyone who might have wished to submit a paper to OJBS, feel free to encourage them to contact me, and I will put them in touch with potential publication venues, or they can of course contact, as I did, the editors of existing publications directly. This way, they will strengthen them, and enhance their potential.

With love,

Ismael

Baquia said...

Ismael,
yours was a wonderful initiative and I applaud you for it. Through heroic effort you succeeded as is evidenced by the richness of the papers as well as the quantity of them. Obviously the enterprise was flourishing.

Was the management and administration of the OJBS too much? Because unless that was the case I can't understand why one would cut down the tree when it is yielding abundant and goodly fruit?

Hondo said...

Hello Ismael,
While noting all your comments, I nevertheless rue the shutting down of the site, for it was a place I knew I could go to to read serious thoughts on the Faith.

Ismael Velasco said...

Dear Hondo, thank you so much for your comment.

As I said, while OJBS was discontinued at the request of the Universal House of Justice, there was no instruction to take the site down, although since it costs money to maintain, that was a likely consequence. But in fact, it would be more accurate to say that the archive has migrated rather than been taken down. ojbs.org is closed, but the OJBS volume is now stored at The archives of the journal are still available at the following URL:
http://oj.bahaistudies.net/

If you go to ojbs.org, you will find that the closing notice has now been amended to make these matters clear.

Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

I have read all the previous comments and it was particularly interesting to read the dialogue between yourself, Ishmael, and the woman that goes by the name of Baquia. Her penetrating questions certainly enriched my perception of the process of persuasion that you were subjected to. Apparently you believe it was your decision to close it down and in light of your rationales(depth of scholarship, etc.) I can honestly see your point of view as I can see Baquia's. However there are two points which continue to trouble me in the entire discussion.

1) If the journal's activity wasn't significant for the world Baha'i community at the present time why did the UHJ even suggest it be shut down and its activities folded into more acceptable venues? They obviously wanted it shut down otherwise they wouldn't have asked you to do so. Your journal was posing a problem for them and they acted to persuade you to make the problem go away.

2) The suggestion in the UHJ letter that in the future other journals might be developed under the encouragement and facilitation of "associations" clearing implies some institutional oversight and control.

If you have ever examined the foundational documents of the so called "associations" under the NSA of the US what you find is that the only member is the NSA itself. Any individual participates in the association soley as a an "advisory" member.
If you don't believe me go and look for yourself at any of the association foundational documents.

What that means is that the associations are totally controlled by the central institutions. This fact taken with the UHJ's desire to close your journal and the practice of "associations" being formed in the Baha'i community without any real power or trust being invested in the membership by the institutions, and the simultaneous boycotting of Kalimat Press by the NSA's of Great Britain and the US(something obviously orchestrated from behind the scenes) as well as others, paints the picture of a broader policy of information control being pursued, albeit with a velvet glove in your case, by the UHJ.

As an American I find control of speech or publication absolutely repugnant. As an American I realize I am also brutally tactless, please forgive me, but frankly I am concerned and afraid as a person born and raised in a free society to participate openly in Baha'i Scholarship due to the chill wind I feel blowing from Haifa. What if they don't like what I write? Will I become another Sen T. or have my privileges for pilgrimage or visiting the shrines revoked? For the life of me I can not understand why an institution so totally devoted by its principals to justice is stamping out the emerging voices of genuinely independent minds by pursuing its broader policy of information and scholarship control and centralization.

I did read one of your journal's papers: Bahá'í Consultation and Freireian Dialogue in Development A Comparative Perspective by
Adel Salmanzadeh and found its statement of certain basic assumptions in the development community at the present time such as; the need for members of communities to own the means of production, and feel that they are potent decision makers, as being absolutely essential to creating sustained development. These two key factors have been directly voided by the current policies being followed by the Baha'i institutions at the present time regarding scholarship and associations as I have submitted proof in my post above.

So how can the UHJ expect to create a sustained community of scholarship as it states it wants to do unless it empowers the grass roots by encouraging efforts such as yours and leaving you alone to pursue them? That is my question to you sincerely.

Anonymous by choice at the present time.

P.S. Perhaps we are moving into a
Brave New World where independence is to be subsumed into institutional patrimony that will care for and "channel" all the needs and energies of the community.

P.P.S. I don't know of any place it says in the Baha'i Writings that we have to have permission to form associations or committees in the community of the Baha'i Faith.
If you know please inform me.

Anonymous said...

I would be grateful if you could offer a way to confirm that the subject letter was written by the House of Justice. Excluding the name of the recipient and personal details related to his queries, a way of verifying the authenticity of the letter would put people like myself at ease. Nonetheless, thank you for posting it!

Tom Roberts

Anonymous said...

I would like to add that in the WOB, under the animating purposes of Baha’i institutions, we read that: “…the present restrictions imposed on the publication of Baha'i literature will be definitely abolished”. It seems obvious in the light of the present persecution of the Faith that some control might be deemed necessary so as to avoid untimely remarks that could aggravate the persecution endured by some communities.

will vdH said...

In my contacts with a former Member of Parliament (who was my student), I have taken note of his interest in Baha'i consultative processes. I am having difficulty finding the appropriate literature on the topic for those who are not Baha'is. Somehow, one needs a statement that falls between something that is normative and something that is secular. He needs sometthing that he can read on his own accord. Any ideas? Anyone? Will

Anonymous said...

Very nicce!

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