Upcoming Seminars

Each year, the Association for Bahá'í Studies supports and promotes a number of seminars. Some seminars are organized around a professional or academic field, while others are interdisciplinary and focus on a theme. Some emerge from existing collaborative projects or working groups, while some are organized by the Association's Committee for Collaborative Initiatives. While the specific programs will vary, these seminars often involve the presentation of research, group discussion, study, and planning for ongoing collaborative initiatives.

Below you will find descriptions and application information for the thematic seminars which will be offered prior to the ABS annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia this year.

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Evolution and Consciousness

UPDATE: This seminar is now open to friends of all ages who are interested in the biological sciences. We will have two simultaneous groups at the conference: one for youth/students, and one for adults/professionals. We welcome anyone who is interested in this topic to apply, regardless of their status as students or not.

Most undergraduate and graduate biology curricula purport to be focused on biological mechanisms, yet these mechanisms are often interpreted within a materialistic framework, the implications of which are not always apparent to students. Such materialistic interpretations can unfortunately lead students down a line of thought which seems to imply the non-existence of spiritual reality. Two major themes that are often taught this way are evolution and consciousness. These topics are also referenced in the Bahá'í Writings in ways that must be carefully correlated with prevailing scientific findings. This seminar will therefore explore the following questions: What is the relationship between evolutionary biology and the Bahá'í teachings on evolution? What is the relationship between findings from neuroscience and the Bahá'í teachings on the mind and soul? How do social forces influence biological phenomena as well as the study of those phenomena? What qualities, attitudes, skills, and habits of mind can we develop in order to find coherence between scientific findings and insights from the Revelation? While the seminar examines themes common in the biological sciences, students need not be biology majors in order to participate. Given the available spaces, preference will be given to those who can attend the entirety of the seminar, and can commit to completing a set of required pre-readings.

Facilitators: Tara Raam, Yasmine Ayman, Jasmine Miller-Kleinhenz

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

Releasing the Power of Society Building: Nutrition and Health Equity

The Universal House of Justice states that “increasing attention needs to be given to other processes that seek to enhance the life of the community" including the example of “improving public health.” Public health is determined by a variety of factors including many social determinants of health that contribute to health equity. This session will focus on nutrition/diet as a key determinant of public health. The goal of this seminar is to explore “the implications that the teachings hold” for the field of nutrition as a key determinant of both individual and public health. Participants will examine the latest scientific evidence and connections will be drawn to Bahá’í concepts and community experiences. The goal of the seminar will be to understand how we can release the power of society building to enhance the life of the community through the improvement of public health by using food as medicine. Some initial questions to consider will be as follows:

  • As capacity builds through the engine of the Institute process, how can we identify community needs to improve the life of the community?
  • What is the role of food in enhancing the life of the community and public health?
  • Why is nutrition important to individual and community health?
  • How does this fit into the Nine-Year Plan?
  • How can we contribute to the discourse and release society building powers?

Facilitators: Farshad Fani Marvasti, Shahrzad Saririan

Schedule: Friday, 2 August 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Participatory action research (PAR) is a methodology gaining traction for its collaborative and emancipatory approach. Rooted in social justice movements, PAR emphasizes involving those most affected by research in knowledge production and action to challenge inequalities. It recognizes the agency and expertise of communities, contesting traditional notions of objectivity and offering pathways for systematic inquiry and action for justice. This seminar explores how PAR principles can cohere with Bahá'í community actions and how both can learn from each other, fostering dialogue between students, scholars, and community members. Some questions we will consider are, how might the principles of PAR cohere with the actions of the Bahá’í community? What can we learn from PAR scholars, organizers, and initiatives to inform our work in and beyond the Faith? What learning might we offer a discourse on PAR - considering decades of experience at the grassroots - through the Bahá’í-inspired community-building efforts the world over? Pre-readings will be sent out in advance of the seminar, and participants are asked to read them before coming. Participants are also asked to commit to attending the full two days of the seminar. If interest in the seminar exceeds capacity, preference will be given to those who have some prior experience or interest in PAR, particularly undergraduate and graduate students, junior scholars, professionals, professors, and community workers.

Facilitators: Cameron Rishworth, Valentina Muraleedharan

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

Framework for Professional Identity and Implications for Collaborative Practice in the Health Field

The concepts of oneness and unity are fundamental within the Bahá’í Faith and have tremendous implications for a society plagued by a crisis of identity. In the health field, numerous professionals trained in various disciplines and domains exist, and while the underlying goal of most professionals is to improve the health and wellbeing of people and communities, tremendous challenges around professional identity inhibit many from engaging in this noble aspiration. Polarizing identities furthered by lack of trust between professional bodies, artificial power dynamics, and dissonance between capacity to serve and politically defined domains of practice are among some of the challenges that health professionals experience. These challenges can hinder willingness to engage in multiple disciplinary work, despite how necessary it has become. In this thematic seminar, we will explore the following two questions: (1) What would a definition for professional identity look like, when informed by the Bahá’í approach to oneness and unity?; and (2) How would this definition guide the development of a practical framework for collaborative practice in the health field?

Facilitator: Anish Arora, James Ferguson

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

A Bahá’í Perspective on the Evolution of New Economic Systems: Practice and Principles

Although the Bahá’í teachings do not prescribe an economic system for the future, it is clear that the current system is lamentably defective and will need to evolve in order to better serve the needs of humanity. New patterns of economic life will emerge through processes of learning in action, in which spiritual principle is applied to meet the needs of communities and populations. This seminar aims to reflect on the experience and thought of the cooperative movement and broader endeavors to reshape economic institutions, systems, relationships and processes, and to correlate these with insights from the teachings of the Faith and the experiences of the Bahá’í community. Pre-readings will be sent out in advance of the seminar, and participants are asked to read them before coming. Participants are also asked to commit to attending the full two days of the seminar. If interest in the seminar exceeds capacity, preference will be given to those who have some prior experience or interest in or exposure to cooperatives or alternative economic systems, or the needs arising within the community building process for economic innovation. 

Guiding questions:

  • What is an economic system meant to solve for? 
  • What would spiritually rooted economic frameworks (for production, commerce, consumption, etc.) look like? What are the guiding principles on which it would be based?
  • How does learning within and beyond the Bahá’í community advance our understanding of the roles of the three protagonists–the individual, the community and institutions–in an economy that serves the needs of humanity in the process of advancing civilization?
  • In what ways does the learning help us redefine concepts of power and justice? For example how might it be helpful to think of power in terms of collective action, or sacrificial effort? Or to think in terms of contributive justice?

Facilitators: Soha Eshraghi, Aref Kashani Nejad, Selvi Adaikkalam Zabihi, Claire Adair

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

Technology and the Advancement of Civilization

What does it mean to articulate a Bahá'í perspective on technology? How can our conceptual framework (as it relates to technology) be progressively shaped by the principles of the Bahá'í Faith? The purpose of this seminar is to advance understanding of central concepts related to technology and the advancement of civilization. Participants will be able to identify elements of a Bahá'í perspective on technology.

We will practice cultivating the essential capability to read the reality of technology discourses; specifically the choices associated with the research, design, development, deployment, adoption, and obsolescence of technologies. Our exploration will assist us to move beyond notions of technological neutrality and instrumentality by deeply analyzing the values embedded in technology and its use. We will critically examine prevalent notions about the proliferation of technology, and explore some historical dimensions of the relationship between social transformation and technology. This space is offered to participants, regardless of their occupation or educational status, to further integrate Bahá'í principles into their conceptual framework as it relates to technology. The seminar will require active participation and a commitment to staying through both days. We will have some pre-reading material before the seminar to give our consultative inquiry a clear direction.

Facilitators: Janice Ndegwa, Sami Joubert, Quddús George, Adib Shafipour

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

The Creative Process in Art, Science, and Indigenous Cultures

The Indigenous Studies Reading Group will open a space for two days to collectively explore the creative process as inspired through connection with the natural world and the world of spirit. We will prepare ourselves for this exploration by experiencing a variety of arts/sciences and storytelling, interviewing Indigenous elders and youth, drawing on insights from Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, and feeling awe in natural settings. This seminar is investigative and participatory, and also open to junior youth and children accompanied by an adult. 

Facilitators: Louise Profeit-LeBlanc, Farzaneh Peterson

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

Art as Social Transformation: The Artist’s Role

This seminar offers a multifaceted exploration of the arts as a tool for social transformation; from individual practice, to community building, to culture. Participants will study academic texts and relevant contemporary artwork, as well as engage in creative reflective exercises and local arts field trip(s), to explore both theory and practice. By blending scholarly analysis with hands-on creative activities, we will foster a space to reflect on the arts' role “as an important means of generating joy, strengthening bonds of unity, disseminating knowledge and consolidating understanding” (Universal House of Justice). This seminar is designed for artists, arts educators, and creative professionals working in the arts, who are eager to reflect on the arts as a vehicle for social change. 

We will tackle questions such as: How can art be a vehicle for social change? What is the artist’s role in community building and culture? How does art offer a distinctive way of knowing? How can we become empowered as resources for our communities? 

Facilitators: Michèle Jubilee, Anne Perry

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

Africana Discourse on Social Transformation

The seminar will explore modernity’s discourse on social transformation by correlating insights from the Bahá’í Faith with theories of change articulated by significant Africana thinkers. Participants will read pertinent texts from the Bahá’í Writings, as well as selections from the work of figures such as Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, and contemporary scholars like Monica White. Considering these selections in the light of the Bahá’í conceptual framework, participants will aim to develop clarity of thought about various Africana theories of social change, and advance their capacity to articulate Bahá’í perspectives on these theories. In particular, we will consider the discourse related to the relationship between the means and ends of social transformation, exploring the spiritual and practical dimensions of effecting change. Ultimately, through consultation, collaborative inquiry, and the arts, attendees will learn more about how to explicate Bahá’í approaches to social change and about how to apply these approaches to the issues facing Africana people and all of humanity.   

How has Africana discourse about social transformation evolved over the last two or three centuries–and the last two or three decades? What are the various ends of social transformation as articulated by Africana thinkers? What is the meaning of Black liberation? In the contemporary world of ideas, what is the discourse regarding the means of achieving Black liberation? How can insights from Bahá’u’llá'h’s Revelation illuminate Africana discourse about social transformation? How can Africana discourse about social transformation inform discourse and social action among Bahá’ís?

Facilitators: Derik Smith, Jamar Wheeler, Layli Maparyan

Schedule: Thursday, 1 August 9:00 AM to Friday, 2 August 5:00 PM

This seminar is no longer accepting applications.

Reflecting on the Mental Health of Vibrant Communities

Mental health challenges at any stage of life carry with them not only personal suffering and collective grief, but they may also keep hidden the society-building capabilities latent within each person. In North America we are seeing growing rates of depression, self-harm, anxiety, substance use, and other mental health challenges. In a continuation from last year’s thematic seminar, in this year’s seminar we consider: What current conceptual models are used to understand mental health, illness, and inform treatment approaches, and what are their limitations and assumptions? What constitutes a vibrant community with respect to emotional and psychological well-being? What supports do communities need to better foster the emotional and psychological well-being of individuals and groups? What current barriers exist to accessing mental health resources in our communities? Who are our vulnerable, historically underserved, or “at-promise” demographics within our communities? What support would institutions such as Local Spiritual Assemblies need to better address complex mental health challenges within our communities?

Facilitator: Bayan Jalalizadeh

Schedule: Friday, 2 August 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

This seminar is no longer accepting applications.