Professional and academic discourse workshops: Delving into empowering ideas

September 18, 2020
Professional and academic discourse workshops: Delving into empowering ideas

Many people care deeply about what they do for a living. And if they can help their profession as a whole improve life for everyone, such a service has great potential for bringing the world greater peace and justice, as the Baha’i teachings envision. 

Discourse is one way of moving in that direction: contributing to the way a group of people thinks and talks about important topics. Baha’is worldwide are encouraged to “examine the forces operating in society” and find opportunities to bring unifying and stimulating ideas from the teachings of the Faith into a variety of conversations. 

In recent years, the Association for Baha’i Studies–North America has developed workshops, seminars, reading groups and other spaces for hundreds of people over the years to learn about contributing to the discourses in their professions or academic fields. 

The ABS is organizing these spaces to equip people to utilize Baha’i ideas to help move these discourses “towards a greater understanding of truth, … towards the production of knowledge that benefits mankind,” said Selvi Zabihi, a member of the association’s Committee for Collaborative Initiatives. 

That process, she said, involves not only “translating insights from the Faith into language that is intelligible within those discourses,” but examining ways those fields can make tangible progress in achieving their aspirations.  

Since 2016, discourse workshops have been a perennial feature of the annual ABS conference, gathering Baha’is and friends in the fields of law, health, media, economics, education, religious studies and other callings. 

This year, unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the atmosphere of the workshops. While people weren’t literally face to face, the online discussion space allowed for a highly intimate sharing of experiences and insights. 

Conversations were grounded in readings from the Baha’i writings as well as from messages of Baha’i institutions and agencies. The pandemic and the quest for racial justice were an ever-present context, etching in stark relief the inequities that Baha’is and their friends are learning to address. 

Participants explored a wide array of questions in these areas:

  • Why and how should Baha’is contribute to academic and professional discourse?
  • What kinds of formal or informal spaces for discourse might be created?
  • How does contributing to discourses differ from teaching people about the Faith or promoting social action?
  • How might insights from Baha’u’llah’s teachings impact behaviors, norms, policies, practices or institutional structures?
  • What voices are currently underrepresented in the professional and academic discourses in which you participate? What are the implications of this underrepresentation?
  • How can we develop ways of studying, consulting, acting, and reflecting together, in a learning mode, with others, over time?


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