42nd Annual Conference

10 am August 9 to 1 pm August 12, 2018
Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

 

41st Annual Conference – closing remarks by the ABS Executive Committee

We have come here together because we desire knowledge. We are eager to learn from others, and deepen our understanding so that we may have a growing appreciation of the many implications of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation for various fields of human endeavour.

In 1934, the Guardian wrote, “In these days when people are so skeptical about religion and look with so much contempt towards religious organizations and movements there seems to be more need than ever for our young Bahá’ís to be well-equipped intellectually.”

When we come to this conference, we have to ask how it will help us to become well equipped intellectually.

What could this conference look like, so that it will help to inspire the thought of the hundreds of people who participate in it?

How can the spaces it creates, the speakers it engages, and the artistic performances it highlights help to build capacity within the Bahá’í community to participate in the discourses of society?

How can we encourage participants in this conference to inquire into the present condition of the world and is problems? And how does this inquiry go beyond superficial comments and opinion? We are not satisfied with simply recycling the ways of thinking that have become so familiar to us from reading the latest books, magazines and journals.

We want to go deeper.

In the precious few days we have here together, how have we used our time to look behind the passing events of the day, and beyond simple observations about the oppressive and unjust structures of society?

In what ways are we inquiring into the ideas and mindsets and entire worldviews that have shaped our society, so that we might analyze them, identify their defects, and propose alternatives?

What are we doing to ensure that the ways of thinking that have created a defective social order are not replicated in our own minds?

As we share the results of our research, our reflection on experience, as understood within the context of the Bahá’í teachings, how can we do this in a way that will open up new avenues of exploration for others to follow?

You can see how challenging it is to plan a conference that will help us to do these things. We are grateful for the efforts made by all of the speakers and facilitators that have supported us along this path of learning.

We are also grateful to have the guidance of the Universal House of Justice to illuminate the boundaries and direction of this path. In their recent letter, they have encouraged us to “explore fresh approaches with some simple steps that can grow in complexity”.

We have seen the multiplication of working groups within the Association, where people from similar professions or areas of study come together, identify points of interest, and pursue lines of inquiry that seek to correlate aspects of the discourse in their field with the teachings of Baha’u’llah. There are now some 12 groups that are actively drawing together friends to pursue ongoing projects. We have benefited from their work here at the conference, where 19 of the breakout sessions emerged from these ongoing areas of collaboration. Five of these groups held seminars outside of the annual conference over the course of this past year.

What has been especially notable from the work of these groups is the way in which participants have sought to approach their areas of inquiry by with a reading of relevant literature and analyzing its structure of ideas in light of concepts and principles from Baha’u’llah’s revelation. They are asking: What are some issues of enduring importance in this field, and how are people thinking about them? What assumptions and concepts are at play? How are key perspectives and debates being framed? How does our own conceptual framework allow us to navigate these assumptions, concepts, perspectives, and debates, identify problems, and suggest alternatives.

To even attempt to answer these questions is not easy, but with focused effort and consultation with others, many participants in these groups are making significant advances.

The Executive Committee imagines that this annual conference will continue to evolve in response to the efforts of the participants in these various processes.

So too will other aspects of the work of the Association. We are delighted that the Journal of Bahá’í Studies is now accessible online, with print copies also available to those who subscribe. The continued improvement of the publications of the Association remains an important area of focus, and we hope that those of you who are publishing research in the field of Bahá’í Studies will submit your papers for review by the Journal.

Before we finally close, I wish to thank on behalf of the Executive Committee the National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá’ís of Canada, and of the United States. The interest, encouragement, and guidance we receive from these institutions helps us to keep our sights on the goals set out for us by the Universal House of Justice.

Thank you to our plenary speakers, who accepted our invitations, and to breakout presenters who provide so much of the substance of the program. We had a remarkable number of submissions this year, including a very high proportion of first-time presenters. We believe this is a positive sign for years to come.

In its 2010 Ridvan message, the Universal House of Justice wrote about the efforts of the Bahá’í community to create the nucleus of the future civilization destined for humankind. It said, “there are no shortcuts, no formulas. Only as effort is made to draw on insights from His Revelation, to tap into the accumulating knowledge of the human race, to apply His teachings intelligently to the life of humanity, and to consult on questions that arise will the necessary learning occur and capacity be developed.”

With your continued efforts and participation, we will, together, strive to rise to the challenge of the Supreme Body.