Review

Annual Baha'i World volume examines the science of morality, concept of progress, and global activities

The Bahá’í World 2004-2005
Bahá’í World Centre Publications
Haifa

An examination of the science of morality, a look at the opportunities and challenges presented by human progress, and a report on a small but inspiring educational project in Mali are among the articles in the latest volume of The Bahá’í World.

An annual record of Bahá’í activities and perspectives, The Bahá’í World 2004-2005 also includes reports on the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions, an historic restoration of the prison cell where Bahá’u’lláh was held in the late 1800s, and the use of arts in Bahá’í community life.

Released in April 2006, the book is the 13th volume in an annual series aimed both at Bahá’í readers and the general public.

“One of our main goals in the production of these volumes is to document the activities and thinking of the worldwide Bahá’í community in a way that will be of interest to any serious researcher,” said Ann Boyles, editor of The Bahá’í World.

“However, we also believe that the general reader will find the topics — which explicitly analyze current trends in our global society from a Bahá’í point of view — to be of relevance.”

The article on “Science and Morality” by Graham Walker discusses some of the latest scientific findings in neuroscience relating to brain capacity and the evolution of altruism, addresses the probability that life in the universe was created by chance, and examines the role of genetics in the development of human character.

Like many of the other articles in the new volume, Dr. Walker’s essay also approaches its subject from a practical standpoint.

“As cities become increasingly multiracial, cultural moral relativity is causing problems,” writes Dr. Walker. “For example, imbibing alcohol is seen as immoral hedonism by one but as a harmless pleasure — almost a rite of passage — to another; the thigh-high skirt and bare midriff are wanton to some but an innocent fashion to others...”

The article about an effort by the Nosrat Foundation to establish village level primary schools in Mali likewise offers practical lessons on the subject of how to promote community involvement in education, especially in an underdeveloped country.

“The schools that Nosrat has established are owned by the community,” reports the article. “The villagers themselves provide many of the construction materials for the buildings, which generally consist of three classrooms and latrines. Parents make mud bricks and do the actual construction, while Nosrat provides what is difficult to find or provide locally, such as cement and iron to cover and protect the walls and sustain the long-term roofing...”

A “World Watch” essay on some current views of the opportunities and challenges presented by progress, written by Dr. Boyles herself, offers not only a survey of current literature on the subject, but also a distinctive viewpoint of how Bahá’ís approach the idea.

“As one writer has observed, ‘progress in the Western sense has become a virtually universal aspiration’,” writes Dr. Boyles, “even though its achievement may still be a distant dream for the vast majority of the world’s peoples. But is it, in fact, an entirely desirable or sustainable aspiration, or do we perhaps need to reconsider our view of progress and the criteria we use to measure it?”

Dr. Boyles concludes that the “experience of the Bahá’í community offers compelling evidence ‘that humanity can live as one global society, equal to whatever challenges its coming of age may entail.’” Further, she writes, “the Bahá’í community is working with some urgency to promote an understanding of ‘progress’ that encompasses both the spiritual and the material aspects of life.”

Other articles in the volume include:

• An omnibus report with numerous color photographs on the celebrations by Bahá’í communities on the 50th anniversary of a ten-year global effort, 1953-1963, to initiate the growth of the community in scores of countries.

• An update on the human rights situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran and Arab countries.

• The publication of several recent major statements by the Bahá’í International Community, including the Community’s response to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s “In Larger Freedom” report, as well as a statement entitled “Freedom of Religion,” which is the Community’s response to the United Nations Development Programme 2004 Human Development Report.

The volume also includes a selection of Bahá’í Sacred Writings on the theme of science and progress, highlights from messages of the Universal House of Justice written during 2004-2005, and the “Year in Review,” which chronicles the worldwide activities of the Bahá’í community from 21 April 2004 to 20 April 2005.

The volume also contains obituaries, statistics, an index, a directory of Bahá’í agencies, and list of selected new publications in English. At 333 pages, in hardcover format with a cloth cover, The Bahá’í World 2004-2005 is available at a retail cost of US$19. It can be ordered from www.bahaibookstore.com

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