First Baha'i Chair for World Peace changes hands at University of Maryland

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, USA – A former senior official with the United States Agency for International Development, John Grayzel, has been appointed to the Bahá'í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland in the United States.

Dr. Grayzel will succeed the inaugural holder, Suheil Bushrui, who retired effective 31 December 2005 after holding the position since 1993.

The Chair's mission is to contribute Bahá'í perspectives and experiences on issues of global peace, social and economic justice, and the value of cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity.

“Dr. Bushrui very much laid the foundations for the work of the Chair, and he was very successful at building credibility and admiration among people for the idea of examining things in the light of spirituality at a secular university like the University of Maryland ,” said Dr. Grayzel.

“The idea now is to build on that foundation by finding key areas of focus where the Chair can play a critical role in bringing together people of various perspectives and faiths to look at issues in ways that are truly transformational,” said Dr. Grayzel.

“Learning to value human diversity is particularly important, because it helps us move beyond simple tolerance,” said Dr. Grayzel. “We have to show people that the diversity of humanity is ‘value-added.'”

For his part, Dr. Bushrui will remain at the University of Maryland , continuing as a professor of the Khalil Gibran Research and Studies Project. Well known for his seminal studies in English of the works of W.B. Yeats and for his translations of Yeats' poetry into Arabic, Bushrui is also a well-known authority on the works of Kahlil Gibran.

“I believe that my main mission at the Chair was to establish it and allow it to become academically viable and accepted by my peers at the university,” said Dr. Bushrui, who is 77. “That is done. Now it is time for me to do something else, and for someone else to come in with new blood and new energy, to take this to higher levels.”

During his tenure at the Chair, Dr. Bushrui won high regard for his thoughtful scholarship and insights as a world-class lecturer. In 2003, he received the Juliet Hollister Award for “exceptional service to interfaith understanding.” Other recipients of the Hollister award include South African President Nelson Mandela, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Queen Noor of Jordan, the Dalai Lama, Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, and theologian Thomas Berry. The Hollister Award is given by the Temple of Understanding , a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to interfaith understanding.

Dr. Grayzel praised greatly Dr. Bushrui's contributions as the inaugural holder of the Chair, saying that he infused the Bahá'í Chair with vision and energy. Dr. Grayzel noted that Dr. Bushrui adhered to a broad definition of international relations, one that focused on traditionally non-academic topics such as interfaith dialogue and intercultural reconciliation.

Dr. Grayzel said that among Professor Bushrui's many accomplishments was the design and teaching of an innovative, award-winning course called “The Spiritual Foundation of the Human Race” and the preparation of a related textbook that will soon be published in both English and Arabic editions.

“Perhaps Professor Bushrui's greatest achievement as holder of the Chair was in obtaining formal recognition by wider scholarly and policy circles of the need for a more comprehensive approach to peace-building,” said Dr. Grayzel.

“The substance of this approach is captured in Professor Bushrui's own words: ‘Beyond pragmatic political and economic arrangements for security and coexistence, there remains the fact that peace springs from a spiritual or moral attitude that must be cultivated, in part, through education.'”

Dr. Grayzel, a member of the Bahá'í Faith, holds a law degree from Stanford University and a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Oregon .

He served for 27 years in the field of international development, tackling a wide variety of service assignments for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) before retiring as a member of the Senior Foreign Service.

Among other things, Dr. Grayzel was engaged in conflict resolution, local governance, natural resource management, macro- and micro-economic growth, policy reform, technology innovation and improvement to both basic and higher education in developing countries.

His work took him to over 50 countries including almost 20 years of residence in Western and Central Africa, India , and the Philippines. He also served in the US Peace Corps.

The Bahá'í Chair for Peace is part of the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management, which adheres to the belief that “peace building and development-with-justice are two sides of the same coin.”

The Center's director, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, welcomed Dr. Grayzel's appointment saying that Dr. Grayzel, with his extensive background in international development, “will be a good fit" with the Center's programs and priorities.

The chancellor of the University of Maryland System , William E. Kirwan, said that through the Chair, the values of the Bahá'í Faith resonate on campus and support the major values and activities of the university.

“This is the first ... Bahá'í Chair in existence, and was one of my most important initiatives as president of the College Park campus,” Dr. Kirwan said.