In San Francisco, the Association for Baha'i Studies considers the prospects for "Uniting the Nations"

SAN FRANCISCO -- More than 800 people attended the 19th Annual Conference of the Association for Bahá'í Studies, held here in October in commemoration of the signing of the United Nations Charter in this Pacific coast city some 50 years ago.

Taking the theme "Anarchy into Order: Uniting the Nations," the meeting explored a wide range of topics related to the scholarly study of the Bahá'í Faith as a religious movement and how it is addressing the wider world of women's issues, human rights, economic development and world order.

"We had a range of papers in this meeting," said Christine Zerbinis, secretary of the Association. "Their topics went from practical subjects, such as a presentation on the education of girls in Guatemala and various papers on human rights, to relatively abstract subjects, such as on the topic of materialism and spirituality."

In keeping with the Conference's theme, the keynote address focused on the United Nations. Techeste Ahderom, principal representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the UN, spoke about the need to reflect, on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, on how humanity might collectively face its future.

Dr. Juan Ricardo Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, presented a paper entitled " 'The Equal Rights of All': Human Rights and the Bahá'í Faith." He said that the ethical principles laid out in the Bahá'í teachings more than a century ago can be seen as a harbinger for the introduction of similar principles in the post-World War II human rights movement.

Dr. Susie Clay, a specialist in the education of girls and women for the U.S. Agency for International Development, presented a paper entitled "Infusing Spiritual Principles into the Development Process: The Case of the Girls Education Initiative in Guatemala." She told about a project begun in 1989 in Guatemala that focuses on the role that educated mothers play in the development of their families, communities and countries.

In attempt to specifically connect global issues with local concerns, a unique "Local Community Challenges" seminar hosted several mayors, chiefs of police, school board members and other dignitaries from the community at large.

Designed and moderated by Shiela Banani, the convenor and chairperson of the Conference, the seminar provided a forum the discussion of local issues such as race unity, homelessness, violence reduction, drug and alcohol abuse, and the economic marginalization of people of color. The seminar also featured presentations on several urban and inner-city outreach efforts by locally based Bahá'í organizations.

In all, the conference featured more than 80 speakers at varied seminars and workshops, on topics such as moral development, the arts, alternative education, and the international economy. More than 40 percent of the papers were presented by women, said Ms. Banani.

-- reported by David Langness