"Spirit and Intellect" the theme of annual Baha'i studies conference

CALGARY, Canada — Spiritual ideas are an essential component in solving the world’s complex problems, according to the opening speaker at the annual conference of the Association for Bahá'í Studies-North America, held here 3-6 September 2004.

"The global problems of the contemporary world make interdisciplinary research a necessity," said Harold Coward, founding director of the Centre for Studies of Religion and Society at the University of Victoria in Canada.

Dr. Coward, who is not a Bahá'í, said the Centre was established to ensure "that the wisdom of the religious traditions is included alongside the best that science, social science and the humanities have to offer when major global problems are addressed."

"While narrowly focused disciplinary work has produced much valuable knowledge, today’s problems, such as the environmental crisis, are so complex in nature that a team interdisciplinary approach is required," he said, making clear that the religious and spiritual realms are part of such an approach.

Contributions by the other 58 major presenters addressed various aspects of the theme of the conference — "Spirit and Intellect: Advancing Civilization" — to the more than 1,200 participants. It was the association’s 28th annual conference.

In an address titled "The New World Disorder: Obstacles to Universal Peace," W. Andy Knight outlined how insights from the Bahá'í teachings could help in developing solutions to conflict and other problems affecting the planet.

Although the world yearns for peace, an exercise of volition and action is required to bring it about, said Dr. Knight, the McCalla Research Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

"It is not ephemeral, it won’t fall from the sky into our laps because we hope for it — it requires extraordinary effort and it will require fundamental change to the present world order," said Dr. Knight, who is a Bahá'í.

The Bahá'í writings, said Dr. Knight, provide the most comprehensive view of the requirements for peace to be established. Primary among them is the recognition of the unity of the human race.

"We have to reach out to the non-Bahá'í world, not to proselytize, but to let them know what is possible in terms of world order," said Dr. Knight.

Other speakers and sessions covered a wide range of issues, including the arts and architecture, issues affecting indigenous peoples, spiritual and moral principles, and community in the workplace.

Siamak Hariri, a partner in Hariri Pontarini Architects in Toronto, spoke of the process involved in designing the first Bahá'í Temple of South America, to be located in Santiago, Chile.

Mr. Hariri described how the concept for the temple emerged from a broad collaboration among a team of Bahá'í and non-Bahá'í designers. The process was in marked contrast to the norm in contemporary architecture, which he said fixates on deconstruction and frenetic experimentation.

"We tried to abandon what we knew. We wanted a structure that is whole, with a sense of its completeness that leaves exploration of disharmony to others, without going back to pastoral expression," said Mr. Hariri.

With reporting by Paul Hanley