THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT
4 January 2009
Transmitted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Spiritual Assembly
of the Bahá'ís of Australia
Dear Bahá'í Friends,
Your email letter dated 23 July 2008 (ref. EDA/dl/20080723) has been received by the Universal House of Justice, which is heartened to see that you are engaged in such focused consultations on how best to develop the Yerrinbool Bahá'í Centre of Learning. You have raised a number of pertinent questions in this respect, especially related to the Centre's programs of study. While such specifics deserve ample attention, the House of Justice feels it would be timely for you to step back at this important juncture in the development of your community and survey from a broad perspective its challenges and possibilities. In this connection, we have been asked to write to you as follows.
With the institute process so well advanced and the core activities flourishing in cluster after cluster, a systematic pattern of action has taken root in your community, and you can have every confidence that provisions are now in place to ensure Bahá'u'lláh's message reaches increasing numbers of people of all ages and backgrounds in your country. It will be essential, of course, for momentum to be maintained—indeed, accelerated. But there is no doubt that the prospects for the growth of the Australian Bahá'í community are bright.
Like so many communities worldwide, then, yours will find itself being drawn further and further into the life of society in the years ahead as a natural consequence of its continued expansion and consolidation. The greater the clarity of thought you maintain about the nature of this challenge, already showing signs of the pressing demands it brings, the more effective will be the response of your community in meeting it. At this stage in your development, the House of Justice encourages you to begin to examine the work of your community in terms of three broad areas of action, which, though distinct from one another, each with its own methods and instruments, must achieve a high degree of coherence between them, if they are to reinforce one another and lend substantial impetus to the movement of the Australian people towards the spiritually and materially prosperous civilization envisioned in the writings of the Faith. What will ensure this coherence is the process of systematic learning that characterizes them all.
The expansion and consolidation of the Bahá'í community itself can be regarded as one area of action, the approach, methods and instruments of which are now well understood. Social action can be considered another. This term is being employed increasingly in consultations among Bahá'ís, as a result of heightened consciousness and enhanced capacity at the cluster [Page 2] level. It is to be expected that a desire to undertake social action will accompany the collective change which begins to occur in a village or neighbourhood as acts of communal worship and home visits are woven together with activities for the spiritual education of its population to create a rich pattern of community life. Social action can, of course, range from the most informal efforts of limited duration to social and economic development programs of a high level of complexity and sophistication promoted by Bahá'í-inspired non-governmental organizations—all concerned with the application of the teachings to some need identified in such fields as health, education, agriculture and the environment. In this case, too, there is a vast amount of experience worldwide, fostered and correlated by the Office of Social and Economic Development, that has given rise to effective approaches, which can be exploited at the level of the cluster as soon as the processes of expansion and consolidation have advanced to the degree necessary.
Efforts to participate in the discourses of society constitute a third area of action in which the friends are engaged. Such participation can occur at all levels of society, from the local to the international, through various types of interactions—from informal discussions on Internet forums and attendance at seminars, to the dissemination of statements and contact with government officials. What is important is for Bahá'ís to be present in the many social spaces in which thinking and policies evolve on any one of a number of issues—on governance, the environment, climate change, the equality of men and women, human rights, to mention a few—so that they can, as occasions permit, offer generously, unconditionally and with utmost humility the teachings of the Faith and their experience in applying them as a contribution to the betterment of society. Of course, care should be exercised that the friends involved in this area of activity avoid overstating the Bahá'í experience and drawing attention to fledging efforts of the Bahá'í community which are best left to come to maturity without interference, such as the junior youth spiritual empowerment program. The development of instruments, methods and approaches for this area of activity is a chief concern of the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, based here at the Bahá'í World Centre.
The House of Justice wishes us to emphasize that the above scheme should be regarded as merely one way of conceptualizing the work of the Bahá'í community, one that avoids fragmentation and facilitates sound planning. It does not encompass the entirety of Bahá'í endeavour, the defense work being a case in point. Nor should it assume the status of a definition, as reflected in statements such as "There are three areas of Bahá'í activity." Further, in no way should the friends feel there is a division of labour, in which one group participates in the work of expansion and consolidation, and another group in each of the other two areas. All Bahá'ís should engage in efforts to expand and consolidate the Faith. They also participate, to some extent, in social action and the discourses of society. In the case of the latter two, however, where the work takes on different degrees of formality, the nature of the tasks to be carried out can become quite complex and sometimes delicate, requiring specialized training and preparation.
Indeed, it is in this context that the Universal House of Justice asks you to consider plans for the development of the Yerrinbool Bahá'í Centre of Learning. As currently conceived, the programs of the Centre are intended to attract students who seek a deeper understanding of various facets of the Faith. However, you are encouraged to detach yourselves from the Centre's past achievements, which have been undeniably praiseworthy, and determine dispassionately what role it would play in the above scheme. At the outset, it should be acknowledged that systematic study of the Faith will be a natural outgrowth of the culture of Bahá'í community life, in which the habit of reading the writings is fostered by the institute process and complemented by local deepening classes, conferences, winter and summer schools, and special gatherings devoted to specific subjects. So, too, will training needed to carry out programs of social and economic [Page 3] development take place at the grassroots of the community. Much learning is still required, however, in developing human resources that can effectively participate in the discourses of society, and it is here that the Yerrinbool Bahá'í Centre of Learning can make a singular contribution.
In that case, the nature of the Centre's programs would change. Still concerned with specialized aspects of the Faith, it would not conduct courses in Bahá'í studies in the same sense as those offered in universities by departments of religious studies, which, as you know, the House of Justice discourages since it could easily lead to a class of individuals in the Bahá'í community who assume a degree of authority on the basis of some formal qualification. Nor would the courses of the Centre simply repeat, in the final analysis, what will already be covered in local deepening classes. They would seek, rather, to relate the teachings of the Faith to a range of social issues, drawing on existing bodies of knowledge in such disciplines as history, economics, philosophy, political science and sociology. Decisions regarding the development of the Centre's facilities and its recognition as a Private Higher Education Provider would need to be taken, then, in this light.
The House of Justice looks forward to learning of the outcome of your consultations on this matter and assures you of its prayers on your behalf.
With loving Bahá'í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat
cc: International Teaching Centre
Board of Counsellors in Australasia
Counsellor David Chittleborough
Counsellor Eric Kingston
Counsellor Manijeh Reyhani