Course on Learning How to Study the Bahá’í Writings

“How do I read and study the Bahá’í writings?” is the question Dr. Sandra Hutchison aims to help her students answer in an on-line course called “How to Study the Bahá’í Writings.” Offered by the Wilmette Institute, the course began on December 15 and will end on March 15. Twenty-four students are taking the course, including four from Canada and one each from Brazil, Finland, and South Korea. The student body also includes three study groups.

To enable students to achieve what she calls “higher literacy,” Dr. Hutchison has developed an approach that she calls “Windows onto Divine Wisdom.” She draws on her academic studies in English literature that focused on close textual readings of literary works; on her text-based work on the Bahá’í writings in the Research Department at the Bahá’í World Center; and on her recent experiments with on-line methods of teaching to create a series of windows (or lenses) for unlocking the riches in the Bahá’í scriptural texts.

The nine windows, or lenses, are:

  1. Scriptural Tradition
  2. Literary Tradition
  3. The Times (the context in which a work was revealed)
  4. Biography (the place of a work in the context of Bahá’u’lláh’s life)
  5. Oeuvre (the place of a work in the context of Bahá’ulláh’s many writings)
  6. the Work itself
  7. Structure
  8. Theme
  9. Language

Starting with a unit on the window of language, Dr. Hutchison is challenging the students to decode the riches of the figurative language in the Bahá’í writings. One assignment gave them the opportunity to translate one passage of Bahá’u’lláh into modern English and to see for themselves the result when the rich Shakespearean style of language that Shoghi Effendi used in translating the works of Bahá’u’lláh is modernized. She says that students have responded with innovative ways for decoding the figurative language and by learning the value of reading passages aloud so that they can hear the sound and rhythm.

One student, Judy Russell from Prescott, Arizona, had this to say about the “window on language”: “The first window about ‘language’ was really fun to do. I found a news article in the New York Times about Pakistan and compared the language to a passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s Kitab-i-Íqán. The mental stretch to do this was invigorating. The comparison brought out many qualities of Baha’u’llah’s Writings which I hadn’t realized before.”

With eight more windows to explore, Dr. Hutchison is looking forward to seeing whether the windows approach to studying the Bahá’í writings brings about the higher literacy for which she is aiming and, more important, the transformation that she hopes the students will experience.

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