The American Academy of Religion Conference: An Opportunity to Speak Publicly about the Bahá’í Faith

Nine Bahá’ís attended the 2014 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, held this year in November in San Diego, California, USA. It was one of the largest numbers of Bahá’ís in the several decades they have been attending the conference, and it produced one of the largest and most successful Bahá’í Studies programs held at that venue.

Speakers at the Baha'i Studies Colloquy includes (left to right) Sholeh Quinn, Stephen Lambden, Robert Stockman (chair), and Roland Faber

Speakers at the Baha’i Studies Colloquy included (left to right) Sholeh Quinn, Stephen Lambden, Robert Stockman (chair), and Roland Faber

The Bahá’í program began with a presentation by Stephen N. Lambden on “The Abrahamic-Islamic Basmala and its Bábí-Bahá’í Re-creations.” Dr. Lambden noted that the opening phrase of almost every chapter of the Qur’an—“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”—is similar to phrases in a few sections of the Bible and that the Báb and  Bahá’u’lláh had opened sections of their writings with bold variations on the phrase in Arabic and Persian.

Sholeh A. Quinn spoke on “‘Every Shade of Piety and Impiety’: Bábí-Bahá’í Books and Believers in E. G. Browne’s A Year amongst the Persians.” She explored the remarkable view of the Iranian Bahá’í community that Edward G. Browne’s account of his 1887–88 visit to Iran provides. The work allows one to see what books some Bahá’í communities had access to, what teachings of the Bahá’í Faith the Bahá’ís felt were important, and the supreme importance of Bahá’u’lláh in their faith.

Finally, Roland Faber spoke about “Luminous Mind: A Bahá’í Gloss on a Buddhist Puzzle.” He described parallels between certain Bahá’í and Tibetan Buddhist concepts, which suggest that Bahá’í and Buddhist concepts are not as different from each other as is often thought. A fourth presentation by Anthony Lee, “Tahirih: Theology in Poetry” would have explored Tahirih’s theology through her poems, but Dr. Lee was unable to attend.

Bahá’í Publications sponsored a book display in the exhibition hall, which was seen by hundreds or even thousands of attendees. Several books sold, and several dozen pieces of free literature were taken.

The American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature sponsor a joint conference every year, attended by over 10,000 professors, students, journalists, and others interested in the professional study of religion. The four-day event features movies, lectures, receptions, tours of local religious sites, an exhibit hall with over 150 publishers, and well over a thousand presentations on every aspect of religious studies. Such subjects as the Ethiopic Bible; the historical Jesus; the psychology of religion; death, dying, and beyond; Korean religions; interfaith dialogue; Islamic mysticism; religion and popular culture; religion and sexuality; and the theology of Martin Luther King were the focus of some of the sessions. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter spoke to a packed hall about “The Role of Religion in Mediating Conflicts and Imagining Futures: The Cases of Climate Change and Equality for Women”; he cited many statistics, including many about the horrific treatment of women around the world.

Bahá’ís interested in relating religion to their fields of interest should consider attending next year’s conference, which will be held in Atlanta November 21–24, 2015.