Wilmette Institute Faculty Support Bahá’í Presence at American Academy of Religion

The American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature held their annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on November 17–20, 2012. Among the 12,000 professors, students, and journalists of religion in attendance were three Bahá’ís, who, in three Bahá’í-related efforts, helped to publicize Bahá’í scholarship.

First, Bahá’í Publications mounted a display of Bahá’í authoritative texts and books about Bahá’í history and theology in the exhibit hall, where some 150 publishers exhibited their books and online resources. Dozens of people came to the booth, asked questions about the Faith, and took free materials about it.

Second, a Bahá’í Studies Colloquy was held on Sunday evening, November 18, with three panelists:

  • Guy Emerson Mount, a graduate student in history at the University of Chicago, spoke about attitudes toward interracial marriage among whites and African Americans in early twentieth-century America as they related to `Abdu’l-Bahá’s position on the matter.
  • Robert Stockman, instructor in religious studies at DePaul University and Director of the Wilmette Institute, described the surges and plateaus in the growth of Bahá’í membership in the United States from 1894 to the present. 
  • Michael McMullen, a professor of sociology at the University of Houston, Clear Lake, and an occasional faculty member for the Wilmette Institute, gave a presentation about the results of a recent survey about the vitality of Bahá’í communities. The discussion was so lively that the panel members and the audience lingered in the room an extra 45 minutes.

Finally, on Monday afternoon the American Academy of Religion arranged for a tour of the Bahá’í House of Worship. For the seventeen who took the tour, the guide, Dr. Stockman, provided a 30-minute orientation on the bus while it traveled from Chicago north to Wilmette. At the House of Worship the attendees received an hour-long presentation about the building. Afterward, Dr. Stockman had extensive conversations with two participants.

Bahá’ís have been participating in the American Academy of Religion for twenty-six years and have had many opportunities to dialogue about the Bahá’í Faith and engage in public discourse about matters that relate to many Bahá’í principles. During the past quarter of a century there has been a notable increase in the coverage of the Bahá’í Faith in religious-studies textbooks. The Bahá’í presence at the American Academy of Religion is probably one of the reasons for this development.