Thursday, April 17, 2008

On the Use of Study Circles in the Baha'i Community: Grassroots moves

The following appeared as a comment back in January to a post on , the editor of which has included it in a new post, "Worldwide Grassroots Moves Towards Participatory Democracy." It is certainly a wonderful description of Ruhi study circles as are in use throughout the Baha'i world today. -gw

"Fundaec study circle - completed"

Without wishing disrespect to anyone’s views or beliefs, it is interesting to note that the Baha’i community world wide uses study circles to great effect as a means to develop spiritual insight and better understandings of both the history and nature of the Baha’i community, its aims and teachings as well s prepare participants for service-orientated activities.

There are a series of 8 study circle guides which were originally developed by the ‘Ruhi Institute’ in Columbia and which are sequentially based on developing an increasingly mature grasp of the Baha’i Faith. Each is linked to serve-based activities - for example holding a devotional meeting or running a children’s class; and whilst these may be things of importance only to the Baha’i community, of equal importance might be the structure and character of these study circles (and yes, they have always been referred to as ’study circles’) which sees them as sequential, based on developing a spiritual motivation (a recognition that one’s responsibilities extend beyond one’s immediate needs) and linking this to a specific activity.

Equally the Baha’i community operates on a process of consensual decision-making: there is no individual leadership, no clergy in the community, and decisions are made through a process of ‘consultation’. Small as the import of those decisions may presently be, nevertheless, the skill and discipline that develops as a result of this is having a profound effect on the participants, which of course is the purpose of religion - to provide daily habits and practice (prayer, meditation and participation in community activities) by which one can acquire spiritual virtues - love, compassion, humor etc that distinguish us all as human beings - and which in turn support, sustain and propagate civilization. For the Baha’is the ultimate outcome of this being a global society: ‘The world is but one country and mankind its citizens’.

The effect these study circles have had on even the most impoverished and remote of participants (from my own experience in Papua New Guinea, and accounts from Africa, India and S. America) has been remarkable in galvanising them into service-driven activities, self-development and self-improvement.

It is worth then examining this community and its methodologies and democratic processes more closely. Study circles, children’s classes and devotional meetings in particular are open to public participation.

Over 90% of the children attending children’s classes offered to Secondary schools are not Baha’is, such is the regard that parents have for the programme offered. Interestingly because these classes are offered by volunteers, study circles are an important means of increasing the number of teachers and assistants required.

Top photo: Uploaded on March 8, 2007 by jpeter smith on flickr, licensed uner Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Thumbnails are all from photos of Baha'is in Papua New Guinea taken in 1984 taken by Owen Allen. Click over and see them all full size in their glory:

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