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Culture & Development:  A Survey of the Bahá'í Experience
 A talk at UN Headquarters in New York City on behalf of the Bahá'í International Community, May 29th 1991,
by Gregory D. Watson, M.S.Ed., Ed.M.
on the occasion of a conference for the UN's World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-97),
 sponsored by the NGO Committee for Sustainable Development
 in cooperation with UNESCO and the UN Department of Public Information.

{Revised with links for publication on the world wide web, and with expanded quotes and addendum.
The actual talk was a shorter version of this paper.  The statisitics on projects and growth remain outdated here.
Portions of this became the basis for a later workshop presented in Orland, 2003.}

UN building
UN Headquarters in New York City

Good Morning!  My name is Gregory Watson.  I have been asked by the Bahá'í International Community (BIC) to come and share with you a survey of some of the efforts made by the Bahá'í Community to aid and foster cultural development throughout the developing world, as we seek to help further the aims of the World Decade  for Cultural Development (1988-97) proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. {see updates for broader context: one, two, three, four and five.}  Since there is no clergy or ecclesiastical order within the Bahá'í Faith, I, like every other individual Baha'i, have no particular office or rank.  I am a lay person who, in the truest sense, is an amateur, which simply means "someone who loves his work."  There is no such thing as a "professional Bahá'í."  Professionally, I am an educator, working on my education doctorate at Harvard University, with an emphasis on sustainable development.  I also work for Harvard University's Institute for International Development (HIID).

As many of you already know, members of the Bahá'í community regard the earth as one country, and mankind as its citizens.  Therefore, the work of international development, for Baha'is, trancends all national and cultural boundaries.  Development is seen within the context of an emerging global civilization.  The world community of Baha'is has commited itself to the education of the masses, to the development of modern progress in the rural and village areas of the world, and to the expansion of commerce, industry and the arts.  Our social and economic efforts to improve the overall quality of life within the developing nations attempt to serve the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations (through the use of appropriate technologies, etc.).

In less than 150 years, the Baha'i Faith has become the second-most widespread of the independent world religions. The Baha'i community incorporates a microcosm of the world, because the peoples of all cultures are represented within it.  There are more than 30,000 Bahá'í communities now established in approximately 200 nations {see update}.  Baha'is value diversity within and among cultures, and attempt to integrate all strata of society.  Prejudice and unfair discrimination on the basis of race, class, sex, age, economics or religion are abhorred by Baha'is; and thus, you can find within even the smallest Baha'i communities, an extraordinarily complex array of diversity.  The artificial barriers of humanity are being nullified and erased.  Cultural differences are appreciated and reconciled.  Unlike organizations that seem to represent only one segment of society (whether majority or minority), Baha'i communities typically show a relatively balanced composition from the diverse peoples of the world, wherever these communities are found.  Many indigenous peoples are represented within the Baha'i Faith world-wide.  Baha'is come from more than 2100 ethnic and tribal groups.

As I have already implied, the world-wide work of the Bahá'ís can be characterized largely as "development work" and our experience in this area spans a little over 130 years.  Before I describe this work, along with some of my understanding of the Bahá'í concepts of the relationship between culture and development (the focus of the World Decade. . .), let me first tell you a little about why the Bahá'ís are interested in a union of nations and why we have a relationship to the UN, since that is what brings all of us together here at UN Headquarters today.

The Bahá'ís obtained consultative status as an NGO with the UN in 1970 (we also have NGO status with the ECOSOC, UNESCO & UNICEF).  Bahá'ís support the idea of a union of nations for a number of reasons, but basically because Bahá'ís believe that world order and lasting universal peace can be secured only through the establishment of some form of international law system — some form of world government.

We are motivated by a prophetic vision of a unified world, first articulated for us in the late 1800's by Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, in words such as these:

And later, still in the 1800's, by Prophet-Founder's son, His successor, and Center of His Covenant: This vision of a new earth (a new world order) first enunciated by the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith, is further explained and elucidated for us in the words of  Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, in the 1930's, still more than fifteen years before the establishment of the UN.                                                                                                                            . Thus, we see that the vision of a new social order, encompassing the planet, was first prophesied by Baha'u'llah in the 1800's, was further explained by this son, Abdu'l-Baha, and finally articulated by Shoghi Effendi, the appointed head of the Baha'i Faith from 1921 to 1957.  In this statement of his above, we see that he, while interpreting the words of the Prophet, anticipates some form of democratic government at the global level — one which he expected would necessarily be invented by the nations together.  The United Nations appears to be the first real step towards that end, and it is our hope that the UN will grow and transform itself into the agency that can truly represent humanity.  [(In October 1995, three years after this talk, the Bahá'í International Community published a statement, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations, suggesting ways of strengthening the UN.]

The following words reflect the presently developing world culture requiring such government (i.e., at the global level) — one that our generation may witness come into being.

And again, in the 1930's, the nature of this unity is further explained: This last quote, above, possibly more than any other general statement, characterizes the basis of  Bahá'í international development work embracing all cultures.  It is interesting how closely the statement is echoed by Mr. Federico Mayor, (also) the Director General of UNESCO, in his 1988 statement launching the World Decade for Cultural Development wherein he states that "creative diversity" is in danger of pressure towards uniformity at the same time cultural exchange and interdependence opens up many new cultural and intellectual benefits.  Again, the watchword for Bahá'ís, since the 30's has been "unity in diversity."  The unity which can arise from the interdependence among the world's peoples can never mean uniformity to Bahá'ís — should never pressure humanity towards uniformity.  Cultural diversity is too highly prized by the Bahá'ís; and yet, culture is not romanticized.  Cultures will change.  Cultures must change (especially as they interface with other cultures around them).  It is their nature to evolve, but hopefully they will do so in ways which enhance the quality of life, rather than by bringing on another whole set of problems, not the least of which is the psychological sense of loss and alienation that so many individuals have experienced in the process.  Obviously, there is much to understand about the psychological and spiritual dimensions of this potentially painful social transition into a world community of developed nations.

Problems in the process of development
Almost everyone associated with development work in different cultural contexts around the world have witnessed the so-called lessor developed countries (LDCs) struggle through the process of entering the modern age.  Much of the cultural change we associate with development, or what we think we might measure as development, results in a very negative experience for the country going through the process of, or the transition to, modernization.

Even when the developing countries can measure benefits (educational, economic, industrial, political, etc.) and think that they have progressed, they often are not at all happy with the other results — the social disruption and psychological disturbances.  Dr. Arthur W. Lewis, who was awarded the Noble Prize for his "pioneering research into economic development . . . with particular consideration of the problems of developing countries," linked many of the problems to excessive growth and materialism:

Societal values and relationships get transformed and/or new ones get created.  Spiritual values are traded for material ones.  When we consider "the quality of life," community life appears to have become worse for many. [2] The problems have resulted because of processes that are out of control, and because of attempts to address them that are non-systematic (at the level of the whole).  There is not enough wisdom spread around to accompany the rapidly increasing knowledge of our modern age.  The present system (or the lack of a world system) is lamentably defective, and yet humanity cannot resist the call of the modern age — nor should it.

One of the prominent voices from the development field, Dr. Marion Levy (1966), has expressed the dilemma this way:

Moreover, there are great ironies:  Industrialized nations tell the lessor developed countries they can't do what the industrialized nations have done over the last 100 years in order to enter the modern era — the environment would be destroyed.  The developing countries say, "sure, prevention of  environmental degradation is important, but how can you ask us to sacrifice the benefits of a modern industrialized society?  That is not fair.  Are we not entitled to the same rights and privileges of 'the good life'? Are we not your equals?"  In the present context, the question may not be so much whether adequate value can be placed upon "freedom from drudgery. . . increased knowledge, equality of opportunity, better health standards, longer life, and the other fruits of economic growth," [4] (such as "greater savings capacity" [5] ) to justify the costs, but whether many of these painful costs are actually necessary (i.e., for lack of an adequate system or order in the world — perhaps some agency that could plan, coordinate and monitor the changes from a global perspective, or in some systemic or holistic way).

The UNESCO publication, A Practical Guide to the World Decade for Cultural Development has focused on the problems associated with modernization further by examining the cultural dimension of change {see more recent publications link}:

The "Bottom-up" vs. "Top-down" Approach
Since there is no system wise enough to orchestrate change from the "top down", the current trend in the development field is to decentralize, and employ are more pluralistic philosophies than were found in the traditional top-down approaches used since colonial days.  Successful development initiatives appear to be more relevant to the peoples' needs when they come from the "bottom up" — otherwise known as "grass-roots" initiates.  While the Bahá'í approach disavows excessive centralization (as already mentioned above) and advocates local initiative, yet a thread of common principles orchestrates the direction of its social and economic development efforts.  There are a number of principles that would be found in any community "development project," regardless of the country context.  One of these principles involves the process of  "group consultation and decision-making" (descriptions: BIC, NSA ) at the local level, ensuring that the local culture maintains its own sense of identity.  Local initiatives (as illustrated by the Guaymi peoples example below) and their implementation represent self-organization at the local level.   For Bahá'ís, this self-managed evolution, or development, can be achieved only through this very important implementation principle called consultation -- which, in turn, is guided by its own set of principles.  (This decision-making process will be discussed in greater detail in the development examples to follow.)

Alfred North Whitehead, the great twentieth century mathematician and philosopher, once described the optimum disparity between stability (or continuity) and change as the "creative advance into novelty."  If we were to apply this idea to development work we could say that there is an optimum development (degree of change) that does not disrupt the stabilizing influence of culture.  In order to preserve identities, cultures must become "managing directors of their own evolution."  (This does not mean that poor countries do not deserve the help of wealthier ones.)  An evolutionary view of societies is one that expects or anticipates the "creative advance" of cultures into new dimensions.  Evolution and change are more teleological than cyclical, and the same appears to be true of history as well, for the ascending arrow of science has brought us to the wonders of the twenty-first century.  In the words of one of the quotations later in this paper: "The scientific developments of the [last] fifty years have surpassed and eclipsed the knowledge and achievements of all the former ages combined."

An ever-advancing world civilization in which all nation members play a part --
The Bahá'í view — which is essentially an evolutionary view of societies and of history as a whole — is that civilization is not just in a cycle of repeating itself.

Thus, civilization is viewed as "ever-advancing."  Bahá'ís believe that we are witnessing the beginning of the "coming of age" of humanity.  The principle of the oneness of humanity "is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope."[10]  Its appeal is not to be merely identified with the reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood [or humanhood] and goodwill among peoples.  It is not merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with the evolution of the agencies empowering the people to actually bring it about.  "Acceptance of the oneness of humanity is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind."[11]  By the end of this century we expect to see much greater unity for the whole planet — perhaps even a world government.  So you see, your work as NGOs here at the United Nations is very important to the Bahá'ís because we feel that everyone should help to carry this advancing civilization forward.  We must all work together if we are going to achieve it.  This, then, forms the basis of our commitment to development, for Bahá'ís both in the developing and in the developed countries.  It seems rather implicit that the advancement towards world unity is a collective enterprise which the peoples of all nations must undertake together, and yet we still lack a shared consciousness, a shared vision to guide us there.  Bahá'ís are inspired by a vision of this unity which they believe can lend a fresh impulse to the effort -- a world vision they wish to share.  The remarkable successes of the regional developments projects all around the world, Bahá'ís attribute to this vision and inspiration.

The goal of world unity --
There are many injunctions in the Bahá'í writings calling humanity to this high goal of world unity.  Here are two that date as early as the 1800's, during the early or formative period of the Bahá'í community:

More specifically, in the following two quotes we find considerable impetus for our development mandate: Culture, religion and science --
Bahá'ís would agree with the statement in the 1987 UNESCO publication "A Practical Guide to the World Decade for Cultural Development" that says: The Bahá'í view of science reconciles it with culture and religion: When we ask what is meant by culture, I think most Baha'is would resonate with the new definition of culture that came out of the World Conference on Cultural Policies held in Mexico City in 1982.  The UNESCO Practical Guide . . . has expressed it this way: In the words of T.S. Eliot, "culture is what makes life worth living."

Examples of some Bahá'í development initiatives --
I would now like to give you some examples of some Bahá'í development initiatives in order to illustrate how our projects use culture to reinforce development, and conversely how we use development to reinforce culture.  Presently there are thousands of Bahá'í development projects around the world.  These projects fall mainly into the following categories: (1) primary health care, (2) literacy, (3) education and training for men, women and children, (4) radio for education and cultural enrichment, [international and rural United States], (5) agricultural and environmental preservation projects.

Since 1984, Bahá'ís have initiated more than 50 environmental conservation projects.  These projects, located in more than 30 countries, range from on-going tree-planting and reforestation efforts to the local manufacture of fuel-efficient stoves.  Refuse-produced methane cooking stoves and lighting systems in some villages are not only cost effective, but are helping improve the health of women, who often developed eye diseases from cooking with animal manure inside small one-room huts.  Environmental education, too, is rapidly becoming an integral part of curriculum in Bahá'í schools and learning centers.

Bahá'í educational development efforts alone have risen 26% since 1988.  There are over 600 schools or learning centers throughout the world, including a university in Bolivia.  Geographically, they cover Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific.  Eighty percent of the students who attend primary and secondary schools operated by developing Bahá'í communities are not Bahá'ís because the aim of the Bahá'ís is to focus on the development of whole communities, or the community at large.

Before I list for you some of the Bahá'í schools in developing contexts, my list would not be complete without first mentioning that education (of the individual and of the whole society), as one of the primary focuses of Bahá'í activity, has a 100 year history in the context of development — dating back through the early period of the Faith, when Bahá'ís in Iran were able to build more than 40 schools for girls and boys and attain almost 100% literacy for men and women by the early 1950's.  (The first girl's school was founded in 1909.)  The Bahá'í population (mostly rural) was at 100% literacy in 1973 when compared with the national literacy rate of 15%.  It should be noted that very few women, particularly in rural communities, were literate.  All these schools have been closed as a result of the fierce religious persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran — a persecution which has received the condemnation of world opinion, and of the parliaments of Europe and America.

Let me quickly list some Bahá'í Schools around the world.  They are described more fully in a Bahá'í publication, titled "Survey of Bahá'í Education Programmes" which you may obtain a copy of upon request, so I will give only the briefest account:   (Also see updates on the web at  and )

(1)  Anís Zunúzí Bahá'í School in Haiti serves 270 students:
 (Kindergarten, grades 1-8, adults education, technical training)

(2)  Bahá'í School in Sikkim serves 870 students from nursery up to Class IX.

(3) Colegio Núr in Chili (since 1977): 400 students, preschool through high school, including commercial and technical training.

(4) Escola das Nações (School of the Nations) in Brazil:
 Over 175 students from 30 countries in pre-school and primary grades.

(5) New Day Montessori /& High School in Pakistan since 1978:
 Kindergarten and eight primary grades with 359 students.

(6) New Era School in India: in operation since 1945 with over 400 students from pre-school through junior college.  Extensive regional development program in literacy, women's development, agriculture and health improvement.  [See www link for The New Era Development Institute.]

(7) Rabbani Higher Secondary School in India: Offering standards VI-XI to about 200 students. Emphasizes vocational and agricultural training.  Operates 72 acre farm equipped with plant nursery, poultry farming, animal husbandry and horticulture.  A regional program operated by the school involves some twenty villages in educational and agricultural development.

(8) Ruaha Technical Secondary School in Tanzania since 1986 serves 200-300 students in the area of commercial and technical training.

(9) School of the Nations in Macao (China)  Similar to the one in Brazil.

(10) Santitham School in Thailand since 1963 serves about 200 students with a large kindergarten, a children's library, a vocational program for rural women, and a small commercial school.

(11) Banani International School in Lusaka, Zambia.

There are about 700 tutorial schools (usually one room) spread throughout 45 countries.  Most of them are rural.  The Maxwell International Bahá'í School in Canada, which may not fall into the "development" category (as typically defined), is nonetheless known for its culturally diverse international student body.  Many students from Maxwell return to their countries to begin projects there.  Bahá'í publications since 1979 (until this paper in 1991) include 226 books for children in 36 languages (including many indigenous languages).  On the whole, Bahá'í writings are published in over 700 languages.

I would now like to take a closer look at two of the Bahá'í schools:

Núr University in Bolivia, with approximately 1000 students [1990], is now the second largest private university in that developing country.  Not only does the University teach at the academic level, it also seeks to teach basic principles about life: principles such as the free investigation of truth, the elimination of prejudice and equal opportunity for women and men.  General studies courses focus on providing students with a sense of the history of civilization, the role of religion in history, and of the interdependence of the world's peoples.  Community development projects have been spawned by the University's requirement for 200 hours of community service from students and this has resulted in, among other things, the creation of a literacy program which serves about 200 people.

As a spin-off, Bahá'ís at the University founded a development foundation called FUNDESIB — The Foundation for the Integral Development of Bolivia — to address the needs of the Bolivian countryside in the areas of health and education.  One of its rural development projects in the isolated southern Chaco region concentrates on empowering the people to begin a process of self-development, stimulating people to arise as servants of their own communities.  FUNDESIB uses a non-partisan, non-ideological approach to community organization and unity.  Thirteen local development projects have come as a result in addition to twelve locally initiated literacy training groups.  Self-reliance is part of the empowerment, as none of these projects receive outside funding.  FUNDESIB itself also serves as an umbrella organization for an environmental research center operating in the high mountain plateau of Bolivia.  FUNDEAC is a similar NGO in Columbia.

As a primary, secondary and adult education school, Anís Zunúzí in Haiti has gradually evolved into a multi-faceted development institute and has helped to launch grassroots oriented Bahá'í development projects throughout Haiti.  Its curriculum emphasizes spiritual and moral values such as trust and cooperation — virtues which Haitians say were lost to suspicion and fear during colonial domination.  This begins in the relationship between teachers and students, older students often serving as tutors to younger ones.  In addition to literacy classes, adults are taught the principles of group non adversarial decision-making, which Bahá'ís call "consultation."  Several self-sustaining satellite pre-school centers have been started by graduates who became pre-school teachers.  These pre-school centers are supported and run by the local Bahá'ís.  Three other primary schools have been started in other cities.  A tree nursery at the school supplies over 120,000 trees a year for a reforestation project started by the school.  Seedlings are distributed to local farmers along with education about their care and benefits.  The school also serves as the only source of potable water for miles around.

There are seven Bahá'í radio stations in the world serving developing communities.  Five are in Latin America, one in North America and the seventh in Africa.  In general, the populations which these stations serve are under extreme pressure from a dominant external culture which is not their own, and as a result, especially in terms of the media, their own voices and cultures have been lost in the overwhelming influence of modern, popular and commercial media.  Bahá'í radio has attempted to give the local culture a voice of its own.  Surveys show that listenership of Bahá'í radio is high.  In Chile, for example, about 65% of the potential audience are regular listeners, which is not surprising when virtually nobody else is broadcasting in the native language of the indigenous people.  These stations follow a few common principles:  (1) They are non-commercial.  (2) They focus on the development of local Bahá'í communities.  (3) They focus on preserving many of the traditional social values in the community at large.  For example, the five stations in Latin America broadcast in the indigenous languages.  The stations also carry a variety of informational programs airing agricultural and farming tips, health care advice for mothers and children, and information on environmental issues.  There are also literacy and other educational programs.  Some of the information programs on these stations have been undertaken in collaboration with international development agencies like UNICEF and CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency).

In Chile, Mr. Rosendo Huisca, a consultant for the Catholic University on the language of the Mapuche people and director of publishing for the Organization for Mapuche Literature recounted his conviction that the native language of his people would be lost, "then I heard Radio Bahá'í; and when I heard it, I felt from the first moment that a language was being rescued.  . . .Here in Cautín Province, where about 100,000 Mapuches live, it was odd that almost no radio broadcasting existed in Mapudungun."  In collaboration with the Cautín Province Ministry of Education, the station broadcasts literacy classes twice daily, in both Spanish and Mapudungun.  In the first phases of the project, worksheets, pencils and erasers were provided to listeners in five villages, and the number of villages has continued to increase.  Mr. José Schianttini, the Ministry of Education official who oversaw the program, expressed his hope that the Ministry would continue to collaborate with Radio Bahá'í.  "A big advantage of Radio Bahá'í is that it is non-commercial," he said.  "The station doesn't charge a cent.  And in our region, with more than 30 radio stations, Radio Bahá'í is the only one with systematic service and programming."  "The radio literacy program opened up a new communication experience for the whole family," Mr. Schiatini said.  A big advantage, too, was that children listened with their parents and helped them."  Since the countryside is not oriented to the written word; there are no newspapers, circulars, billboards or street names, "People need to feel the necessity of literacy," he said.  "Radio also helps because farm families find it difficult to make time for education; and adults, who would otherwise feel foolish learning to read in a school, can participate," he explained.

The station sponsors music festivals and other events on its grounds bringing together the Mapuches from distant regions.  One young Mapuche woman expressed her appreciation for the station by explaining that she never felt comfortable wearing her traditional clothing before coming to one of these festivals.

The education of women is a principle to which Bahá'ís are strongly committed — so much so, that if a family had to choose between providing basic education to a son or a daughter, the daughter would be given preference, for she is the first educator of the next generation.  Bahá'í sponsored vocational training for rural women in India mixes lessons on weaving, sewing, candle & chalk making, beadwork, and other crafts with lessons in hygiene & health, moral education, literacy and self-esteem (since women in India are generally treated as second-class citizens).  Women from tribes that do not normally associate with each other, come to live and work together at the Indore Bahá'í Vocational Institute for Rural Women.  The Institute offers courses in three cities.  Typically twenty young women, initially recruited through the use of drama, stay in residence at the Institute for three to four months, after which time they have learned a craft and also how to read and write.  "It is remarkable that these young women have become literate in three months," said J.S. Mathur, the District Collector of Jhabua, home district for many of the Institute's trainees.  (In India, the District Collector is the top government administrator at the district level.)  "Most government organizations have not been able to accomplish this, even in programs lasting a year," he continued.

Traditional dances and songs are shared in the evenings in an effort to nourish pride in their own culture.  Women are encouraged to return to their villages and share what they have learned.  Two recent trainees from the Institute won first prize in a song-writing competition sponsored by the International Task Force On Literacy in New Delhi.  The two women wrote a song extolling the virtues of literacy and set it to a traditional tribal melody.  Since its founding in 1983, the Institute has provided training to 430 women.  This is a clear example how culture (dance) is being used to foster development (literacy) and vice versa.

Women's issues in development have also been a focus in the South Pacific, where more than 75,000 indigenous Bahá'ís live in more than 2600 localities throughout the region.  More than 40 separate social and economic development projects have been started by these people — ranging from the raising of livestock, women's literacy classes, health & hygiene seminars, to pre-schools for village children.  Most of these projects respond to the immediate needs of the people.  On Vanuatu island, a Bahá'í women's group in the village of Lamanien organized a sewing project and purchased a truck with the profits.

One of the most interesting examples of cultural development and change comes from this same region of the world.  The Daga people of Papua New Guinea have long been known to outsiders for their fierce fighting and intimidating sorcery.  By tradition, transgressions, large or small, against these peoples called for quick and often lethal vengeance called "pay-back" killing.  Recently, however, reports of dramatic changes have begun to emerge.  According to regional government officials and travelers to the Daga area, several tribes are acquiring the reputation for peace-making and inter-tribal harmony.  The transformation is due to the Daga people's growing acceptance of the principles and teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, including the peaceful resolution to conflict and the recognition of the brotherhood of all peoples.  Additionally, the influence of the Bahá'í Faith has curbed the practices of witchcraft and sorcery.  While recognizing the spiritual bases for many ancient beliefs and practices, Bahá'í teachings condemn superstition and emphasize science and reason through education.  They seek a balance between spiritual teachings and scientific methods.  In Papua New Guinea, for example when the son of a Daga leader died, many people expected accusations of sorcery, but the accusations never materialized.  This cultural context (superstitions, etc.) for development serves to illustrate how a people can choose which aspects of their culture to preserve and which to abandon in the light of education.  Bahá'í administrative councils formed by these peoples now regularly solve disputes which previously would have brought on the use of sorcery and warfare.  Some 38 locally elected councils offer guidance to more than 2000 Bahá'ís in the area.  Bahá'ís have helped to re-establish an abandoned community school and have begun running a health aid post.  The Daga people's story is about cultural transformation coming from within the culture, rather than a project imposed from the outside.

Self-directed cultural evolution is the goal of the system of education at the Ruhi Institute — a Bahá'í educational development project in Columbia.  For fifteen years a diverse team has been concerned with the lack of educational opportunities available to the large rural population of Columbia.  The curriculum offered by the institute falls into four main content areas, some of which echo the aims of the decade: (1) Enhancing awareness of interdependence and values suggested by the principle of the oneness of mankind.  Increasingly more complex and sophisticated "acts of service" foster deeper meanings into the concepts of community development.  (2) Children's education and teacher education.  Classes are open to anyone having experience with child education who wants to work in a more formal setting.  (3) Community development which emphasizes the cultural aspects of development.  (4) General studies, which are equivalent to formal secondary school, but also offered on a tutorial basis.  Collaborators from the Institute now operate about 20 community kindergartens in various parts of Columbia.

Another example of selection, or choice, in the self management of a community's own cultural evolution, comes from the Guaymi people who mostly live in Panama.  After having been introduced to the Bahá'í teachings around 1982, the Guaymi Indian people established the Guaymi Cultural Center in 1987 which promotes the education of the Guaymi people.  These indigenous Bahá'í people are actually seeking to transform their culture through their own DESIGN of an educational system which will not only enable them to advance, but to help others.  Embracing the concept that service to others is the highest station for a human being, the expression of one's spirituality has become a means for them to obtain confidence and motivation for action.  I will explain more about this service aspect in a moment.

As a result, they have intentionally sought to revive aspects of traditional Guaymi culture (such as placing emphasis on achieving consensus and unified action), at the same time they have incorporated into their system elements of other cultures which are useful to them, such as schools, a radio station, and a number of other technologies.  They are also eliminating certain aspects of their traditional culture which they have determined, through consultation and a heightened awareness of Bahá'í principles, are not conducive to progress, such as assigning an inferior position to women.

The educational programs implemented under the auspices of the Guaymi Cultural Center are designed to enable the Guaymi people to serve as members of regional and local councils, as teachers, as community helpers, and to staff the radio station.  Nine community learning centers are now functioning in the area, taught by women and men who were trained at the Center.  Family education programs, courses on science, health, nutrition and agriculture, as well as spiritual and moral subjects, folklore festivals, and large consultative gatherings, are among the outreach programs at the Center.

Radio, which in some development settings is regarded as a high-technology instrument of cultural domination, has been transformed by the Guaymis into a means of affirming and strengthening their culture.  It reinforces literacy and child education programs in the learning centers and broadcasts news, folklore, legends, and music in the Guaymi language.

The outreach activities from the Center, carried out primarily by the Guaymi people, serve approximately 50 communities.

I should not leave the story of the Guaymis without telling you how they shaped their own literacy education program because this is so typical of how Bahá'ís foster development from the "bottom-up" — i.e., from the grass-roots level.  The ministry of education of Panama had worked for about a year to develop a method of teaching literacy in the Guaymi language.  They proposed to train seven Bahá'ís of the Guaymi Cultural Center as facilitators so that they could use this method and help with the whole process of literacy.  Their approach was to take certain words and ideas as "generating themes" and "generating words," from which syllables and other words can be generated and with which people can become motivated and learn to read.   In this case, initially many of the generating words had to do with concrete things like rice, corn, harvest and so forth because the government of Panama was operating a rural development program.  The government's idea was to use words which could generate discussion on subjects like the improvement of crops and rural development.  The indigenous Bahá'ís who learned to use this method were a little uncomfortable because they knew that usually when governments launch great programs of development, they have difficulty fulfilling their promises — especially in times of political turmoil when the government may even change hands.  The Bahá'í Guaymi were afraid that by bringing these promises implicitly into a literacy program they would be giving the people false hopes and they would later be blamed for it as Bahá'ís.  Also, they knew from studying other literacy projects of the '60s that often something more than the promise of the advantages of modernity was necessary in order motivate people even to participate in such programs, let alone sustain them.

Thus, the Guaymi Cultural Center sent two representatives to a meeting at the Ruhi Institute in Columbia where a few Bahá'í educational institutions had gathered to discuss the concept of literacy as a means of spiritual empowerment of the people. They decided, as a result, that in the kind of literacy projects Bahá'ís would want to initiate, the generating words and themes would actually empower the people to transform themselves and arise to help transform the world.  In the meeting, generating themes such as "sharing and caring," "building unity" and "organizing ourselves" were discussed and after consultation, the Guaymis decided to change the way they were going about their literacy program.  They wanted to address culture in a deeper sense by revitalizing the mental processes, the world-views, and the approaches to life that were already important to the Guaymi people and at the same time give them a sense of being participants in the global evolution — achieving literacy, etc..  This is an example of "bottom-up" or "grass-roots" initiatives referred to earlier.

By now it was just weeks before the literacy program was supposed to start and they were very nervous at the prospect of presenting their new ideas to the representatives of the Ministry of Education in Panama.  They explained to the Ministry that they did not want to change the method, only the generating words.  They explained why: "Because at this time when the world utterly lacks equilibrium, it is necessary to give a new focus to education in a way that is not limited only to the acquisition of skills.  The skill of reading and writing is not enough.  Rather it is necessary that this program help individuals to develop qualities, skills, attitudes and capacities which allow them to become conscious of their own spiritual growth, active and constructive participants in the construction of a new world order."  Representatives from the ministry expressed appreciation for the new level of motivation they themselves experienced from the enthusiasm of the Bahá'ís, such that they agreed to make the changes, saying "if your generating themes and words are going to do for your people what you have done for us, then we accept."  The idea from the grass-roots (i.e., changing the generating words to represent higher, more spiritual, ideals) stimulated greater commitment in the ministry representatives at the topUniversidad Nur supports a similar literacy approach. Here is the primary link: (English and Spanish) I believe.  Also, see their student community service department (UNIRSE).  [Back to "Bottom-up" vs."Top-Down" Approach paragraph in text above]

I think it might be important in one paragraph to explain why we think the level of motivation to develop one's character and one's society is so high within many of these communities.  As in other religions, one of the goals of religious practice in the Baha'i Faith is to actualize the potential of the individual — this includes what some refer to as rebirth of the human personality.  While that is still a goal for Bahá'ís, individual development is always seen in the context of the collective progress of the entire human race, or the rebirth of civilization, and this places an emphasis on the qualities which the individual needs to acquire in order to help that collective progress.  The meaning of almost every quality or human virtue has been expanded to include a social vision.  For example, while charity is praised, justice occupies a far more central place in Bahá'í discourse.  People must receive their individual rights and opportunities in reciprocity to one another, not just because an individual is the recipient of the generosity from someone wealthier.  Each has something to contribute to the other.  The relationship becomes lateral, not vertical or patronizing.  Trickle-down is replaced by exchange.  Truthfulness and trustworthiness are considered the foundation not only of human character, but of social order.  Love implies the abolition of social prejudices and the realization of the beauty of diversity in the human race.  Detachment from the world is not to lead to idleness and passive acceptance of oppression, but rather is a matter of freeing oneself from material interests and preoccupations in order to dedicate oneself to the well-being of others.  Responsibility implies service to others, not merely taking care of oneself.  The discourse on spiritualization then, does not define goodness passively; its purpose is not to produce a human being whose greatest virtue is to harm no one, but to give rise to social activists and change agents.

In the context of development, these change agents must arise from the local peoples themselves.  The Regional Committee for Social and Economic Development in Zaire, for example, does not encourage local Bahá'í councils to establish learning centers.  It waits for councils to choose this action independently and demonstrate the determination to carry it out.  Again, the initiative is "bottom-up," not "top-down."

An important feature of these initiatives is that all Bahá'í communities — no matter where they are located in the world — subscribe to the same set of universal principles which guide their activities and efforts.

In the process of putting these principles into practice, Bahá'í communities are acquiring valuable experience, and the outline of what might be considered a Bahá'í approach to providing education and promoting development is emerging.  The following features characterize this approach.  I think you will see that all of these Bahá'í objectives seem to find a place within the UNESCO objectives of the Decade.

(1) Recognition of the inevitability of change and finding some ways of guiding it, which includes some criteria for assessing the appropriateness of various changes, when or before they occur.

(2) Local communities initiate and support programs that are appropriate to their needs and conditions.

(3) Financial requirements are minimized by beginning with voluntary services and avoiding high overhead costs.

(4) Cooperation, participatory management and the use of consultation ensure that the aspirations of the local community are addressed and local human resources are mobilized.

(5) Radio, when available, is used by local people to focus on their own community development needs and educational priorities incorporating indigenous languages.

(6) Formal and non-formal education are integrated as much as possible.

(7) The recognition of the equality of men and women and the importance of the participation of women.

(8) The "pursuit of excellence" in all aspects of life and a desire for spiritual growth motivate and guide all Bahá'í activities.

(9) Deep reverence for the people's religious traditions is combined with an emphasis on moral education.  Recognition of the stimulus provided by religion to development, and of the civilizing influence religion has had historically.  Religious values are expressed in the service to others.  "Work performed in the spirit of service is worship."

(10) Cultural cooperation (using a UNESCO definition to explain the 4th aim of the Decade.): "Cultural co-operation in its different forms can become a factor of prime importance in combating ignorance, intolerance and all forms of prejudice — in particular racial prejudice — which persist throughout the world and which generate mistrust and hatred, give rise to tensions and wars and inhibit attempts to secure disarmament and establish peace." [17]

I would like to reiterate that these features, which characterize development efforts anywhere in the world, derive from a common set of principles.  For example, I have said that one of the most significant features that characterizes the Bahá'í approach to development is the respect for cultural diversity, but behind this is what Bahá'ís refer to as the "principle of the oneness" of mankind (humanity).  Another principle linked to the respect for cultural diversity is the respect for the voice of the minorities and subordinate groups.  In fact, this principle is so strong that if any discrimination were to exist it would be in favor of the minorities in order to ensure that they were adequately represented.  And often it is the voice of the minority which is somehow sensitive to the needed change or development (and to the needs of the whole), in ways which the dominant group is not.  We have found that the process of Bahá'í consultation (descriptions: BIC, NSA ) is key to the success of development projects, especially if it is to involve particular regard for the cultural dimension.  This consultative process is ALSO a principle — which has behind it another set of principles.  So I think you have begun to see that these principles are intricately linked, and could, in fact, be described as a system.  (See section of "The Promise of World Peace," a statement by the international Baha'i administrative body, describing these principles as a system.)   By using the term "system" I refer to the meanings associated with the science of systems (see further discussion in Addendum below) and the idea that it operates as a unit, or a whole.

I have shared with you a sample, and therefore an incomplete, survey of the Baha'i social and economic development projects that are taking place around the world.  The many Bahá'í projects in Africa (1) (2)(3) are an obvious omission.  This paper would assume impossible dimensions if we attempted to cover them all.  As I conclude, let us recall the aims of the Decade for Cultural Development, proclaimed by the United Nations:

      · Acknowledging the cultural dimension in development
      · Affirming and enhancing cultural identities
      · Broadening participation in cultural life
      · Promoting international cultural co-operation.

       Bahá'ís feel truly charged and confirmed by these aims, not only because we find them already reflected within our own set of first principles, but also because we have an opportunity to join other agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in working towards the accomplishment of these aims.  It is our hope that by working with these agencies and NGOs, as development partners, we can reach another level of translating ideas into action.  In reality, no race, no nation is separate from any other.  Our artificial boundaries are being erased in this modern era and our consciousness is changing as a result.  Our commerce, our industries, our trade, our economies, our common planetary environment and all the global problems we share, have brought us together in ways we never imagined 50, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.  Any attempt to solve problems separately would be inconsistent with the reality of our interdependence--our oneness as a human family.  We are one people on this planet.  We must not only solve our problems together, but we must also create the collective vision of the new world we want our children's children to inherit.  It has been said that nothing unites a community like a common enemy.  I submit to you that the common enemy exists, but it is not some other nation, not some other race, and not some other culture.  The common enemy is within ourselves.  It is our refusal to outgrow this limited and worn-out concept of motivation towards unity.  The common enemy lies within each one of us. It is our selfishness, our greed, and our superstitions.

Almost everyone knows that many of our problems can only be solved at the level of our connectedness or interdependence, but somehow we, the peoples of the world, do not yet act at that level.  Maybe it is because we do not truly believe in this connectedness, or we find it hard to remember it on a daily basis.  And yet, most of us, I suspect, will agree that in a world of interdependent nations and peoples, "the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected."[19]  The human body is the perfect metaphor illustrating this principle.  Still, it seems difficult for human beings scattered around the globe--finding ourselves in the predicament of being isolated from each other in space and time--to believe in our closeness or connectedness.  It is difficult to keep the "world-embracing vision" in our experience, or our consciousness.  The experience of the world-wide community of Bahá'ís represents a great success story for this larger vision of unity--a unity in the midst of extreme diversity--a diversity as broad as the macrocosm of the world itself.  In 1985, the chief administrative body of the Baha'is released a statement to the peoples of the world called "The Promise of World Peace" expressing the hope for the unity of the human race.  I would like to end with a quote from that peace letter to the peoples of the world:

"The experience of the Bahá'í community may be seen as an example of this enlarging unity. It is a community of some three to four [now five] million people drawn from many nations, cultures, classes and creeds, engaged in a wide range of activities serving the spiritual, social and economic needs of the peoples of many lands. It is a single social organism, representative of the diversity of the human family, conducting its affairs through a system of commonly accepted consultative principles, and cherishing equally all the great outpourings of divine guidance in human history. Its existence is yet another convincing proof of the practicality of its Founder's vision of a united world, another evidence that humanity can live as one global society, equal to whatever challenges its coming of age may entail. If the Bahá'í experience can contribute in whatever measure to reinforcing hope in the unity of the human race, we are happy to offer it as a model for study."                        (The Universal House of Justice)

(an abridged version of this addendum was presented in the talk— full text was in the paper)
Increasing Perceptions of an Evolving Baha'i Model of Development --
"Revealed" principles as an a priori source of inspiration for the design of development initiatives.

I would like to offer a theoretical perspective of some of the things I think we have learned from our development experience.  This is my effort to try and interpret, in a very broad sort of way, why these Baha'i development projects have become so successful.

Bahá'ís, in almost every corner of the globe, have learned to trust the universality of the principles to which they are committed — principles which have demonstrated their applicability and adequacy in different cultural settings.  We have discovered that these principles are adequate or generalizable, and we have learned this by applying them or adapting them to the various cultural contexts.  By following the essential spiritual and social principles of the Bahá'í teachings, Bahá'ís have (perhaps unwittingly) evolved a model of development which seems to meet the classic requirements for any comprehensive conceptual framework, or cosmology, capable of being applied to a whole system.  The system addressed by this model of development is the field of development throughout the world.  The language and thinking from the science of systems and process philosophy has helped us better understand our accomplishment.

As this new model of development emerged, few of us were aware that our conceptual approach to development closely matched requirements which any cosmology (or world-view) must have, according to Alfred N. Whitehead's definition.  Whitehead explained that if a model is to be comprehensive within a special sphere or endeavor of human activity, it must be adequate to interpret and explain the nature of that particular sphere.  Adequacy is another way of defining comprehensiveness.  He probably chose the term adequate, rather than comprehensive, because needs change over time.  Any model must able to adapt itself to newly discovered information.  The model of the universe with the earth at the center had to adapt itself to the new information that the earth revolved around the sun.  The model was adequate for an earlier time, but it was never comprehensive. As a great mathematician and philosopher, Whitehead's conception was broader, and perhaps more cerebral (requiring more detailed reading) than our needs here, but serve nonetheless to give us some perspective.  In development work we are concerned more particularly with the sphere of human sociological experience--the development of cultures and societies.  Just as one can invent or infer a cosmology to explain the physics of the universe, we can posit broad perspectives which can help explain the nature of human systems, such as the evolution or development of societies—not just in the past, but alive and real today, in a world of ever-changing demands.... in a world of process.

Whitehead perceived that any comprehensive system of thought must be both rational and practical.  From the rational side of Whitehead's requirements, the conceptual framework must be both coherent and logical — or logically consistent.  This is the mental, conceptual or abstract view.   From the practical or empirical side it must be applicable and adequate, which I have already said we have found to be true in the Bahá'í experience of cultural development — and that is what I have been reporting on to you today.  The practical side of the Bahá'í development experience has shown us that our principles are sufficiently generalizable to transfer across cultural contexts.  I think that the rational side, or conceptual view,  is also very much worth exploring in order to better understand how powerful a set of principles can become once they collectively achieve the status of a model or conceptual framework — the model thus becoming as a pattern for future development initiatives.  Let's do that now.

Coherence means that all the major principles within any system or approach — principles which philosophers refer to as first principles — are so connected and interdependent with each other that the system falls apart when you remove any one of them.  In development work, that would mean the success of our projects would be spotty at best, if we abandoned any one of our principles.  Incoherence is the arbitrary disconnection of first principles.  I say arbitrary because no one would dare attempt to apply any one of the first principles separately if they knew all were necessary (working  together) in order for a project to succeed.  None of the first principles can be abandoned in favor of another, any more than you can separate an object or entity from the concept of the universe — it is impossible to conceive of any object or entity as being outside the system.  It would violate our sense of rationality since, by definition, the universe forbids relationships outside itself.  That is one of the reasons the concept of the "oneness" of humanity becomes so real for Bahá'ís — no aspect of life is considered outside the whole.  Bahá'ís cannot think of any group of human beings outside the whole, and thus the field of development is nothing less than the whole world.

Bahá'ís try and view this set of development principles as a whole, for without some concept of the system as a whole, you cannot even find or invent the proper language (words) to describe the way things really are.  Any view less than the whole is reductionist.  Reductionist thinking in any field of endeavor never shows how things really are, and it frequently shows up in the metaphors we choose to describe our realities.  For example, physicists have discovered that the network is a better metaphor to represent knowledge (what we know) than that of a building.  They are beginning to fell that they can no longer talk about the foundations of knowledge or the building blocks of knowledge.  It is no longer possible today to say that one science is more fundamental than another.  The concept of hierarchy has, in some sense, been replaced by interconnection.  Likewise, psychology has abandoned, hopefully, the policy of borrowing terminology from archeology and military science (such borrowing becomes another form of reductionist thinking), wherewith the mind has been compared to geological strata into which one must sink a shaft and probe, and psychotherapy compared to that of the intervention of an ally in the midst of a civil war.  In a real sense, one has to go outside existing conceptual frameworks, to attain the new mental synergy or image of the whole.

Although Bahá'ís advocate grass-roots implementation of projects, the principles which guide them are not gained by inductive insights catalogued from successful projects.   These principles have been with us for over a century — since the beginning of our development efforts — and they have not changed.  In other words, Bahá'ís are not making these principles up as they go along through the development process.  Our philosophy and cosmology on the nature of development has not evolved from inference.  The principles already existed as a whole, in the writings of the central historical figures or founders of the religion (see Bahá'u'lláh.and `Abdu'l-Bahá). Without the principles as a guide a priori, it is hard to imagine that the high degree of success enjoyed by these projects would have occurred at all.  Even if there were enough data to do inductive analysis at the beginning, the analysis would simply have been too complex to figure which factors were essential to the success of one instance and whether the principles, if correctly identified, could transfer and predict a success somewhere else in the world.  Moreover, there would not have been enough time for such analysis before we needed to start the many projects, in so many places around the world.

In sum, every project began with a whole set of coherent principles, a system, rather than an attempt to transfer "what works" from other special cases, or cultural contexts.  Certainly there are lessons to be learned from other contexts which are generalizable, and this kind of experimental borrowing goes on within many other development agencies in order to determine whether or not successful ideas within one context will transfer to another.  I am attempting to distinguish the Bahá'í approach from the traditional approach, in the sense that the examination and comparison of projects has tended to confirm, rather than guide, what works.  When we have failed or been slow to apply certain principles within a particular context, we would regroup and concentrate on "how" to do, rather than "what" to do.  We believe that if a principle is dropped out completely, being accidentally bypassed or ignored in some way, some manner of failure is likely.  For example, if the rights of women are ignored while attempting to provide for the education of children, an education project would likely fail.  This seems simple enough conceptually, but our need to figure out how to keep fifteen to twenty principles actively connected at the same time, becomes a little more complicated.  If our set of principles truly fits Whitehead's definition of coherence, all must remain connected since in some ways they all presuppose each other.  Remember, Whitehead defines incoherence as the "arbitrary disconnection of first principles."   The task upon failure, then, is to regain the vision of the whole.  The is the "self-organizing" or recursive aspect of successful systems.

Every cosmology or model which emerges from the combination of inductive and deductive reasoning eventually develops or invents its own systematic terminology, or manner of speaking about itself as a whole.  The a priori nature of the essential or universal principles (in contrast with those principles which may be unique to a given cultural context) guiding the Bahá'í development work presupposes an existing systematic language.  The language had to come first in order to obtain the concept of the whole.  It is largely this systematic "language" (the collective writings through which these principles have been articulated) which helps integrate the principles of community development into a whole concept of development.  This language is the language found in the writings of the Founders of the Bahá'í religion — a language which Bahá'ís regard as Divine Revelation.

The emerging Bahá'í model of development is not an eclectic or syncretistic synthesis.  Again, the essential principles were not induced from various projects.  The principles had to be conceptualized, as a whole, first before they could be implemented with any systematic efficacy, and it is the experiment of implementing the vision which has led to the developing model.  Our experience has shown us that these principles can only have an incomplete effect if they are applied separately.  In other words, every project has attempted to implement them "as a whole," and the degree to which these principles were implemented as a whole, may have influenced the degree of success of the project.

 Systems are defined, often, by their ability to organize themselves.  For example, the circulatory system in the body is defined as that portion of the body which organizes and regulates the flow of blood to various other parts of the body.  Neurons throughout the body are defined as a system because they operate together as a complex web of organized, and organizing, impulses.  Some systems are nested within others, and part of the definition of the system is a level of relative autonomy or functioning we call self-organization.  (Remember the "Bottom-up" vs. "Top-down" [click here to return to that section] examples of local initiatives already mentioned.)  I mentioned that these Bahá'í principles constitute a system; that is, they are intricately linked and provide organization to the work of development.  What I mean is that in a very real way they presuppose each other — they inhere in each other — so that in isolation they are inadequate to carry out the development process.  In isolation they may even appear meaningless, or at best irrelevant.  For example, one group advancing the cause of women's rights or another group advocating the use of a universal auxiliary language may obtain greater results if their causes are first linked to social justice and the elimination of prejudice (the emotional attachment to an untruth).  Furthermore, this principle of eliminating prejudice is an aspect of the principle of recognizing the oneness of humanity, which in turn helps lay the foundation of social unity.  Unity, itself, as a principle, can be seen as the precursor to world peace.  This does not mean that the principles are definable in terms of each other — for instance, unity cannot be defined simply in terms of the equality of men and women, or the equality of races.  So, one aim of the conceptual framework is to challenge half-truths constituting the first principles, in order to systematize knowledge.  All general truths or principles condition each other.  Together, or in combination, they attain a level of generalizability which transcends any special case or special context within the system — thus, they may be called universal*.  These are some of the characteristics of their coherence, defining the nature of the whole.

A systematic approach to bringing about unity and harmony within a community could thus be characterised as (w)holistic — approachable only from the whole set of principles.  In other words, understanding unity requires an understanding of the system — understanding the world as a system — as a world that works for everyone.

Leaving the rational side of the model now, and coming back to the practical side:  To say that a set of development principles is adequate means they are able to act as a model, or framework of analysis, which can interpret the cultural context in ways to make them applicable to every circumstance.  No item of experience can be outside an interpretation by the principles if the principles are adequate to address the whole field of development.  Another way to say this is, that EVERY need of a developing community must be accounted for, or be capable of being addressed, in a coherent, universal approach to development; and that if they are not, our system or approach is inadequate, and must have some means to reevaluate itself and adjust itself to accommodate the anomaly.  So far this has NOT been the case for the Bahá'í system.  The system, or set of principles, has NOT had to be changed.  So far, they do seem adequate, according to our development experience, or perception of it.  The peoples in every culture where they are used have been readily able to apply the principles to their own needs, which means that they have been adaptable or generalizable.  We therefore say they have universal applicability*.

For "outsiders" visiting another culture, it has sometimes been surprising how obvious and easy the self-application of these principles was for the locals, which may simply have meant that those coming from other cultures had not yet understood the local culture well enough to have anticipated how they could have made the universal principles relative to their own purposes.  However, this lack of imagination on the part of visitors does not mean that the visitors did not understand, or could not appreciate how the application of the principles worked in other contexts.  It simply points out why the application of the principles must come from the bottom-up, through consultation, rather than in the form of a model imposed from the outside.  Such a model would have been an absolute, rather than a relative one.  The model, implemented in different contexts, takes on some of the local characteristics or color, which we would call culture.  This ability of the model to "take on" the characteristics of the local culture is one of the features of the model, and reflects its recursive nature, or its ability to examine itself; and it demonstrates how authority and the locus of power have been redistributed to the local level — to the people, thus ensuring their autonomy.  The restructuring of authority is a form of demystification of authority (i.e., the web of interdependence becomes visible), through explication and consultation at the local level.


I stated earlier that humans seem to find it difficult to believe in, or to remember, the fundamental "connectedness" and interdependence of all peoples.  We know that many of our global problems can be solved only by recognizing our interdependence, but somehow we seem to approach this more intellectually than emotionally.   Many of us seem to THINK this is true, but we do not yet FEEL it.  What steps could we take to gain the knowledge of our planetary oneness at some experiential level?  How could we begin to perceive our oneness as if it were real, not just as an abstract ideal?

A change in perception is a change in experience.  Perhaps we can benefit from new schemes of thought, based on new modes of perception, in order to keep the vision of oneness alive, and to help us (the people's of the world) communicate.  One elevated form of thinking which has real basis in experiential perception comes from the new branch of sciences known collectively as the sciences of systems, or the sciences of complexity.  Systems thinking, employed by Capra[20], Prigogine[21], Laszlo[22], et. al., is designed to help us keep a higher level of awareness, a higher level of perception of reality than our normal everyday perceptions provide.  Our eyes deceive us into believing our differences are more real than our similarities.  With a new type of education, however, a higher perception can become a new mode of experience for daily living.  I believe that we may actually have to experience that we are part of the whole (of humanity) in order to "get our act together."  The late Daniel Jordan, founder of the Center for the Study of Human Potential at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a Baha'i, once said that once we begin to see things differently, we can begin to feel differently, after which we can begin to behave differently.  Abstract knowledge does not have the potential to empower changes in our behavior to the degree that experiential knowledge does, especially when this experience comes to us as children.

I believe that the experience of seeing ourselves as aspects of the whole has the potential to change the behaviors each culture displays in relationship to the others.  We can begin the experience of seeing the whole more easily as children.  The empirical sciences are giving us a new vision of the oneness of the world and all life within it -- a view that is beginning to shift how we feel about ourselves and each other.  Multicultural education has been another step taken in this direction.  The only problem with multicultural education is that in an effort to create an appreciation for cultural diversity, it has tended to focus on the differences between people more than their similarities.  We have learned to appreciate those "other" people without realizing they are us -- without realizing that we are one people.  Beyond the appreciation of cultural diversity is perception of unity -- the realization of oneness.  Curriculum can be created from this new view of the world.  We can teach it to our children early in their lives, so that they will not grow up with the emotional attachments to provincialism, irrational nationalism and prejudice.  After we become adults it is much harder to change the stupid behaviors which result from our emotional prejudices, so the process of overcoming the root of all our strife, war and bloodshed must start with the children.  The new sciences can help us create this education for them -- an education which can help overcome the divisiveness created by philosophical and ideological differences.

In his book, The Turning Point, physicist Fritjof Capra attributes the present crises in the world to a "crisis of perception," and compares it to the crisis in physics in the 1920's.  This crisis is a crisis in the perception of things as they actually are.  The crisis derives from the fact that we are trying to apply the concepts of an outdated world-view — the mechanistic world-view of Cartesian/Newtonian science — to a reality that can no longer be understood in terms of these concepts.  What we need then, he says, is a new paradigm, a new vision of reality, which can account for the new scientific discoveries we have made about life.  The new vision or perception he suggests includes the emerging systems view of life, mind, consciousness and evolution, integrations of Eastern and Western thought and psychology and an ecological perspective — a perspective which also does not neglect those desirable aspects, qualities, characteristics or attributes of the human being which are commonly associated with the female (i.e., loving, caring, nurturing, protecting, intuitive, tenderness of heart, etc.).  He states:

As defined by all the empirical sciences, life (in all its aspects) is ONE — WHOLE — design or system, more closely perceived as a complex organism than anything else.  It seems that the whole, the larger pattern of life (what Gregory Bateson refers to as the pattern which connects all life), is forcing us to come together in various ways, whether we like it or not.  Whether it's the modern advances in transportation and communication which have shrunk the globe, or the sharing of resources and manufactured goods which links our economies, or the common need to protect our common environment — we are coming together as one planet, one people.  And this is the challenge of the world community is it not?  It is the challenge of those of us who must work together here in the microcosm of agencies at the UN, just as it is in the macrocosm of the world at large.  We MUST learn how to live together and work together, and that makes anyone's need everyone's need.  All must work for all.  I look forward to our continued joint efforts, beginning in the workshops this afternoon.
(endnotes below)

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For further information on other (some more recent) Bahá'í development efforts see:
A literacy project in Cambodia
Stories on social and economic development
Stories on environmental conservation and sustainable development
Reports on education and moral development
      FUNDAEC: Not a typical development foundation
Stories on global prosperity and interdependence
Reports on the United Nations and global governance
Reports on human rights and religious tolerance
Stories about the advancement of women
The Badi' Foundation (emphasis on China)
Baha'i views on UN Agenda 21 -- "the agenda for sustainable development into the 21st century"
        Another statement on Sustainable Development by Baha'is of the UK
        Another home page for the Baha'is of the UK
Unity and Consultation: Foundations of Sustainable Development—
       A Statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States
International Bahá'í Administration
An interesting Bahá'í www site with UN related resources
Bahá'í International Community Publications
Public Policy Statements: A collection of statements prepared by the Baha'i International Community's UN Office, Office
     of Public Information, and by National Affiliates in North and South America.
Baha'i schools around the world
Another listing of Baha'i schools around the world (perhaps more complete)
This BEAUTIFUL web site  also has links to SED projects

Africa: Western Province, Kenya
Argentina: Universidad Unida, Buenos Aires
Austrailia: Yerrinbool Bahá'í Centre of Learning
Bolivia: Universidad Nur, Santa Cruz (also another and another)
Brazil:  Centro Educacional Bahá´í- Soltaniéh
           Baha'i Community of Brazil
Bulgaria: Baha'i Community of Bulgaria Web site (in Bulgarian) -- Great introduction to the Baha'i Faith.
Chile:  Colegio Núr, Santiago (also described in the text above)
           Faizi School, rural school, 740 km south of Santiago
           Muhajir School, Chile, rural school, 700 km south of Santiago
           Labranza Training Insititute
        The Rural University of FUNDAEC (Foundation for the Application and Teaching of Sciences), Cali
        FUNDAEC: Not a typical development foundation
        Projects of FUNDAEC
El Salvador:
        Escuela American -- American School in San Salvador, El Salvador (some Baha'i involvement)
        Indore Bahá'í Vocational Institute for Rural Women (also described in the text above)
        New Era Development Insitute
        Baha'i House of Worship in New Delhi   (shown with other Baha'i Houses of Worship )
Mexico:  Nur Foundation for Sustainable Development --  Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico
        The Santitham Baha'i School (Thailand) (also described in the text above)
United Kingdom: One of several web sites
United States: The Baha'i World
Wales: A new web site

Other interesting sites related to the UN objectives:
United Nations Economic and Social Development -- Official  UNESD  home page (World Wide Web)
UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs --  links to many departments.
        Division of Sustainable Development
        Division for the Advancement of Women
        Division for Social Policy and Development
        Division for Development Policy Analysis
The UN's Agenda for Development --Some Leading Issues, by Maxwell Brem, March 1995
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
        UNCED documents -- a collection
Agenda 21 -- (document by chapters)   AND   a more readable version (outline / overview)
EARTH SUMMIT+5  (Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of Agenda 21)
First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006)
Former US Ambassidor to Japan, Edwin O. Reischauer, on World Citizenship
Planethood: Forward by Robert Muller — former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations
Most of All They Taught Me Happiness by Robert Muller — contains a chapter on Abdu'l-Baha's prison experience
Education for All Conference -- Thailand, 1990
(IACSD) Official WEB Site Locator for the UNITED NATIONS System of Organizations
Subset of NGO list

For further information on UNESCO's more recent efforts see:
     Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development - The Power of Culture
     Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural and Media Policies for Development (3/30/98 — 4/2/98)
     Our Creative Diversity
     World Commission on Culture and Development
Other sites on Baha'i:
Oxford University Library: Baha'i Faith Annotated Bibliography
Bahá'í Academics Resource
New Race Unity web site for the Bahá'ís of the US
An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith

The Vision of Race Unity a statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. Available at:

Bahá'í writings on World Citizenship
Bahá'í writings on World Peace (This section includes The Promise of World Peace, by the Universal House of Justice.)

"The Prosperity of Humankind"
     A statement of the Baha'i International Community. Available at:

     An Introduction to the Prosperity of Humankind
     A Shortened version of the "Prosperity of Humankind" document.

Baha'i Writings (in English) --  Index of Baha'i Writings at Sunsite -- Baha'i Texts on the Internet  (Baha'i Computer & Communication Assn.)
            Other Baha'i Resources on the Internet ---

Baha'i Resources in Other Languages and Other Cultures:
An introduction to the Baha'i Faith in other languages:
Bahá'í Writings in multiple languages
Additional sources for Baha'i Writings in multiple languages
Kevin Locke depicts his Faith as a Native American (Lakota / Sioux)
Baha'i Writings in Spanish and introductory materials in Spanish
Baha'i resources in the German language
        German Publishing Trust (for ordering books on-line)
        Additional German information
An introduction to the Baha'i Faith is now available in Italian on the web at:
     Mi piace molto d'unnuncio c'e una introduzione alla Fede Baha'i in Italia que si trove a
An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith in Spanish La Fe Baha'i Sus Ensenanzas can be found at:!nep/bahai/unityman/spintro1.htm
La Fe Baha'iy Sus Ensenanzas
La Revelacion Progresiva
Kynning a Baha'i trunnia'i slensku (An introduction to the Baha'i Faith in Icelandic)
Um Baha'i trunna'a foroyskum (An introduction to the Baha'i Faith in Faroese)
Suomen Baha'i-yhdyskunta (by Jarmo Karvonen in Finland)
Kynning a Baha'i trunnia islensku. Tessar sieur eru gerear undir umsjon And legs tjoearraes Baha'ia a Islandi. (Iceland)
Afrikaans at
Baha'i Writings in Welsh
Baha'i link for other language sources

Email the Baha'i Distribution Center or call 1-800-999-9019 to get a catalog of all Baha'i publications. This is everything
     from sacred writings to Baha'i-related fiction.  Email:
List of publishers of Baha'i books worldwide:
List of television and radio programs worldwide (also magazines):

            SEARCH ENGINES (off-line and on-line)

Comparison of Baha'i "search engines" / study tools
(Older version sometimes available when above it not.)

MARS -- Multiple Author REFER System.   CD-ROM of Central Figures and Institutions of the Baha'i Faith
To place an order call Crimson Publications 949-240-2092  or order online at
Contains original texts from the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi -- Guardian of the Baha'i Faith.
Also, "Lights of Guidance" -- a compilation centered on themes -- is on the NEW MARS CD.
NEW add-ons can be purchased separately:  Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha, "Developing Distinctive Baha'i Communities" and the unparalleled history of the Faith (The Dawnbreakers -- including the English translation of the French footnotes).
For a more detailed description see:
"Baha'i Search Software" - A Windows program for searching most Baha'i writings, the Bible, the Qur'an and more.
     About 2.5 million words! A shareware program by Ian Vink.
     Download it from Baha'i Software Index.
Immerse -- A Windows-based program for searching the Baha'i writings, the Bible the Qur'an and more:  or from on page
The Electronic Bahá'í Library by Bernal Schooley     FREE to copy and use!  For more information see:
Use full text proximity searches with boolean, wildcard, and phrase support to find passages in nearly 400 books messages, and texts from the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, the Universal House of Justice, the Bahá'í International Community, the Bible, the Qur'án, the Bhagavad-Gita, Dhammapada and other historians and authors.

The Master Library --

True Seeker(TM) will allow you to search the Bahá'í Writings using a KeyWord In Context (KWIC) search.
Baha'i Academics Resource "Local Search" (Fast / Thorough)
Another source to search over 2000 World Wide Web links on varied Baha'i subjects.

Example listserver (send a blank email to subscribe) :
    The Baha'i Faith and the Environment: <>


1. Lewis, W. Arthur. The Theory of Economic Growth, (Richard D. Irwin Inc., 1955), p.429.  (Autobiography)
        back to [1] in text above    For linked topics see:
2. Some writers have found the process so distasteful that they have "thrown out the baby with the bath water" and called for the abandonment of the process altogether declaring the we can see the beginnings of a "post-modern cosmology, which sees modernity as a fatally flawed system of ideas and a way of life." (Professor Donald Oliver — Harvard University 1987)
        back to [2] in text above
3. Levy, Marion J., Modernization and the Structure of Societies, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966) p. 776.
        back to [3] in text above
4. Lewis, p. 432.
        back to [4] in text above
5. Seers, Dudley.  (1972).  What are we trying to measure?Journal of American Studies, 8, 24.
        back to [5] in text above
6. Guide, p. 20.

7. Effendi, Shoghi. (1931). World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters, pp. 202-206.

8. Effendi, Shoghi.  pp. 43-44.

9. Effendi, Shoghi.  p. 43-44.

10. Ibid.

11. October 1985, A Statement on Peace from the Universal House of Justice to the Peoples of the World.

12. Guide, p. 19.

13. (`Abdu'l-Baha:  Abdu'l-Baha in London, Pages: 28-29)

14. (`Abdu'l-Baha:  Promulgation of Universal Peace, Pages: 140-141)

15.  (`Abdu'l-Baha:  Promulgation of Universal Peace, Pages: 49-52)

16. Guide, p. 16.

17. Guide, p. 21.

18. UNESCO publication:  A Practical Guide to the World Decade for Cultural Development. p. 24.

19. Effendi, Shoghi.  p. 198.

20. Fritjof Capra:  Systems thinker, renowned author and lecturer, and physicist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Berkeley, CA.

21. Illya Prigogine:  Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry.  Author of many books including, Order Out of Chaos.

22. Ervin Laszlo:  Widely published systems thinker and seven year director of UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research).  Member of the Club of Rome.  Chief editor of the Encyclopedia of Peace.  (List of  books)
Laszlo's encouragement to read the Baha'i Peace Statement.

23. Capra, Fritjof.  The Tao of Physics, last chapter on "Systems View of Life."   See links for "Mindwalk" film, co-scripted by Capra and directed by his brother Brent Capra (produced by two Baha'is)  --see reviews 1 & 2

Footnote: [Back to * above, from whence this came.]
*Contrary to the notion that cultural diversity implies a pluralism and relativism making that diveristy incapable of interpretation by any universal truths regarding social development, true universal applicability of a set of principles takes into account cultural diversity, by definition.  Universality does not exclude diversity, it requires it.  It is in their application that universal principles become relative — relative to their cultural setting by inclusion, not exclusion.  Universal does not mean absolute.  To say that these two terms are synonymous is to mix the levels or scales in the classification of knowledge.  The level of application within a context is not the level of abstraction (outside the context) — the level of principle and generalizability.
Definitions:  (1) Pluralism -- The belief that no single explanatory system or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life. (2) Relativism -- A theory that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them.   [Back to "Bottom-up" vs."Top-Down" Approach paragraph in text above]
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