Association for Bahá’í Studies – Theme statement and call for breakout presentations

Posted: 2020/01/20

44th Annual Conference

9:00am Friday August 7 until midday Sunday August 9, 2020
Westin Dallas Central Park, Dallas, Texas, USA

In addition to the general conference sessions, a set of specialized seminars will be held Wednesday and Thursday, August 5 to 6.


Theme Statement: Beyond Critique to Constructive Engagement

In an effort to continue learning about what it means to enhance the intellectual life of the Bahá’í community and to participate in academic and professional discourses, the Association for Bahá’í Studies, along with a wide range of participants and collaborators, continues to explore relevant questions through a variety of opportunities, such as discipline-specific working groups, specialized seminars, publication of books and the Journal, and the annual conference. (See 2013 letter from the Universal House of Justice.)

At the 2019 annual conference, participants explored ways in which Bahá’ís strive to move beyond a critique of our current social order and its shortcomings, into constructive concepts and practices that allow us to imagine, and contribute to, social transformation as envisioned by Bahá’u’lláh. Plenary presentations and breakout sessions, while recognizing the deficiencies of current approaches to education, racial justice, film production, health, or governance, to name but a few, highlighted new modes of thought and practice that are coming into being. We are more aware of the pitfalls of getting trapped in a discourse of critique alone.

We are learning to read more deeply the contours of existing academic and professional discourses on critical issues of the day, to seek out the contributions of like-minded scholars across different fields, and to discern promising tendencies. Our growing experience is bearing out that the necessary capacity to transform society can only be developed as “effort is made to draw on insights from Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, to tap into the accumulating knowledge of the human race, to apply His teachings intelligently to the life of humanity, and to consult on the questions that arise.” (Ridván 2010)

The overarching mission of ABS is to advance Bahá’í thought and scholarship across a wide diversity of fields and disciplines. The 2020 conference will focus on intellectual pursuits that endeavor to correlate the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh with lines of inquiry in various fields and disciplines in order to effect change at the level of thought, with further implications for change in attitudes, practices and social structures. This year, we will continue to explore a number of key questions:

  • How can we explore fundamental defects in present knowledge systems, while at the same time, advancing our understanding and generating spiritually grounded alternatives?
  • How can we engage in a critique of the underlying ideologies of knowledge systems without being limited by relativist, postmodern and materialistic modes of thinking?
  • Through Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, how can we ensure that our contribution to discourse includes both a deep understanding of what is, but also informed insights of what could be?
  • How can Bahá’í scholarship contribute to knowledge that seeks to lay the groundwork for new social structures built on principles of justice and oneness?


Call for Breakout Session Proposals

Deadline: Sunday, March 1, 2020.

The Association for Bahá’í Studies welcomes proposals in breakout sessions that correlate the Revelation with lines of inquiry in various fields and disciplines. Breakout sessions are intended for the presentation and discussion of original work, as distinct from practical workshops, deepenings, or facilitated discussions that can be found in other community gatherings.

The conference organizers take into account a number of considerations when selecting breakout proposals, both in terms of content and the presenters:

Content-related considerations: 

  • effective engagement with relevant discourses and literature in your respective field (i.e., not limited to Bahá’í sources)
  • correlation of Bahá’í concepts / community experience to questions in your field of study
  • exploration and identification of questions for further inquiry, rather than prescription of “solutions” to particular problems
  • relevance to challenges facing present-day society
  • exegetical engagement with the Bahá’í Revelation
  • relationship of research to community building processes
  • attentiveness to methodology
  • examination of an under-represented issue in academic scholarship
  • overall clarity of thinking

Presenter-related considerations: 

  • overall diversity of presenters: seeking participation and representation of a range of individuals in terms of race, gender, age, and national/cultural identity, as well as a multiplicity of disciplines and ideas
  • relevant academic and/or professional background
  • first-time presenters, especially faculty

Please note: in order to allow for new program elements, there will be fewer breakout sessions this year than in previous years. The Conference organizers are continuing to experiment with and learn from new approaches to conference programming in order to create environments that are welcoming, accessible, relevant, that build capacity to participate in the discourses of society, and that enable individuals and groups to advance in their respective areas of inquiry.

Proposals may be submitted for a single presenter or a panel of up to three people, for a total allotted time of 60 minutes, including 20 – 30 minutes for discussion. Please carefully read the conference theme statement and call for presentations and strive to relate your proposal to the theme statement.

The deadline for submission of proposals is Sunday, March 1. Please use this link to submit your proposal. 

We look forward to seeing you at the Conference in August!