AAR Annual Meeting
November 18-21, 2017
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The Bahá'í Studies Unit is devoted to the study of the Bahá'í religion in all its aspects: history, lives of its primary figures and their missions, sacred and authoritative texts, scholarly and popular literature, teachings, practices, expressions in art and social action, its public discourse, growth, issues of minorities within it, and its local and national communities, both as these aspects exist today and how the understanding of them has evolved over time. It studies these aspects using the scholarly tools available, but is particularly interested in interdisciplinary approaches and integrated paradigms of scholarship. It seeks dialogue with researchers of other faith traditions and comparative research involving the Bahá'í Faith and other religious communities.
Religion and Public Discourse in an Age of Transition
Scholarship on the role of religion in the public sphere is undergoing a period of transition and flux, influencing disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. For nearly two centuries, the prevalent view has been that religion’s influence on social and political affairs would diminish as the forces of modernity advanced. Articulated as the “theory of secularization,” this view has led scholars to systematically exclude religion as a variable in social analysis. Yet by the late 20th century it had become clear that religion’s influence was not undergoing such rapid decline. To the contrary, it seemed to be resurging in almost every region of the world. These developments have led to a broad reconsideration of both the role of religion in modern societies and the influence of secularism on the study of social and political life.
It is not yet clear, however, what theories and approaches should alternatively be used. Is every feature of secularization theory invalidated, or only certain propositions? Is there another theoretical framework that we might look to instead, or should we concentrate now on analyzing particular socio-religious dynamics? Furthermore, given the prominent public role that religious actors are currently playing throughout the world, policymakers and practitioners cannot simply wait for scholars to work out their theoretical debates. What resources, then, do they have to think about the constructive and destructive roles that religion plays in the modern world? What strategies and insights can they use to encourage the former and mitigate the latter?
The purpose of this panel is to make a fresh contribution to the growing, inter-disciplinary body of academic literature that addresses these themes by examining the participation of the Baha’i community in the life of society. Several panel presentations will be offered by authors from the forthcoming edited volume, Religion and Public Discourse in an Age of Transition: Reflections on Baha'i Practice and Thought. Additional proposals are welcome from scholars working in any discipline and/or tradition who address the themes mentioned above.