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AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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Baha’i Studies Unit
Theme: Constructive Resilience as Faith-Based Nonviolent Activism in the Face of Repression
Christopher Glen White, Vassar College, Presiding
Monday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hyatt Regency-Limestone (Fourth Level)

Contemporary theories of nonviolent social change increasingly distinguish contentious forms of nonviolent activism from constructive forms (Vinthagen, 2015; Schock, 2013). To date, however, academic discourse has focused largely on contentious forms of activism, due to propensities for narrative drama and conflict that are also reflected in media coverage and wider public discourse. As a result, constructive forms of activism have been widely ignored, under-researched, and under-theorized. Constructive activism, as the concept is being used here, involves the creation of radical alternatives to socially oppressive systems and relationships. It is characterized by sustained efforts to construct new social norms, structures, and practices based on commitments to social justice. In this sense, constructive activism is more than reformist initiatives within a dysfunctional social order. It is an attempt to construct elements of a radically new social order. A constructive program can also be pursued as an independent strategy (Sorensen, 2016). Even when constructive programs are pursued as independent strategies, with no direct provocation of existing power structures, such programs are often met by violent repression because they can be perceived as an implicit challenge to vested interests supported by the status quo. Constructive programs must therefore be characterized by resilience – or constructive resilience – in the face of repression (Karlberg, 2010). This panel seeks to explore the concept of constructive resilience as a faith-based approach to social change in the face of repression.

Susan Maneck, Jackson State University
The Baha'i Concept of "Islah-i-Alam" or "Betterment of the World"

The purpose of this paper is to explore the concepts of progress and civilization as seen in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá particularly in its usage of the term islah-i alam which has been variously translated as “carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization”, “the betterment of the world”, the “reformation of the world” and the “reparation of the world.” The paper will begin by examining the specific terminology used and its meaning within an Islamic context, as well as its antecedents in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam as well attitudes towards civilization found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The significance of the translation choices made by Shoghi Effendi in connection with those passages will be examined.

Robert H. Stockman, Indiana University, South Bend
Social Engagement and Constructive Resilience as a Response to Persecution of the Iranian Baha'i Community

The Bahá'í approach to social change and its response to persecution are closely related and often overlap, as Bahá'í history demonstrates. In the 1880s, the Tehran Bahá'í community established a system to settle Bahá'í refugees from parts of the country where persecution was the worst. In 1899 they established the Tarbiyat School. It began to enroll non-Bahá'í students and soon acquired a reputation for being among the best in Iran. Thus an effort to consolidate the community internally—which spawned dozens of Bahá'í schools across Iran—also became an effort to demonstrate Bahá'í principles of education to the public and advance the development of Iran. One heir to the network of Iranian Bahá'í schools, after they were closed by government order in 1934, is the Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education—a sort of “underground” university for educating Iranian Bahá'í college students because they are currently banned for attending official universities.

Loni Bramson, American Public University System
Ethnicities and Possible Strategies of Constructive Activism in Washington County, Oregon through the Use of the Baha'i Training Institute Process

This paper examines the greater Beaverton, Oregon, area to analyze the potential for constructive activism through the Baha'i training institute process. This training institute process has the goal of promoting the transformation of populations by their taking ownership of their own spiritual and material well-being.

Business Meeting:
Robert H. Stockman, Indiana University, South Bend
Susan Maneck, Jackson State University