New Virtues, New Moral Standards, New Capacities: Moral Development Activities in the Bahá'í World Community
All created things have their degree or stage of maturity. The period of maturity in the life of a tree is the time of its fruit-bearing... The animal attains a state of full growth and completeness, and in the human kingdom man reaches his maturity when the light of his intelligence attains its greatest power and development... Similarly there are periods and stages in the collective life of humanity. At one time it was passing through its stage of childhood, at another its period of youth, but now it has entered its long-predicted phase of maturity, the evidences of which are everywhere apparent... That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race can neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day, this period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former state of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities. New bounties, perfect bestowals, are awaiting and already descending upon him. The gifts and blessings of the period of youth, although timely and sufficient during the adolescence of mankind, are now incapable of meeting the requirements of its maturity.1
This passage from the Bahá'í writings summarizes the Faith's basic approach to the development of humankind. Bahá'ís see the unfolding of history as the path of an "ever-advancing civilization," the progress of which is dependent upon humanity's moral as well as material development. We stand now at the threshold of maturity, for which we must acquire new virtues, new moral standards, and new capacities in order to reap the benefits of the age. Elsewhere in the writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Son of the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, this theme has been elucidated as follows:
Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised from the heights of the happiness of mankind, awakening the slumbering, granting sight to the blind, causing the heedless to become mindful, bestowing hearing upon the deaf, unloosing the tongue of the mute and resuscitating the dead.
The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.
The other is the soul-stirring call of God, Whose spiritual teachings are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.
This second call is founded upon the instructions and exhortations of the Lord and the admonitions and altruistic emotions belonging to the realm of morality which, like unto a brilliant light, brighten and illumine the lamp of the realities of mankind. Its penetrative power is the Word of God.
However, until material achievements, physical accomplishments and human virtues are reinforced by spiritual perfections, luminous qualities and characteristics of mercy, no fruit or result shall issue therefrom, nor will the happiness of the world of humanity, which is the ultimate aim, be attained.2
`Abdu'l-Bahá's statement outlines the basic approach of the Bahá'í community around the world in the activities it has undertaken with regard to moral development. Material progress is desirable, but it should be accompanied by spiritual growth--both individual and collective. During a talk given in America in April 1912, `Abdu'l-Bahá compared these two elements or powers to the wings of a bird, saying, "Both must be developed, for flight is impossible with one wing."3
While the Bahá'í Faith is still a relatively young religion, it has made a number of efforts throughout the world to develop programs that will promote both the material and the spiritual progress not only of its members but of the wider communities in which they live. Many of these activities fall under the broad heading of social and economic development--health care and literacy training, the establishment of schools, income-generating projects--but some have a distinct focus on moral training. This article will survey five such projects and programs around the world: "ZIPOPO," or "The Happy Hippo Show," a television program in Russia that promotes awareness and discussion of moral issues among youthful viewers; the moral leadership training program at Nur University in Bolivia; the "On the Wings of Words" literacy project in Guyana; the School of the Nations in Macau; and the Moral Education Project in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"ZIPOPO" or "The Happy Hippo Show"
This television show was first developed by Shamil Fattakhov, a journalist from Kazan, to promote consultation in youth groups on situations centered around themes connected to moral education. The name of the program, "ZIPOPO," is taken from the first letters of the words "Zaochniy institut pozitivnovo povedeniya," which translates as "The Academy of Positive Behavior." In English the program is called "The Happy Hippo Show," a title inspired by a story related about `Abdu'l-Bahá, who, during His trip to America in 1911-12, is reported to have said to a crying child, "Don't be sad, be a happy hippopotamus!"
ZIPOPO'S host coordinator Shamil Fattakhov with young participants at an outdoor summer camp in the far east city of Khabarovsk, in July 1994.
The concept underlying "ZIPOPO" is to present viewers with an opportunity to look at moral or ethical issues and to provide them with the means to approach life problems and find positive solutions through specific dramatic examples. As Mr. Fattakhov has noted, the power of positive example has a long and distinguished history in Russia. He cites the instance where, following the publication in the late nineteenth century of Leo Tolstoy's novel The Resurrection, about a man who forfeits his wealth and prominent position in society to repent for an evil deed he committed in his youth, many readers of the popular work radically changed their lives, confessing to crimes they had committed, donating their possessions to charity, and performing good works.
"ZIPOPO," which runs weekly in a number of cities in Russia and is about 40 minutes in length, features a dramatic skit performed by actors, a live audience of between eighty and a hundred people--mostly youth--and hosts who facilitate the discussion. The hosts begin by warming up the audience and introducing the topic for the show, after which the first scene of a situation based on the topic is acted out. The drama freezes at a crucial point of tension, and audience discussion opens up, facilitated by the hosts who, from time to time, interject relevant points or perhaps quote brief passages from various literary or religious sources to further fuel the exchange of viewpoints. Sometimes an expert on the topic is present to contribute ideas as well. Following the discussion, which always focuses on finding positive solutions to the situation, the dramatic sketch resumes and one possible solution to the particular moral dilemma is presented. A second round of audience discussion following the dramatic conclusion helps those present to recognize a pattern of response to the problem, based on moral principles.
Many of the scripts have been developed by Mr. Fattakhov, but he welcomes other authors and encourages youth to submit their ideas for future programs; one scenario was written by a seventeen-year-old high school student. Well over two hundred such sketches have now been written and performed, including ones on topics such as how to avoid drug addiction, suicide, the difference between sex and love, youth and the police, stealing, unemployment, racial conflict, divorce, running away from home, how to find the right partner to establish a healthy family life, how to develop virtues, and so on. In one sketch, for example, a girl and her boyfriend are sitting on a park bench talking about how much they love each other. He begins to pressure her to have sex; she says she wants to wait until they are married. "But everybody does it," he argues, and besides, they should "test each other out" before marriage. Finally he delivers an ultimatum: if she doesn't prove that she loves him by sleeping with him tonight, their relationship is over. At this point the action freezes. Should she give in or not? The audience discusses the issue before the sketch resumes to present one possible resolution to the situation.
The program has become very popular, not only with youth but with entire families, because it features ordinary people exploring moral solutions to common dilemmas that are often not addressed in society. Viewers, then, see how they can practically apply moral principles in their own lives. Mr. Fattakhov describes the goal of the program as "the healing and education of society through regular collective deepening in moral aspects, based on the highest moral principles proclaimed by prophets of all world religions, by outstanding philosophers and prominent people, accumulated by the wisdom of the whole of mankind."
The use of drama makes the problem more emotionally immediate and provides the opportunity for different social and age groups to share a common experience. The discussion allows youth to broaden their knowledge of life and experience consultation in a supportive atmosphere where collective thinking is used in search of positive solutions to life's problems. Positive actions and behavior are thus legitimized in the minds of young viewers; individuals can become responsible for their own moral choices, make positive decisions, and take action. Families, too, can consult in their own homes on topics introduced in the shows.
Audience bases for "ZIPOPO" are expanding. Host training workshops have been held since 1994, and as a result the show is now established in a number of Russian cities, including Chita, Khabarovsk, Izhevsk, Ulan-Ude, Kazan, Leninogorsk, and Perm. It has also been introduced into India, China, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Italy, Moldov a, Latvia, and the Ukraine. And while "ZIPOPO" began as a program primarily directed at youth, different variations of the show have been developed, aimed at children, women, families, and social groups such as teachers, businessmen, journalists, and so on. Because the format of the show is flexible and portable, it can be (and has been) done in locations as varied as kindergartens, youth camps, schools, colleges and universities, and on mass media, including radio, television, and newspapers.
In the city of Khabarovsk eighteen-year-old Tanya Maros, who had been trained as a host, was galvanized to start up a radio version of the show, which she produced and hosted herself. Another young host, Leonid Osokin, hosted a live TV program called the "Orange Show," modeled on "ZIPOPO," for some two years in his home city of Ulan-Ude. The popular show, which ran biweekly, reached some one million people and was discontinued only when Mr. Osokin left to pursue a doctoral degree in morality and ethics.
Recently, Mr. Fattakhov has adapted the basic format of "ZIPOPO" for different audiences. For example, he has offered seminars to businessmen on subjects such as ethics in business--an issue of real concern in Russian society. The dramatic sketch pres-ented at one such seminar opens with a businessman advising his wife over the telephone not to buy fruit or vegetables from a particular vendor who uses chemical sprays that could endanger the health of their family. Immediately following this conversation two people are ushered into the man's office, the first complaining about the pollution released by the businessman's factory and its effects on her child. The second, who is meanwhile quietly sobbing and obviously carrying something bulky under her coat, suddenly throws aside her wrap and deposits a dead dog on the businessman's desk, crying that this was her beloved pet that was poisoned by drinking from the stream next to the man's factory. At that point the action freezes and the seminar participants are invited to discuss what has happened, identify the moral principles involved in the situation, and devise a positive solution. According to Mr. Fattakhov, the businessmen at the seminar were galvanized by the sketch and engaged in a very energetic discussion of ethics in business practices--something they claimed they had not done previously.
Responses such as those of the businessmen--as well as the popular reception of "ZIPOPO" on the television and radio in various cities--underscore people's hunger for presentations and programs that address in a substantive, participatory way the issues of morality and ethics that are central to their lives. And the format developed by Mr. Fattakhov also shows that addressing such issues is far from a dull, dry exercise.
Moral Leadership Training Program at Nur University, Bolivia
Universidad Nur, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1996, is a private educational institution in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, founded by a number of Bahá'ís who were concerned with the lack of higher educational opportunities for Bolivians and were motivated by the need for trained professionals who could contribute to the development of the country.
Nur's mission statement is "to contribute to an educational proc-ess that facilitates individual and social transformation through the development of human capabilities, fostering a dynamic coherence between the intellectual, spiritual, and physical dimensions, for the establishment of a just, peaceful, and harmonious global society." Nur began its first academic year in April 1985 with 97 students; it currently has 2,600 undergraduate, 500 graduate, and more than 2,000 continuing education students; women compose 43% of the student body.
Underlying Nur's approach to education is the belief that the mere transfer of information and knowledge will not raise up people who can bring about a personal and collective transformation in service to the common good. Therefore, the university emphasizes ethical and moral education; courses also look at the integrative and disintegrative forces at work in the world that will eventually lead to the establishment of peace and the acceptance of the concept of world citizenship. Latin American nations are still consolidating stable forms of democratic government, which many leaders of thought in the region believe must be rooted in moral leadership. Nur hopes that its programs will help create such leaders.
Nur has identified eighteen specific moral leadership capabili-ties that it seeks to develop, including the following: to participate effectively in consultation; to act with rectitude of conduct based on ethical and moral principles; to evaluate one's own strengths and weaknesses without involving the ego; to take initiative in a creative, disciplined form; to learn from systematic reflection on action within a consistent and evolutionary conceptual framework; to commit to empowering educational activities; to create a vision of a desired future based on shared values and principles, and to articulate it clearly and simply so that it inspires others to work for its fulfillment; to understand relationships based on dominance and to contribute towards their transformation into relationships based on interconnectedness, reciprocity, and service; to contribute to the establishment of justice.
Participatory Learning at Nur University in Bolivia.
Emphasis in the moral leadership program is placed on the individual's moral responsibility to search for and recognize truth, and then to apply that truth in all aspects of his or her life. Students are encouraged to find principles that can serve as the basis of their lives and then to base decisions and actions on them, while remaining open to the investigation of new principles so as to allow for continuing growth. Students thus develop a principle-based vision of the desired future of their community and examine different points of view and facts in order to investigate the truth.
A framework for teaching moral leadership has been incorporated into Nur's core curriculum. Since 1990, all undergraduate students have been required to complete 120 hours of community service as a requirement for graduation. Almost 1,000 students have now participated in more than 200 projects, some taking the initiative to offer leadership workshops to local high schools as part of their service.
Other programs also contain moral leadership components. A pilot project, carried out from May 1993 to October 1995 in the departments of Santa Cruz and Tarija, sought to empower 460 rural teachers to become community development agents. Emphasis was placed on the role that rural teachers can play in aiding communities to pursue their own path of development by analyzing their own needs, establishing their order of priority, and managing their own projects. Rural teachers, acting as facilitators, can serve as a source of initiative, knowledge, and guidance in community organization, in the empowerment of grassroots organizations, and in the management of their projects.
Training for the project was carried out by means of a three-semester degree course for the teachers, conducted through distance education. Spiritual principles, which are seen as an essential part of life and the development process, formed a central aspect of the course through an emphasis on moral leadership. The five elements underlying this component of the course are that leadership should be oriented towards service and should not be an exercise of power; that the aim of development is an active engagement in the process of individual and collective transformation; that participants commit to the fundamental moral responsibilities of searching for truth, of recognizing truth, and of applying truth in all aspects of their lives; that moral leadership is based on eternal values and a commitment to service and the process of personal and collective transformation; and that emphasis should be placed on the development of personal, interpersonal, and societal capabilities of leadership.
Another program seeks to strengthen women's leadership role in the field of community health, emphasizing moral leadership capabilities that increase women's ability to take initiative in improving health in their communities. Components of the program include study of moral leadership for social transformation and consultation as a method of group decision-making, learning how to form a collective vision and how to learn from reflecting on experience, how to take creative initiative, and how participatory evaluation aids in collective learning. The National Public Health System of Bolivia, women from a number of rural communities who belong to a Rural Women's Center, and the 35 member organizations of the Santa Cruz branch of the National Confederation of Women's Organizations have also received moral leadership training.
Several Bolivian NGOs active in the fields of women's rights, children's education, child survival, literacy, the protection of the environment, and the improvement of agricultural production have had their management and field staff trained in moral leadership by Nur, as have the National Secretariat for Popular Participation, the state government of Santa Cruz, and several municipal governments. Members of the Bahá'í community, including members of the institution of the Auxiliary Boards and their assistants and Bahá'í rural school teachers, have also received training.
Further extension of these activities is planned. Nur is developing a strategy to apply moral leadership training to environmental issues. It is seeking funding for a project focusing on the health of female adolescents, addressing problems such as venereal disease, AIDS, and abortions resulting from unwanted pregnancies by educating adolescents in these health risks, emphasizing the importance of moral responsibility and developing participants' capacity to prevent problems before they occur. Collaborating with the Harvard Institute for International Development, Nur is also working to design a comprehensive program to provide training in moral leadership, public administration, and concepts of just governance to civic authorities in 46 Bolivian municipalities.
"On the Wings of Words," GuyanaIn 1994, pilot literacy projects were undertaken by the Bahá'í communities in three countries--Guyana, Cambodia, and the Central African Republic--at the invitation of the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá'í World Centre as the initial part of a proposed global literacy campaign. The literacy projects seek to address the concern of the Universal House of Justice, which prompted it to call, in 1989, for systematic efforts toward the eventual elimination of illiteracy in the Bahá'í community.
The campaign is based on a concept of literacy achieved through a combination of study of the Bahá'í writings on education, the experience of some Bahá'ís in the field, the application of the work of Paulo Freire, and guidance received from the Bahá'í World Centre. In this view, literacy is seen as more than skills in basic reading, writing, and numeracy. The project combines spiritual and moral themes with the mechanics of writing, an approach that acknowledges each individual's need for direct access to the Word of God.
"On the Wings of Words," as the literacy project is called in Guyana, operates under the guidance of the Varqa Foundation, a Bahá'í-inspired agency. The program was initially offered in ten Bahá'í communities, and approximately thirty Bahá'í facilitators received intensive training in how to use the materials that had been developed, how to structure a literacy class, and how to use the generative themes to encourage development of the moral and spiritual aspects of the program.
Five of the ten initial areas began to flourish, as groups of up to 25 youth between ages ten and sixteen gathered weekly. The task force that had originated the project supplied study workbooks, which were supplemented by materials from local Bahá'í community libraries.
Members of the Literacy Task Force conduct one of the training ssessions for facilitators of the 'On the Wings of Words' literacy project in Guyana.
By the end of the first year, the project was strengthened when it was opened up to the involvement of the wider public. Concern about Guyana's declining literacy rate created a greater receptivity for the program among the country's leaders of thought and educators. Indeed, one leading columnist wrote, "I can think of no more important initiative under way in Guyana now." The Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, the extramural arm of the University of Guyana, became a partner of the Bahá'í community in the endeavor and offered a certificate to facilitators who received training and participated in the program.
In May 1996, the project's new phase was launched at Guyana's National Cultural Center, attracting over 200 people from all over the country. The launching was listed among events celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Guyana's independence and received attention on both radio and television. The country's Senior Minister of Education, Dale Bisnauth, lauded the Bahá'ís for their initiative and mentioned that he was particularly pleased that the program focused not only on the mechanics of reading and writing but on moral aspects as well. The Director of the Institute of Adult and Continuing Education and a member of the Bahá'í Literacy Task Force also addressed the meeting.
A follow-up session a month later brought together 200 participants who learned more about the vision of the program and the materials to be used. They also consulted about how to popularize the program in their home communities. The next step was the holding in Georgetown of a five-day training program for the facilitators, who comprised a diverse group from different parts of the country, different religious backgrounds, different ages, and different levels of qualification. One indication of the success of the training sessions was that there were no dropouts; in fact, additional people appeared each day until the organizers regretfully had to turn away more prospective participants.
Some of the topics covered were the vision of literacy underlying the project, the concept of generative themes, the mechanics of reading, testing for baseline data, planning, memorization, logistics, aids and games, teaching styles and methodologies, and singing. The overall themes of the project--"We are noble beings," "We have control over our actions," and "Our actions affect others"--were also addressed. Additional training sessions were held in remote areas for people who wished to become facilitators but could not afford to attend the session in Georgetown. Organizers afterwards commented on the spirit of active participation throughout the initial training session and on the proactive approach of the facilitators in getting support from their communities when they began to set up classes.
In all, 33 literacy classes for over 1,200 children were held over the summer in the regions of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice, with a high level of interest and enthusiasm on the part of both facilitators and students. In the fall, after the rainy season, eight regions of the interior Rupununi region also held classes, which were attended by an additional 300 children. Support for the project was received from the Guyana Book Foundation, which provided $3,800 in funding, offered one set of free books to each community group that requested one, and made other books available on the same nominal terms on which they are provided to schools.
An evaluative meeting held at the end of the summer looked at the challenges encountered, and materials for new modules were introduced. Facilitators commented on the positive attitudinal changes they saw in the youth who had participated, and the spiritual aspect of the program came in for high praise from those present. Guyana TV covered the event and broadcast highlights. Throughout the following months further meetings provided continued training and support to the facilitators and helped them look back and evaluate the progress of the program. Weekend and vacation-time sessions with students also continued the education process throughout the year, and a newsletter on the groups' activities was started to provide students with reinforcement and encouragement. Other training programs are being planned for the future.
The Project has also arranged a "Festival of Words" in each area where literacy classes have been held, during which the students present to the public a selection of songs, poems, and stories. In July 1997, a national Festival of Words, with youth representing each village, sub-region, and region, will be held in Georgetown.
School of the Nations, Macau
Founded in 1988, the School of the Nations has pioneered the development of a moral education component in the country's school curriculum. Generally, in Macau formal education is geared to academic subjects. Moral development, while a concern of teachers, is handled by them on an individual basis or by the parents of the student. Societal changes and pressures, however, have indicated an increasing need for a more formal program of moral education.
Students and teachers of the School of the Nations in Macau.
The Badi Foundation, which runs the School of the Nations, is a private non-governmental organization whose purpose is to develop human resources for the social and economic progress of the region. All of the Foundation's programs include elements for the development of moral or spiritual values, qualities, and capabilities.
International in character, the School of the Nations has approximately 500 students from 36 different countries and runs from kindergarten through Form 6 or 12th grade. Some 70 percent of the students are from Macau, Hong Kong, and China.
The school has committed itself to concerted experimentation in curriculum development in the area of moral education, focusing on the development of moral capabilities--particularly at the kin- dergarten and secondary levels. The activities and the qualities, attitudes, skills, abilities, and concepts promoted are geared to the children's level.
In kindergarten, the development of moral capabilities forms part of every subject--from math to science to languages--in the belief that not to include moral questions is to say that they are irrelevant.
The concept fundamental to the development of any moral capability is seen to be the oneness of humankind, which is reinforced throughout the curriculum. In science class, for example, the students study the scientific concept of "system" by looking at the family, the elements that compose it, and the behaviors and virtues that can be found in it; from here, they move on to look at the ways different families in their community interact; and finally, they expand their investigation to all the families in the world--the family of humankind. In mathematics, a similar approach is taken to teaching sets, where students look at concrete sets--sets of children who are happy or who want to be obedient, sets of children in their class, the set of children in Macau, and the set of children in the world.
The concept that each of us chooses his or her own behavior--and can choose to change--is also taught in various ways. In the science class for five-year-olds, for example, after learning the names of parts of their bodies, students discuss what the parts do. A mouth eats and sings, but it also speaks. Does the mouth decide what it will say? Do the feet decide where they will walk? By answering such questions, students become aware that there are decisions to be made and that they themselves--their spirits or souls--are what decides. This concept is, again, reinforced across the curriculum.
At the secondary level, the focus is on the development of five moral capabilities: creating a healthy family; empowering others; bringing joy to others; preserving and rationally using the environment; and consultation. All activities are organized around the core concept of service. Elements of the program include two hours weekly in moral education class, either doing service projects in the community or in the classroom, where students are asked to reflect on activities they have completed or to plan future activities. Consultation with teachers, with other students, and with the population they are serving, as well as the writing of journals and other assignments, all lead the students towards deep reflection and discussion on the capability they are exploring so that they can relate their experiences to the rest of their lives.
The Form 1 (Grade 8) students' program centers around working with the kindergarten students in the school and studying elements of child development and education. Students also reflect on their own families' values and values they have adopted for themselves. The following year students undertake service to promote environmental conservation and beautification of the environment, outside the school. In Form 3, cooperation with the Cultural Institute of Macau is the focus. Students have assisted in recording the history of Macau and have worked with social service organizations, seeing how a society takes care of its members and their own role in that process. During their final two years at the school, students work at homes for the elderly or with programs for the homebound and at a home for the mentally handicapped, receiving special training from professional social service workers. By the end of the program, the students have learned how to make others comfortable, how to listen and encourage others, and how to be more courageous, compassionate, and humble.
The moral capabilities program at the School of the Nations is continually being developed. It does not claim to turn out students who are perfect models of moral behavior, because it sees the development of moral capabilities as a lifelong process, but it does give students a start along the path of their own spiritual growth, encountering challenging life situations and seeing the reality of applying moral values in society--a process involving difficulties and ambiguities as well as rewards and triumphs. For its efforts in this area, the School of the Nations recently won an award from the Department of Education as Macau's top moral education program and was awarded third place in an international competition for moral education programs.
Moral Education Project, St. Petersburg, Russia
Begun in 1995, the Moral Education Project based in St. Petersburg aims to promote the development of a course on moral education for youth, to present lectures on religion and science at the university level, and to prepare materials on moral education for publication in English and Russian. In these endeavors, the Bahá'ís who spearhead the project seek to collaborate with Russian intellectuals and academics working in this field.
In 1996, the project sponsored a regular full-semester course in moral education at the St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University, in which 38 third-year public relations students enrolled. Given the positive response to this initial offering, it appears likely that the course will be repeated. William S. Hatcher, the project founder, also presented a paper at the plenary session of an international conference on pedagogical issues in university education, held at the Electrotechnical University, using materials from the project.
At the request of the head of the ethics department of St. Petersburg State University, a short course on ethics based on the materials from the Moral Education Project was given, and future collaboration between the project and the university in the formulation of a new fundamental course in ethics, required for all philosophy students, is likely.
A monograph on moral education, generated by the project, is soon to be published in English in St. Petersburg, after which it will be released in Russian. This material will then form the basis of an annual course in moral education in the Master's program at Landegg Academy, Switzerland. Project materials have also formed the basis of lectures at the university in Minsk, in Brest, Belarus, and in Finland.
Publications include two booklets, containing some twelve lectures on various themes related to the Bahá'í Faith; a booklet compiling statements of philosophers, scientists, and artists concerning the existence and nature of God; a Russian translation of an article entitled Economics and Moral Values; and basic course materials for the project's program, entitled "A Non-Ideological Approach to the Moral Education of Youth and Young Adults."
The approach taken by the Moral Education Project is simply this: that moral development is a process that leads to the devel-opment of each individual as an independent human being who is able to attain true well-being. Project members call this model "non-ideological" because it is founded on the premise that the source of moral behavior comes from an individual's understanding of what they refer to as "the moral law of cause and effect" rather than through inculcation of a moral credo or a set of rules for moral behavior. The program, in fact, views religious fanaticism and sectarianism as moral evils because they lead to dependence on a restrictive moral credo rather than to authentic knowledge of moral law; they also contribute to various antisocial attitudes undermining one's own and others' spiritual well-being.
Moral development, then, is a process by which the individual learns how to generate and sustain positive encounters with the law of cause and effect embedded in every aspect of reality. According to our reading of these encounters, we construct our own individual "value paradigm," which is the system--albeit largely unarticulated--by which we make our value choices. The Moral Education Project sees the essential challenge of moral education as the understanding of this moral law of cause and effect and, as a result, the development of a correct value paradigm. To develop this paradigm we reflect upon and strive to understand the fundamental moral principles underlying our encounters with reality. The curriculum the project has developed for youth identifies and elaborates these fundamental principles. It also leads them towards experiencing "transformative interactions" and allows students to see for themselves the operation of the moral law of cause and effect in various contexts.
There are a number of categories of these interactions with reality on which the program focuses, including, notably, the self (which refers to the individual soul or spirit, as defined in the Bahá'í writings) with the Divine; the self with the self, the self with other humans, with social groups, and with objects and collections of objects.
Through developing an understanding of the dynamics of value choice in these various categories, the project pursues the goal of developing a scientifically based, Bahá'í-inspired curriculum for youth and young adults. Project founders identify scientific ideas or theories as "Bahá'í-inspired" insofar as they have been examined in light of the Bahá'í writings and fit with the basic spiritual conception of the human being that is found there. Since Bahá'u'lláh has taught that science and religion agree, the process is seen as both scientific and Bahá'í in nature.
If the goal of spiritual education is seen as producing genuinely happy and autonomous human beings, then training young people to recognize and evaluate their own experiences of the world--and to acquire the motivation to make moral choices that will bring about their own spiritual well-being--is an important contribution to that end. It rests on the belief that people's capacities of mind, will, and heart, when properly developed, will enable them to recognize the truth about reality, to pursue goodness, and to love and be faithful to beauty. The program of moral education conceived by the project begins this development with an examination of the origin of the most common notions about human value. The curriculum takes students through a critical examination of the concept of human value found in collectivism and individualism and then moves on to look at the spiritual conception of human value as an alternative to these two extremes. In the latter system, it is posited that the soul, which has inherent capacities not determined by external forces as in the other two systems, is directly created by God and thus possesses instrinsic universal value. Acting in accordance with this spiritual conception of human value gives meaning to individual life and also creates social harmony--without sacrifice of the quality and meaning of individual life nor the overall good of the collectivity.
One exercise that reinforces the spiritual conception of human value and assists students to learn to make moral choices has them compile a list of all their possessions, following which they are asked to determine which ones cannot be taken away by circumstances of life beyond their control. Through this exercise students learn that, in fact, there are no material possessions that cannot be taken away and that the proper relationship between the self and material objects is not "possession"--which is largely illusory--but rather "legitimate use." Knowing this, individuals can reevaluate their relationship to material things, which, of course, are not ends in themselves. Students can also formulate from this exercise a general moral principle concerning their interactions: that a higher or more valuable thing should never be sacrificed or made a means to obtain a lesser or less valuable thing.
Through the means developed by the project, students can experience spiritual growth, the true purpose of moral education, as a process of creative discovery.
While the five efforts surveyed in this article represent a wide range of undertakings to promote moral education and training in different parts of the world, they hold several common tenets of belief: first, that each human being is a noble creation--a "mine rich in gems of inestimable value," in the words of Bahá'u'lláh, which education alone can bring to the surface; second, that the individual, who must take responsibility for his or her own actions, can be trained in how to make decisions that will foster spiritual growth; and third, that the individual, his or her family, and society as a whole will benefit from such training. The moral person is a social actor who, having effected change in himself or herself, also has responsibility to contribute to the transformation of the social order.
At a talk He gave in Paris in 1912 `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke of the "patient lives of active service" through which "the elect of God" have "brought light into the world." He exhorted His listeners,
Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!
This is the work of a true Bahá'í, and this is what is expected of him. If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahá'ís, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and we have no right to the name.
God, who sees all hearts, knows how far our lives are the fulfillment of our words.4
With this high ideal in mind, Bahá'ís strive to promote moral as well as material development of the peoples of the world.
- `Abdu'l-Bahá, cited in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1991), pp. 163-65.
- `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1982), sec. 225, pp. 283-84.
- `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by `Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 60.
- `Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks: Addresses Given by `Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris in 1911-1912 (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1995), pp. 80-81.