Sunday, June 27, 2010

Study Guides

A few friends have recently approached me regarding the studies I've done with the Ridvan message. They all asked the same question. "Did you use the study guide?"

Now maybe it is just me, but I find this an interesting question. Last time I checked, there was no study guide that came with the message. I only mention this because in all cases they used the word "the" instead of "a", and from their body language and tone of voice it seemed they believed that there was a single study guide which we are all supposed to use. To date I have seen half a dozen or so study guides, none of which I found particularly useful. In some cases, they actually seemed to me to distract from the point, but that is probably just me. Oh, and if you wrote one, I'm sure it is much better and that it just hasn't crossed my path yet.

And just so you know, I applaud the efforts of those Baha'is attempting to engage more of the friends in a systematic study the Writings. I don't mean to slam any of them, but just want to see them become more effective.

You see, it's not that I have anything against study guides, just that I think we have to be cautious with them. It reminds me of the time a Counsellor was sitting in a meeting and was asked if he had any questions. He said, "Hmm, I'm not sure. Questions can be dangerous things." Anyways, I've lost count of the number of times that I've been told a particular study guide has been written in the "Ruhi style", only to find that there are a few questions whose answers are a direct quote from the Writings.

An example of this would be "The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice..." "What is the best beloved of all things in His sight?" As you know, this is the simplest level of question that is found in the Ruhi books, and one which they even say can get wearisome. "Don't worry", they imply, "we won't be using this style of a question for long." But now, for some reason, this facile style of questioning has been associated with the far more advanced, and far more effective, methodology used to develop the Ruhi curriculum.

Ok, that's just a rant, but it seems well earned. If we really wanted to develop a Ruhi-style study guide, wouldn't we need to identify what behaviours we would want to see? And then wouldn't we need to develop questions that would assist people in moving towards that new mode of behaviour, a movement that would arise out of their own realization of the importance of engaging in that behaviour? Following all that, wouldn't we need to see if that behaviour is actually being done? All right, it sounds complex, and I am not sure it would be easy, but it is the challenge I think we need to face.

Let's look at the Ridvan message, for example. What do you think the Universal House of Justice is trying to help us learn to do? How do you think they would like us to act, after reading it? Oh, and just so you know, I don't have any of the "study guides" in front of me, and am not quoting any of them. This is only an example.

The paragraph I would like to look at, however briefly, is number 19 (coincidence only, not due to any love of Baha'i numerology). As I'm sure you've already read it, you can just sort of glance at it. I only include it here becuase I had a dickens of a time finding a copy on the internet. (Oh, here's another rant: no matter how I typed Ridvan Message 2010 into google, references to this blog came up before any links to the message itself. Flattering as that may be, there is just something wrong with that.)
The developments we have mentioned thus far – the rise in capacity to teach the Faith directly and to enter into purposeful discussion on themes of spiritual import with people from every walk of life, the efflorescence of an approach to study of the writings that is wedded to action, the renewal of commitment to provide spiritual education to the young in neighbourhoods and villages on a regular basis, and the spread in influence of a programme that instils in junior youth the sense of a twofold moral purpose, to develop their inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society – are all reinforced, in no small measure, by yet another advance at the level of culture, the implications of which are far-reaching indeed. This evolution in collective consciousness is discernable in the growing frequency with which the word “accompany” appears in conversations among the friends, a word that is being endowed with new meaning as it is integrated into the common vocabulary of the Baha’i community. It signals the significant strengthening of a culture in which learning is the mode of operation, a mode that fosters the informed participation of more and more people in a united effort to apply Baha’u'llah’s teachings to the construction of a divine civilization, which the Guardian states is the primary mission of the Faith. Such an approach offers a striking contrast to the spiritually bankrupt and moribund ways of an old social order that so often seeks to harness human energy through domination, through greed, through guilt or through manipulation.
The "standard" study guide questions that I would expect to see would be something like: 1. What 4 developments have been mentoined so far? 2. The evolution in collective consciousness is discernable in the growing frequency of which word appearing in conversation among the friends? 3. In a culture in which learning is the mode of operation, what does that mode foster? 4. What is the primary mission of the Faith? 5. What does the Baha'i approach offer a striking contrast to?

These questions are not bad, but I think they are fairly superficial. They also seem to distract from some of the more important, but subtler, points in that paragraph. For example, I have to wonder what the Universal House of Justice is hoping to achieve by redefining the various activities in that first sentence. Are they, perhaps, trying to move us away from a three word summary of junior youth groups, and help us capture the vision of helping them "develop their inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society"? This is far more powerful of a description.

Can you imagine going up to some parents and their early-teen kids and ask if they want to join a junior youth group? "Hey, do you want to join a junior youth group?" Can't you just hear the collective disinterested "A what?" Talk about underwhelming. But what if you, instead, ask "Would you like to develop you inner potential and help contribute to transforming society?" Now there is interest.

So, a more effective question, to me, is "How does the Universal House of Justice envision junior youth groups?" And "How does this vision help us in establishing these groups?"

When talking about the use of the word "accompany", merely asking which word it is seems pretty useless. What I want to know is, "What is the new meaning of accompany? How can you accompany someone else in this context? How would being accompanied help you in your work? Where do you need to accompaniment? How do you imagine this contributes to the culture of learning?" And so on and so forth.

In the last sentence, there seems to be a caution hidden within there: we should not try to manipulate others. How easy would it be to use the Writings to try and manipulate someone into accepting the Faith? But then there is the stern warning in the Writings to be certain to never proselytize, and the continual cautions in this very message to not be overly concerned if someone is or is not a member of the Baha'i community. By looking at this, and asking why this caution is in there, it can directly change our behaviour.

All this to say, "No, I haven't used the study guide. Have you?"


  1. Hi Mead

    I agree with you. I try to avoid study guides, unless it's simply a glossary, or a pronunciation guide. We need to read what the House says to us, without any intervening interpretations.

  2. Hi, Mead, it was good to meet you in Winnipeg.

    I wholeheartedly agree with what you say here. I find most "Ruhi-style" study guides patronising and less than helpful. I did that kind of comprehension exercise when I studied English at high school. To my mind the kind of questions you raise are really the ones I would like to think about and see if I can arrive at an answer to.


  3. Hello Mead,

    I appreciate your highlighting this method of reflection, as well as the specific questions you raised in response to the paragraph.

    Regarding your Google search results, I believe they started tracking users’ searches and clicks to give me search results like the ones you’ve already shown interest in. By the way, you can get to the message via


  4. Hey mate,

    I tend to find that both the study guide and your own personal reflection help to make for the most informative read of the Ridvan Messages. The study guide helps to nail that first level of comprehension, i dentify the main concepts and ideas that are trying to be passed on. But then i think its up to the individual to take it a step further and look into the implications of the meanings of the concepts for yourself and for the people around you. This is especially true if you are holding core activities or are very active. This helps generate experiences, and then when you revisit the message, a whole lot more jumps out at you.

  5. Thank you Paz. You have helped me to see a greater value of those types of study guides. I appreciate that. Cheers.

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