Three June Web Talks: Adventures in Scientific Principles, Interreligious Dialogue, and Materialism and Discontent

As spring gives way to summer, the Wilmette Institute is offering a rich plate of talks for your enjoyment—two traditional Web Talks and a third one, which is an interview (a first for the Institute) by a Bahá’í of a Catholic professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue. In consecutive order the presentations are as follows. Please note that the second program is on Saturday, not on the usual Sunday. Click on the links below to register for the three talks.

Sunday, June 3 (2 p.m. EDT, 11 a.m. PDT, 8 p.m. Western European Time)
“Scientific Principles at Work in the Worldwide Advancement of the Bahá’í Faith”
Jena Khodadad

Saturday, June 9 (10 a.m. EDT, 7 a.m. PDT, 4 p.m. Western European Time)
“Interreligious Dialogue: Myths and Reality” (Interview with Professor Leonard Swidler)

Sunday, June 17 (2 p.m. EDT, 11 a.m. PDT, 8 p.m. Western European Time)
“Materialism and Discontent: Bahá’í Perspectives”
Abdu’l-Missagh Ghadirian

Jena Khadem KhodadadSunday, June 3: “Scientific Principles at Work in the Worldwide Advancement of the Bahá’í Faith.” Dr. Jena Khodadad makes a return appearance as the speaker for the Wilmette Institute’s June 3 Web Talk. Her topic will be “Scientific Principles at Work in the Worldwide Advancement of the Bahá’í Faith.” She notes that “The worldwide Bahá’í community has advanced significantly since Bahá’u’lláh disclosed His mission in 1863. Guided by the systematic unfoldment of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets of Divine Plan, unveiled in 1919, the Bahá’í world, achieved a global spread in a short span of time—from pole to pole and to distant islands and territories. The Bahá’í world community continues to address its growth under the guidance of its supreme governing body, the Universal House of Justice.” However, Dr. Khodadad says, “As the Bahá’í world is now in the third year of its latest Five Year Plan, which is to culminate in 2021, it is opportune at this time to reflect on the current status of the growth of Bahá’í Faith and its prospects for accelerated growth in the years ahead.”

In her Web Talk Dr. Khodadad will draw on her book The Dynamics of Growth: Scientific Principles at Work in the Worldwide Advancement of the Bahá’í Faith as she employs a novel approach to discussing the growth of the Faith. She “applies scientific concepts and principles to the growth and advancement of the worldwide Bahá’í community,” using “analogies, metaphors, similes, and examples” to discuss the question of growth and advancement of the Bahá’í Faith.” She notes that her “mode of approach may be perceived as unconventional,” yet it is in line with the Bahá’í principle of the harmony of science and religion.” Indeed, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá both made extensive use of analogies, metaphors, and similes.” She ends by saying that her “fields of study—cell and molecular biology and neuroscience—have significantly enhanced her appreciation of the vital, orderly nature of growth in dynamic systems.”

Jena Khadem Khodadad, the daughter of the Hand of the Cause of God Zikrullah Khadem, holds a PhD from Northwestern University in biological sciences (cell and molecular biology). Her academic career as professor on medical and graduate college faculties has included teaching cell and molecular biology and neuroscience and research on the molecular organization of biological membranes. Jena is an advocate of human rights and is dedicated to interfaith understanding and dialogue.

Leonard SwidlerSaturday, June 9: “Interreligious Dialogue: Myths and Reality”—Dr. Mikhail Sergeev Interviews Professor Leonard Swidler. For the first time, the Wilmette Institute will welcome to its Web Talk series a speaker who is not a Bahá’í: Professor Leonard Swidler, a pioneer of interreligious dialogue from a Catholic perspective. Interviewing him as he talks about “Interreligious Dialogue: Myths and Reality” will be Dr. Mikhail Sergeev, Chair of the Wilmette Institute’s Department of Religion, Philosophy, and Theology. This is a Web Talk sure to appeal to anyone interested in religion in general and interfaith dialogue in particular.

Dr. Sergeev notes that, “since the second half of the twentieth century, interreligious dialogue has become one of the leading trends in Christian theology.” But how does interfaith dialogue work, and what makes it effective? What are the dos and don’ts of a fruitful exchange of religious views and opinions? What are the perspectives of Bahá’í–Christian cooperation in the field? In the interview Professor Swidler will share his experiences and insights in developing mutual religious understanding and appreciation, discuss the rules of interreligious dialogue laid down in his Interfaith “Decalogue,” and deliberate on the future of globalism and religion.

Leonard Swidler has been Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University since 1966. He is the co-founder/co-editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (1964) and founder/director of the Dialogue Institute (1978), He has published more than two hundred articles and seventy-five books.

Dr Abdu'l-Missagh Ghadirian

Sunday, June 17: “Materialism and Discontent: Bahá’í Perspectives.” The Wilmette Institute’s third Web Talk for June features Dr. Abdu’l-Missagh Ghadirian, Professor Emeritus at McGill University. He will talk about “Materialism and Discontent: Bahá’í Perspecitives,” a topic of interest to all of us trying to make sense of our world and to carry on meaningful conversations with our friends and families.

In his talk Dr. Ghadirian will explore materialism with a specific view on the moral and social consequences of a materialistic mindset and Bahá’í perspectives on it. Materialistic philosophy maintains that matter has priority over mind and spirit. Accordingly, the human mind, consciousness, and spirit, according to this philosophy, are by-products of matter, and those who believe the contrary are deemed “idealists.” Reductive materialism ascribes the entire domain of human interactions, including individual behavior, to the mechanical laws of science and fails to recognize that human thought and reasons are not purely mechanical processes.

At this turbulent time in the development of our civilization when the proliferation of nuclear weapons continues to threaten the existence of the global community, one may wonder what the chances of human survival are. Increasing disparity between wealth and poverty, the rise of social injustice and violence, and the promotion of a culture of consumerism and self-indulgence, Dr. Ghadirian says, call for rethinking the meaning of global prosperity. Materialism continues to have a devastating impact on individuals and world societies. “The Bahá’í teaching,” he says, “advocate for a sensible and moderate balance between the spiritual and material aspects of life as two pillars of an equitable civilization.”

Dr. Abdu’l-Missagh Ghadirian is a Professor Emeritus of McGill University, Faculty of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He has published extensively on psychosocial and spiritual issues and spoken at many universities and public events around the world. His most recent publication is Materialism: Moral and Social Consequences, second edition (2017). His current interest is the exploration of the interrelationship between religion and science in the advancement of civilization.

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