The Lamp, volume 4 Number 3

The Lamp

A Newsletter Produced by the Wilmette Institute

Volume 4, Number 3, September 1999


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Institute Completes its First Four-Year Cycle of
Residential Sessions

The Wilmette Institute's fourth annual residential session ran from July 17 to August 6, completing a cycle that began in July 1996. The twenty students attending studied from a Bahá'í perspective a variety of subjects relating to the establishment of a global civilization: economics and its impact on prosperity; the historical factors that shaped the creation of global society and international governance; an analysis of efforts to establish international security mechanisms since 1600; the oneness of humanity and its ancillary principles of race unity and equality of men and women; education and literacy; the harmony of science and religion; agriculture; and nature and the environment. They also studied Bahá'í scriptures focusing on world order and Bahá'í history since 1957. In addition, they took a workshop on conflict resolution and a series of seminars on teaching the Faith.

Classes were not the only activity of the residential session. Students provided volunteer service one afternoon a week at the Bahá'í National Center and its offices and agencies, particularly at the House of Worship, where they served as guides. They held a weekly "Feast" designed to provide each week with a spiritual high point and to model ways to improve devotional programs at home. The students and staff made a field trip to a Zoroastrian firetemple in the Chicago area, exposing them to the beliefs and practices of a little-known, divinely revealed faith.

Kendall College, a small four-year college located in Evanston, less than a mile from the House of Worship, provided all dormitory facilities, a private classroom, and meals. While students were not required to take a meal contract, most were glad to do so, since Kendall College is a premier cooking school and the cafeteria usually served a variety of gourmet meals. Whereas in two previous years the major difficulty faced by Wilmette Institute students was driving between their dorm rooms and a classroom two miles away, the major issue this year was overeating! Kendall College proved to be a friendly host, and future Wilmette Institute sessions will probably be held there.

The three-week session ended Friday evening, August 6, with a Farewell Dinner attended by eighty, including Mr. Hushmand Fatheazam, a member of the Universal House of Justice, and Mrs. Fatheazam; Dr. David Ruhe, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, and his wife, Margaret, both of whom have served as Institute faculty members; Ms. Juana Conrad, Assistant Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly; Dr. William Roberts, Treasurer of the National Spiritual Assembly; various special guests; current and former Wilmette Institute Board members, faculty, and staff; the students and some family members; and a number of participants from a conference on spirituality that started the next day. Dr. Ruhe gave the keynote address, "Highlights from the Greatest Life," an account of Bahá'u'lláh's life and His impact on the world. After the students received their certificates of attendance, four came forward to thank the Institute for their experience and share aspects of it with the audience. A highlight of their program was the reading of a poem by Robert White, one of this year's summer faculty, which included a stanza describing each student. Everyone went home inspired to continue their efforts to strengthen Bahá'í education.

This year's students came from eleven states in all regions of the United States and from one province of Canada; Florida contributed the most students, four. Several brought teenaged children, who did volunteer service at the Bahá'í National Center. The Chicago area contributed four auditors to the Institute's residential sessions. Six participants were fourth-year students and were completing their residential requirements for a certificate in the four-year program.

Soon after returning home, the students began their home study, which involves further reading, reflection about their summer classes, and projects to apply their learning to local needs through firesides, deepenings, and local institute classes. This year the home study has five modules: Bahá'í history, 1957-99; economics; Bahá'í writings on global civilization; statements and readings on global civilization; and science, nature, and agriculture. The modules end March 31, 2000.

The 1999 Residential Session:
A Student Perspective

When the Universal House of Justice called for the establishment of training institutes during the Four Year Plan, the Wilmette Institute had already completed its first year as a national training institute under the direct supervision of the National Spiritual Assembly. The close association with the National Spiritual Assembly provides unique opportunities for students. Retired Universal House of Justice member Dr. David Ruhe and his wonderful wife spent a few days with the class, talking about the development of the Bahá'í World Center. Faculty members for this year's summer session included members from the National Spiritual Assembly, the Regional Council for the Central States, the Auxiliary Board, and distinguished Bahá'í educators from various universities.

From July 17 to August 7, fifteen students from Canada and the United States lived in dorm facilities at Kendall College. The small class size indicates that the Wilmette Institute is one of the best kept secrets in the Bahá'í community! This is expected to change next year as the summer residential program is streamlined to two weeks as well as begins a new cycle. Next year's main theme, module A, focuses on comparative religion and the first years of Bahá'í history and scripture.

Living in a Bahá'í community within walking distance of the Holiest House of Worship created an atmosphere that carried over into the classroom. Students often began the day at the Temple with prayers. Mornings were devoted to class and designated afternoons were reserved for service such as guiding at the House of Worship or assisting in the National Center or its dependencies. Evenings included informal time with faculty members or special events. Following the annual tradition to visit various religions the class had an unusual opportunity to visit a Zoroastrian Fire Temple. This year we had the distinct privilege of listening to Universal House of Justice member, Mr. Hooshmand Fatheazam.

Six students from across the United States have the distinction of being the first graduating class of Wilmette Institute. Carol Bardin, Alice Ferro, Shar Gardella, Sandra Miles, Perla Talebi, and Nancy Turner are the first individuals to complete the first three years and the fourth residential session.

Our six prospective graduates had many opportunities to use the knowledge and skills from the courses. Three of them met to teach in Oklahoma focusing on the Cherokee Nation. Their diversity (Asian, African American and White) attracted the attention of the local KKK, but undaunted they carried on their teaching work!

The class celebrated the completion of the residential session with dinner and an address by Dr. Ruhe. Special guests included Mr. Fatheazam and two members of the National Spiritual Assembly, Juana Conrad and Billy Roberts. The Wilmette Institute provides a unique opportunity for the Bahá'í student who may not have local access to training institutes or is ready for a broadened perspective of a variety of subjects and their relation to the Writings. Global issues such as agriculture, the environment, and economics were presented along with the principles found in the Writings. Students felt they were given a rare opportunity to truly see the "big picture."

            Patricia Haynie

Christianity Distance-Learning Course Begins

The fall began with a new Wilmette Institute distance-learning course, "Christianity for Deepening and Dialogue." The course covers the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the rise of Christianity, the formation of Christian scriptures, traditional Christian teachings, Christian prophecy, and the diversity of Christian groups. The subjects are studied for the purposes of deepening and dialogue, that is, understanding the basics of Christianity as a divinely revealed religion (and by comparison, the tenets of the Bahá'í Faith) and sharing one's faith perspective with the full variety of Christians in an informed and respectful manner. The twenty students taking the course will benefit from the advice and assistance of four faculty:

      Mr. Ted Brownstein is of Jewish background but became a Jehovah's Witness and served that community in a full- or part-time capacity for twenty-seven years. His interest in studying the Bible and its prophecies resulted in his earning a Master's degree in Hebrew Studies from the University of Wisconsin in 1984. Since becoming a Bahá'í in February 1997 he has authored and facilitated a course on the Bahá'í Faith and Christianity at the Magdalene Carney Bahá'í Institute in Florida.

      Mr. Dann May received his Master's degree in philosophy from Northern Texas University in 1993. He has taught classes in philosophy, logic, ethics, Christian ethics, the philosophy of religion, Asian religions, the history of religion, and religious dialogue at various universities in Texas and Oklahoma. He has considerable familiarity with Christian theology. Currently he teaches at Oklahoma City University.

      Mr. Michael Sours is the author of a three-book series titled Toward a Bahá'í-Christian Dialogue, has published a commentary on Bahá'u'lláh's Lawh-i-Aqdas (also called the Tablet to the Christians), and has published several articles on Bahá'í scripture. He is also an accomplished graphic artist.

      Dr. Robert Stockman received his doctorate in the history of religion in the United States from Harvard University in 1990. He is an instructor of religious studies at DePaul University, where he teaches world religion. He is also Coordinator of the Institute for Bahá'í Studies in Wilmette and Administrator of the Wilmette Institute. He has lectured and published on the relationship between the Bahá'í Faith and Christianity and the Bahá'í approach to the Old and New Testaments.

In addition to the faculty, the students benefit from the assistance of Jonah Winters in his capacity as the Wilmette Institute's webmaster. Students are reading a chapter on Christianity in a world religions textbook; a chapter on Christian scripture from a book of sacred texts; and a compilation of Bahá'í writings on Christianity. They will discuss the texts on a listserver and in conferences calls and complete two learning projects, one of which must be a fireside, a deepening, or a dialogue with Christians. The course is already experiencing some of the liveliest discussions of any Wilmette Institute course yet held.
Upcoming Distance-Learning Courses
The Wilmette Institute is registering students for two more distance-learning courses beginning in November amnd December.

"The Kitáb-i-Aqdas and Related Texts" will begin on November 1, 1999, and will run for six months. The course involves reading the Kitáb-i-Aqdas from beginning to end, then studying the text and related texts topically. Among the faculty will be Dr. Iraj Ayman, a former university professor, international consultant, a former member of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Asia, and an experienced student of the Bahá'í texts; Mr. Jonah Winters, who has a Master's degree in Middle East Studies from the University of Toronto; Mr. Brent Poirier, an Auxiliary Board member who has published several articles about the Bahá'í writings; and Dr. Robert Stockman (whose biography may be found in the Christianity article). As this issue of The Lamp goes to press, 12 students were registered for the course. Registration will remain open during the month of November.

"Chinese Religion and Philosophy for Deepening and Dialogue," originally scheduled to start on November 1, 1999, has been shifted to December 1 to give students taking the Christianity course a one-month rest before taking another course. It will look at both the Confucian and Taoist traditions and consider Chinese Buddhism briefly. The course should be very useful for Bahá'ís planning to visit China or interact with Chinese people. Among the faculty will be Phyllis Chew, author of Chinese Religion and the Bahá'í Faith, a text that will be used in the course, and Albert Cheung, who has had a long-standing interest in relating the Bahá'í teachings to traditional Chinese values.

Students in both courses will have the opportunity to interact with each other and with students taking other Wilmette Institute courses and programs via monthly "all courses conference calls." Students in any Wilmette Institute course can sign up for a conference call to hear about the experiences of students taking other distance-learning courses. Since the courses have similar structures and logistics, questions about logistical matters usually apply to all courses and thus will be relevant to all listeners. Students will also enjoy hearing about the topics covered in the other courses, encourage them to persist in their studies and to consider studying other subjects.

More information about the courses is available at the Institute's website.

New Website Up and Running

The Wilmette Institute has set up a new website: http://wilmetteinstitute.org. It continues to maintain its website at http://usbnc.org/wilmette, an institutional website that will help people find the Institute via the Bahá'í National Center. A separate website, however, has already conveyed numerous advantages:
The new site has some new features, such as a page that allows students to sign up for conference calls. The page has already proved its use, and participation in conference calls has increased. The site also has its own e-mail address: info@wilmetteinstitute.org. The old informational address, wilmette_institute@usbnc.org, will remain in use as well. With two complementary web addresses, the Institute hopes to reach out to as many audiences as possible and continue its expansion.

Goodbye Heather; Hello Pam

After a vahid (nineteen) of months of selfless service to the Wilmette Institute, Heather Gorman has taken a position in the National Spiritual Assembly's Office of the Secretary, where she will help serve the National Spiritual Assembly in their correspondence, files, and meetings. Heather's cheerful voice and friendly telephone manner will be long remembered with appreciation by Wilmette Institute students. Behind the scenes, she wrote many letters; drafted and edited many articles for The Lamp; conceived or rewrote publicity materials; and edited the catalogue several times. She also produced all issues of The Lamp. Her contributions were numerous and varied.

A week after Heather's departure, Mrs. Pamela Mondschein came into the office to begin her part-time volunteer service to the Institute. Pam has been a pioneer and has served at the Bahá'í World Center. Currently she is secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Wilmette and is a member of the Greater Chicago Bahá'í Training Institute. The Wilmette Institute is very fortunate to have someone with her experience serving in the office.

Coincidentally, Mr. Jonah Winters was in Wilmette for several days when Pam began, allowing extensive consultation on ways to divide Heather's former duties between them. Jonah will handle all e-mail inquiries about the Institute and its courses, while Pam will handle inquiries coming by the mail, fax, and telephone. Jonah will serve as registrar for the distance-learning program--maintaining and updating the course rosters--while Pam will serve as bursar, tracking tuition payments and financial aid.

Summer Fund-raising Surprises

In June the Wilmette Institute sent out a letter stating its ongoing need for financial support. The Institute sends out such a letter twice a year, usually in June and December.

The results far exceeded expectations. Ninety percent of the donations came from current students--especially those in the Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization program--who are already paying tuition to the Institute. The $24,000 received exceeded almost five-fold the Institute's previous semiannual contributions. The Wilmette Institute's Board was impressed and gratified by this vote of confidence from its students.

The Board is determined to use the contributions to strenghten and diversify the Institute. It plans to increase financial aid assistance to enable more students to take its courses. It will also build up its endowment, which gives the Institute a cushion against unexpected shocks and flexibility in expanding and adapting its programs. The Board wishes to thank everyone who has supported the Institute and expresses its gratitude for their continued assistance, which allows the Institute to fulfil the National Spiritual Assembly's request that it remain independent from direct support by the National Bahá'í Fund.

Letter of Appreciation by Shelley Rastall of Evanston, IL:

Most of you know that I have just completed the residency program of the Wilmette Institute as a first year student. Allow me to take this opportunity to tell you that the Wilmette Institute is one of the most incredible experiences I have had as a Bahá'í and I highly encourage each of you and your loved ones to consider joining the Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization program, participate in a distance-learning course or become involved in supporting the institute in some way. Some of you have already heard me rave about the Wilmette Institute, but I must say again what a faculty member stated during our residency program that "the Wilmette Institute is like 20 years of Bahá'í summer school in three weeks." And next summer the residency program will be reduced to two weeks to make it easier for folks to join.

So, I'd like to share with you a couple of reasons why the experience was so meaningful. First, the theme for this year was "An Ever-advancing civilization." (Each year covers a different module.) The subjects were so interesting and were taught by excellent faculty members who did not just lecture but who actively participated in our learning process. Many of the subjects we studied were ones that are not usually covered in Bahá'í community deepenings or institutes such as agriculture, conflict resolution, literacy, environment, economics, politics, harmony of science and religion, universal auxiliary language, divine justice or the evolving role of the Universal House of Justice (taught this year by Dr. Ruhe). Other subjects covered were ones we are more familiar with studying such as the oneness of humanity, world peace, equality of women and men, and the sacred texts. All of which were covered in such depth that I gleaned new insights into these basic teachings. We also took a field trip to a Zoroastrian Temple.

The other beautiful aspect of the Wilmette Institute was the spiritual atmosphere of learning and community that was created over the three weeks. We were completely immersed in study of the Faith in a friendly and relaxed environment that was not intimidating. Every evening we would have a student gathering such as an arts night or games night and we would also have evenings of informal time with faculty where we could ask the expert faculty members questions on any aspect relating to the Faith. It was truly a privilege to spend such quality time with each of the faculty and to build strong bonds of community with the students.

In addition, we also had the opportunity to pray together at the Holiest House of Worship and offer service at the Bahá'í National Center. We were very determined as a group not just to study the Faith but to put our learning into concrete expressions of service, teaching and action.

I hope that you too will benefit from the gifts that the Wilmette Institute, or any training institute, has to offer. I hope that it will change your life and help you to integrate the Faith more deeply into your personal lives, as it has mine.

Comments by Deborah Hobbs, a distance-learning student:

I addressed our Unit Convention last weekend [about the Institute], handed out many flyers, and spoke privately to several people later on. As I spoke, I came to realize myself what the Institute has meant to me, that it has brought me closer to Bahá'u'lláh. Even though I have not turned in much homework, and am always behind in my studies, the point is that I am studying and learning with people I have never met, and at the same time, supporting an embryonic Bahá'í University. It has had a profound effect on me. My only regret is that you can't see this because you rarely hear from me. Please know that, in spite of this, I am always promoting the Institute, and struggling with my homework - with Bahá'u'lláh at my side!

Letter from Fourth-Year Students of the Spiritual Foundations Program to the National Spiritual Assembly:

To:            National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States

From:            Students of the Wilmette Institute Spiritual Foundations Program, 1999

It is with profound gratitude that we express our appreciation for the fourth year of the four years of study of the Wilmette Institute.

The sixteen instructors and an intimate class of fifteen students were augmented by visitors coming to audit sessions and lectures on topics of specifically intense interest to them. One instructor rescheduled his departing flight to leave three days later in order to continue attending Wilmette Institute sessions.

Topics covered in depth included economics, the United Nations, the national media campaign, individual teaching, nature and the environment, agriculture, literacy, the philosophy of science and religion, new political order, conflict resolution, Bahá'í history, the Great Peace, universal language, and oneness of mankind, issues which were presented by gifted and remarkable instructors who presented ideas of depth in a way all could understand. There was also time with Dr. David Ruhe and Margaret Ruhe.

The fourth year students have demonstrated how their lives have been changed to increase their service to the Cause, especially through teaching. All have been touched as their expanded experiences have motivated them to become devoted Bahá'í teachers, and dedicated ambassadors for the Wilmette Institute.

We are grateful for the long-range vision of the National Spiritual Assembly combined with the dedicated efforts of the Board of the Wilmette Institute for the quality of this year's organization of and preparation for the Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization program.

We truly believe we can help foster the eventual flowering of a world society with justice for all. With hearts full of joy, we offer our thanks.

(signed by all students)


The Lamp is the newsletter of the Wilmette Institute, established in January 1995 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States to offer academic, professional, and service-oriented courses related to the Bahá'í Faith. In addition to offering university-level courses on Bahá'í topics, the Wilmette Institute fosters Bahá'í scholarship; develops new, innovative curricular materials; creates high-quality courses on teaching the Faith; and refines Bahá'í concepts of pedagogy. It aims to produce teachers and administrators of the Bahá'í Faith of great capacity, capable of sharing and demonstrating Bahá'í truths in their lives and speech.

For more information about the Bahá'í Faith, the Wilmette Institute, or its courses, contact:

Wilmette Institute
      536 Sheridan Road
      Wilmette, IL 60091 USA

Phone: 847-733-3415
      Fax: 847-733-3563
      24-hour info line: 847-733-3595
      info@wilmetteinstitute.org
      www.wilmetteinstitute.org

The Lamp is produced quarterly by the Wilmette Institute. All material is copyrighted by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and is subject to the applicable copyright laws. Articles from the newsletter may be copied or reproduced, provided that the following crediy is given: "Reprinted from The Lamp, the newsletter of the Wilmette Institute," followed by the issue's date.

Copyright 1999 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States.
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