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A Panel on Human Identity and Development

Sep 11, 2022
Flyer for human identity and development panel featuring head shots of the three panelists.

Three Bahá’ís who do research on psychology will explore the nature of human identity and the development of the individual, especially early in life.

Michael Penn

“What Might it Mean for a Human Life to Matter? Some Reflections on the Psychological Lives of Young People”

This contribution to the discourse on identity and development seeks to engage emerging bodies of research in philosophy and psychology on the phenomenon of existential mattering (EM). At the heart of this inquiry is the question: What might it mean for a human life to matter and how might one come to believe that they matter? While previous empirical studies of mattering have tended to focus on the role of interpersonal relationships in the development and maintenance of the sense that one’s life matters, the current project, which will be described briefly during this session, seeks to identify a variety of additional factors that might both contribute to, and also corrode, the felt or phenomenological sense, that one’s life matters.

Rhett Diessner

“The Inner Beauty of Human Being”

This presentation focuses on ontology — the philosophy of being — and thus the fundamental nature of the human being. However, it will concentrate on one aspect of human being and that is the beauty of the human soul.

Jenni Menon Mariano

“Purpose in Life During Youth” 

Jenni will share from her own research journey about what she’s learned about purpose among youth (what is it, what do they say about it when asked to define it, how does it develop).

See also “Purpose in Life Among Youth” – Jenni’s slide show



Jenni Menon Mariano

Jenni Menon Mariano is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of South Florida, where she studies how people in diverse places, especially youth, form and develop commitments to positive life purposes and what formal and informal learning environments can do to support youth thriving. Jenni has worked in youth development programs and currently teaches courses in lifespan development, the psychology of purpose, human development and learning, moral development, and classroom assessment.


Michael L. Penn, PhD

Michael Penn is a Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Franklin & Marshall College. His research interests and publications explore experimental psychopathology, the application of psychological research & theory to human rights, the interpenetration of psychology and philosophy, and the relationship between culture and mental health. Professor Penn has lectured widely around and is the author of four books, including, Our Common Humanity: Reflections on the Reclamation of the Human Spirit, published by George Ronald, Overcoming Violence against Women and Girls: The International Campaign to Eradicate a Worldwide Problem, published by Rowman & Littlefield, Moral Trauma: An Analysis of Akrasia and Mental Health, with Azin Nasseri, and is co-editor, with Hoda Mahmoudi, of Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Rights and Human Dignity, published by Emerald. He has also authored dozens of academic papers and chapters. In 2004 Penn was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Administration by Governor Edward Rendell. He currently serves on the Permanent Board of the Tahirih Justice Center, which provides legal, clinical, and human rights protections for women fleeing gender-based persecution and violence. Professor Penn was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in 1986 and is a former Ford Foundation/National Academy of Sciences Fellow.


Rhett Diessner

Rhett Diessner has taught psychology for 34 years at a small state liberal arts school in Idaho, USA: Lewis-Clark State College. He has also taught at BIHE (Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education) in Iran for 17 years. His research focuses on the appreciation of beauty in four modes: natural beauty, moral beauty, artistic beauty, and beautiful ideas.

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