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Articles

Coming in 2023: An Orientation Course

Nov 30, 2022

by Robert Stockman


updated 12/31/22

The Wilmette Institute has long wanted to create an orientation course that will help its learners get the most out of the course they take. The first step was taken some ten years ago when introductory information about Moodle, our online learning system, was organized. A four-day introductory unit was created when students would learn how to use Moodle and make a plan for how they would use the course.

Starting in January 2023, the four-day opening period is expanded to a week, and the introductory unit is replaced by an orientation mini-course. The orientation will begin with an introduction to Moodle and provide a chance to practice using Moodle. But that will be the first third of the orientation course only. It will be followed by an overview of the Bahá’í framework for action, which will explain how the course—and Bahá’í efforts in general—seek to create a new world. The third and final section of the minicourse will explore the nature of public discourse.

In the second section, discussion of the framework for action will not simply list the types of activities, such as devotional meetings, children’s classes, junior youth activities and study circles. Rather, it will build on Ruhi Book 13, which starts with the recognition that humanity has been advancing socially and spiritually for thousands of years, stands at the cusp of maturity, and will be going through great upheavals before a spiritual civilization emerges. It identifies some of the characteristics of that future spiritual civilization, such as the oneness of humanity, the equality of women and men, unity in diversity, the harmony of science and religion, independent investigation of truth, universal education, the interconnectedness of all life, the acquisition of virtues, and the role of religion in the advancement of society. Finally, the framework for action assumes certain methods and approaches, such as consultation, a rectitude of conduct, the need to transform social structures, and universal participation. Wilmette Institute courses are supposed to demonstrate these characteristics; essentially, the framework for action is an outline for Bahá’í pedagogy.

A shiny new compass pointing North, Northeast sits on a bed of sawdust.
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

The third section of the orientation course focuses on public discourse, which is the primary way the Wilmette Institute supports the Nine Year Plan. The courses can also support the other two areas of endeavor—community building and social action—but because the courses cover such a wide range of subjects, overall they support discourse the most. There are many ways learners can contribute to discourse in their neighborhoods; they can start with significant conversation with friends, colleagues, and family members, and through presentations, the use of PowerPoints and art projects, they can reach larger audiences in a variety of ways if they wish. The courses exist to encourage students to share their contents, and the best way to learn something is to teach it to others.

The orientation course will devote one to two hours to each of these three areas, for a total of four to six hours of work. It is a prerequisite for taking our courses. As soon as someone registers for a course, s/he can get started with the orientation, because it is self-paced and located in the course itself. If one needs a bit more time, one can continue during the next week. If someone completes the orientation course early or has taken it in a previous course, they can turn to unit 2, which will begin the study of the course’s primary subject.

The Wilmette Institute hopes that the orientation minicourse and the week devoted to it at the beginning of every course will help everyone—declared Bahá’í or not—to utilize the course and its resources to the maximum and devote their learning effectively to the advancement of the spiritual civilization that the Bahá’í Faith seeks to bring about. By orienting everyone around the framework for action, it is hoped that each course will model the characteristics of that future world and create a spiritual culture of learning that will uplift and encourage the participants, increase participation in the courses, and inspire everyone to complete the course.

All faculty are being asked and invited to take the orientation course and reconsider the approach their courses take, so that they may be more closely aligned to the Wilmette Institute’s pedagogy and support the current global Plan more effectively.

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Robert Stockman, ThD

WI Dean, Bahá’í History, Texts and Tenets

I have had a passion for researching and teaching about the Bahá’í Faith for more than half of my life. My fascination with American Bahá’í history and with the first American Bahá’í, Thornton Chase, caused me, in 1980, to switch my academic field from planetary science to history of religion in the United States. As I was finishing my doctorate in that field at Harvard University in 1990, I drew up plans to create a Bahá’í Studies institute that would offer courses, encourage research, and publish. Instead, I was hired by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States to start a research office at our national Bahá’í headquarters in Wilmette, Illinois. Some of the responsibilities of the research office led to the creation of the Wilmette Institute, which ​focuses on most of the tasks of the institute I originally conceived. Meanwhile, I have also remained involved in academia, teaching religious studies part time at DePaul University in Chicago and currently at Indiana University South Bend, just a mile from home. I have also published four books on aspects of Bahá’í history (including a biography of Thornton Chase) and one introductory textbook on the Faith. Listen to Robert’s interview on ‘A Bahá’í Perspective’ podcastSee Faculty Bio

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