religion provides ways to interpret the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh through the
authorised interpretations of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. The
interpretations of Shoghi Effendi, although not placed in the category of
sacred text, are normative for the Bahá'í community and the only interpretative
writing in English. As Collins explains, "No individual's understanding of
Bahá'í scripture has any particular authority; Shoghi Effendi's interpretation
is as binding as the sacred text itself and is the filter for approaching the
meaning of the sacred text" (Bibliography xiii).
There are many reasons for
studying the writings of Shoghi Effendi. Among those cited by Shoghi Effendi
himself include to deepen the understanding of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh,
the application of Bahá'í principles to the needs of individuals and society,
and the development and maturation of the administrative order. These
three remain important challenges for the Bahá'í community.
A series of study guides has been
published to meet the needs of Bahá'ís to read and understand Shoghi Effendi's
writings. Few of these study guides reveal an appreciation of the academic
research in the field of the psychology. This paper will review the current
research in this area and relate this to the study guides already published.
Some recommendations will then be made to individuals, writers and publishers
to assist them in the study of Shoghi Effendi's writings.
How to Study the Writings of
It is not true that the different
study techniques of individuals are equally good. The story from the Tibetan
Book of the Dead about the religions of the world - that they are all like
rivers following different paths, but all flowing to the same sea - does not
apply to the different study techniques of individuals. As Kirby indicates: "Perhaps
some future edition of the Tibetan Book of the Dead will recognize that while
some rivers lead to the sea, others become lost in swamps and bogs" (Style 267). For instance, three students may be asked to
study a chapter from a textbook. The first may read and re-read, the second may
underline the main points as he reads, and the third may read and make notes.
The last student, however, will learn the most from his study. However his
learning will be optimised if the chapter is initially read without
note-taking, and then the section is re-read with notes taken in his own words.
Successful study therefore depends not only on ability and hard work but also
on effective methods of study. Research in the psychology of learning has
demonstrated that there are a group of techniques which can be applied to any
subject matter and lead to improvements in learning, understanding and
retention. The sources for this research work have been:
research into the contrasting study habits of good and poor students
experimental psychology of learning
empirical studies of the relative effectiveness of different methods of study
industrial studies of conditions of work efficiency
questioning students about their experience
Not Only Lectures
There is a Chinese proverb that
summarizes many modern findings in the psychology of learning. If something is
wished to be learnt, when heard it is forgotten. When seen, it is remembered,
and if done it is understood. Many studies have shown the ineffectiveness of lectures
alone as a method of teaching. For instance, most people forget up to 75% of a
talk or lecture within the space of 24 hours. Although this can be
improved by a number of methods employed by the listener,
learning from books has the advantage of allowing a student to "go back
over difficult passages and proceed at your own pace; in a lecture you cannot
go back, and must habituate yourself to the rate at which the lecturer presents
his material". The fact that lectures are inadequate
was also indicated by Shoghi Effendi who said that although lectures give a
picture of a subject, "it is not sufficient to have a picture".
The PQRST Method
Research by Thomas and Robinson
(1982), Spache and Berg (1978), and Robinson (1970) has demonstrated that a simple
study method applied to reading a book significantly improves understanding and
memory. The method takes its name from the first letter of the five steps that
one follows - preview, question, read, self-recitation, and test.
The first activity that is
recommended is to preview a chapter to get an overall picture of the main
topics covered and how they are organized. This is done by reading the table of
contents at the start of the chapter and then skimming through the chapter,
paying particular attention to section headings and sub-headings and glancing
at any illustrations. The most important stage of the preview is to read a
summary of the chapter after skimming it.
No summaries are provided in the
published writings of the Guardian apart from those that are part of the text.
For instance an important summary of the whole of The Promised Day is Come occurs on pages 111-112; a summary of the first half
of The Advent of Divine Justice occurs
on page 43; a summary of the entire book God Passes By is found in the foreword. The reading of these
summaries before the text itself is read would be a first step to the effective
study of these works.
The other useful addition to the
published texts of Shoghi Effendi's longer works would be headings and sub-headings
as exist in Citadel of Faith, Messages to the Bahá'í World and The World
Order of Bahá'u'lláh. However these
headings would benefit by addition to a table of contents to be most effective.
No headings exist in present editions of The Promised Day is Come, and The Advent of Divine Justice. Future editions would benefit from
their addition. Students of these texts would benefit in adding headings and
sub-headings to their copies of the books.
This stage is understood to mean
that the student turns each section heading into a question that he expects to
answer while reading the section. It is also recommended that the reader thinks
up questions while skimming. Anderson (1985) found that when two sets of
students read a chapter from a book and were tested on it, the group that had
been set advance questions performed significantly better in tests of
comprehension and recall. Questions aid study because they focus attention on
the subject matter, and provide a personal purpose for reading - "a
purpose beyond the fact the material is assigned". It
also hastens the studying process by preventing distraction while reading. Mace
uses the analogy of food to explain the importance of questions in the learning
process: "Curiosity is the appetite of the mind. Information is more
readily retained, . . . [and] more readily acquired, when it comes in answer to
a question" (Psychology 39).
Reading the text with a view to
answering questions and making meaningful connections with information already
known and familiar concepts has been demonstrated to be an effective study
tool. Underlining, highlighting and marking key words and phrases are
recommended. Note taking is thought to be better delayed until an entire
section is read, so that the relative importance of the various points made in
the text can be judged.
The approach of "deep"
reading has been shown to significantly improve studying. "A deep approach
to reading involves relating facts to conclusions in an active way which should
bring the reader close to the author's intended message. Students who adopt
such an approach to studying in general show a greater awareness of their
teacher's main educational aims. They also find their work more interesting and
rewarding - in terms of both personal status and higher grades".
(Entwhistle, Styles 271)
The process of note taking should
not be underestimated. It forces the reader to pay attention and understand the
text. The notes should be "as brief as possible" and
in one's own words - "the student's private critical commentary".
Large areas of white space lead to the best notes - so that practically they
can added to and visually they allow the reader to focus on the important
themes. The two most important activities
while reading and note taking that improve memory involve organizing the
material in a hierarchical fashion and adding meaningful connections to the
Relating these to the writings of
Shoghi Effendi indicates that cross-references would add meaningful connections
to the material.
Self-Recitation and Testing
After finishing reading a section
from a book, the reader should attempt to recall the main points and recite
these acoustically. This process reveals gaps in the knowledge and further
organises and consolidates the information. Studies show that students forget
up to 80% of what they learned from reading two weeks after studying. However
if the main points of their reading was recited immediately after reading, only
20% was forgotten in the same period.
Once the chapter is finished
testing and review of the material is important. The testing process should
also involve skimming the chapter again checking key points, and re-reading the
The Benefits of Discussion
The benefits of discussing study
material is stressed in all the newer works on effective study. One work
indicates that "discussion is an essential part of the study" in some
subjects. There are many reasons why
discussion is recommended. It aids students "to remove misconceptions and
frequently provides a solution to some nagging difficulty which has been
holding you up". It can give you a fresh viewpoint,
exposing one to a variety of viewpoints and interpretations. Facts and theories
can be brought into perspective. It also contributes to the study process by
giving the student "renewed enthusiasm and deepened understanding".
"Interest in work is more readily sustained by working and talking with
others than by solitary work and meditation" (Maddox, Study Skills 152-3). The mere act of communicating and explaining
your work to others can serve to clarify your own thoughts. Another benefit is
that "we learn to accept criticism, and to become more tolerant and less
extreme in our opinions" - a benefit that will spill over
into many other of our daily activities.
To prevent discussion
degenerating into trivial talk and gossip, it is necessary introduce some note
of formality to the process. A topic needs to be decided beforehand, and a plan
prepared - "this could take the form of a list of questions concerning the
topic". A chairman is needed to keep the
discussion to the point and encourage all to contribute. Rowntree recommends
between six and eight participants and a framework adopted whereby someone
opens the discussion at each session. The best results are obtained when
the participants have done some preparatory work and thinking. The traditional
method of having a teacher who speaks and a class that listens has been shown
to be ineffective. Over-reliance on this system "tends to result in
boredom and lack of interest" in the students.
Consultation is stressed in
Bahá'í writings, and leads to "greater awareness and transmuteth
conjecture into certitude. . . . The maturity of the gift of understanding is
made manifest through consultation" (Bahá'u'lláh, Consultation 3). It is interesting to note that Shoghi Effendi
recommends participants of Bahá'í summer schools to enrich their knowledge of
the fundamentals of the Faith "through lectures, study, and
the systematic use of these study methods will improve the understanding,
learning and retention of the writings of Shoghi Effendi. However interesting
these techniques are, in themselves they represent relatively superficial and
peripheral aspects of studying. "To see these techniques as skills in
themselves is misleading, for this has the effect of isolating them from the
student's thinking about the content of the study task of which they forma
part. Thus for example underlining should be seen as a part of reading a text
and note-taking as part of listening to and making use of a lecture
presentation" (Svensson, Skills
The Study Guides
There are now 8 study guides in
existence (see works cited section). They use a variety of approaches. All of
them incorporate methods to facilitate learning but none of them is
The guide of The Advent of
Divine Justice (20 p.) prepared by Dr.
Dwight Allen, an eminent educationalist, is a series of detailed questions on
the text. The questions need reflection and not many straightforward factual
questions are posed.
The Bergsmo guide (200 p.)
contains a series of introductory essays on the life and station of Shoghi
Effendi, followed a compilation of questions for all the writings. These
questions are also largely reflective.
The Holley guide to The World
Order of Bahá'u'lláh (9 p.) is essentially
a table of contents as is the guide to God Passes By (21 p.).
The Advent of Divine Justice guide prepared by the Study Outline Committee (14
p.) also contains a table of contents and an excellent "topical
study" (pp. 6-13). It ends by asking fifteen "thought questions"
which could be used as material for discussion.
The Khan guide to The Promised
Day is Come (25 p.) has a thematic guide
(pp. 1-6, 11-15) and much supplementary information (on the rulers and monarchs
that Bahá'u'lláh addressed; pp. 21ff) and cross referencing. There are also two
sets of questions: "discussion questions" (p. 16) and "review
questions" (p. 17-20). Some of the factual sections of the book are
organised into hierarchical notes. A useful example of this hierarchical
organisation is in the section of The Promised Day is Come which details the proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh to the
Kings. This is organised in the study guide by looking at the characteristics,
the content of the Tablet, and the consequences of each recipient (pp. 7-12).
As a guide to one work, the Khan guide incorporates more of the elements of
effective study than the other guides.
The Ideal Book
The subject of an ideal book
would be a theme. It would contain an introduction putting the work in context,
and summarizing the major ideas. The book would be broken up into chapters, and
the text broken up into headings and sub-headings, which would be listed in a
table of contents. The text itself would be footnoted extensively explaining
terminology, with cross-referencing to other of the writings of Shoghi Effendi,
and clarification of historical and other references. There would be much space
on the sides of the pages so that readers can add their own supplementary
notes. There would be a full index.
Many of Shoghi Effendi's writings
are compilations of letters published in a chronological order. This
leads to the publication of letters dealing with subjects of general import
mixed with more specific and determinate letters. Among the many examples of
less important published letters are a request by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'ís
of India to send them "five copies of the Urdu Translation of 'Kitáb-i-Iqán'",
an approval of the 1949-1950 budget of the American Bahá'í Community,
an appeal for funds for the purchase of a Bahá'í centre in 1953,
an acknowledgement of a letter, and a request for the number of
British Bahá'ís and assemblies. Unfolding Destiny has a text of 462 pages of letters published in
chronological order. It is impossible to know which of the letters and messages
in the book are relevant to Bahá'í activity today without reading them all. Messages
to America, Citadel of Faith and Messages to the Bahá'í World are in the same style of a chronological printing of
letters, but have the significant advantage of headings and sub-headings. These
volumes contain a number of very significant letters of Shoghi Effendi, some of
which are even more relevant today than when they were written. These include
"The Spiritual Potencies of the That Consecrated Spot", and "A
God-Given Mandate" in Messages to America; "The Challenging Requirements of the Present
Hour", "A Turning Point in American Bahá'í History" and "A
Mysterious Dispensation of Providence" in Citadel of Faith; "The Summons of the Lord of Hosts" and
"Evidences of the Resistless March of the World Crusade" in Messages
to the Bahá'í World. There is need for a
compilation of these letters in a separate volume.
The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh is another example of how Shoghi Effendi's books are
not presented in study format. Again the letters deal with a mixture of
different subjects. A more intelligent presentation of the themes of the World
Order letters is Call to the Nations,
where subjects are arranged thematically. Some of these letters are more
important than others, particularly the letter "The
Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh". Ruhiyyih Khanum has written: "I know
from his [Shoghi Effendi's] remarks that he considered he had said all he had
to say, in many ways, in the Dispensation [of Bahá'u'lláh]" (Priceless 213). Leroy Ioas has said that Shoghi Effendi on
many occasions told him that "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh" was
his "will and testament". David Hofman states:
"Without deep study of this basic document ["The Dispensation of
Bahá'u'lláh"], no Bahá'í can claim to be truly knowledgeable of his
Faith" (Hofman, Expounder). It
would seem more appropriate that "The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh"
would be published as an appendix to God Passes By.
The other thematic books are Guidance
for Today and Tomorrow and Principles
of Bahá'í Administration. The former
successfully deals with a number of broad Bahá'í topics, and the later is a more
applicable selection of sections from Bahá'í Administration to the present situation of the Bahá'í community.
principle of the Bahá'í Faith is that it is "scientific in method".
The application of a scientific method to the study of the writings is the
subject of this paper.
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Arberry, A.J. Introduction to The Koran Interpreted. London: Oxford University Press, 1964.
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