Map projections and Baha'i scholarship

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Posted by Jim ( on August 17, 2002 at 07:57:03:

Thinking about flat map projections of the earth's surface has given me some ideas about Baha'i scholarship. First I'll review some ideas related to flat map projections. Then I'll give some examples of the ideas that gave me about Baha'i scholarship.

Each kind of projection is better suited than others, for some purposes. For example, a mercator projection is better suited than some others for marine charts, and a gnomonic projection is better suited than some others for long range flying routes.

One factor that affects the suitability of a projection for a given purpose is distortion, which limits the area in which a given scale can be used to measure distances. Another factor is special characteristics, such as the characteristics of conformal and equal area projections.

Another factor is manageability. A globe can represent the whole earth with negligeable distortion for some purposes, and is both conformal and equal area, but flat map projections are better suited than globes for many purposes, because of their portability for example, and the way they facilitate the use of measuring and drawing instruments.

I'll consider three kinds of Baha'i Scholarship:

1. Using methodologies conventional in academic communities, to study the Baha'i Faith.

2. Using methodologies conventional in religious communities, to study the Baha'i Faith.

3. With the help of Baha'u'llah, learning to use the methodology of divine revelation, to study everything.

Methodologies conventional in academic communities might be better suited for some kinds of communication across belief boundaries. Methodologies conventional in religious communities might be better suited for some kinds of communication within a religious community. There might be some criteria for suitability that are easy to agree on.

Thinking about map projections has given me some ideas about how to resolve some problems and confusion associated with the use of various methodologies in studying the Baha'i Faith. One example is the absence of God, as an actor, in academic methodologies. A similar problem with map projections is the absence of the north and south poles in a mercator projection. I'll come back to those ideas in another post.

Learning to use the methodology of divine revelation, to study everything, is where I think the people of Baha can contribute the most to human progress. I propose looking at divine revelation as a methodology in itself, and learning to use it. That means learning to correlate the words of divine revelation directly with our actions and experiences, without first interpreting or formulating them in some conceptual system of our own. Then those capacities can be applied in all fields of study, to enrich them with the knowledge of God.

It makes me think of what sometimes happens in learning a new language. In the beginning, a person first translates what is said into her own language, and then responds to that. To speak in the new language, she first formulates what she wants to say in her own language, and then translates that into the new language. Eventually, through experience and effort, she learns to respond directly to what is said, and to formulate directly what she wants to say, in the new language.

It can also be compared to playing and writing music. In playing a piano for example, in the beginning a person might first look at each note and label it in his mind, then look for the corresponding piano key. Eventually, with experience and effort, his fingers, and even his whole body, begin to respond directly to the notes he sees.

I think that learning to think and talk in the language of divine revelation, and to put it directly into action, without passing through any other conceptual system, will contribute enormously to human progress. Like a globe representing the earth's surface, the language of divine revelation might not not be practical for many purposes, but I think that learning to use it
will be an indispensable and vital part of the advancement of civilization.


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