Study circles are guided by a profound conviction in the basic nobility of the human being. The Bahá’í Writings state: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”
Education is not simply seen as the acquisition of knowledge and the development of skills, but also in terms of the development of vast and powerful potentialities inherent in the very nature of every human being. The development of these potentialities and talents, which is considered a God-given right and responsibility of the individual, attains fruition when it is pursued in the spirit of service to humanity and in the context of creating a new world civilization.
The purpose of a study circle is to provide participants with the knowledge, spiritual insights and skills which will enable them to “walk a path of service” to humanity. This is done through the study of a sequence of courses developed by the Ruhi Institute – each course or book concentrating on a specific path of service. The first study course in the sequence of 7 books is called Reflections on the Life of the Spirit.
The courses are based on the Bahá’í Writings, but are open to all, regardless of religious or cultural background. Discussion, participatory learning and the use of the arts are essential to the learning process, and the role of the tutor of the study circle is to facilitate discussion, not to impart learning.
What does a Study Circle look like?
A study circle usually consists of 8 to 10 people in a given locality, who, with the help of a tutor, study the program’s sequence of courses together at their own pace. There is a great deal of flexibility in the functioning and membership of a study circle. Some groups may wish to meet once a week over an extended period, while others may choose to meet daily, or for a weekend every so often.
In a typical study circle, once all the participants have arrived at the chosen venue and greeted each other, the program begins with a few prayers. This draws the group’s focus to the Divine and renews their sense of nobility of purpose. The participants will then begin studying the course material. This entails reading the selections from the Bahá’í Writings and discussing their meaning, as well as their applications to daily life and their implications on how we should be and act. The course also includes exercises and questions that stimulate discussion and provoke different angles of thought. The tutor may ask the discussion to be carried out in pairs or smaller groups, or as a whole group.
To maintain the attentiveness of the group there is usually a break time for refreshments where participants can also socialize and create meaningful bonds with each other. As each course includes a practical service outcome relating to the learning obtained, some of the time of the study circle will be dedicated to preparing the participants for the performance of this service.
The use of the arts in Study Circles
The arts are a powerful means of expressing ones thoughts or feelings, even if one is not well versed in the arts. The environment of expression is undemanding and very non-threatening, that of encouragement and joyful appreciation for one another. Participants are encouraged to be creative in expressing their learning through the various forms of art – visual, dramatic, musical, etc.
The tutor endeavours to draw on the talents of the individuals in the group in order to both nurture the gift of the individual and to allow that individual to be of service to the group by sharing their gift. The arts are also frequently used in the carrying out of the service outcomes.
Reflections on the Life of the Spirit
Reflections on the Life of the Spirit is the first course in the sequence of 7 courses, and is aimed at helping the participants advance in their path of service to humanity by recognising the spiritual forces which govern our day-to-day life. The book is comprised of three self contained units which can be viewed as describing three essential spiritual relationships: our relationship with others, our relationship with God and our relationship with our own inner self.
Unit 1: Understanding the Bahá’í Writings
The purpose of this unit is to develop the capacity to read the Bahá’í Writings and to meditate on their meaning. This unit introduces some of the Bahá’í Writings on topics such as the importance of pure and goodly deeds, the virtue of truthfulness, and the harmful impact of backbiting and conflict. This enables the participants to begin the process of actively re-examining and enhancing their social interactions at every level.
In this unit, one discovers that reading the Holy Writings is not the same as reading the thousands of pages that a literate person sees during a lifetime. To read the Sacred Word is to drink from the ocean of Divine Revelation. It leads to true spiritual understanding and generates forces that are necessary for the progress of the soul. In order to reach true understanding, however, one must think deeply about the meaning of each statement and its application in one's own life and in the life of society.
Unit 2: Prayer
The purpose of this unit is to vitalise one’s relationship with God by understanding the importance of daily prayer and to develop the required attitudes of prayer. The unit reflects on three principal objectives.
- To clarify the concept of prayer itself and to help the participants understand its great importance.
- To awaken in participants the desire to “converse with God” and to feel the joy of being near to Him.
- To examine the attitudes with which prayer should be approached, the attitudes of heart and mind that help one enter the state of prayer, and the conditions that should be created in one's surroundings at the time of prayer.
Unit 3: Life and Death
The purpose of this unit is to reflect on the life of the inner self, and to understand that life is not the changes and chances of this world; its true significance is found in the development of the soul. The theme of life and death has been included in the first book of the sequence because it is considered essential for participants’ understanding of the paths of service they will choose to follow. Service in this world has to be understood in the fullest context of life that extends beyond our earthly existence and continues forever as our souls progress through the worlds of God. This unit includes topics such as:
- How life begins and what is death.
- The purpose of our lives.
- The nature of the soul.
- The condition of the soul after death.
The course varies in duration depending on the group’s interactions, regularity of meetings and the study circle tutor. But on average this course would take around 40 hours to complete. This is roughly 18-20 weeks when it is done as weekly evening sessions, as most groups choose to do.
The Full Sequence
At the beginning of each book, or “path of service”, participants mostly learn and develop new concepts and skills. Later on, they participate in courses that prepare them to act as tutors of the earlier courses, thus creating a unique and dynamic environment for the development of human resources who will, in turn, guide others along this continuing path of service.
The Bahá’í Centre of Learning in Western Australia is an educational institution, operating under the guidance of the Regional Bahá’í Council for Western Australia. It dedicates its efforts to the development of human resources for the spiritual, social, and cultural development of the community.
ContactsBahá’í Centre of Learning