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Kai Farzรกd Lee MA Architecture 2019

Locating Faith


‘...If thou seekest another than Me, yea, if thou searchest the universe forevermore, thy quest will be in vain.’ -Bahá’u’lláh

Word Count 6400 With deepest gratitude to Adam Kaasa


Contents

Introduction

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The Gate

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The Journey

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The Tabernacle

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The Ocean

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The Mouth

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The Ground

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The Room

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The Internet

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Reflection

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Notes

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Bibliography

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Introduction

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efore embarking on a discussion of space and religion, it will be helpful to arrive at a basic understanding of the conceptual frameworks around the concept of space, as adopted by the field of social science. The concept of space as an empty, passive backdrop for objects to act has been expanded, at least in the fields of social science, to consider not only the social relationships between the actors, but also their dynamic relation with the production of space.1 The idea of a metaphorical space beyond a physical and material reality is not hard to understand: when one is asked to think about London, New York or Beijing, different ideas of the place come to mind that is informed by yet quite detached from the reality of the actual city.2 Although the

metaphorical spaces are often dependent on their material bases, in many contexts they are allowed to bear no direct relation to one another, with the spatial metaphors ‘… float(ing) freely from what were once their moorings…’3 . An examination of Lefebvre’s labels for the dimensions of space (physical, mental and social), and his triadic moments of spatial production (perceived, conceived and lived) will no doubt be fruitful for an in-depth discussion on the concept of space. However, for the extent of this dissertation, it will suffice to acknowledge the nuanced social concepts of space proposed since the late-twentieth-century that challenged the dualistic Cartesian understanding of space, and the license this gives us to try and spatially locate, both metaphorically and 1


physically, an entity as dynamic as ‘religion’. The theory that equated modernity with a decline of religion, dominant some decades ago, has become far less prevalent. Explosions of religious fervour, manifested in a variety of political forms in different cultures and populations, fills the contemporary world with extensive social and political repercussions.4 Since the start of the 20th century, a diversity of interests in and perspectives on religious thought emerged from the writings of scholars of sociology, philosophy and history, and later social-geography,5 expanding its presence from the classical sphere of theology. One particular development in the geographical study of religion is the acknowledgement of ‘unofficially sacred sites’6, and the growth in research on the ‘everyday and ordinary embodied practices’7. Literature of this field indicates the recognition of the need to analyse the spaces of religion at various scales: global, national, regional, local, and even

down to the body.8 Perhaps not as intuitively recognized as related to the spaces of religion is the role of the body as both a producer of sacred space ( e.g. through the performance of any form of ritual action) and as the site of signification itself9 (e.g. consider the wearing of sacred symbols or the practice of veiling10) Apart from the individual practice of spirituality, scholars of sociology, political science, and law have also studied religion’s role in the spaces of civil society whether it be the contributor or obstacle to the ‘nurturing of spaces of ever-expansive solidarity’11. Attempts have been made in the Western discourses of the urban environment and architecture to move beyond its view of the sacred as ‘a malign and reactionary force within the liberal democratic ethos, or the cliché of harmless spirituality’12 , but efforts are meagre compared to the other disciplines mentioned above.

‘Parasitic Temples’, by WillipodiA

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It is therefore my interest as a student of architecture to explore the spaces of religion in a broader context, by gaining insights from the other fields. Motivated by my familiarity with the Bahá’í Faith, this dissertation will attempt to locate the spatial implications of this specific religion.

through two seemingly contradictory ways of observation and experimentation. By declaring that ecclesiastical leaders should have no further social role in the advancement of human civilization15, Bahá’u’lláh ordained the individual’s responsibility for the independent study and practice of religious knowledge, through the unmediated relationship between the individual and the Word of God. Although authoritative interpretations16 exist within the Bahá’í Faith to vouchsafe the unity of the community, this does not preclude the individual from arriving at his own understanding and interpretation, as warranted by the Holy Scriptures’ inherent richness of meaning.17

The Bahá’í Faith was established in 1863 by Bahá’u’lláh in the Middle East, and is one of the fastest-growing independent organized religion, with adherents in 221 of the 232 countries of the world.13 The Bahá’í writings state that the purpose of man’s life in this world is to develop their own spiritual and intellectual capacities through active participation in the transformation of society. Common to all religions, the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith imply a duality of realitythe spiritual versus the material, not unlike the sacred verses the profane, or the world of Forms versus the sensorial world.14 The complementary nature of the physicalspiritual duality of reality suggests the

The Bahá’í writings suggest that the whole of physical reality is actually intended to be metaphorical in nature, an allusion to the spiritual aspect of reality for humans to approach. Comparable to Plato’s depiction in The Allegory of the Cave, this physical

possibility to observe a single phenomenon

world can be seen as an approximation of a

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higher dimension of reality. If the physical world is considered a classroom in which humans can learn from the multitude of physical devices, then the religious scriptures revealed by a succession of prophet founders can be considered to provide the means of perceiving the correlation between the two worlds18. Bahá’ís are therefore conscious that the Holy Scriptures should not be interpreted literally, but rather be understood to have a multitude of latent meanings waiting to be uncovered.

They strive to shield themselves from the promptings of their own egos, but also endeavour to subvert a culture that ‘glorifies self-gratification and erodes the foundations of solidarity’20. For an ideal Bahá’í, religion is practiced as an attitude, a condition, a state of living that permeates the everyday spaces, as opposed to an intermittent exercise of rituals in specific ‘sacred spaces’ that is disconnected from the business and politics of everyday life.

Apart from attempting to unravel the mysteries of spiritual reality through Sacred Scriptures, the Bahá’í individual is called upon transforming himself as well as social reality through the every-day actions of worship and service, both in their broadest definitions. Bahá’ís not only pray in their private lives but also try ‘to infuse their surroundings with a devotional spirit’19. They are asked to not only deepen their own knowledge in the Writings, but also to share with others Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. 5


The Gate

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he death of the Prophet Muhammad was met with a series of successions, not without violence, until the twelfth successor was said to go into occultation to escape from the enemies. According to Shi’i tradition, the Hidden Imam had appointed four intermediaries between him and the believers, called the Bábs (gates)1. This period, known as the Lesser Occultation ended when the fourth intermediary claimed that the Imam had gone into a period of Greater Occultation, when communication with the people ceased indefinitely.

Until the young Siyyid `Alí Muhammad’s declaration on that fateful night.

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‫باب‬ Arabic rendition of the word “Báb”

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1844, 22nd of May, a few hours before sunset. Múlla Husayn was walking outside the gate of Shiraz, drawn by an indescribable magnetic force, when a Youth with a green turban came up to him, embraced him, and invited him to his home. In recollection, it all must have seemed to happen within a sliver of time, and yet for Múlla Husayn, his whole life must have been spread out before his eyes throughout that sleepless night, when he had finally found the Promised One of God he had been searching for.

intermediary to the Hidden Imam, but the Hidden Imam Himself. Those who accepted this assertion found it even harder when He claimed to be not just the successor to the Prophet, but an independent Prophet of God, bringing with Him a new set of laws, teachings and practices. 3

Seventeen more individuals found the Báb and accepted His message. He then set into motion a Movement that signalled the end of the Islamic Dispensation, and the beginning of a new era. The Báb admitted a hundred thousand believers, although not all arrived at their destination. Gradually,

Those who did not pass through this Gate chose not to on their own accord. They wandered along and away from the wall, dubious as to where this humble opening would lead. For it was not an extravagant wonder, built with finely textured clay bricks and fire-glazed with lapis blue paint. It wasn’t even guarded with armed personnel. It was merely a threshold, humble in stature, yet powerful enough to discern the righteous from the impious, the pure from the proud. His mission was destined to be short. 30 years since its construction and 6 years after its opening, The Gate crumbled. For 13 years there would not be access to the Hidden Treasure, Him Whom God Shall

the Báb revealed Himself to be not just an

Make Manifest.4

‘O thou who art the first to believe in Me! Verily I say, I am the Báb, the Gate of God, and thou art the Bábu’l-Báb, the gate of that Gate.’ 2

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he immigrants disembarked the ocean liner after their long voyage over the rough Atlantic waters. Their arrival was met with the exhausting processes of inspection and paperwork of all sorts. Networks arranging employment, housing, and distribution all operated on the same site to help them integrate into society on the other side of the border.5 Not all were allowed to pass. Some had to wait longer than others. This process of entering a new territory and social condition funnelled into that single moment of crossing that doorway, marking the beginning of a new life.

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I didn’t even bother taking out my Taiwanese passport. I had my Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents ready, issued by the PRC government weeks ago, as I debated whether I should queue for ‘Chinese Nationals’ or ‘Foreigners’. Sighing, I went for the former line. I watched covetously as the Chinese went through the ‘e-channel’ smoothly, but it was only a matter of 5 minutes difference. After all, 300,000 people pass through the Hong Kong-China border every day. The familiar kitsch advertisements and proliferation of consumer products greeted me on the other side, but the differences of the two societies really sank in long after I’ve


gotten past border control. Borders nowadays might still represent the crossing between man-made territories, but they are stripped of their past functions of acting as gateways into a new society. We could get our visas before arrival and apply for all the other documents after we’ve settled down, maybe first at an Airbnb we’ve booked online months ago. Passing the border doesn’t take a day, and we aren’t as flabbergasted by the new society as we might have been 50 years ago, thanks to

the Internet. We’ve become unaccustomed to waiting 6, to transitions, to durational change.

Left: Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21 Image by Chris Lund / National Film Board of Canada Below: The Lowu border was established by the British Hong Kong government in 1952, and still demarcates the People’s Republic of China and its Special Administrative Region Hong Kong.

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The Ouroboros

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The Journey

‘The stages that mark the wayfarers’ journey from their mortal abode to the heavenly homeland are said to be seven. Some have referred to them as seven valleys, and others, as seven cities. And it is said that until the wayfarer taketh leave of self and traverseth these stages, he shall never attain the ocean of nearness and reunion nor taste of the matchless wine.’ 1 -Bahá’u’lláh

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aving emanated from God, an individual’s soul is to commence its journey back towards God, to move from the condition of doubt to the station of certitude. In The Seven Valleys2, Bahá’u’lláh maps out the journey of the soul, traversing through the valleys of “Search”, “Love”, “Knowledge”, “Unity”, “Contentment”, “Wonderment” and “True Poverty” to “Absolute Nothingness”. Naturally, for such an enduring journey that has been so meticulously illustrated, it cannot be bypassed through “a single act of contrition, conversion, or profession of faith.”3 It is rather a lifelong process of closing 13


the gap between knowledge of the sacred and routines of the profane everyday life. This idea of the spiritual journey rejects the duality between spiritual growth and participation in the external world. It involves movement, dynamism, and change. It entails challenges, struggles and opportunities. It calls for preparation, intention, and orientation. Life is the journey, with all its implications in their fullest measures. The journey is not only a personal undertaking. The gradual movement of humanity towards its spiritual maturity is as much a journey as the individual soul’s progression towards perfection. As humans navigate the world collectively, as generations after generations challenge, reinforce, construct or abandon different value systems in search of a different world, the motif of a journey fittingly describes this act of durational transformation. Perhaps, seen in this teleological light, both achievements and sacrifices on this path will have broader significances for all of the travellers. 14

A scanned copy of the chart ‘Cycle of Life’, prepared by Lua and Edward Getsinger according to their understanding of `Abdu’l-Bah’á’s teaching regarding the reincarnation of qualities, powers, characteristics, functions and stations.


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Messina

Tripoli

Brak

Sebha Qatrun

Madama Séguédine

Dao Timmi

Gates of the Desert Agadez

Tourayat

unpaved road paved road

Benin City

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‘Every year, thousands of teen-agers from one city in Nigeria risk death and endure forced labour and sex work on the long route to Europe.’ Image redrawn by author


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y then she was numb. It didn’t matter if she was in the truck or at the connection house. What started as a promise to a working opportunity in Italy now became a nightmare no outsider can ever dream up in their worst night’s sleep. She was suffocating under the blanket stacked with watermelons on top, with another girl packed underneath her, rocking and bumping in the truck on the road, under the scourging heat of the desert sun. The only comfort was that the watermelons didn’t penetrate her.

only means of dehydration. Apart from her daily tears. Her birthday was marked with a sneeze, and she wondered if it was a sign that God remembered her. Late one night, the guards woke them. They were loaded into a tractor-trailer that dropped them off on a beach. Shivering and heaving, they were forced into a dinghy by armed smugglers, who crouched and prayed in the sand before launching them into the sea.4

They arrived at a large concrete room, but this wasn’t their destination, or at least she hoped it wasn’t. But days passed, weeks, then months. Among hundreds of people, she had huddled beside other Nigerian girls and avoided eye contact, praying that the random beating and raping will not land on her today. Her lips were parched from the seawater they had given her as the Girls who are ‘caught in a network of forced labour and sex work’ had often set out from their homes voluntarily Photograph by Alex Majoli / Magnum for The New Yorker

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The tabernacle, engraving from Robert Arnauld d’Andilly’s 1683 translation of Josephus. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was the dwelling place of God. In its inner sanctuary lay hid the Ark of Covenant, which was not to be seen by anyone, even the priests who carried it.

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The Tabernacle Tabernacle (noun): a tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus

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ahá’u’lláh, in His 40 years of exile, spent a lot of time in tents. These flimsy structures did not protect Him and His family from the winter cold they had to endure during their journey from Iran to Baghdad, or from Constantinople to Adrianople. The tents did, however, provide the setting for the most memorable event: the 12-day Festival of Ridván, when Bahá’u’lláh’s tent was pitched on the bank of the Tigris river, when He declared His station as the One whom the Báb had referred to as “Him whom God shall make Manifest”. In the last chapters of His life, after He was persuaded by the governor of ‘Akká to live outside the walled prison city, these manmade devices were also often erected for Him to receive pilgrims and visitors.

“Say: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.” 1 Used profusely in His writings, the tabernacle is an artefact to be dwelt in, to be looked at, to be circumambulated. It provides protection for those who repose within its canopies. And, regardless of its insubstantial construction, it differentiates between those who are inside and those who are out. It has the ability to conceal something within its folds, from the people’s eyes.

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“How vast is the tabernacle of the Cause of God! It hath overshadowed all the peoples and kindreds of the earth, and will, erelong, gather together the whole of mankind beneath its shelter.” 2 Thus sounds Bahá’u’lláh’s open invitation to humanity to repose as one people under a single canopy. Again, like the gate, it is up to the people’s own free will to decide whether or not they would cross the boundary to abide within.

Although the tabernacle is built to provide protection and shelter, it is also meant to be mobile, to be temporary in its location and construction. Read as a metaphor for the Revelation of God, it decently alludes to the relativity of religious truth in the different ages.3 The Tabernacle is pitched up every once in a while, in a different location, and the people are all called to enter therein. When time has passed, when the people have rid it of its original glory by corrupting it with their own dross, and stationed armed personnel to guard its entrance against anyone to their disliking, a new one shall be pitched and again, invite all the pure intentioned to enter.

One of the tents used by Bahá’u’lláh and His visitors in ‘Akká, a gift from the Bahá’ís living in India at that time. Image from Bahá’í Media Bank

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hose who still remember Rothschild

Boulevard4 as Rehov Ha’Am (the street of the people) would appreciate the situational irony when the few tents erected in the posh square grew into settlements of protesters all over the country. Housing costs had become intolerably high, prompting a few university students to occupy public spaces with their ad-hoc dwelling devices.5 Soon there were more than a thousand tents, with people of different ethnic and class backgrounds living together, separated at most by the thin piece of fabric that shades them from the heat of the day. The physical environment produced to challenge the ‘long-standing neoliberal hegemony among ruling classes’6 might have dissolved when the last of the tents were dismantled by the police, but the collective memory of building and sharing a common vision remained, adding another precedent to the progressing social roles of tents in Israel’s historical context.7

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The tent remained as a permanent dwelling architecture for the Kibbutz Beit Alpha movement for more than 20 years. The Zionist communes favoured the tent for their limited resources and their communal view of giving precedence to spaces serving the collective over spaces serving individuals. Photograph from National Photo Collection of Israel, Photography dept. Government Press Office

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The UNRWA distributed tents to the Palestinian refugees. Families would move their tents to re-erect beside former community members, forming clusters named after their original villages. The temporality of the tent promised a future return to their land, and the permanent structures that were later provided as housing had to be presented as ‘a proxy for the temporary architectural space of the tent.’ Photograph by S.Madver/AP, from UNRWA Archive

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With the short time span and limited monetary resource, the state of Israel offered the Jew immigrants with tents, intending to break the massive population into units of families. The harsh winter accentuated the disparity of living conditions between the veteran citizens’ permanent dwellings and the new arrival’s temporary counterparts. Originally intended as a rhetorical instrument to engender solidarity and a shared ethos of ‘pioneering’ among the immigrants and the veteran citizens, it became interpreted as the embodiment of discrimination. Photograph from The Israel Internet Association

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The Ocean

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he ocean is one of the most straightforward metaphor in the Bahá’í Writings. It is the source of life, the defining element that differentiates this planet from the rest of the solar system. Its vastness, its depth, its abilities to carry, to sink and to encompass vessels, all find expressions in the context of describing the body of writings constituting God’s Revelation.

The individual finds himself having a number of options when considering his relation with the vast waters. It might start with the sound of the stirring waves, the smell of fish, or the limitless blue. Depending on the day, the cool water can be either inviting or unwelcoming. A dip of the toe could lead Still from Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

to an hour-long swim. With training and practice, an amateur snorkeler might go for a deep-water dive. There are those who merely wish to ride the waves, for entertainment or to get to a preconceived destination. Then there are those who never have the chance of approaching the ocean, not due to the distance, but to a lack of interest or will. The ocean has varying attributes depending on the location of sampling. Apart from the different names designating different parts of the ocean, the salinity, chemical properties and the temperatures can be vastly different from one shore to the other, not to mention the organisms that dwell within. And yet, the ocean is essentially one reality, a single mass of water covering 70% of Earth’s surface. 29


‘The European Commission (EC) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO) have launched a joint initiative to promote transboundary maritime spatial planning (MSP). The initiative aims to contribute to tripling the area of territorial waters that benefit from an effectively implemented MSP system.’1

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he emergence of marine spatial planning as a system of knowledge for discourse and practice responds to the growing threats that the ocean environment is facing, and the ensuing need for improved management and administration. Although the scopes of the planning systems can only reach as far as the boundary of the national jurisdiction, the transboundary nature of the issues to be dealt with requires a transnational approach that can accommodate or even subvert the rules of the game as set by the independent nations. The spatial turn in marine management is marked by increased efforts in adapting terrestrial planning practice to

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this field. Its attention on the broad patterns and principles that lead to a strategic design at the macro scale is analogous to regional planning practice. Credence is given to the evolving abilities of planning practice in dealing with the dynamic characteristics of the sea that originally made it seem uncontrollable and unplannable.2


Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, map overlaying gillnet fishing and sea turtle data. The limitations of mapping dynamic subjects on static charts is self-evident. The relationship of the various actors are atomized in this ‘grand scheme of things,’ which would have its implications on policy and planning decisions. 3

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‘Revelation’ handwriting of Bahá’u’lláh’s secretary as he struggled to keep up with His rapid recitation

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The Mouth

‘Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men.’1 -Bahá’u’lláh

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he Word of God streamed forth from the mouths of the Twin Manifestations of God and reverberated off the walls as They or Their amanuenses simultaneously worked their pens on paper. After two centuries, only a fraction of the 21,000 Persian and Arabic texts have been translated into English and other languages.2 The believers are enjoined to read or chant the collection of prayers daily, whether privately or collectively. The words that have been transcribed unto paper return to the mouth, and perchance, into the hearts.

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Once a believer has completed his prayer, he is to meditate on the words in silence, and then to rise and take action. Actions, in most of the Writing’s contexts, refer to teaching and promoting the Faith to another human being. The act of teaching usually constitutes of words, but the deeds that follow are the true test of those words. Deeds would include again how we talk in an everyday context. The mouth is subjected to self-discipline for the benefit of others, as the believers are enjoined to speak kindly, honestly, and wisely. ‘Unless he teacheth his own self, the words of his mouth will not influence the heart of the seeker.’ 3

Above- A devotional gathering in Erdenbulgan, Mongolia Below- Bahá’í International Community representatives at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference Both photographs from Bahá’í Media Bank

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ohn Austin analysed the performance of utterances at three levels:

locution is the meaningful noise uttered; illocution the intended effect of the utterance; perlocution the actual effect by the utterance.4 Words do not simply convey meanings anymore. They have the ability to form actions in themselves, such as when a couple declare ‘I do’, the act of becoming married is completed. We perform speech acts in our everyday conversations, whenever we apologize, greet, request, order, complain, invite, compliment, or refuse.5

the individual is purported to be defined and maintained by the utterance, a performative with the power to transform. Lefebvre’s discussion of social spaces assumes the mutual constitution of body and space7 – that one forms the other. Perhaps we can say that the discourses of society – or, the performative acts – shape the way spaces are produced, which in turn shape us. Our productive bodies are always involved in the process of this production as they themselves constitute the performative spaces. In this sense, space, identity, and discourse are reciprocally developed, locked in a process of production and reproduction.

Based on Austin’s Speech Act Theory, Judith Butler expanded on the concept of ‘performativity’ in relation to gender studies and queer theory. When a doctor announces ‘It’s a boy,’ a process of gendering is initiated, in which the perceived differences between a man and a woman in that society are imposed on the baby child- referred to as ‘it’ before anything else.6 The social identity of 35


The Ground

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he modern man would revolt at the state of submissiveness servants and subjects were forced into by their human masters. Their relationship with the ground was established by fear. The continuation of their lives had depended on their willingness to cast themselves on the ground, to show deference to the power that could hurt them.

A very different condition of reverence is embodied in the act of prostration performed by an individual in prayer. ‘(Let him then kneel, and bowing his forehead to the ground, let him say:) Exalted art Thou above the description of any one save Thyself, and the comprehension of aught else except Thee.’ 1 37


No one is forcing him to do this, nor does he believe any act of vengeance or repercussion will befall upon him should he not do it. This act of putting himself on the floor, addressing the Unknowable Essence not present in the space in front, below or above him, is the most honest act of facing his own self, and the infinite differences between him and the Other. His body, displaced from the vertical to the horizontal. His sight, averted from the enveloping space to the single surface that demarcates the sky and the earth. His forehead, touching the surface whose support his feet take for granted. His hands, palms down, not even daring to stretch out. The reorientation of the body in relation to the ground dislocates the consciousness and throws the ego into discomfort. On some occasions, I imagine seeing the ultimate destination of the physical body, after it has stayed upright throughout his journey in this space above the ground.

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Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos Whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to Heaven and all the way to Hell.2


The Map of Hell, by Botticelli

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umans dig the earth for agriculture, for mineral extraction, for sources of energy. Then they dig for space. Space for foundations, basements, cellars, vaults, bunkers and passageways, for public transportation, particle colliders, electric wires, telecommunication lines, water and sewage pipes, and of course, space for the dead. The vertical capacity underground is almost limitless. In theory, we could have a hundred levels of tunnels underground, according to Elon Musk at an information session for his new infrastructure and tunnel company, The Boring Company.3

To equitably reconcile the interests of the public and the private, subsurface development would require timely planning. The first step to the decision-making processes is to collect data and information for a comprehensive visualization of the reality underground. What complicates things is the secrecy of the underground world, and who is to take control of it.

The municipal planning department wouldn’t provide us with a cross section of the street. We had to draw a hypothetical section based on their verbal feedback to help us plan and design where we could implement adjustments to the street and where to plant the trees. (Author’s experience working for an architecture firm commissioned by a Beijing district government for a street renovation project in 2018) ‘When Westminster tube station was built, much of it had to be “planned by omission”, a guide told me. Engineers would submit plans and the government would send them back with suggestions for different routes – refusing to explain why. Land registry data later confirmed what anti-secrecy journalists like Duncan Campbell had suspected all along: the existence of a network of covert tunnels connecting government buildings in Westminster.’ (Bradley L Garrett , The Guardian, 2018)

Left-Piccadilly Circus station, Electric Railway Journal · Vol. 73, No. 11 · March 16, 1929 · pp. 439-440

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Homes of three Bahá’ís in Barcelona, plans drawn by the author while attending their devotional meetings.

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The Room

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he first to enter me was a college student. My owner welcomed him in. Greetings were exchanged, the coat was hung, the bag left leaning against the wall on my floor. The visitor led himself towards the sofa that was being softly caressed by the rare sunlight. Soon, a mother with her son and daughter arrived, bringing with them pastries to share for breakfast. I witnessed the friendly exchanges, and my guests started to relax as their attention moved from the new surrounding to the friends around them. After making sure no one was joining them anymore, they decided to start the devotional meeting. The mother had prepared some papers with quotes printed on, related to the topic of healing. All of them were sitting on the sofas, which

vaguely formed a circle. Everyone closed their eyes while each person read a quote, one by one. The words being read bounced off my walls and were absorbed by the carpet. Somehow their presence shimmered as they listened collectively with reverence. It was as though I couldn’t feel them in me anymore. Or rather, they were everywhere, and more of them seemed to be present. I couldn’t distinguish their individualities; it was as though one single orb of light had filed me up completely. Then all of a sudden, they were there again. The last quote had been read, and after a short pause, everyone returned to their senses, some staring at my floor, others at my ceiling, and others whose eyes met had a light smile on their faces.

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here are many factors that contributed to the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan. But for an adolescent to completely withdraw himself from society, he first needs his own room, usually in the household of his parents, who also provide him food.1 The room is a haven from society. Technology helps. He can still choose to roam freely in the outside world without having to face it in person. His world is sweetly boxed up within his walls, a space he can fully control, with everything he requires to live provided, be it books, manga, video games, or the Internet. His parents would leave food outside the door for him to snatch in while nobody’s watching. He sneaks off to the toilet when he’s certain that his parents were in their room down the other side of the corridor. His parents, in their own room, talk about when they had to work with their own parents to make ends meet. They slept with their siblings on the rice-straw mats, went to public baths before private bathrooms were introduced 2, and, when they reached 44

adolescence, fought passionately against their parents’ authoritarian ideologies to gain independence. Whatever happened to the upbringing of their only child? Two decades have elapsed since their child started secluding himself. They haven’t stopped feeding him through the door, which remains shut throughout the day. From the content of the litter he leaves in the kitchen overnight, they get a glimpse of the other world behind the door. They wonder if he’ll be present at their funeral.


© I’m here project / Atsushi Watanabe 2018-2019

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Bahá’ís in Iran have been denied university education since the 1980s. After numerous appeals, the Bahá’í community established the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) . When the Internet became more accessible in Iran, the correspondence courses moved online from the living rooms and basements. Students now are able to interact with their professors through video call, and submit their assignments online. Image unavailable for protection of individuals.1

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The Internet

O friends! Verily I say, whatsoever ye have concealed within your hearts is to Us open and manifest as the day; but that it is hidden is of Our grace and favor, and not of your deserving.2 -Bahá’u’lláh ‘A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity.’3 -Shoghi Effendi

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t was approximately twelve decades after Bahá’u’lláh’s Declaration when the Internet came into being. Bahá’í institutions celebrated the advent of this technological development that would surely encourage ‘unifying patters of collective life to emerge’4 across the globe. With the rise of the World Wide Web in the 90s came an explosion of virtual spaces for public participation, democratizing the generation and sharing of content and knowledge. Bahá’ís saw it as yet another move of His Invisible Hand to assist humanity’s coming of age. But it wasn’t a reception naïve of potential consequences. The institutions were quick to remind the individuals and communities that the Internet is still part of this world, and that the spiritual principles guiding our words 47


and actions are equally binding to those active in the virtual space. The Bahá’í World Centre has its own branches of official websites that introduce the Faith, provide literary and visual resources, and distribute global news. The Universal House of Justice communicates with the global Bahá’í population through email. New translations of the Writings are continuously being published online. The numerous non-governmental, non-profit organizations inspired by the Faith have their own websites to share their learning experiences. Individuals download, view and share talks given at gatherings as well as music and video created by talented friends. Passages from the Writings can be located in no time with the help of Google, and can then be distributed through WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Facebook, or Instagram, sometimes reaching spaces where religious discourse is prohibited. Invitations to activities and gatherings are rarely offered face to face anymore. Online courses are 48

provided to those who are prohibited from attending university in their own country. The internet serendipitously provided the spaces required for the growth and influence of this young, independent world religion, right at the turn of the century.


Left: Data obtained from SimilarWeb providing insights regarding the use of Bahai.org, the official global website of the Bahá’í Faith. Below: A website has two spaces: that of the developer and that of the user. The languages and behaviours are completely different for the two.

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O

ne does not need to venture into the Dark Web to see humanity’s dark side. Simply scroll down to the comment section of any post on Facebook that has gained more than a thousand reactions. There you’ll find a colourful display of bickers, jeers, accusations, insults and derision, from whichever side of the political spectrum. But what we don’t see is still more worrying. Since online media platforms are mediated by algorithms that intend to maximize profit through advertisement, they drive people and their curiosity always towards a more extreme content than what was previously consumed.5 People are fed with materials that match their world-views, and those with similar interests and perspectives are

slowly wrapped around an impenetrable filter bubble, an echo chamber. They might espouse ideals of world peace, social justice and unity. They might be inclined towards prejudice, hate, and violence. Individuals are driven into niches that reinforce their beliefs and bolster their actions.6 As an attempt to curb the extreme expressions of violence and terrorism resulting from these online activities, tech companies have tried to implement codes of conduct for its users, while governments struggle with their legislative toolkits. On the other hand, tech elites are creating more virtual spaces that vow to protect their users’ privacy7 from the ‘Big Brother’, while being completely powerless to stem the diffusion of a toxin in the depths of its corners.

Left: This account has been blocked and cannot be viewed In connection with the relevant complaint, this account is suspected of violating the “Internet User Public Account Information Service Management Regulations”, view details here -WeChat public platform operation center

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Reflection

T

Continental Bahá’í House of Worship, Chile Image from

his dissertation started with 4 spatial metaphors found in the Bahá’í Writings, to demonstrate their metaphysical implications in spatializing human’s relationship with the Divine. A further selection of 4 spaces were discussed in terms of the location and embodiment of practicing the Bahá’í Faith. An attempt was made to deconstruct and expand on the spatial typologies, to locate their position within the context of religious text and practice. It is necessary to note here that these sections were based on the author’s personal understanding and experience of the Bahá’í Faith. The author by no means attempts to represent the collective knowledge and practice of the diverse community of believers around the world. This disclaimer obviously 53


suggests that a very different extrapolation of the selected topics could take place within the Bahá’í context. The study of the selected spaces within a Bahá’í context are each then juxtaposed with one or more contemporary sociopolitical issues, in an attempt to broaden the implications of the selected space. Though seemingly irrelevant apart from the shared spatial theme, a dialogue between each of the two compositions, if attempted, should lead to unexpected insights. The total collage of 16 bite-sized essays do not serve as an exhaustive analysis of the selected themes, but are meant to evoke an expanded appreciation of the dialectical relationship between religion and society, and how space, whether metaphorical or physical, plays a significant role in this discourse. The author has also undertaken this assignment with the selfish hope of identifying how his own personal beliefs shape the way he understands space, and how his understanding of space shapes his own beliefs. 54


Given the above, it is not among the interests of this dissertation to provide any conclusive remarks. The task which the author had set out to do was to investigate his religion from a spatial perspective, especially in the quotidian sense rather than from the ‘official’ sacred spaces of church, mosque or temple. One of the most rewarding products of this process was the structural framework for the

analysis, one which provides the potential for the collage of spaces to be expanded in both depth and breadth. This paper thus serves as a prototype for further investigations.

Below: Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, oil on oak panels, 220 cm Ă— 389 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid

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Notes

Introduction 1  Henri Lefebvre and Donald Nicholson-Smith, The Production of Space (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 2  Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life as referred to in Kim Knott, The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis, Reprinted (Abingdon, Ox: Routledge, 2014). 3 Knott. 4  Everyday Religion : Observing Modern Religious Lives, ed. by Nancy Tatom Ammerman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 5  Lily Kong, ‘Geography and Religion: Trends and Prospects’, Progress in Human Geography, 14.3 (1990), 355–71 <https://doi.org/10.1177/030913259001400302>. 6  Lily Kong, ‘Global Shifts, Theoretical Shifts: Changing Geographies of Religion’, Progress in Human Geography, 34.6 (2010), 755–76 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132510362602>. 7  Julian Holloway, ‘Make-Believe: Spiritual Practice, Embodiment, and Sacred Space’, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 35.11 (2003), 1961–74 <https://doi.org/10.1068/a3586>. 8  Lily Kong, ‘Mapping “New” Geographies of Religion: Politics and Poetics in Modernity’, Progress in Human Geography, 25.2 (2001), 211–33 <https://doi.org/10.1191/030913201678580485>. 9 Holloway. 10  Banu Gökarıksel, ‘Beyond the Officially Sacred: Religion, Secularism, and the Body in the Production of Subjec-

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tivity’, Social & Cultural Geography, 10.6 (2009), 657–74 <https://doi.org/10.1080/14649360903068993>. 11  David A. Palmer, ‘Religion, Spiritual Principles, and Civil Society’, in Religion and Public Discourse in an Age of Transition: Reflections on Bahá’í Practice and Thought, ed. by Geoffrey Cameron Benjamin Schewel (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017), pp. 37–69 <https://muse.jhu.edu/book/57468/> [accessed 20 June 2019]. 12  Pier Vittorio Aureli and AA Diploma Unit 14, ‘Rituals and Walls: On the Architecture of Sacred Space’, in Rituals and Walls: The Architecture of Sacred Space: Research by AA Diploma Unit 14, ed. by Pier Vittorio Aureli and Maria Shéhérazade Giudici (London: AA Publications, 2016), pp. 10–25. 13  ‘Religion: Year In Review 2010 - Worldwide Adherents of All Religions | Britannica.Com’, 2016 <https://web. archive.org/web/20161120153112/https://www.britannica.com/topic/religion-Year-In-Review-2010/WorldwideAdherents-of-All-Religions> [accessed 4 April 2019]. 14  From Plato’s allegory of the cave 15  Bahá’í International Community, ‘Bahá’u’lláh’ <http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/bic/SB/sb-12.html> [accessed 4 April 2019]. 16  Bahá’u’lláh, before passing away, designated His eldest son `Abdu’l-Bahá’ as the authorized interpreter of His Writings, and `Abdu’l-Bahá’ named His grandson Shoghi Effendi as sole interpreter. With the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the elected institution of the Universal House of Justice retains the power of elucidation but not the prerogative of interpretation. I will use the term “Bahá’í writings” to refer the authoritative writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, `Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of justice. “Bahá’í scripture” refers to those of the first three aforementioned authors, and “Holy Scripture/ Word” to those of the first two. 17  The Universal House of Justice, ‘Letter to an Individual’, 9 March 1987 <https://www.bahai.org/library/ authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19870309_001/19870309_001.xhtml?42c0dee2> [accessed 4 April 2019]. 18  John S. Hatcher, ‘The Metaphorical Nature of Physical Reality’, World Order, 11.4 (1978), 31-57 (p. 37). 19  ‘Response to the Call of Bahá’u’lláh | What Bahá’ís Do’ <https://www.bahai.org/action/response-call-bahaullah/> [accessed 20 June 2019]. 20 Ibid.

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The Gate 1  Moojan Momen, ‘Shi`i Islam’, Bahá’í Library Online, 1995 <https://bahai-library.com/momen_encyclopedia_shii_ islam> [accessed 11 June 2019]. 2  Nabīl Zarandī, The Dawn-Breakers : Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, trans. by Shoghi Effendi, 1st British ed (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1953). 3  He maintained, however, the title of The Báb. The Gate was the threshold between one Revelation and the next, but the Báb provided a plethora of symbolical meaning unprecedented in Islamic traditions for the word “báb”. To put it simply, the Arabic rendition of the word consists of two horizontal lines joint by a vertical line in the middle (‫)باب‬, which signifies the unity of various sacred binary structures in the reality of the Báb (Nader Saiedi, Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Báb, 2016.) 4  Bahá’u’lláh, prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith 5  William Walters, ‘Border/Control’, European Journal of Social Theory, 9.2 (2006), 187–203 <https://doi. org/10.1177/1368431006063332>. 6  The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, ‘Millennials Will Benefit and Suffer Due to Their Hyperconnected Lives’, 2012 <https://www.pewinternet.org/2012/02/29/millennials-will-benefit-and-suffer-due-to-their-hyperconnected-lives-2/> [accessed 19 June 2019].

The Journey 1  Bahá’u’lláh, ‘The Seven Valleys’, in The Call of the Divine Beloved: Selected Mystical Works of Bahá’u’lláh. (Bahá’í World Centre, 2018). 2  Considered to be Bahá’u’lláh’s greatest mystical work (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By) 3  Roshan Danesh, ‘The Journey Motif in the Bahá’í Faith: From Doubt to Certitude’, The Journal of Bahá’í Studies, 22.1–4 (2012). 4  Ben Taub, ‘The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl’, 3 April 2017 <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/10/the-desperate-journey-of-a-trafficked-girl> [accessed 12 June 2019].

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The Tabernacle 1 Bahá’u’lláh, The Tabernacle of Unity: Bahá’u’lláh’s Responses to Mánikchí Sáhib and Other Writings. (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 2006) <http://books.google.com/books?id=h4xTAAAAYAAJ> [accessed 30 May 2019]. 2 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, trans. by Shoghi Effendi, 2nd ed (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983). 3  Progressive Revelation: A fundamental Bahá’í belief is that religion is renewed about every thousand years, through a different Manifestation of God (e.g. Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohamad…). Each Revelation is to build upon the previous one, and, according to the needs of the age, provide the relevant teachings to propel human civilization forward. 4  Named after Baron Abraham Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild, a French member of the Rothschild banking family, for his generosity 5  Nathan Marom, ‘Activising Space: The Spatial Politics of the 2011 Protest Movement in Israel’, Urban Studies, 50.13 (2013), 2826–41 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098013477699>. 6  Sebastian Schipper, ‘Social Movements in an Era of Post-Democracy: How the Israeli J14 Tent Protests of 2011 Challenged Neoliberal Hegemony through the Production of Place’, Social & Cultural Geography, 18.6 (2017), 808–30 <https://doi.org/10.1080/14649365.2016.1228115>. 7  Yael Allweil, ‘The Tent: The Uncanny Architecture of Agonism for Israel–Palestine, 1910–2011’, Urban Studies, 55.2 (2018), 316–31 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098016682931>.

The Ocean 1  IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub, ‘European Commission, IOC-UNESCO Launch Marine Spatial Planning Initiative | News | SDG Knowledge Hub | IISD’ <https://sdg.iisd.org:443/news/european-commission-ioc-unesco-launch-marine-spatial-planning-initiative/> [accessed 16 June 2019]. 2  Stephen Jay, ‘Built at Sea: Marine Management and the Construction of Marine Spatial Planning’, Town Planning Review, 81.2 (2010), 173–92 <https://doi.org/10.3828/tpr.2009.33>.

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3  Noëlle Boucquey and others, ‘Ocean Data Portals: Performing a New Infrastructure for Ocean Governance’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 37.3 (2019), 484–503 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775818822829>.

The Mouth 1 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. 2  The Universal House of Justice, ‘Numbers and Classifications of Sacred Texts’, Lights of Irfan, 10 (2009), 349–50 <http://bahai-library.com/uhj_numbers_sacred_writings> [accessed 4 April 2019]. 3 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. 4  Stephen Young, ‘Judith Butler: Performativity’, Critical Legal Thinking, 2016 <http://criticallegalthinking. com/2016/11/14/judith-butlers-performativity/> [accessed 18 June 2019]. 5  The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA, ‘What Is a Speech Act?’ <https://carla.umn. edu/speechacts/definition.html> [accessed 19 June 2019]. 6  Sara Salih, ‘On Judith Butler and Performativity’, in Judith Butler, p. 14. 7  Deirdre Conlon, ‘Productive Bodies, Performative Spaces: Everyday Life in Christopher Park’, Sexualities, 7.4 (2004), 462–79 <https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460704047063>.

The Ground 1  Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Long Obligatory Prayer’, in Bahá’í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991), p. 9 <http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/BP/bp-6.html>. 2  Kurt Kohlstedt, ‘From Heaven to Hell: Exploring the Odd Vertical Limits of Land Ownership’, 99% Invisible, 2017 <https://99percentinvisible.org/article/heaven-hell-exploring-odd-vertical-limits-land-ownership/> [accessed 20 June 2019].

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3  Bradley L. Garrett, ‘Who Owns the Space under Cities? The Attempt to Map the Earth beneath Us’, The Guardian, 10 July 2018, section Cities <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/jul/10/who-owns-the-space-under-citiesthe-attempt-to-map-the-ground-beneath-our-feet> [accessed 16 June 2019].

The Room 1  Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society?, ed. by Gordon Mathews and Bruce White, Japan Anthropology Workshop Series (London ; New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004). 2  Naomi Berman and Flavio Rizzo, ‘Unlocking Hikikomori: An Interdisciplinary Approach’, Journal of Youth Studies, 0.0 (2018), 1–16 <https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2018.1544416>.

The Internet 1  Neha Thirani Bagri, ‘Why Yale and Columbia Are Accepting Students from a University That Holds Classes in a Basement in Tehran’, Quartz <https://qz.com/934700/a-clandestine-university-has-been-educating-bahais-in-iranfor-30-years/> [accessed 18 June 2019]. 2 Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, trans. by Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002). 3  Shoghi Effendi, ‘The Unfoldment of World Civilization’, in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, 1936. 4  Baha’i Internet Agency, ‘Baha’i Participation on the Internet: Some Reflections’, 2006, 8. 5  Zeynep Tufekci, ‘Opinion | YouTube, the Great Radicalizer’, The New York Times, 10 March 2018, section Opinion <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/opinion/sunday/youtube-politics-radical.html> [accessed 18 June 2019]. 6  ‘Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons’, Council on Foreign Relations <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/hate-speech-social-media-global-comparisons> [accessed 18 June 2019]. 7  Palko Karasz, ‘What Is Telegram, and Why Are Iran and Russia Trying to Ban It?’, The New York Times, 2 May 2018, section World <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/world/europe/telegram-iran-russia.html> [accessed 18 June 2019].

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Profile for Farzad Lee

Locating Faith  

This dissertation was written for Critical & Historical Studies of the MA programme of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, 2018/19.

Locating Faith  

This dissertation was written for Critical & Historical Studies of the MA programme of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, 2018/19.

Profile for farzadlee
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