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The Baha’i Faith has several primary principles relating to science, religion, and development:
Religion and Science are inter-twined with each other and cannot be separated. These are the two wings with which humanity must fly. One wing is not enough. Every religion which does not concern itself with Science is mere tradition, and that is not the essential. Therefore science, education and civilization are most important necessities for the full religious life. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, pp. 28-29.
These principles inspired the creation of the Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences (FUNDAEC ), started in 1974 in Colombia. In Spanish, the acronym FUNDAEC stands for the Fundación para la Aplicación y Enseñanza de las Ciencias, and the Foundation has now promoted education in the sciences for almost half a century.
The FUNDAEC guiding principles see people as “irreplaceable resources in a self-sustaining process of change” and as possessing great potential. All human beings share both a “basic drive of material survival” and “the reality of man’s spiritual nature.” As well, they possess “infinite potentialities for qualities such as love, justice, and generosity.” This means that people should not be left to manipulation by markets or the state.
FUNDAEC, as an institution operating in rural Colombia, attempts to avoid both “an unbalanced obsession with industrialization” and “romantic conceptions of traditional un-technological societies.” Instead, it seeks to help develop “a scientifically and technologically modern society” which bases “its educational, economic, administrative, political, and cultural structures on the concept of the integral nature of man rather than his mere material needs.”
The founders of FUNDAEC hold “that technology is the application of science,” and regard science “as universal, the heritage of all, independent of where and by whom each one of its pieces has been discovered.”
… so-called modern technology is the application of science for the development of a given lifestyle, that of the industrialized nations that have emerged from a western culture and tradition. Applied within the context of a distinct set of aspirations, the same science now enriched by the knowledge of people from other backgrounds should lead to a different and more appropriate technology, helping, for example, a village to be more productive or more comfortable. – FUNDAEC Its principles and its activities
When considering religion and spirituality, FUNDAEC avoids religious dogma. Instead, it treats spirituality as a “state, an inner condition that should manifest itself in action, in every day choices, in profound understanding of human nature, and in meaningful contributions to community life and to society.” – Ibid. Thought of this way,
… spirituality has to be integrated into every educational activity: every act has to be a context for the clarification and the application of spiritual principles. In such an educational practice, material well-being is not denied and prosperity is not relegated to another life; rather, every day activities, carried out in the spirit of service to humanity, are elevated to a more sublime station, rejecting at the same time asceticism and reclusion as requirements of a spiritual character. – Ibid.
“Spirituality,” FUNDAEC concludes, “is not restricted only to actions that lead to material well-being” but includes “the most profound yearnings of the human soul, such as the search for nearness to God through prayer and meditation.”
FUNDAEC has proven successful, inspiring other development projects. For example, its founders have worked with representatives of other faith traditions and the International Development Research Center (IDRC) in Canada to sponsor a dialogue among leading development practitioners whose thinking has been shaped by the recognition of the importance of incorporating religious insights and commitments into development practices.
Key contributions to that dialogue were published by the IDRC in The Lab, the Temple, and the Market: Reflections at the Intersection of Science, Religion, and Development.
In the Baha’i community, the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity (ISGP), established as a non-profit organization in 1999, has incorporated learnings from FUNDAEC and has grown increasingly active around the world, augmenting the education of undergraduate and graduate students in accord with the principles of science, religion, and development. ISGP has sponsored a series of workshops and dialogues in India, Uganda, and Brazil, bringing together thinkers in development. The Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial (SAT), developed by FUNDAEC, now provides a successful alternative secondary school program in rural settings without access to traditional secondary schools in five countries in Central and South America.
The growth and success of FUNDAEC proves the assertion, shared by the United Nations and the Baha’i Faith alike, that the vision of science for all people can be realized in rural settings in South America – and that it can be accomplished globally by educating students in a way which both honors religion and spirituality as well as inculcating processes of scientific thinking and development.
FUNDAEC’s success also demonstrates that two important components from the Baha’i teachings – the harmony of science and religion, and the need for universal education in science – can be implemented in a successful program. With the benefit of these intertwining processes of education in science and spiritual growth, we can help make the vision of World Science Day and the International Week of Science and Peace a fuller and growing reality.