Teens Mentor Fellow Teens, Who Mentor Kids in Turn in NC

“As a youth, it’s very impactful to be able to feel that you’re doing something good,” says Issa Masumbuko, a high school student in Durham, North Carolina. “It’s kind of like we’re being held back by society, but when we’re given the opportunity to contribute, we start to see our importance in the world.”

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Vibrant Marshallese Community Arises in Oklahoma

Twenty-five people pose for a group portrait in a community center.
Bahá’ís in Enid, Oklahoma, pose for a portrait taken before the pandemic.

In the early 2000s Enid, Oklahoma, had no Baha’i activities. Today, many of its more than 50 Baha’is are involved alongside friends in children’s classes, junior youth groups, study circles and devotional gatherings. 

What’s changed? The story starts with two Baha’i couples who each discovered the Faith on their own, along with the extended family of one of the couples.

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No Reclaimed Homeland: Thi Bui’s Postcolonial Historiography in The Best We Could Do

Front cover of Inks volume 4, issue 1

Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, vol. 4, no. 1, Spring 2020, pp. 44–65.

Abstract: Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir centering on her family’s experience with war in Vietnam and with resettlement in the United States, earned critical acclaim upon publication in 2017. It touched a nerve with U.S. readers attuned to their country’s rising xenophobia, eliciting praise for humanizing refugees. Her comic certainly stirs compassion with its fusion of emotive drawings and text—but it does more. Bui subtly encourages readers to not only see refugees as human but to realize that no polity exists apart from migrancy. Situating her book in recent postcolonial theory, I read it as a commentary on the shifting nature of history and nation. Bui presents no singular homeland, past or present, implicitly calling into question Americans’ desire for a walled nation and bounded culture.

Full Text: You can download the article by clicking the link below.

Spiritual Cosmopolitanism, Transnational Migration, and the Bahá’í Faith

Cover art of Journal of Baha'i Studies volume 30 depicting an abstract landscape with Persian handwriting.

Journal of Bahá’í Studies, vol. 30, no. 1–2, 2020, pp. 19–44.

Abstract: Scholars have wrestled with the question of how people can be persuaded to extend feelings of kinship beyond their own ethnic or national groups. This article identifies spiritual cosmopolitanism, whose principles of universal love and harmony can be found in the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, as key to such borderless solidarity. Drawing on data gathered from interviews with Iranian refugees who have settled in the United States, the article demonstrates how cosmopolitan principles shape the worldviews of Bahá’ís. Through this case study, spiritual cosmopolitanism’s potential to enrich public arguments for the inclusion of Others such as immigrants becomes apparent.

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Dissertation: Reframing Immigration through Religious Advocacy

Reframing Immigration through Religious Advocacy: Rhetoric, Cosmopolitanism, and the Divine. 2020. Penn State U, PhD dissertation.

Multimedia Abstract:

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Textual Abstract:

In the United States, nativist rhetoric is propelling increasingly violent attacks on immigrants[1] and other minority populations. Conversely, discourse taking a more cosmopolitan approach—positing border-transcending obligations to all humanity, unlimited by national or ethnic group—struggles to elicit a comparably passionate following, as I explain in the introduction (chapter one). Perhaps cosmopolitan rhetoric can gain persuasive power by joining forces with religion. In the realm of faith-based immigration advocacy, cosmopolitan arguments leverage appeals to divine, rather than merely manmade, imperatives toward love and fellowship. For many potential audiences in this country, the divine plays a potent role in their lives, as over 75% of Americans belong to a religion—a statistic that suggests the influence of religious rhetoric. What resources can religious rhetoric provide to pro-immigrant arguments? By responding to this question, my project addresses a gap in studies of immigration rhetoric, which have hitherto overlooked the border-crossing potential of religious advocacy. The project also addresses a gap in studies of religious rhetoric, which have predominantly focused on Protestant Christianity, by drawing attention to the contributions of rhetors adhering to other religions. 

Every world religion offers some cosmopolitan principles, and many also feature sacred stories of migration, as chapter two demonstrates. To elucidate how these elements invigorate arguments for hospitality toward immigrants, I analyze the rhetoric of Bahá’í, Catholic, and Islamic advocacy organizations through the lens of religious cosmopolitanism (a theory that chapter two elucidates). In each organization’s advocacy, I find a model for reframing immigration rhetoric. In chapter three, I demonstrate how the Tahirih Justice Center uses the Bahá’í principle of nonpartisanship to enlist support across the aisles for its work on behalf of immigrant women. In chapter four, I survey the Kino Border Initiative’s rhetoric of journeying, which draws from Catholic traditions to spiritualize undocumented migration. Chapter five presents Hijabis of New York, a social media campaign that claims public space for a much-maligned immigrant group, U.S. Muslim women. 

All three of these organizations mobilize religious tenets that mandate universal justice and compassion. Through their arguments for border-transcending policies and dispositions, these organizations reframe the commonplaces of immigration, replacing the xenophobia that dominates discourse today with recognition of migrants’ humanity and spirituality. This dissertation’s discovery of innovative strategies in cosmopolitan rhetoric has several implications for research and teaching, as I point out in the conclusion (chapter six). In the arena of rhetorical research, my project shows that religion can contribute to arguments that we should welcome them—or, more radically, that there is no them, just a global us. It also implies the need for much more research in cosmopolitan theory even—and especially—in the face of rising xenophobia. The project also offers some practical takeaways for pedagogy, recommending anti-nativist teaching strategies. Overall, by bringing to light advocacy rhetorics that refuse to operate on nativism’s terms, it offers the reader hope for humane responses to those who have come across borders.

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Making Visible the Nativism-Ableism Matrix: The Rhetoric of Immigrants’ Comics

Rhetoric Review Journal

Rhetoric Review, vol. 38, no. 4, 2019, pp. 445-462

Abstract: Nativist ideology, which dominates public discourse, implements ableist hierarchies to reduce immigrants to diseases of the body politic. Immigrants’ graphic narratives, on the other hand, reveal the disabling effects of xenophobic environments. Rhetoricians have begun to recognize comics’ persuasive potential but thus far have not explored their role in immigration rhetoric. Using this medium’s affordances, immigrants critique the nativism-ableism matrix, as exemplified by Parsua Bashi’s comics memoir about immigrating to Switzerland from Iran, Nylon Road (2006/2009). Bashi’s self-worth, displaced by her unreceptive context, depends on accepting a mental (dis)ability. Her comic counters nativism’s eugenic underpinnings by visualizing variation.

You can download the article using this link. Thanks for reading!

Image courtesy of Rhetoric Review.

Uniting the World, Two Hearts at a Time

(Image source)

“Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love. This love will make all men the waves of one sea, this love will make them all the stars of one heaven and the fruits of one tree. This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.” 

Abdu’l-Baha1

In 1904, Florence Breed and Ali-Kuli Khan married in Boston. Breed was American and Khan was Iranian; their union symbolized East and West uniting in the Baha’i Faith. When Abdu’l-Baha visited the US in 1912, the Khans hosted a luncheon for Him in Washington, D.C. There, Abdu’l-Baha defied social convention by giving Louis Gregory, an African-American Baha’i, the seat of honor. 

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A Christmas Story: The Forced Migrations of the Messengers of God

Photo by the author

Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah. For Baha’is, these teachers are among a series of divine Messengers, and Their teachings share a spiritual basis. These divine beings’ human lives also share certain features. Nearly all divine messengers have been rejected by most of Their contemporaries, persecuted harshly, if not killed. But for these four, Their persecutions took a particular form: forced migration. They and Their families were pushed from Their native cities into perilous journeys. 

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Feeling Boundless Love for Others

Bahá'ís consulting.
A Baha’i gathering. (Image source)

Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet, whether of your country, your race, your political party, or of any other nation, color or shade of political opinion.

Abdu’l-Baha1

The security of people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent living in the United States seems to be on thin ice: bearing brown skin and a “foreign” name are dangerous liabilities. Evidence comes in recent hate crimes like February’s Kansas killing. Engineers Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were attacked by a man who told them to “get out of my country.” Kuchibhotla died. The attacker later disclosed that he thought his victims, who were natives of India, were Iranian. In March, Hasel Afshar returned to his Oregon town from vacation to discover his home ransacked and hateful messages coating the walls of his house. The messages indicated that the attackers believed Afshar to be Muslim. He is actually a Baha’i refugee from Iran. Persecuted for his faith in his homeland—attacked for his foreignness in his refuge. 

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