Saturday, October 13, 2012


Session 1
9 am-12 noon UK time (login opens at 8:30 am)

Arthur Dahl (Switzerland) - 'Abdu'l-Baha's Vision of Sustainabile Development

Steven Cooney (New Zealand) - ʿAbduʾl-Bahā and the Antipodes: Diffusion of Religious Innovation, Social Networks and Religious Affiliation 1908-1922, Some Preliminary Thoughts

Arts installation: music, painting, film, storytelling, poetry, dance
The Bird and the Butterfly
Misha Blaise
Corinne Randall
Lois Gardner Sabet
Luke Slott
Devon Gundry
Andrea Hope
Kevin Locke
Joel Grainger
Elika Mahony
Media Makes Us

Session 2
From 2pm-5pm UK time

Talks by:

Gamal and Somaya Hassan (Uganda) - 'Abdu'l-Baha's Western Talks and the Arab World Today

David Merrick (Scotland) - 'Abdu'l-Baha in the United Kingdom

Arts Installation (repeat): Music, Painting, Poetry, Storytelling, Film, Dance

From 7 pm - 9 pm UK time (login opens at 6:30 pm)

Robert Stockman (United States) - 'Abdu'l-Baha in America

Paula Bidwell (Lakota Baha'i, United States) - The Native American Vision and the Teachings of 'Abdu'l-Baha

Hossain Aschi (United States) - Family Remembrances of a Lifetime with 'Abdu'l-Baha (1863-1921)


Sunday, October 7, 2012




This is it! The real caboodle, the big day, the moment of truth, and the experiment come alive. In six days' time. From your prayers and positive thoughts, may these coming days gather the spiritual momentum to be of true service.

It is recommended you register in the coming 3 days to make sure any unlikely problems in this wonderful experiment can be sorted on time. Registration however is open until the same day (Saturday 13)

Please read carefully the notes below with the modifications to the original format now I have learned the technical and financial constraints of this individual initiative.

*Only those who register through the new link will be able to attend the conference (not those who have just clicked "going" here.

*The event should be accessible from any computer, and there is an app for mobile phones and tablets (which I haven't tried yet but will!).

* Clarification: The event will take place at UK times, which at this time of the year is GMT+1. Check the timezone difference to make sure you know what time the lectures and artistic presentations will be in your own timezones. The sessions will be 9am-12pm, 2pm-5pm 7pm-9pm. The sessions may last a bit longer. It is recommended you log-in to the class 15mins earlier to make sure you can sort out any unlikely problems.

* It will NOT be possible to record the event, which means it can only be attended live. The time-zones furthest from GMT should be able to catch at least two of the three sessions, and most will be able to catch all three. The event will run from 9am to 7pm UK time, with people being able to "enter" the conference from 8:30am

* There will be no "breakout rooms", but interactivity will still be very much a part of this via live chat in the main event, plus the possibility of private chat between participants.

* The cost of the event will now be reduced to $20USD/£12GBP. Technical constraints mean no concessions are possible. Speakers and performers will not pay.

* The rest of the event structure remains the same: 3 panels with the same wonderful speakers and two sessions of an artistic programme. The exact artistic programme is being finalised. Live music may or may not be possible subject to technical issues I am still working with. But there will be amazing music, film and visual arts for sure.

* Any queries or comments please write to me privately so as not clutter people's inbox.

Thanks for your powerful encouragement and enthusiasm which has already made this an inspiring and memorable journey and a massive learning experience.

We are nearly there. Your prayers for the success of this effort of service we have all created will be warmly appreciated.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Final speaker confirmed!

Hossain Achtchi's father was 'Abdu'l-Baha's companion from 1863 when 'Abdu'l-Baha was 19 to the day of His passing in 1921 . He shares his family's recollections and tells us what it was like to grow up in the light of such memories.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cloud Conferences Financial Information: discounted rates - costs - destination of proceeds

Discounted rates: Having done the research, the bad news is that the technological and labour set-up costs, but more crucially, the set-up time for a payment system that allows voluntary or even just discounted payments, is unrealistic for this event. It requires purchasing and manually setting up a completely new charging platform, website, merchant account, plus annual subscription and transaction fees. The good news is that I am confident that, if together we make this conference succeed, it will be in place for the next event in the New Year, so cost will no longer be a barrier to anyone anywhere from then on. I am thinking of using -if anyone knows a better and quick way around this so I could offer such discounted access, let me know privately. The spirit is willing but the logistics are weak.

Costs: The cost areas of this event include the purchase of a customised technology platform; additional storage costs for 24hrs' worth of the entire event recording, including group discussion and chat; approximately 1.5 full time professional workers at this stage, possibly more nearer or during the event; possible added production costs for art installation. I am hopeful that the participation of all of you in making this event possible will also make it financially viable and hopefully self-sustaining.

Destination: Proceeds from this event will go into a legally constituted, asset/profit locked Community Interest Company ( The proceeds of this first Cloud Conference will allow not only these Cloud Conferences to continue, but to incubate a broader application of the template we are testing. The ultimate aim is to leverage online events to dynamically connect cutting-edge thought, grassroots participation, and immediate action on a global scale to a wide range of pressing social challenges, and thus, in some measure, in some way, collectively change the world.

Any further questions please message me separately to avoid excessive traffic for your many guests who have not yet expressed an interest in attending.

May this information convey the spirit that animates this initiative, and be in tune with your own spirit, since it is from that connection of spirits and intentions that true service, I believe, springs.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cloud Conference Programme: The Latest

It had to happen. The Cloud Conferences are here. Bringing together leading authors, young scholars, two live concerts with outstanding professional musicians in a variety of genres performing across continents, a global arts installation showcasing the work of professional artists from across the planet in painting, photography, film, animation, and through those media, also sculpture, crafts, poetry and dance, with the opportunity for group interaction, discussion and collaborations, we will together harn
ess the power of the internet to achieve new levels of engagement, consultation and inspiration in the rigorous, diverse and inclusive venture that is Baha'i scholarship and vibrant, creative arts.
Please if you can register your interest in coming at the facebook event page:

To keep in touch with the event as it evolves, ask questions, make suggestions, or offer artistic input or recommendations join the Cloud Conferences Facebook Group, where you can also hear about future events and spinoffs.

I will be tweeting news as they unfold (confirmed live artists, new speakers, presentation titles, visual artists to be exhibited, exciting partnerships, calls for help, happy or meaningful milestones).
Join me on Twitter to be kept in touch.

Most of the questions you're likely to have, how to register, fees, timezones, etc., are covered in the FAQ.  Do not hesitate to message or email me with any queries or offers (volunteers always wanted!)

Programme Structure

The programme will run from 9am GMT to 9pm GMT. This will allow every timezone to catch at least one panel of leading scholars, one live concert and one global arts exhibit, most, all if I calculated the hrs correctly, will be able to catch at least two thirds live. 

Everyone will have access to the full recorded conference so no one will miss anything.The event will be structured as follows (GMT times= timezone +0hrs):

9-11am: first panel of three speakers, including questions and discussion
11am-2pm: live concert and global arts installation
2pm-4pm: second panel of three speakers, including questions and discussion
4pm-7pm: live concert and global arts installation
7pm-9pm: third panel of speakers, including questions and discussion
In the course of the day there will be three breakout rooms (BR)BR 1 - Scholarship: Participants can carry on discussing the concepts and ideas of the talksBR 2 - Arts: Participants can interact with the artists and/or explore the inspiration of the concerts or the installationBR3 - Action Lab: Participants can exchange thoughts on action initiatives they feel inspired and stimulated to take in the coming 3 months. Sharing those ideas might trigger consultation, collaborations and replications. Participants will be encouraged but not expected to leave a record the initiatives they have decided to take, for others to gain ideas and inspiration and also as a way to evaluate and reflect on one of the magical impacts of this encounter of souls.


(one more to come):

Robert Stockman (USA): author of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in America

Jan Jasion (France): author of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in France and of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the West, A Biographical Guide to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Western Travels

Arthur Dahl (Switzerland): President of the International Environment Forum and former Deputy Director at the United Nations Environment ProgrammeGloria Yazdani (Canada): Artist, human rights activist and former co-editor of the Online Journal of Baha'i Studies

Steven Cooney (New Zealand): Independent scholar and editor the Baha'i Studies Review

Paula Bidwell (USA): Lakota Indian artist and Baha'i scholar.

Jack McLean (Canada): poet and scholar, author of the book Dimensions in Spirituality: Reflections on the Meaning of Spiritual Life and Transformation in Light of the Bahá'í Faith.

Gamal and Somaya Hassan (Uganda): Translators of 'Abdu'l-Baha's Western talks into Arabic and scholars of the Baha'i Faith in the African continent.

Artists include:

Joel Grainger (UK) - Violinist

Devon Gundry (USA) - Singer-songwriter, CEO of SoulPancake

Justin Baldoni (USA) - Film Maker, Actor

Elika Mahony (China)- Pianist and Composer

Zafarullah Hassim (Uganda) - Film maker

Corinne Randall (UK) - Painter

Kevin Locke (USA) - Award winning Lakota Flutist, Dancer and Storyteller

The Bird and the Butterfly (UK) - Acoustic folk

Andrea Hope (USA) - Poet

Sky (Greece) - Vocal ensemble

Misha Mayernick (USA) - Fine Artist

Paula Bidwell (USA) - Lakota jeweller and fine artist

Mitra Docherty (Canada) - Photographer

More in the wings!

Participants at the conference will be as much protagonists as audience, the simple and accessible online conference platform making possible an unprecedented degree of interaction, reflection, discussion and exchange. Sitting back and simply listening and enjoying is also OK. Outstanding participant contributions and conversations will be featured in the conference proceedings, subject to previous consent.

Volunteers wanted!

And artistic and musical contributors still welcome to submit their expressions of interest.

See you all there: it is your already amazing response what is making this emerging creation manifest.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Cloud Traveller's Book of Frequently Asked Questions

Putting "going" on the Facebook event page is helpful because it allows me to notify those planning to go when registration opens, as well as giving me a sense of likely numbers (let's make it big, already nearly 300 here, let's spread the word, this is I pray a service we will all make happen, and a special commemoration in this centenary year allowing a wonderful depth of reflection and participation), and finally it gives an amazing means of letting people know: 2000+ people have been directly invited by word of mouth, in over a dozen countries; what an expression of our connectedness and unity!

Registration on the other hand is what makes it poasible to connect to the conference site. It will open around Sep 13. Registration will take place on the forthcoming online conference site/platform, and will enable participation in the actual conference. 

There will be a registration fee of $30 USD/£20 to pay for costs and allow this project to grow sustainably through our collective participation. I am trying to set up a concession fee of half price, but the platform currently does not allow for dual registration fees.

Yes. The programme will involve three sessions of 2hrs and 3 speakers each, with a 3hr break in between sessions. This means that every timezone will be able to catch at least 1-2 sessions live, which will allow not just for hearing the talks but contributing by way of questions, comments and discussion. The whole event, including contributions, will be recorded, so participants will be able to not miss a thing!

Yes, if you are registered. Access to the recording will be available to all registered participants only in the first instance. I hope in due course to make highlights openly available at some point, but I will need to sort some technicalities first. 

I am hoping to curate an artistic programme including live music and an arts exhibition including painting, photography and film/animation shorts. Fingers crossed. In addition, there will be spaces, breakout rooms hopefully, to carry on the discussion of the speakers' presentations. I also would like to incorporate blogger contributions, but haven't yet given thought to the how. The aim of these sections, beside acting as ladders to the soul, will be to showcase and disseminate Baha'i artists and bloggers to increase their audience and facilitate connection. The same facility for active rather than passive listening and connection through simultaneous chat will be available.

1) By letting people know. Wouldn't it be amazing if we had a thousand people interacting and together producing knowledge and spirit? Or 999, 1919, 9000 for those with a penchant for symbolism ;-)
2) By volunteering. I will be grateful for virtual ushers who can help do a test run in advance and get to know the very simple platform, and then help out on the day, by being ready to answer questions, and possibly help out in the breakout rooms. In addition to ushers, if someone has expertise in web design I might be able to enhance the event: useful extra, not a necessary. Also very useful would be someone who can put together a whole bunch of visual submissions into a single movie file in little time (nothing sophisticated). 3) I'm still open to submissions from artists who would like to promote their work, no promises but space is available. I'd love to have a classical musician or small ensemble wishing to perform live. Likewise a live musician from a non-European/North American musical tradition. If you know of anyone who should approach me, tell them to do so.

No, it is an individual initiative, so far organised entirely by yours truly. Actually I now have my first Usher volunteer, so there will eventually be two of us. Watch out world.

Looking into my divinatory dreams I see these conferences happening every 3 months each focused on a different theme. Of course it could just be a dream born of indigestion. But it was a great dish. Feel free to offer to present at future conferences on any topic whatsoever by contacting me privately. No promises again, the selection will depend on the theme and the diversity of participants I seek. Proposals from youth and those outside of Europe and North America are specially welcome.

A very few which should be natural: 1) Comments and participation will take place in an atmosphere of mutual hospitality and encouragement. 2) Discuassions will be focused on the theme of the conference. 3) Nettiquette, or the unwritten spirit of communication will be animated by consultation rather than debate, seeking consensus and while allowing and indeed encouraging a diversity of perspectives, entirely excluding controversy, arguments and conflict. Those departing from these simple rules will be encourages to channel their exchanges in alternative venues, and if disruptive will be politely asked to leave and their fees refunded.

No, unless after raising your hand to speak or contacting the chairperson you are given the virtual floor, so that your camera appears on the main screen. You don't have to do anything other than raise your virtual hand, everything is done for you. What the speakers will be able to see is the running commentary in the chat window as they speak, thus including not only questions and comments formally made at the end as in a physical conference, but those informally shared in conversation during and after their presentation.

A link will be sent to you following registration (see FAQ) which will take you to a button saying Launch Class. The instant you press that you will be magically transported to a world of exploration, deepening, discussion and inspiration. Better than Narnia and easier to get to. Not such good special effects though. Yet.

Yes, you can just sit back and enjoy the conference over your favourite cup of English tea, Kenyan coffee, Mexican horchata, Italian expresso, Mississippi milkshake (ok, made that one up but it alliterates nicely), without any expectation of putting your two cents/pennies/centavos/shells' worth into any discussions. Just hear, see, and enjoy. 

I feel duty bound to inform however that the conversation might be so interesting that against better instincts you might find yourself irresistibly drawn to write 'hear hear', say hello to someone whose ideas you liked, or offer that little insight you thought no one would want to read and gets you, a year later, the Nobel prize. You heard about it here first.

I can't think of any, it's an imagination hiccup no doubt. But surely you can. If you ask them you will be helping me and others too

Live Concert and Art Gallery in the Cloud!

I am very excited to announce that the Cloud Conference has just grown wings.  In addition to 9 remarkable speakers, we will have the first ever online live concert and the first ever curated online art gallery exhibiting an installation from artists around the globe. A range of musicians will be playing live  from their dens from all parts of the world. A host of painters, photographers, film makers, animators, poets, dancers, artisans, sculptors, will be exhibiting their work.

This will all take place in between the scholarly panels of speakers exploring the legacies and contemporary resonances of 'Abdu'l-Baha.  If you are an artist, and would like your work to be part of this installation, let me know.

Confirmed artists include, at least:

The Bird and the Butterfly (UK) - acoustic devotional folk

Kevin Locke - Award winning Lakota Flutist, Dancer and Storyteller

Misha Mayernick (USA) - Fine Artist

Elika Mahony (China) - Pianist

Sky (Greece) - Vocal ensemble

Derek Thompson (UK) - Photographer

Joel Grainger - (UK) Violinist

Andrea Hope (USA) - Poet

Cardiela Amezcua (Mexico) - Contemporary dancer

Corinne Randall (UK) - Painter

Mitra Docherty (Canada) - Photographer

Paula Bidwell (USA) - Lakota jeweller and fine artist

More in the wings!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Conference details

Online Baha'i Studies Conference: October 13, 2012

'Abdu'l-BaháLegacies and Resonances  

On the centenary of 'Abdu'l-Baha's historic voyage to the West, we take stock of the impacts, legacies and above all the ongoing relevance which the figure of 'Abdu'l-Baha still holds in a planet in transition. 

Among the speakers will be:

  • Robert Stockman (USA): author of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in America
  • Jan Jasion (France): author of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in France  and of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the West, A Biographical Guide to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Western Travels   
  • Arthur Dahl (Switzerland): President of the International Environment Forum and former Deputy Director at the United Nations Environment Programme
  • Gloria Yazdani (Canada): Artist, human rights activist and former co-editor of the Online Journal of Baha'i Studies
  • Steven Cooney (New Zealand): Independent scholar and editor the Baha'i Studies Review
  • Ismael Velasco (UK): Interdisciplinary Baha'i scholar and social action specialist

Participants at the conference will be as much protagonists as audience, the simple and accessible online conference platform making possible an unprecedented degree of interaction, reflection,  discussion and exchange. Outstanding participant contributions and conversations will be featured in the conference proceedings, subject to previous consent.

Participants will be able to put questions to the speakers, comment live, communicate with one another in public and in private, and contribute their own ideas in an innovative, scholarly, consultative atmosphere. All that you need is a computer and an internet connection... and presto!

Presentations will be recorded, so time-zone differences will be no barrier to attendance and no contribution will be missed.

The event will open for registrations the week of September 17, 2012. To make sure you are notified, communicate your wish to attend by joining the event on Facebook, or by sending an email.

Finally, why not take the jump and present a paper yourself?  Cloud Conferences will take place four times a year. The call for papers is for the whole year.There are no limitations on theme, discipline or topic for expressions of interest. Submissions from young scholars such as (but in no way limited to) graduate students are particularly welcome.

This is a global experiment in using new media in the pursuit of collaborative insight into the Baha'i teachings, community, history and spirit. Your participation might just help birth something beautiful and significant. 

Let others know and let's discover the power of word of mouth.

And now, let's hit the cloud.

Call for Papers

The Baha'i Studies Cloud Conference Series

Call for Papers

The current call for papers invites scholars in every discipline to submit proposals for scholarly papers or presentations directly relevant to any aspect of the Baha'i Faith, to be presented at one of the forthcoming conferences, which are anticipated to take place quarterly beginning in October 13. 

The presentations will be by video link in a very easy to use platform requiring only a web-cam and access to the Internet. You will be able to speak directly as well as use Powerpoint, distribute handouts and even use an on-line whiteboard live. Speakers will be able to interact with one another and take questions live from the audience, with a chairperson moderating. All this will be administered by the organisers, speakers only having to speak to camera and if appropriate progress through their slides. Technical help will be on hand in the unlikely case it is needed.

Outstanding papers and presentations will be published in the Baha'i Studies Review, subject to editorial approval and peer review.

Submissions from young scholars such as, but not in any way exclusively, graduate students, are particularly welcome.

What can be presented?

Themes for the conference can include any of the following and any others that may be pertinent:

Foundational research:
  • Baha'i history: including all periods and all degrees of Baha'i connection, biography, community histories, contextual studies.
  • Baha'i scripture and authoritative guidance: including manuscript history, provisional translations, vocabulary analysis and conceptual analysis.
  • Baha'i theology: including doctrines, ethics, principles of Baha'i administration, metaphysics, etc.

Correlational research:
Connecting Baha'i ideas, practices, institutions and models to issues, concepts, practices, approaches, models and institutions in any field of human endeavour such as:
  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Natural sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Law
  • Community building
  • Sustainable development
  • Business 
  • Agriculture
  • Tourism
  • Indigenous rights, traditions and perspectives
  • Medicine
  • Arts

Comparative research:

Studies that compare Baha'i ideas, institutions or practices to those of other communities, traditions, institutions, philosophies, etc.

Descriptive research:

Studies that capture the way the Baha'i community operates in practice, including approaches such as:
  • Ethnography
  • Sociology - quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods
  • Action research
  • Appreciative inquiry

Who to contact?

Those interested should contact Ismael Velasco with a proposal, ideally with an abstract, although at this point an expression of interest will be adequate. It would be greatly appreciated if you would collaborate in the dissemination of this call for papers across your relevant networks and contacts.

With high hopes of your support and scholarly contribution to this potentially historic new development in Baha'i scholarship,

Ismael Velasco