Talks for Cambridge Festival 2023

Education: The Evolutionary Engine of Civilisation

Date: Sunday, 26 March, 3:00pm-4:30pm
Venue: Sidney Sussex College, William Mong Hall, Sidney Street, CB2 3HU

Ongoing, accelerating and escalating global crises may lead some to despair. From an evolutionary perspective, however, this may not be just another random resurgence of trouble and conflict in the world: we may be experiencing birth pangs of the next phase in the unfolding of civilisation.

This period of intense transformation is ripe with occasions for genuine breakthrough as well as spectres of catastrophic breakdown. Humankind is becoming painfully aware of its essential interdependence and unity – learning, in profound and tangible ways, that “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens” (Bahá’u’lláh, circa 1880).

From simple bands of hunter-gatherers, our species has emerged, through increasing complexity and deepening cooperation, into tribal societies, city-states and nation-states. Now we stand at the threshold of an emerging world society and the possibility of global civilisation.

There is a fundamentally ethical dimension to this evolution: from primordial animalistic egoism and self-love, advancing towards various degrees of limited social altruism and loyalties, and now approaching the possibility of genuine universal coherence and belonging.

Alongside this ethical dimension, workings of an educational momentum can be seen: human potential would have remained dormant, unrealised, were it not for some form of active educational influence – left to mere ‘cumulative self-learning’, neither individual humans nor our collective species could have attained to their inherent potentialities.

The effects of this educational impulse run like a story line in the annals of history. Responding, though reluctantly, to the promptings of this momentum, peoples have progressively attained to the intellectual, moral and spiritual capacities that serve to civilise human character. Today, the opportunities offered by a profoundly global perspective give this age-long process entirely new dimensions and new meaning, opening civilisational prospects undreamt of in earlier ages.

Exploring this narrative of recurring social, ethical and spiritual education can help us to understand the dynamics of constructive and destructive forces in history.

Dr Partow Izadi explores these insights in a conversational session organised by the Cambridge University Bahá’í Society. Dr Izadi is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lapland. His areas of expertise include systems theory, global education, evolution of civilisation and universal ethos.

Registration page:

‘Eleven’: The Rising Global Population and the Future of Humanity

Date: Wednesday, 29 March, 8:00pm-9:00pm
Venue: Online (Zoom Webinar)

United Nations projections show the global population reaching 11 billion and the world economy growing 500% by the end of this century. Can the planet accommodate 3 billion more people when our current ecological footprint already exceeds Earth’s biocapacity? This question will preoccupy humanity throughout this century, affecting everything we do from designing cities to producing food to using energy. Our mission is daunting. Somehow, we have to support 40% more people, raise billions out of poverty and reduce our ecological footprint to the sustainable level it was when we were just 4 billion. However, every facet of our social, economic and political order – indeed the totality of the dominant global culture – compels us to maintain the status quo. Clearly, we have to change direction.

Join Paul Hanley, journalist, author of the award-winning book ELEVEN and Bahá’í, as he considers how we got into this predicament and maps a way forward.

Paul is a recipient of the Canadian Environment Award, the Meewasin Conservation Award, the Saskatchewan Sustainability Award and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Food System Vision 2050 Prize. His book ELEVEN received the 2015 University of Saskatchewan President’s Award for Non-fiction. His biography Man of the Trees: Richard St Barbe Baker, the First Global Conservationist features an introduction by Jane Goodall and a foreword by HRH King Charles. He has published a total of six books and 1,600 articles on the environment, sustainable development, agriculture and other topics. Alongside his writing, Paul has extensive practical experience in organic gardening, living on an off-grid acreage in Saskatchewan for 10 years, and helping to build Saskatchewan’s organic farming movements.

Registration page:

Update: You can watch a recording of this talk on our YouTube channel at:

Festival of Ideas 2019

The Cambridge University Bahá’í society has organised two events this year as part of the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas. Both events will take place on Saturday, 19 October 2019.

Educating for sustainable peace in a turbulent world

Saturday 19 October: 6:00pm – 7:00pm

University Centre, Granta Place Mill Lane, CB2 1RU

In a world increasingly destabilised by socio-political, economic and environmental conflict, is there hope for sustainable peace? A talk by Dr Sara Clarke-Habibi.

Dr Sara Clarke-Habibi has worked on peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries including Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Mexico and Cyprus. Drawing on education research, Dr Clarke-Habibi discusses how our understanding of the prerequisites of sustainable peace have changed over the last half-century in response to two global processes and links these insights to a Baha’i perspective on the future of the world.

Sara Clarke-Habibi researches on education in contexts of armed conflict, forced migration and mass violence. Sara holds a PhD in Education from the University of Cambridge (UK), an MA in Conflict Resolution from Landegg International University (Switzerland), and a BA in Ethics, Society and Law from the University of Toronto (Canada). She teaches on the intersection of education with issues of armed conflict, genocide, transitional justice, peacebuilding, social healing and reconciliation.

Organised by the Cambridge University Bahá’í Society for the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

Booking website for tickets (free entry, open to all):

Change on the global stage: what makes an ‘International community’?

Saturday 19 October: 8:00pm – 9:00pm

University Centre, Granta Place Mill Lane, CB2 1RU

Global challenges call us to unprecedented new levels of international cooperation. Will we rise to the occasion?

Maja Groff is an international lawyer based in The Hague. She is a graduate of Harvard, Oxford and McGill Universities, and was a winner of the prestigious 2018 New Shape Prize for proposing global solutions to humanity’s problems.

Organised by the Cambridge University Bahá’í Society for the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

Booking website for tickets (free entry, open to all):

To Light a Candle


To Light a Candle

27th February at 7:00pm
Lecture Room, Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge, CB2 8PE

Film duration: 55 minutes

Iran stops Bahá’ís from teaching and studying at university. But they do teach. And they do study.

“To Light a Candle” chronicles the lives of Bahá’ís in Iran, who have triumphed against unbelievable hardships and persecution. The Bahá’ís are a religious minority that are systematically imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Iranian government.

The Islamic regime bans the Bahá’ís to study or teach in Iranian universities. Since 1987 the Bahá’ís started the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an underground university with hundreds of students in Iran, and dozens of teachers in Iran and around the world. Through powerful interviews, exclusive secret footage shot by citizen journalists, rare archival material and letters written by a Bahá’í prisoner currently in jail in Iran, “To Light a Candle” shows how a small minority has defied the brutal systematic religious persecution through non-violent resistance and educating their youth.

“Excluded but not Defeated” talk on 7th May

Excluded but not Defeated: The Constructive Resilience of Bahá’ís in Iran in Light of Education Denial

Wednesday, 7th May, from 7:30-9:30pm, in the Latimer Room (Old Court) of Clare College on Trinity Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1TL

In this presentation, Dr. Ghanea will explore the themes of exclusion, constructive resilience, and education access as they apply to the current political situation in Iran, where Bahá’ís and other minority groups are systemically denied human rights. She will discuss these issues in light of both historical and legal aspects, applying Bahá’í principles derived from the Faith’s scriptural texts. Her talk will be accompanied by portions of the 30-minute documentary Education Under Fire. This film addresses the denial of higher education to Bahá’ís in Iran and the need for schools to consider offering academic credit to Iranian students through distance learning programmes.
Nazila Ghanea, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford and a member of the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief.  She serves on the board of governors of the United Rights Group and was part of a research team investigating Religion and Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales until early 2013.  Nazila has acted as a human rights consultant for a number of governments, the United Nations, UNESCO, OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the EU.  Her publications include 9 books, a number of UN publications, and numerous journal articles and reports, including Are religious minorities really minorities?; Does God Believe in Human Rights?; and Human Rights, the UN, and Bahá’ís in Iran.  Additionally, she has published an analysis of Iran’s proposed human rights charter in EJIL Talk, the blog of the European Journal of International Law, on December 10, 2013.


Download the flyer

Screening of “Education Under Fire” documentary

EUF flier


THURS, JANUARY 31st, 7:30 p.m.

Latimer Room, Clare College, CB3 9AJ

The 30-minute documentary “Education Under Fire” will be shown, addressing the denial of higher education to Baha’is in Iran.  There will also be Iranian Baha’i students who have experienced education denial first-hand speaking out at the event and available to answer questions.


“One of the most powerful human documentaries I have ever seen, Education Under Fire is sure to galvanize viewers who will be exposed to an outrage that until now has received little attention—the systematic denial of an entire religious community of the right to pursue higher education in their own country.”

–Elise Auerbach, Iran Specialist for Amnesty International USA

View the flier for this event.

Sponsored by the Cambridge University Baha’i Society