Why the narratives of America?

As a country, we are grappling with challenging issues: racism, economic inequality, violence, environmental degradation and climate change, a mental and behavioral health crisis, a democratic crisis, and more. Increasingly, American society finds itself paralyzed and divided about matters of truth, morality, identity and collective purpose, with cleavages around these questions threatening the very stability of America's social and political order. We have vast, though not fully tapped, talent, and abundant resources. High-minded and gifted souls, and dedicated and forward-thinking organizations are striving to address the needs of our times. And their accomplishments should in no way be minimized. But our capacity to solve these problems is not yet apparent

Complex problems must be addressed through multiple dimensions. The challenges we face call for change in both our individual and collective lives. We need change in behavior and practice, in the structures and institutions of society, and in the very foundations of thought upon which our social order is built. We need processes of both dismantling and building up. This project highlights the power of narrative building as one component of a multifaceted response to the challenges we face. It can complement other efforts, such as grass-roots work, movement building, and advocacy for legislative responses to our needs.

Questions about the narratives of America are surfacing in popular discourse. Erased or forgotten histories are coming to light. Stories are being recast to record not only oppression, but also the agency, dignity, and contributions of diverse groups. This is crucial, on-going work. Further, we are still trying to work out how multiple narratives, new and old, relate to one another. How do traditional understandings shift in light of new ones? And what is the shared story created by these many, diverse narratives? How can a shared story of America foster the unfoldment of these particular stories? How might it help us understand how our fates are bound together or bring to light our unrealized collective potential? How could it help us build shared vision and purpose? 

The US Baha'i Office of Public Affairs is one of many organizations that are investing in this discourse as one way to help us move forward as a country. This website is meant to support a community of discourse on these questions, and to serve as a resource for individuals and organizations that are interested in this work.

The project

The project started as an effort to follow a growing discourse on narratives of America in the press and other forums. The 1619 Project was one well-known contribution to that discourse. Various questions related to narratives of America were gaining more attention from a range of perspectives during and after the pandemic. This discourse speaks to deeper undercurrents in discourse areas our office follows, such as racial justice and economic justice. It seems likely to grow in importance as we approach the 250th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.

The first conversation on the topic was convened in August 2022. Over the year that followed, we hosted fifteen more sessions with about a hundred participants, drawn from the networks of the Baha'i community and of the organizations that we are in touch with. Insights from those gatherings have been iteratively incorporated into a concept note that is used to frame subsequent conversations. 

We are continuing to expand the conversation and the diversity of the participants, and are learning about contextualizing the conversation for particular perspectives. We offer the evolving concept note and related texts as open source materials for others who would like to convene conversations about narratives of America. This can be with or without the involvement of our office, though we are always happy to hear about any spaces convened and what is learned in them.

Who we are

The Baha'i community

The Baha'is are a worldwide faith-based community dedicated to the process of social transformation toward peace, justice and shared prosperity for all people and groups. We are making systematic grassroots efforts in thousands of localities to empower individuals, especially the young, to see themselves as protagonists of change and to work together to address the needs of their communities. Baha’is work alongside like-minded collaborators in these activities, and also join into the work of organizations who share their aspirations for humanity. In addition, the Baha'i community seeks to contribute at the level of thought, to engage prevalent discourses in society in order to help lay the spiritual and intellectual foundations for a new social order. All of this work proceeds through a process of learning-in-action.

In addition, the Baha'i community seeks to contribute at the level of thought, to engage prevalent discourses in society in order to learn with others about how to cultivate the understanding, ideas, attitudes and values that can shape a social fabric that uplifts and respects all.

The Office of Public Affairs

The US Baha'i Office of Public Affairs represents the American Baha'i community with a focus on discourses at the national level that address social well-being. We draw on insights from the teachings of Baha’u’llah (the founder of the Baha'i Faith) and from the learning the Baha'i community is gaining through its work, and we offer these insights in a spirit of shared endeavor to the evolving thought in society. We believe that in America, as in the world as a whole, our fates are intertwined and we have as-yet-untapped capacity to build the social reality that will allow us all to thrive. 

The project team