Dr. Venters presents at conference in Israel

Daniel Purves, Staff Writer

A paper presented by a Francis Marion University professor has been warmly received at an international conference on modern religions, in Jerusalem, Israel.

“I was really impressed by the reception of the paper,” Assistant Professor of History Dr. Louis Venters said. “There were lots of favorable comments from individuals that came up afterwards. The conference organizer asked for a written version to appear in an edited volume.”

The Third International Conference on Modern Religions and Religious Movements was held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for four days, and was sponsored by the Chair of Baha’i studies.

Venters’ paper was an overview of his dissertation on the role of the Baha’i faith forming inter-racial faith communities in South Carolina during the early 20th century.

“It is now the largest religious minority in South Carolina,” Venters said. “It is bigger than both Judaism and Islam.”

The Baha’i faith is the newest monotheistic religion. It was founded in 1884 in Iran by Baha’u’llah, whose name means ‘Glory of God’.

“He claimed to be the promised one, sent to unite human race in one just, spiritual society,” Venters said. “The Baha’i faith came to America in the early 1890s and during segregation it was one of the only religious communities that cultivated interracial relationships.”

In the days prior to the conference, Venters and his wife visited the Baha’i World Centre in northern Israel, the spiritual and administrative heart of the faith.

“The best part of the trip was the visit to the Baha’i World Centre,” Venters said. “As lovely as Jerusalem is, the Centre has a serenity and spirituality, people of all different backgrounds coming together in harmony. Jerusalem, while it is very diverse, is internally divided.”

A planned tour of the Old City in Jerusalem on the third day of the conference was cancelled because of the bombing of a bus station in the downtown region of Jerusalem, the first such attack since 2004, which killed one person and injured more than 30 others.

Venters said that he almost missed the news, and it was only through a conversation that he learned what happened.

“It did not feel violent or unsafe, and I wouldn’t have known had I not been told,” Venters said.

The city was not fazed by the attack, and a planned marathon involving thousands of people went ahead a few days later.

Despite not being able to go on the organized trip, Venters took the opportunity to visit the Old City, something he had not been able to do on a previous trip.

“Israel is beautiful,” Venters said. “Americans have this idea that it is dry, and while the country is in a desert region, after a winter and spring of rains, there are flowers everywhere. They were overflowing from windowsills, and the Wailing Wall had plants growing in it.”

Venters also commented that the population was very diverse, with Jews from all over the world including North Africa, Ethiopia and Russia, as well as Arabs, all living together in the city.

“The people are pretty,” Venters said. “It was stimulating to be around so many folks.”

The trip was funded by FMU’s Professional Development Plan, which aims to enhance faculty members knowledge skills and ability.

“Take advantage of any opportunity to visit Israel,” Venters said. “It should be on everyone’s list. Too often it is written off. There is so much history there, so much to learn, it has been fulcrum for the human race.”