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rom the onset, most religious academic institutions in Nigeria have set their religious beliefs on a pedestal to be worshipped by anyone who passes through their hallowed halls. Imposition of religious beliefs is seen at every level of educational institutions up into the university where you supposedly begin to make choices of your own. At the lower level institutions, it is almost a thing of religious conditioning. The children become familiar with the practices of this religion at a young age and become accustomed to it before their minds are developed enough to make independent decisions.
The Thorny Issue of religion in Nigerian Universities
Speaking to a couple of parents who enrolled their wards in a religious university, it seems they have a different perspective. Mrs Odiase, a proud parent and fee-payer, fully stands by the prestigious faith-based institutions that she sees as the morally sound choice for her offspring. She also believes that there is no harm done by institutions imposing their religious doctrine, because, in her view, all religion is in pursuit of the same cause. Religious universities in Nigeria, most of which are of the Christian faith, have always been somewhat stricter with rules and put their students under undue pressure to conform. The endless rules usually perceived as disciplinary actions guided by religious enthusiasts strain the students, affecting their academic performance. Undergraduates are adults and should be given the room to decide certain things for themselves, especially in the area of religious doctrine. Their views may not always align with the beliefs of some faith-based universities but that does not make it wrong.
The goal may be to evangelize and win souls but it seems as though it has become the stated aim of faith-based universities to make students yield to their beliefs and practices by any means necessary. Certain institutions have even resorted to embedding these Christian doctrines into most aspects of the school’s activities and curriculum. Weaving these religious practices into the curriculum is no guarantee that scholars will be open to adopting them, as this is not the primary motivation for enrollment.
An undergraduate’s perception of a university is of a citadel of learning where they can – in unfettered intellectual freedom – acquire critical analytical and reasoning skills to aid the pursuit of their chosen area of specialization. What purpose does religious doctrine serve in this academic pursuit? How does it contribute to the analytical and reasoning skills they seek? These are questions universities must ponder before imposing their religious stricture on students. I believe that faith-based universities should be more open, giving students the intellectual freedom to decide on what religious practices they espouse. It creates a healthier environment for the students to fully explore their spirituality.
Not all but I’d like to believe that a significant number of students have some religious background from their homes. An environment with religious practices that do not mirror the student’s beliefs has the potential to sever that spiritual connection made with the doctrine of their upbringing for the time being, causing spiritual turmoil and possible resentment. Afe Babalola University is one higher institution that has embraced religious diversity, and, in doing so, created an environment that accommodates all. They organize an interfaith service welcoming every religious community on their campus, giving students the room to continue familial religious practices on campus.
The motivations for mandating students to take specific faith-based examinations and course curriculum might be construed in some quarters as manipulative, as the students are somewhat forced to prioritise religious doctrines that they have no interest in one way or another.
One result of this sort of manipulation might be the abandonment of the concept of religion as a whole. In a society like Nigeria where faith is a key contributor to our social construct, this may be seen as a negative outcome. Undergraduates of faith-based universities, it would seem, dedicate an inordinate amount of time to study doctrine specific to their university, learning its history and key principles with no clear academic benefits. Some former and current Babcock University students I recently interviewed had some opinions on the matter. John Eze, a Babcock alumnus, concedes that attending a religious university means you have agreed to accept the religion being practiced in that institution – even though he found some of the demands a little disruptive to his academics.
But what is an institution’s reputation built on? Its religious beliefs or its academic standards? When selecting a higher institution, if the decision is theirs, students enroll on the basis of the academic excellence that can be attained. For prospective undergraduates this is a first-order consideration. According to Mrs. Odaise, she believes that Babcock University’s academic standards are unmatched and this was an encouraging factor to enroll her wards; their somewhat different religious doctrine did not deter her from acknowledging the strengths of the university.
Beliefs associated with religion are a path of devotion, people dedicate themselves to this path, building their moral compass around the principles espoused by its teachings. It holds immeasurable value and taking on new religious doctrine requires a casting aside of some former beliefs to follow new guiding principles. This is a journey that should be embarked upon willingly. Imposing religion on an unwilling person leaves room not just for skepticism but also for resentment.
Institutions must embrace the realisation that robbing young adults of the right to choose their own religious affiliations via manipulation or compulsion implies a lack of trust in the merits of their arguments. It is sprung from the mentality that one religious doctrine is superior to another. For skeptics or agnostics this provides further reasons to consciously uncouple from religion altogether.
Tiwa, a final-year Babcock University undergraduate, mentioned that refusal to attend church services could lead to dire consequences such as demerits, with repeat offenders possibly earning themselves an extra year for their worries. My view is that imposing these Christian doctrines less forcefully might be a better approach. I am for giving undergraduates a choice on whether and what religious practices they subscribe to instead of subjecting them to compulsion. The parents pay the fees but students pay the real price of forfeiting their right to practice whatever religion they deem fit. The minds of young adults are always susceptible to change but using coercive or controlling methods may only serve to alienate them, ruining chances to reach them of their own volition.
The hurt of course doesn’t stop at alienation, as young adults who reject these religious practices earn the moniker of rebel. These tags once applied also influence the behavior of the recipient adversely, causing them to either lose their individuality and agency by seeking to comply – just to avoid censure – if they have a compliant personality or to double down and begin to act out if they have a more defiant personality.
Either of the aforementioned outcomes is negative. Citadels of learning where intellectual curiosity thrives, in whatever form it appears or at whichever subject matter it is in pursuit of, ought to be encouraged and celebrated. Choosing one’s religious affiliations should be no different. If undertaken without the influence of school or home then dedication is the more likely outcome.
My dear mother, Mrs. Augustina Egboh, believes that attendance at faith-based universities makes young adults more responsible because they are guided by the religion. I, however, believe if a person has to be forcibly guided by religious doctrine to act responsibly, then they lack good virtues. Religious observance is not the qualification that makes a person virtuous. Adopting the mentality that allows a person to make good decisions and conduct themselves in a positive manner is what qualifies a person as responsible. Parents laud faith-based universities for their perceived rectitude and the belief that their morals are backed by religion.
Why do universities need religion to justify these strict and overbearing disciplinary measures? Is it an excuse to control the lives of the young undergraduates and forcibly mould them into the perfect replica of the ideal follower? It feels as though the faith-based universities are less interested in what future the young adults make of themselves and more interested in their adherence to a narrow definition of religious mores, regardless of how the imposition affects the recipients.comments powered by Disqus