By Adéjoké Rafiat Adétòrò
From 1 – 3 of July 2019, I attended the 9th Toyin Falola Annual International Conference on Africa and the Africa Diaspora (TOFAC) held at the Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria. The theme of the conference was ‘Religion, the State and Global Politics’. Coincidentally, there was a particular panel session at this conference that I found fascinating. The panel was titled Faith-based institutions and Holistic Education: Babcock experience. I found this interesting because of my ongoing PhD research on religiosity on university campuses. I was looking forward to hearing – the why and how – faith-based universities incorporate religious principles with secular education. I also was keen on knowing the goal and strategy adopted by Babcock University.
From the beginning, religion featured as part of the conference’s programme. Every morning before the panel sessions started, conference participants converged in the auditorium for what they called – devotional. This devotional comprised a session of songs and praise and a sermon. I certainly did not expect this. It is an unfamiliar experience because it was not my first time attending an academic conference at a faith-based university.
Religiosity and Higher Educational Institutions in Nigeria
Owolabi suggests that education, by its nature, is an instrument of promoting public morality and has a powerful affinity and is linked to ethics (Owolabi, 2000: 289-301). There are about 174 universities in Nigeria at present, categorised as federal, state and private institutions. Seventy-nine (79) of these institutions are private institutions, and an impressive number of them are faith-based establishments. The introduction of western education in 1842 is one of the highlights of Nigeria’s Christian Missionary activities. By 1948, following the report and recommendations of the Elliot Commission set up by the British colonial government, they agreed to found two universities in Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Nigeria. Hence, the founding of University College Ibadan (UCI), now the University of Ibadan, since 1962.
At the commencement of university education in Nigeria, its advocates considered it a national development tool. However, by the 1970s, a charismatic explosion happened at the University of Ibadan, leading to increased campus-based evangelical outreaches by university students across the country. Consequently, the universities increasingly became enabling environments for the development of students’ spiritual attitudes and affiliations.
According to Christiano, religiosity is a general term used in the scientific study of religion to refer to individuals’ beliefs and behaviours that address ultimate or transcendent concerns (Christiano, 2001). Several universities established by faith-based institutions in Nigeria adopt holistic education as the prop of their service. Holistic education concerns developing a person’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical and spiritual potentials.
Faith-based institution and Holistic Education: The Babcock experience
On April 20, 1999, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced three institutions as the first set of private universities. One of them is Babcock University, established by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It grew from a college established in 1959 for training church workers from the West African sub-region.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA), established by Elder D. C. Babcock, a Sierra Leonean missionary to Nigeria in 1914, is a Christian denomination known for keeping Saturday work and event-free but as a worship day. They have also incorporated this act into the university’s calendar by regulating that by 1.00 p.m. on Fridays, all offices and work activities at Babcock University end. The goal is to enable all employees to prepare for the Sabbath hour, which ends on Saturday evening. Seventh-day Adventist’s education philosophy is Christ-centred, adopting a holistic education that involves spiritual, physical, and intellectual dimensions. They believe that a necessity for qualitative education is to incorporate religious principles into secular education.
The university’s Department of Religious Studies organised this special panel I attended that comprised faculty members from humanities, law, social sciences and agricultural sciences. Some of these panellists are, in fact, clerics of the SDA. My first observation of this panel was that it appeared to be more of an advertisement for the institution than an academic presentation. Other than the five panellists, there were only four people in the audience. Of the four attendees were two people, including myself, whose research interests resonated with the panel’s title. Also in attendance was a lecturer who wanted to know the peculiarity of Babcock’s experience compared to the faith-based institution where they taught. The fourth person was an alumnus of Babcock, who gave testimony of the efficacy of the institution’s method of knowledge production and dissemination.
The strategy adopted by Babcock University towards holistic education is said to be enshrined in the institution’s philosophy of establishment. Religion being the fundamental principle for founding the institution, is regarded as a tool for redemption and reformation. This informed their adoption of holistic education, which integrates the denomination’s spiritual, social and physical values with the university’s academic curriculum. As far as the curriculum is concerned, the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) oversees curriculum building for higher educational institutions in Nigeria. However, the Seventh Day Adventist’s International Board of Education and Adventist Accreditation Association’s philosophy guides Babcock University’s curriculum. The panellists claimed that at all levels, their academic curriculum contains compulsory biblical courses like biblical principles of personal and professional life and character formation and spiritual growth. They have equally developed biblical references for other secular academic studies to teach courses like the biblical foundation of Biochemistry and Agricultural science.
One then wonders how the university manages to integrate religious curricula into the academic fabric. There is the Office of Institutional Effectiveness (OIE) which is the coordinating node for this integration. The office trains students on integrating learning and faith through conferences, workshops and opportunities for individual meetings. At the same time, they teach staff how to incorporate teaching and faith. The panellists argued that the institution emphasises ‘education for eternity’ and ‘education and redemption’, which informs why attendance at chapel seminars, a prayer forum for students and faculty members is compulsory. According to Adebola Olayinka, one of the university’s researchers, students are encouraged to take religion as a ‘developmental focus’, because of their believe that the university is ‘God’s chosen’ to re-engineer Nigeria they are expected not just to attend church programmes but to manifest the teachings in their everyday activities.
Their take on spirituality is that for Babcock University, religion is more than a struggle against immorality, unlike other faith-based institutions. The university is also committed to the global mission of human salvation, emphasising redemption and education. Recently, when the university expelled a student for engaging in an ‘immoral act’, the institution stated that they could take her back if she were repentant.
One takeaway from the panellists’ claims and description is that the education provided by faith-based universities in Nigeria seeks to integrate religious principles with social and academic curricula. The university campus is assumed to be an appropriate site to achieve this goal. Punitive measures are also in place to ensure that students adhere and reflect the knowledge they are receiving. By carefully curating academics and students’ activities, their social life and professional engagement should mirror the biblical teachings derived from the Seventh Day Adventist philosophy.
Holistics Education http://www.schoolaroundus.org/holisticeducation
Babcock University https://www.babcock.edu.ng/about
Seventh-Day Adventist Church In Nigeria- Facts and History http://www.adventistnaija.com/2016/04/seventh-day-adventist-church-in-nigeria.htm