Religious studies scholarship in Nigeria: the professional ethics imperative.

Author:Ayantayo, Jacob Kehinde


The need for professional ethics in several professions such as medicine, nursing, computer, accountancy financial management, information systems among others (Chadwick, 1998) has received much attention in scholarly and non-scholarly world across the globe but with little or nothing said or written about Religious Studies scholarship. Thus, as many people (trained, untrained and semi trained) are taking much interest in Religious Studies today thus expanding the horizon of the field in general, there is an urgent need for appropriate professional ethics in Religious Studies scholarship enterprise. This is imperative because within the context of millennial goals development, one of the outstanding issues deserving attention is the quest for professionalism in all aspects of human endeavour. Professionalism in all its form and context is an effort geared towards perfection, dedication to duty and enhancement of competency so that proper things (duties) are done in a proper manner not only for the benefit of the doers but also for the advantage of individuals, group of individuals and the entire community who are always at the receiving ends of what everybody does at one time or the other. It is in light of this, that people talk of professional ethics, which simply concerns one's conduct of behaviour and practices when carrying out professional work. Such work includes lecturing or teaching, researching and writing. In other words, code of ethics guiding the above are concerned with a range of issues such as academic honesty, data privacy professional accountability, impartiality in data analysis and professional consulting among others.

Scope and Methodology

The work is strictly restricted to discussion about the essence, benefit and implications of designing and implementing Codes of ethics for Religious Studies scholarship The method of approach is both descriptive and argumentative and these would be done within the ambit of functionalism theory propounded by Talcot Parson and expanded by Emile Durkheim. This theory suggests that society is an organic whole each of its constituent parts working to maintain the others and the body as a whole. This theory is relevant to our examination of the relevance of code of ethics for Religious Studies scholarship because it would help scholars of religion make meaningful the phenomenon of religion as an institution with capacity to enhancing, preserving and maintaining a stable social whole. To make sense of this desire before our readers, precisely the target audiences- scholars of Religious Studies, we also advance more argument from the viewpoint of Immanuel Kant's theory of categorical imperative, which suggests, "Do unto others what we expect others to do unto us" ( column/kantcategorical-imperative.html) The merits of Kant's categorical imperative to scholars of Religious Studies is that it would help them overcome egoism, which manifest in seeing sense only in the religions they practice as against other religions different from theirs.

This will probably forbid them, that is, scholars of Religious Studies, from action (teaching and researching) characterized by selfish interest. It would also make them uphold code of morality associated with their profession, which firmly establishes the reign of reason, elevates the dignity of man and his religion and appreciate the sensibility in religious practice. In the end, this would encourage them to engage in more rational and objective scholarship independent of bias and sentiment.

In addition to the theoretical aspect of the research methodology, through interview, we also elicit information from stakeholders in Religious Studies scholarship precisely students and lecturers in the Department of Religious Studies in the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. The questions we asked them pertained to religious profiles of academic staff in the Universities. This is done to know how many of them are priests and priestesses. Other questions relate to Students' assessment of their lecturers on whether or not they are subjective in the lecturing. Answers to the question have implications for understanding our subject of discussion.

Furthermore, it is important to note from the beginning that the call for a code of ethics in Religious Studies scholarship does not presuppose that scholars of religion have been doing their work without reference to ethics or that they are ignorant of the ethical implications of their scholarship. But beyond this, there are at least five interrelated reasons why the call is imperative. These are explained as follows:

Ignorance Syndrome

Many people think that Religious Studies is mainly about studying the Bible and Qur'an. Both scholars and non-scholars of Religious Studies express this ignorance. Ignorance in the context of our discussion refers to lack of knowledge or information about particular doctrinal religious beliefs and practices. It could be a lack of sufficient knowledge or information about religion we ourselves practise by another person belonging to a religious faith different from ours. The meeting point between the two is lack of sufficient knowledge about a particular religion in terms of its cardinal beliefs and practises at one point or the other. For example, an average Nigerian Christian/Muslim does not have sufficient knowledge of what Christianity or Islam stands for. This happens because majority of them either rely on their pastors, Imams and other leaders for the little they know about the religion as most of them hardly create time to read the Bible or the Qur'an on their own. The over dependence on the religious leaders probably heightens the degree of religious ignorance among Nigerian religious practitioners. Besides, a few of them are religious converts who are probably yet to have firm root in the new religion.

Even the old converts, especially the first generation who got converted from African traditional religions to either Islam or Christianity also still know little about the religions because some of them were blackmailed to become Christians or Muslims. They did not willingly change their traditional religions. This is evident in some of the words used by Christian and Islamic missionaries when they had contact with the traditional religious practitioners. For example, the traditional religious practitioners were called names such as ajebo--ritual eater, elebo--ritual maker This got to the climax when the Western anthropologists who studied African Traditional Religions used derogatory words such as paganism, fetishism, juju, and idolatry (to mention but a few) to describe traditional religion (Parrinder, 1977:7-13).

Possible Temptation

There is the tendency for scholars of Religious Studies to want to advance their religions in the course of teaching a course because some of them do think the period of teaching always offers opportunity to evangelize or proselytize thinking that such has divine blessing. This becomes an issue especially since the majority of lecturers in Religious Studies are priests and priestess in their different religious affiliations.

This assertion is buttressed by some statistical information gathered from some Universities in the South Western Nigeria. For instance: (1) In the Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan Out of 14 members of staff, 9 of them are priests in their churches while only 5 who are non priests hold one ecclesiastical position or the other in their churches. (2) In the Department of Islamic and Arabic Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, all the nine members of academic staff are Muslims. In the University of Ibadan, I learnt that some Muslims demand that only Muslims by faith and practice are the ones teaching Islamic and Arabic Studies. Statistically, all lectures in the Department of Islamic and Arabic Studies Muslims. (3) Also in the Department of Religious Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, there are 15 members of academic staff. Statistically 2 of them are Muslims and are also Alhaji while the rest that is 13 are Christians by religious profession. 7 out of them 13 are practicing priests.

Qualification Debate.

There is this insinuation and impression going on among the public and scholars alike that a practicing religious person who is also a scholar of Religious Studies can not teach religions different from the one he/she practices without showing prejudice; hence the cold war between Christians and Muslims in some Universities. This perhaps account for the establishment of the Department of Islamic and Arabic Studies in the University of Ibadan independent of Department of Religious Studies.

The Sensitivity of Religion in Nigeria

The sensitivity of religion itself and its implications in Religiously pluralistic society like Nigeria. In Nigeria religion has been a sensitive enterprise because anything said about religion is capable of being interpreted negatively or positively. This owes largely to high degree of religious misconceptions among scholars and non-scholars of religions. Both the adherents of a religion and non-adherents more often than...

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