Segun Ogungbemi on “What does philosophy of religion offer to the modern university?”

Segun OgungbemiSegun Ogungbemi is Professor of Philosophy at Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba in Nigeria. We invited him to answer the question “What does philosophy of religion offer to the modern university?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

I consider it a great honor to be invited by Professor Wesley J. Wildman (Boston University) to participate in the debate on “What does philosophy of religion have to offer to modern university?” I consider the question raised relevant in the wake of a modern trend that lays emphasis on science and technology, and entrepreneurial study or skill acquisition and other forms of education that are economically/financially self-sustaining, rather than the teaching of humanities. I want to make a little contribution from my personal experience of teaching of Philosophy of Religion as an integral part of intellectual and academic discipline in contemporary studies of humanities in Africa.

Personal experience as a student in the academy

  1. University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria

In the 1974/75 academic session at University of Ibadan where I first had my university training and exposure, I took a course under Dr. ‘Sola Olukunle titled: Introduction of Philosophy of Religion.  The course was thought provoking to the extent that I started wondering why I registered for it, but its intellectual challenges encouraged me to hold on. Little did I know that it would lead me out of my Christian religious parochialism and intolerance of other religious beliefs and to a more epistemologically nuanced understanding of religious propositions with robust moral values that could enrich and enhance my existential worldview. I attach a lot of importance to that humble beginning in search of true religious knowledge each time I reflect on my academic journey to where I have found myself among the intellectuals and academics all over the globe. But that humble beginning was a mere starting point. It was a necessary step I took on the academic ladder of knowledge that enabled me to move on to the next rung of the ladder.

  1. Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

I counted myself one of the luckiest students to be admitted to the institution with admission and scholarship in 1978. Perkins became my next step on the academic ladder to discover more critical and liberal knowledge of Philosophy of Religion and other disciplines, namely: Philosophical Theology, Moral Theology, and Church History among others. I cannot forget some of the profound minds and distinguished scholars who taught me namely, Schubert M. Ogden, Joseph L. Allen, Charles M. Wood, Leroy T. Howe, and William S. Babcock who are now Professors Emeritus on whose threshold of knowledge I gingerly tread to reach my professional discipline in philosophy. In the foregoing, the question of what philosophy of religion offer to modern university is thus far explained from my intellectual curiosity in search for answers that led me to Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. It offered me the opportunity to have contacts with great minds in the field and outside it. It allowed me to explain my personal views on issues that I was initially afraid of addressing publicly among my peers in Nigeria to avoid being labeled an atheist who will find his place in hell fire. I must say that my fellow students in my classes contributed as well to my growth and wealth of knowledge because we shared different views on the great subject of philosophy of religion. Our disagreements concerning, for instance, the question of the existence of God, the problem of evil, the relationship between faith and reason, the issue of miracles, death and immortality, etc., gave me broader perspectives to view my role as a future teacher of the discipline. To see myself as a future teacher of the discipline, I still needed to take a final step on the metaphoric ladder of knowledge.

  1. The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, Texas

The completion of my Ph.D program at the Graduate School of Humanities, The University of Texas at Dallas (UT-D) in 1984 enabled me to synthesize my thoughts within the composite philosophical understanding of human beings in the Humanities. In other words, I concentrated on Philosophy and Humanities as an interdisciplinary field of study. My research and writings were greatly influenced by Professor Louis P. Pojman who taught me at UT-Dallas and remained my mentor and friend until his death in October 2005. He published extensively in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics with a view to deepen our knowledge, provoke our minds, motivate us to research more, and to challenge his views. He helped his audience take a second look at their religious faith and beliefs with a view to rejecting dogmatism and intolerance and creating a new awareness for good neighborliness and peaceful co-existence. It is this kind of world the teaching of philosophy of religion has offered the modern university and beyond its territory.

  1. The teaching of Philosophy of Religion in African Universities

I consider the teaching of philosophy of religion as an integral part of the humanities, which Toyin Falola aptly conceives in his recent book entitled The Humanities in Africa: “No set of disciplines understands humans and the whole essence of being better than humanities.” I have taught philosophy of religion in the following African Universities: Ogun State University, Ago-Iwoye, now Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria, Moi University Eldoret, Kenya, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos State, Nigeria and currently Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Ondo State Nigeria. I have had a lot of students who registered for Philosophy of Religion each time I taught it. Their curiosity to learn something new and challenging encouraged me to spend more time with them. I was prepared for their unexpected reactions because they, generally speaking, would not want the butcher’s sharp knife of reason to penetrate their orthodox beliefs. However, I did just that in my teaching and publications. Let me cite two: A Critique of African Cultural Beliefs,(Lagos: Pumark Educational Publishers, 1977) and the book I edited, God, Reason and Death: Issues in Philosophy of Religion (Ibadan: Hope Publications, 2008).  

The essential reason for teaching philosophy of religion, in my view is to decolonize and demystify the mind of students of the uncritical nature of any form of religious belief system. In other words, students should able to proportion their religious belief according to rational and empirical evidence. This is one of the compelling and critical contributions philosophy of religion has made to modern university globally.

Conclusion

Our modern world needs peace, harmony and development. The political and religious will of our leaders must take cognizance of the import of teaching philosophy of religion and humanities in the modern university. As Toyin Falola aptly emphasized in his recent book entitled The Humanities in Africa, “No set of disciplines understands humans and the whole essence of being better than humanities.” It is in this intellectual wisdom of Falola that the world must see philosophy of religion as an essential discipline that can reduce hostility in the world where religious extremists become terrorists and insurgents, thereby making the world unsafe for social, economic, political and religious mutual benefits. In my opinion, it is this understanding of human existence that the teaching of philosophy of religion has offered to the modern university.

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