DESIGNING COURSES ON DIALOGUE
J. Kenny with S.B. Mala
The Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, has been conducting courses on dialogue for seven years on the diploma, under-graduate and post-graduate levels. In view of the current importance of this subject, we think it would be useful to share our experience with the readers of Orita.
Our students are for the most part Christians (since there is also a Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies), but there are always Muslims who take our courses at least as subsidiaries, and our students live in a pluralistic religious environment where interaction and dialogue are a daily experience. African Traditional Religion, moreover, is always in the background.
Our courses, therefore, combine both theory and direct experience or field work. As for course content, certain areas of interest have emerged as important for our situation, which we can now describe.
We presuppose, as prerequisites for dialogue, that the students have had courses on all three religions prevalent in Nigeria, as well as general comparative religion and philosophy of religion. Dialogue naturally comes near the end of an academic programme. One preliminary question which has demanded attention in this course is a theological assessment of other religions. The students, who profess one or another religion, would like to form a judgement about the validity of other religions, that is, to what extent they could be true and have a divine origin, and secondly what are the chances of followers of other religions sharing in "salvation" or one's own hoped for eternal destiny. Since our Department is not a seminary giving preference to the study of a particular religion, we present in a historical perspective the (divergent) Christian theologies of non-Christian religions, and Islamic theologies of non-Islamic religions.
Another preliminary question that has proved extremely urgent is that of tolerance, religious freedom and the notion of a secular state, no matter what our judgement of the validity of other religions is. For the philosophical basis of tolerance, J.H. Walgrave's Person and society has proved helpful. The Vatican II "Declaration on religious liberty" is also extremely important, but we take note of earlier Christian theology and practice as well.
In recent years this country has experienced many religious controversies resulting from moves by some Muslim groups and the government to extend the establishment of Islam. The Sharî`a debate, which started in 1976 during the Murtala Muhammad regime, the Islamic Affairs Board problem during the Shagari era (1981), and the Organization of Islamic Conference issue of the Buhari and Babangida periods sparked much discussion in the form of newspaper write-ups, symposia and debates in live assemblies and on radio and television. These have provided us with vast information to sharpen and articulate the content of the course.
A central part of the course is, naturally the search for a definition of dialogue. This emerges from a brain-storming session on the purposes of dialogue. Emerging from this discussion there always arises the further question of the distinction of dialogue and mission or proclamation. It is both a theoretical and a practical problem for all our students to find an approach that is neither intransigence nor indifference. The students' participation and evaluation of their own experience makes this part of the course unique and lively each time it is taught.
To give grounding to our theorizing and analysis of our won experience, we also study, as much as time allows, something about the history and present situation of inter-religious relations, taking dialogue as one facet of the broader spectrum of relations. christian-Muslim efforts at dialogue in the early Middle East, from medieval Europe and in the modern world scene are some of the general areas that are looked at before concentrating on the situation in West Africa and Nigeria.
A final matter of discussion is an attempt to summarize what we have in common with the other religions, and what are the possibilities of dialogue today, particularly in our own situation.
As for materials, we have compiled a vast bibliography of some books, but most articles and brochures. Necessarily, it still must be far from complete and up to date, but we are assured of the most important documents through our contacts with the Project for christian-Muslim Relations in Africa; Selly Oak College, Birmingham; the Hartford Seminary Foundation; the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Rome; the Vatican Secretariat for non-Christians; the World Council of Churches' sub-unit for Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies, and various experts in many countries.
We duplicate some of the more basic materials for the students and give them access to others for their projects. We find the situation still very fluid; so we have not yet selected the materials we would like to edit into a basic textbook.
The course undergoes constant revision and has demanded more of our time for preparation each year than any other course we teach. One approach to enriching the course has been to team-teach it on the graduate level. Professor Awolalu and Dr. Adewale have taken the Christian and A.T.r. perspectives, and for the final discussion all the lecturers of the course take part.
Dialogue was first introduced on the diploma level. The diploma programme has just been discontinued, leaving the B.A. and the M.A. courses.
For the first, RCR 421: Dialogue in Nigeria, which is required for all students, we have the following description: "A study of dialogue form its pre-Christian meaning to its post-Christian acceptance as an ecumenical endeavour; the various types of dialogue and their relevance in a pluralist society, common actions of dialogical nature among Nigerians, past attempts to engage in formal dialogue, difficulties encountered and steps to achieve the practice of dialogue."
The M.A. course, RES 701: Relations among peoples of living faiths, is compulsory for all postgraduate students in Religious Studies. It has the following description: "This course studies representative documents on the principles of dialogue, the history of relations between Muslims, Christians and followers of Traditional Religion in Nigeria, and possible directions for the future."
A second M.A. course, RES 747: Historical perspectives of Christian-Muslim relations, required for students majoring in Islam, has this description: "A survey of the history of Christian-Muslim relations, concentrating on events that were decisive in characterising the major periods of this history, particularly with regard to Africa."
The third M.A. course touching on dialogue is RES 748: Theologies of Christian-Muslim relations, required for students majoring in Islam. It has this description: "An examination of the varied Christian-Muslim theological assessments of each other's religion, the status of its members as believers and the consequent possibilities for mutual cooperation."
A final course is the elective RES 749: Converging themes in Christian and Muslim traditions. It has this description: "A comparison of similar aspects of Christianity and Islam, both in beliefs and practices, with an analysis of what is common and what is different, with an attempt to show the extent to which some apparent differences may be reconciled."