Traditional Vs Modern-Day Spirituality in Nigeria

Freelance contribution from Sally

Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash

While an array of different meanings can be assigned to the term ‘spirituality’, no religion is complete without it. Mental religion has managed to reduce spirituality to just about nothing in Nigeria where Islam and Christianity are the two most followed religions.  Although spirituality is misunderstood by many across all religions, without it the finished works of the Gods would be futile.  Many people claim to be spiritual without conforming to a set religion. They lose themselves in Zen practices, yoga, Eastern mysticism, meditation and various popular psychic practices which more conservative individuals may abhor.

While psychic abilities and spirituality are still frowned upon by many, a certain degree of open-mindedness is developing in especially urban Nigeria.  A huge disconnect still exists however between religious and generic spirituality with the latter often being seen as somewhat clandestine.  Regardless of how many people frown upon the workings of psychic mediums and other spiritual messengers, there are countless individuals who seek out their services on a daily basis.  In trying to understand global spiritual prevalences in Nigeria it is important to understand traditional African spirituality, such as the belief in ancestral powers, first.

Do ancestors still play a role in traditional Nigerian societies?

The ancestors have always played a significant role in African cosmology. Ancestors are able to offer advice and bestow good fortune upon their descendants while also being able to make certain demands such as the maintenance of shrines. A belief in ancestors also points to the inclusive nature of traditional African spirituality by suggesting that the deceased still play a very vital role in the lives of their descendants.

Are ancestors considered to be deities in the traditional African cosmology?

African spirituality does not confine to a closed theological system as it does not have a fixed creed like in Islam or Christianity.  Traditional Nigerians have different ideas as to what role ancestors play in the lives of the living. The defining line between ancestors and deities is often contested but, in general. Ancestors are believed to occupy a somewhat higher level of existence than normal living human beings.

Should Nigerian spirituality be referred to as monotheistic or polytheistic?

Binary thinking such as this is considered to be very simplistic and doesn’t reflect the countless ways that traditional African spirituality has conceived of gods, deities and other spiritual beings.  Some African cosmologies have a very distinct idea of a supreme being while others simply do not. The Yoruba, for example, has a concept of a supreme being called Olorun or Olodumare who is considered to be the creator of the entire universe.

Religion and spirituality, whether traditional or modern-day, form an intricate part of everyday life in Nigeria. With so many contrasting views and believes it is important to always practice understanding and tolerance towards those who may have a different opinion to your own, especially where sensitive matters like religion and political affiliation are concerned.

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