Actualising The Self
Erased From Academia
By Verona Spence-Adofo
Since starting on the Ancestral Voices project 6 years ago one thing has been abundantly clear. It is the realisation that there is not only an underrepresentation and denigration of African Spiritual teachings but also a concerted effort to suppress information regarding the spiritual teachings of indigenous people worldwide.
Whilst, this has been something I have been consciously aware of for some time, the issue has been recently raised again, as we are now promoting the new ‘Ancestral Voices: Spirit is Eternal’ book. For our marketing, I have researched and contacted various global educational institutions to see whether they would be interested in using our product as a learning resource. What I found rather disconcerting is despite many of these Universities and Colleges offering Theology and Religious Studies courses, Christianity alone made up around 75% of the available options. Anything from specialisms in the Old Testament, New Testament, Influence of Christianity around the world, Christian Philosophy, Christianity in Art… you name it they have it. I would say 20% of the courses were largely made up of Judaism & Islamic studies with a few options for Hinduism and Buddhism courses. Only around 5% of the institutions had professors who specialised in global shamanic traditions, these were mainly a combination of European and Native American philosophies, with a small few who covered African and Caribbean spiritual practices.
I understand that many of these institutions have Christianity as the dominant belief in their respective countries, therefore, I can appreciate that there may be a greater emphasis on this area of study; however, It is rather perturbing that at this level of academia there is not more of an importance on exploring the spiritual traditions that pre-date the modern religions we know today. I find it absolutely bewildering that ‘higher learning’ institutions largely do not offer courses that allow deep exploration of the various different spiritual traditions. Fair enough, some information may not be able to be obtained, but there are some traditions that have remained alive and I’m sure anyone interested in comparative religious studies, such as myself, would really appreciate these courses being made available to them. Where are the courses on Native Australian aboriginal spiritual thought or the belief systems of the indigenous people of the Philippines? There is so much wisdom to be explored, information that could potentially change the perspective of humanity forever, but somehow I can’t help the feeling that we are somewhat ‘stuck’ in a limited worldview.
This extreme narrow focus on the Abrahamic faiths excludes the teachings of so many cultures and spiritual philosophies worldwide, which ultimately silences the origins of spiritual thought. The fact that this conversation is being heavily overlooked at various levels of society including the educational system, mainstream media and religious authorities; actually causes me to think that this is intentional.
Now don’t get me wrong this is not a dig at these faiths, but simply an observation. The ‘main religions’ are so ingrained into our consciousness from birth that most do not even think outside of these paradigms. We don’t think twice as we acknowledge the various traditions, celebrations and rituals e.g. Easter, Eid, Passover, Diwali, etc. as they have become part of our social construct. Whether you observe these beliefs or not, there is a level of respect and tolerance. Unfortunately, the truth is; this same level of tolerance does not seem to extend to those who adhere to spiritual beliefs outside of these faiths. This ultimately creates a ‘religious mafia’ so to speak. Where these religions and their devotees are looked at as credible and respectable, consequently anything that pre-dates these religious systems is viewed as insignificant, dated, backward, superstitious or in some cases witchcraft and devil worship.
People who adhere to nature-based faiths are often ridiculed and if you pay attention to the media you will notice that when these people are depicted they usually fall into certain stereotypes; one of the most frequent portrayals is the crazy, ditzy, hippy type. The characters are usually represented in a manner that makes a mockery of their beliefs and depicts them as zany and ‘out there’. I have found this to be the most common depiction when representing European Pagans. In contrast, depictions of African traditionalists, for example, tend to get shown in a different light. Their portrayal normally falls within the lines of the ‘primitive’ tribesman or the ‘voodoo witchdoctor’ wishing to do someone harm. The media has definitely been consistent in their attempt to ridicule and discredit these beliefs and I can’t but help wonder why?
The mental conditioning is so strong, that despite these traditions having elements and practices that still exist in today’s modern religions; many adherents seem to suffer from severe cognitive dissonance when addressing this topic. But what if this is the plan? What if people are intentionally being kept in a state of ignorance regarding indigenous spiritual beliefs? If this is the case, then we must ask, what is the reason for doing so?
No doubt some will read this and label me a ‘conspiracy theorist’ due to my assertions, which is perfectly fine. However, that does not negate the fact that these spiritual traditions have been largely left out of the discussion of spiritual and religious thought. The question is are you going to break the cycle and research this area for yourself?