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Meet Emmanuel Chiwetalu Ossai

Emmanuel Chiwetalu Ossai is a first-year PhD student in Christian-Muslim Relations and Islamic Studies. His research focuses on places where Christians and Muslims coexist. He currently examines the causes of communal conflict between Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria.

What did you do before you came to New College?

I was a Graduate Teaching Assistant and later an Assistant Lecturer at the University of Nigeria in the department of Religion and Cultural Studies. I was assisting with undergraduate courses in Religion and Society, one of them was Religion and the Nigerian Nation. 

 

What do you hope to do with the skills you are gaining?

I want to use the skills and knowledge I am acquiring at New College to promote peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. It is difficult to think of an aspect of Nigerian society that isn’t, in some way, influenced by the major religions practised: Islam, Christianity, and Traditional Religion.

Ultimately, I would like to become a political actor, as I feel I could have more influence on what goes on in the country. I believe that with my PhD in hand, I will be more qualified to join others to address the problems that Nigeria faces and even start my own initiatives.

Through this course, I am developing the ability to interact with people who have very different views from mine. I am able to listen to them in such a way that an outsider listening in might be inclined to believe that I have no opinions or beliefs whatsoever.  

I have learned not to let my own beliefs interfere with the job at hand. To be a peacemaker, you have to be able to keep calm, listen, and respect differences. You have to be willing to make peace even when it is plainly obvious that there are many obstacles to that process.

I am not saying that a believer and theologian can’t be a peacemaker. In cases where your identity is the same, or similar, to any of the identities involved in a conflict, you should be serious about your own religious beliefs, but you should also know how to be a "professional non-believer” who can remain neutral and objective.

What I like about my PhD is that its results can be applied directly to Nigeria. I will have to go on field trips to understand the conditions under which peace exists between Muslims and Christians.

 

What do you think is the main obstacle to Christian-Muslim relationships in Nigeria? 

That’s a vast topic! I think there are real leadership issues. Having influential religious and political actors who genuinely desire positive peace would make a huge difference. Unfortunately, political leaders often instrumentalise religious differences for electoral and political purposes. Our past has also been an obstacle. Memories of previous post-independent conflicts and their consequences have led some Nigerians to have misconceptions about other religions.