Trading familiar for ancestral faith

For most students, the idea of college is much more complex than just obtaining a degree; many view it as a chance to experience and try different cultures. Changing religions, picking up a religion for the first time or losing religion altogether is common on college campuses.

Darrell Brown, 23, a business administration student and youth minister from Lakeland, Fla., said the changing environment, friends, being exposed to different groups of people and different types of thinking are all factors that play a part of why college-age students question their faith and change religions.

“People who come and go toward Christianity as a religion…are exposed to perhaps a group of people who seem to be doing well or are positive or have certain values that they like,” Brown said. “People may come here and change their set of values. Their parents aren’t here to force them to go to an assembly or church or study the bible.”

However, a growing trend among students shows that many students are trading their Christian beliefs for Western African traditions.

Jan DeCosmo, a Caribbean culture and African religion and traditions professor, said some students switch from Christianity to an African Yoruba tradition, originated out of Nigeria. She said they are conflicted about practicing Christianity, as it was once used to justify slavery.

“One example of this is in the bible where it says in Paul, ‘Slaves obey your masters,’ said DeCosmo. “The kind of Christianity that slaves were taught said ‘Oh, don’t worry about suffering or being oppressed on earth because you’re going to get your reward in heaven.'”

DeCosmo said women also play a larger role in many African traditional religions, and can become priestesses.

Wendel Joseph, 25, a criminal justice student from Miami, said he has practiced a traditional Yoruba tradition for four years. Joseph said he came from a household where his parents and siblings were Christian. He was first introduced to the religion by his high school girlfriend. While taking a religion course, Joseph said he was required to do research and the more he researched the more interested he became.

“I would only read up on Yoruba traditions. By the end of the month, I decided I…wanted to put into practice what I was reading,” Joseph said.

This religion is monotheistic, and the major difference from Christianity is the traditional Yoruba religion has seven messengers or mediums to God. All seven reflect different facets of nature, and the father of all is Orisha, which means a God or guardian angle. Johnson said he felt like his faith was constantly being tested.

“I would pray and pray and I felt as if change wouldn’t come as fast as I needed it to,” Johnson said. “I felt that in the Yoruba tradition I was able to get faster results, it was almost magical to me,” said Joseph. “You don’t have to rely so much on faith, it basically gives more hope.”

Brown said patience is something this generation is lacking. A need for fast results in almost everything as well as religion is needed.