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                                                        CHAPTER ONE


1.1 Background to the study

Nigeria’s cultural variety is rich and complex, with religion and spirituality fundamental to daily life, and religious beliefs and practices profoundly embedded in Nigerian identities (Ayandele, Okafor, & Oyedele, 2021). Nigeria has 212 million people (World Population Review, 2021); 47% are Christians, 51% are Muslims, and 2% practice African traditional faiths (Ayandele et al., 2021). Religion and spirituality are intricately linked to other aspects of people’s identities, hence culture is understood in Nigeria as a way of life (Hall, 1959). Working with cultural diversity is crucial to social work (Anand & Das, 2019), as are the profession’s social justice values. Gilligan and Furness (2006:617) suggest that “culturally competent” social work necessitates practitioners understanding how religion and belief are embodied and can impact the day-to-day lives of their clients. According to Canda and Furman (2010), social work is an intrinsically spiritual profession, with spirituality at its core, prompting Hillary (2020) to conclude that there is a clear link between religion, spirituality, and social work. These links are not always clear in social work education.

Religion and spirituality can be difficult to define because some consider them to be the same thing while others perceive them as distinct entities. For the sake of this study, religion will be described as an external social construct of spirituality; it is a collection of institutionalized ideas, practices, and rituals practiced by a wider group or community with similar beliefs. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are five examples of religions. According to Casico (1998) and Gilbert (2000), religion and religiosity are characterized by one’s affiliation with a specific denomination or place of worship. Religion is defined by social constructs and practices, whereas spirituality is defined as more personal and internalized (Carroll, 1998). Spirituality is personal and self-defined, and it concerns how an individual connects with and experiences their “God” or ultimate truth. Spirituality is a core conviction about how people perceive humanity, how they seek meaning, and a moral framework for how they should interact with others (Larsen, 2010). Gender, race, age, religious or spiritual background, and socioeconomic status can all have an impact on one’s spirituality. Religion and spirituality play such essential roles in our lives that social workers must understand how they affect their clients and how they may be used to aid them with their personal growth and mental health advancement.

Religion and spirituality serve as the cornerstone for both social work theory and practice. According to Miley, O’Melia, and DuBois (2011), social workers are interested in working with the full individual, including the mental, emotional, spiritual, and systemic aspects of their existence. Despite the fact that social workers have historically put a high emphasis on religion and spirituality, they have struggled to identify a professional niche. As social workers became more professional, they sought to distance themselves from religion and spirituality, using more secular approaches (Kaplan & Dziegielewski, 1999). According to Kaplan and Dziegielewski (1999), this occurred in order to align with the science-based professions of psychology and psychiatry, which assert that spiritual ideas are not by definition empirical. She goes on to argue that this is a serious concern because one of the pillars of social work is recognizing the full person and the influences in their lives, with spirituality playing an important role (Kaplan & Dziegielewski, 1999).

Although social work had begun to distance itself from spirituality and religion, the world had not. With the world’s constant, rapid change and increasing instability, many people are turning to religion and spirituality for help in understanding the meaning of life and explaining what is going on around them. According to Gallup and Lindsav (1999), between 92% and 97% of Americans believe in God or a higher power, and 87% consider religion to be extremely or very significant in their lives. Spirituality is on the rise in the United States, and despite its history as a largely Judeo-Christian civilization, many other countries and people groups have moved here, with more arriving on a daily basis, influencing traditional beliefs and practices. These visitors will bring with them their religions and spiritual traditions, making the United States substantially more diverse than it is now. According to Sheridan (2003), Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are the three most popular religions in the United States.

However, there are around 35 million Hispanics and African Americans, 10 million Asians, and 2 million indigenous peoples, including Native Americans, Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians, each having their own religion, spiritual beliefs, and traditions. This is not to mean that all of these people groups follow the same religion or spiritual practices. To put it simply, the United States is the first country in history to serve as a major microcosm of the world in terms of race, ethnicity, and religion. Eck (2001) agrees that America has become the world’s most religiously and spiritually diversified country. Because the United States is such a diverse country, and religion is on the rise, it seemed inevitable that social workers will engage with people of faith, whether they practice one of the three major religions or any other religion.

Social work is a profession that involves helping individuals, families, groups, and communities to enhance their social functioning and well-being. Social work practitioners help people develop skills and the ability to empower themselves so that they can resolve their own problems. It has been argued that many contemporary social work values stem from religious institutions. Most religions hold that neighbours are to be respected and valued, and aim to help people in need and bring about social justice.  Responding to the needs of others is universally understood as a way to serve one’s God or gods (Miller, 2001; Ragab, 2016; Richards, 2005; Wineman, 1995). Social work practitioners are expected to follow the general principles of the International Association Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) when serving their clients. Social workers face many challenges and dilemmas when engaging with clients, which can be related to differing values and belief systems, cultural differences, political ideologies, lack of resources, laws and social policies, and even the educational backgrounds of social workers. By drawing on and upholding social work principles, social workers can make informed decisions on how to assist their clients. A core ethical principle is that social workers should not impose their own values and should promote the concept of self-determination for their clients. They are expected to assess their clients’ weaknesses and strengths before offering what they consider to be the most operational intervention for them (IASSW & IFSW, 2004).

Social work and religion are closely linked by historical ties and origins. In the US and Europe, social support for those in need almost entirely relied on religious organizations and was either supervised by them entirely or inspired by religious and spiritual ideas (Pentaris, 2020; Waldon, 2017). Personal beliefs and religious practices are often the reason for choosing a career in social work. Researchers note that at the micro- and meso-level, social work proceeds from a set of principles that correspond to Christian and Muslim doctrines and are religious in their very nature (Pentaris, 2020; Zavos, 2017). The importance of the relationship between religiosity and social services has been recently emphasized by global migration processes and the accelerated formation of a multicultural and multi-religious urban environment (Gavrilova et al., 2018). Discrimination and pressure on the Muslim diaspora due to the public fear of terrorism and prejudices have become a serious problem in developed Western countries (Kwon et al., 2020). As a result of this increased pressure, we see the intensification of the feelings of helplessness, anger, despair, and, correspondingly, exaggeration of the need for social assistance among the depressed minorities.

The diversity of ethnic minority groups in a developed urban society complicates the work of social workers, for whom the establishment of trust and mutual openness with the service recipients becomes critical (Rusch et al., 2019). Openness and communication often determine whether the person in distress will seek help and expect it from responsible social organizations. In this context, the effects of help rejection on the part of those in need are as important as the effects of rejection on the part of those who can provide it (Pentaris, 2020). Research shows that refusal to help is mostly associated with traditional rhetoric and socialization of population groups more heavily engaged in religious organizations. This research aimed to solve the problem of the relationship between religious beliefs, social behaviours, and the role of social workers. The research question was whether the religious beliefs and practices of social workers contribute to an increase in the effectiveness of social assistance delivery and whether there is a link between the beliefs and experiences of social workers and the effectiveness of engaging their clients’ beliefs in the provision of social assistance to them.

1.2 Statement of the Problem