The Ever-increasing Excitement

PHOTO: the 2019 Group.

By Zechariah Manyok

The OCRPL (Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life []) doctoral programme in collaboration with Stellenbosch and Pretoria Universities is getting more exciting each time.

First, Stellenbosch University is matching the standard that I was yearning for. My supervisors at Stellenbosch and OCRPL, Prof. Dion A. Forster and Dr Christopher Sugden, are directing my research in a way that will let me truly contribute to academic knowledge. Stellenbosch University is number three in Africa after the University of Cape Town and the University of Witwatersrand. In the world, it is among the 300 leading universities.

Second, the way that OCRPL has designed the programme will go beyond normal ways of doing PhD in many universities. Each year, we come together for a research seminar. The lecturers whom OCRPL chooses for these seminars give us information far beyond our current knowledge. This makes me very excited to know more.

The presentation that we do on our research is another huge potential addition to knowledge that many people gain when they do PhD’s. The students in this programme are chosen from different countries where they lead churches from different denominations. It is fascinating when they present. They really want to understand problems they are facing in their countries and their churches. These problems relate, to some extent, from one country to another. Therefore, their problems are possibly our problems. Understanding them helps us all in our different countries and different denominations.

Third, the collaboration between OCRPL and Barnabas Fund ( is a huge advantage to us. For example, Barnabas Fund goes beyond just subsidizing our tuition fees and hospitality to exposing us to things that we would not know if we were only in a university setting. This year, for example, Barnabas Fund sponsored two visits that proved to be advantageous to me. The first visit was to the Bible Garden in Paarl, a town near Stellenbosch. The owner of the Garden showed us biblical stories around the Garden. These stories are designed in a way that shows God’s plan for the salvation of human beings. Since these stories are presented in form of art works, they helped me more than just written words that I am always comfortable with would. The stories were even made more meaningful by the archaeologist who showed us what has been found in relations to biblical stories that we read.

The second place that we visited this year was Nelson Mandela’s prison at Drakenstein Prison. We were taken around the house that Mandela stayed in as a prisoner before he was released in 1994. The stories conveyed by the house and the former prison warden who explained them gave me clear understanding of the forgiveness message that Mandela gave.

Fourth, I really admire the people who help us pursue this program. Dr Chris Sugden is amazing in dealing with the details. He does not get tired even at his old age. He is an inspiration to me. If he can work that hard at his age, then why should I not work hard now when I am young? The disappointment that I initially had about the slowness of Stellenbosch University was eliminated when Dr Joshva John came on board from Barnabas Fund. Dr John cannot sleep when  particular information is not given to students. He has started what he terms a Zoominar ( a seminar by Zoom) to help students in a manner that cannot be achieved without the Zoominar.

Overall, the way that Barnabas Fund, OCRPL, and the universities collaborating in the program are helping us will make this program stand out in its contribution to academic knowledge. I think it will not take more than ten years before an idea from a PhD graduate from the program is widely cited in the academic world. The program will also make us well-informed church leaders. This knowledge will strengthen Christianity in our respective countries. This is my personal conviction, and I would not be surprised to hear other OCRPL PhD candidates share the same conviction with me.

Zechariah Manyok Biar is a PhD candidate in a collaborative programme between OCRPL and Stellenbosch University.

OCRPL Note:  From September 2019 The University of Pretoria and North West University are also partners in this PhD programme.