Tai Solarin: The Greatest Nigerian Atheist & Humanist

Cover of Babalola's book on Tai Solarin, with the title, subtitle, and author in black on white background, with a photograph of a young Tai Solarin in black and white against the background.Do you want to cuddle in with an interesting biography on a subject you probably never imagined reading about? Then I have a book recommendation for you. It’s a little personal. And a lot about humanism as a movement today, and its global importance, not just local.

In 1995 I wrote an essay on Tai Solarin for my African History course, just a year after his death. Which I soon after published on the Secular Web (“Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments“). Because I thought this guy needed way more press. I often did this in my history courses: ask the prof who the most famous atheist was in the culture we were studying, and research and write about them. Because famous atheists in other cultures? Not usually much talked about. In my Ancient China course, this would be Wang Ch’ung, for whose discovery I am forever grateful (thank you, Professor David Keightley!). In my African History course, it was Tai Solarin (thank you, Dr. Ola Washington!).

If you want a quick introduction to the man and his importance to the history of Nigeria, and Africa, and atheism and humanism therein, definitely read or skim my article. There is now of course a Wikipedia entry on him. Which relies a lot on my essay and its research, but adds even more. And now also a website dedicated to his memory and biography.

I researched my article largely through reading archived African newspapers at UCLA. As well as Norm Allen’s interview of him in Free Inquiry. And the few books there were by and about him. And ever since I posted it online, I’ve had a lot of people express their gratitude for publishing it. Both people who knew him or of him, and his work, in particular his co-founding (with his wife Sheila) and running of the most famous secular humanist school in the country…or possibly anywhere (the Mayflower School); and people who had never heard of him and were so pleased to have had the opportunity to.

Now, of course, his memory is everywhere on the internet.

But a new development of note has transpired:

Dr. Dele Babalola (M.D.), though himself a Christian, has written the most admiring and comprehensive and personal biography of Tai Solarin and his school. By a mile. Babalola was a student at Mayflower when Solarin was still teaching there. He has numerous personal memories and recollections of him and his friends and family, and of the school and what it was like, and some of his fellow students there and what became of them. As a historian, I value works like this. This is memory that would have been lost had it not been written down and made available to the world. And that material only enhances Babalola’s general biographical treatment, which is also well-researched and well-informed. He consulted historians and leading lights in African and African-American humanism, as well as all manner of sources besides. Babalola covers Solarin’s whole life, including his path from Christianity to Secular Humanism, and the political and social context of his goals and accomplishments.

This is a great read for anyone curious to get a look into the memory of someone who was there and knew the man, and who gathers the facts well beyond, of a great humanist, atheist, and champion of education, and his creation of a secular humanist academy where one might least expect. Tai Solarin was the most famous atheist and humanist not just in Nigeria, but all of Africa. His fame and influence there can be equated with that of Dawkins or Harris in America or the UK. Though unlike them he co-founded and ran a school that taught humanism and its values. A school that still operates today, teaching some 6000 pupils a year.

Definitely get a look at this book. Get a peak at what’s going on and has gone on in the rest of the world, through the lens of the life and achievements of a great humanist and educationalist: Tai Solarin: Africa’s Greatest Educationist and Humanist by Dele Babalola. Available in print and kindle, hard cover and soft.

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