Survey finds Africa is most religious
Chika Oduah, Religion News Service
April 20, 2010

Survey finds Africa is most religious

Survey finds Africa is most religious
Chika Oduah, Religion News Service
April 20, 2010

WASHINGTON — Researchers say

they’ve found the most religious place on Earth — between the southern border

of the Sahara Desert and the tip of South Africa.

Religion is “very important”

to more than three-quarters of the population in 17 of 19 sub-Saharan nations,

according to a new survey.

In contrast, in the United

States, the world’s most religious industrialized nation, 57 percent of people

say religion is very important.

“On a continent-wide basis,

sub-Saharan Africa comes out as the most religious place on Earth,” said Luis

Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which released the

study April 15.

According to the survey, 98

percent of respondents in Senegal say religion is very important, following by

93 percent in Mali. The lowest percentage was reported in Botswana, 69 percent,

which is still a healthy majority.

“That begins to paint a

picture of how religious sub-Saharan Africans are,” Lugo said.

The study is part of the

Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project.

More than 25,000 sub-Saharan

Africans responded in face-to-face interviews in more than 60 languages.

While the study confirms

that Africans are, indeed, morally conservative and religiously pious,

researchers explored a variety of topics, including religious tolerance,

polygamy, the role of women in society, and political and economic


Islam and Christianity

dominate as the most popular religions in the region — a stark reversal from a

century ago when Muslims and Christians were outnumbered by followers of

traditional indigenous religions.

But for the past 100 years,

indigenous spirituality has been diluted as missionaries carried Islam and

Christianity throughout the African continent.

The study reports that the

number of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa grew faster than the number of

Muslims, from 7 million in 1900 to 470 million in 2010.

One in five of the

world’s Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa.

While a majority of African

Muslims are from the northern region of the continent, nearly 234 million live

below the Sahara Desert.

Indigenous African beliefs

have not disappeared, but are often incorporated into Islam and Christianity,

the report found.

A number of sub-Saharan Africans believe in witchcraft, evil

spirits, reincarnation and other elements of African spirituality. More than

half of the people surveyed in Tanzania, Mali, Senegal and South Africa believe


sacrifices to ancestors or

spirits can protect them from harm.

Such syncretism of religions

is not uncommon in Africa.

Sulayman Nyang, a professor

at Howard University’s African Studies Department, said by honoring traditional

religious practices, sub-Saharan Africans are able to maintain their African

identity and strengthen ethnic unity.

However, Nyang said

indigenous religions are not practiced in a pure form because Africans want to

maintain their “dignity” and “want to be accepted into the new world of


According to the Pew survey,

most sub-Saharan African Muslims are Sunni.

Within Christianity,

Catholicism dominates in Guinea Bissau, Rwanda and Cameroon, while Liberia,

South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Botswana are predominantly


Pentecostalism is rapidly

spreading and deeply influential across the region, and also across Christian


“Casting out of the devil or

evil spirits, high degree of apocalyptic expectations, the health-and-wealth ‘prosperity

gospel’ is the new Christian phenomenon of the Pentecostalism in sub-Saharan Africa,”

Lugo said.