Islam and Christianity in Africa (Pew Study)

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released a study on Religion in Africa

Download the full preface (5-page PDF, <1MB); Download the full executive summary (18-page PDF, 1MB) (in  French or Portugues)

In little more than a century, the religious landscape of sub-Saharan Africa has changed dramatically. As of 1900, both Muslims and Christians were relatively small minorities in the region. The vast majority of people practiced traditional African religions, while adherents of Christianity and Islam combined made up less than a quarter of the population, according to historical estimates from the World Religion Database.

Since then, however, the number of Muslims living between the Sahara Desert and the Cape of Good Hope has increased more than 20-fold, rising from an estimated 11 million in 1900 to approximately 234 million in 2010. The number of Christians has grown even faster, soaring almost 70-fold from about 7 million to 470 million. Sub-Saharan Africa now is home to about one-in-five of all the Christians in the world (21%) and more than one-in-seven of the world’s Muslims (15%).1

….While sub-Saharan Africa has almost twice as many Christians as Muslims, on the African continent as a whole the two faiths are roughly balanced, with 400 million to 500 million followers each. Since northern Africa is heavily Muslim and southern Africa is heavily Christian, the great meeting place is in the middle, a 4,000-mile swath from Somalia in the east to Senegal in the west.

….Despite the dominance of Christianity and Islam, traditional African religious beliefs and practices have not disappeared. Rather, they coexist with Islam and Christianity. Whether or not this entails some theological tension, it is a reality in people’s lives: Large numbers of Africans actively participate in Christianity or Islam yet also believe in witchcraft, evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers, reincarnation and other elements of traditional African religions.2

Other Findings

In addition, the 19-nation survey finds:

  • Africans generally rank unemployment, crime and corruption as bigger problems than religious conflict. However, substantial numbers of people (including nearly six-in-ten Nigerians and Rwandans) say religious conflict is a very big problem in their country.
  • The degree of concern about religious conflict varies from country to country but tracks closely with the degree of concern about ethnic conflict in many countries, suggesting that they are often related.
  • Many Africans are concerned about religious extremism, including within their own faith. Indeed, many Muslims say they are more concerned about Muslim extremism than about Christian extremism, and Christians in four countries say they are more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism.
  • Neither Christianity nor Islam is growing significantly in sub-Saharan Africa at the expense of the other; there is virtually no net change in either direction through religious switching.
  • At least half of all Christians in every country surveyed expect that Jesus will return to earth in their lifetime, while roughly 30% or more of Muslims expect to live to see the re-establishment of the caliphate, the golden age of Islamic rule.
  • People who say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is rarely or never justified vastly outnumber those who say it is sometimes or often justified. But substantial minorities (20% or more) in many countries say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is sometimes or often justified.
  • In most countries, at least half of Muslims say that women should not have the right to decide whether to wear a veil, saying instead that the decision should be up to society as a whole.
  • Circumcision of girls (female genital cutting) is highest in the predominantly Muslim countries of Mali and Djibouti but is more common among Christians than among Muslims in Uganda.
  • Majorities in almost every country say that Western music, movies and television have harmed morality in their nation. Yet majorities in most countries also say they personally like Western entertainment.
  • In most countries, more than half of Christians believe in the prosperity gospel – that God will grant wealth and good health to people who have enough faith.
  • By comparison with people in many other regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africans are much more optimistic that their lives will change for the better.

About the Report

These and other findings are discussed in more detail in the remainder of this report, which is divided into five main sections:

This report also includes a glossary of key terms, a description of the methods used for this survey, and a topline including full question wording and survey results.

HT: Roving Bandit — “Probably the best economics blog in Southern Sudan”

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2 thoughts on “Islam and Christianity in Africa (Pew Study)

  1. […] Islam and Christianity in Africa (Pew Study) […]

  2. mike says:

    very interesting blog, lots of info!

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