AFRICA: Africa World Press Guide

compiled and edited by WorldViews

Indigenous, Islamic, Christian

Religion, author Tshishiku Tshibangu has observed, "impregnates the entire texture of individual and commercial life in Africa." In his chapter on "Religion and Social Evolution" in Africa Since 1935 (Mazrui 1993), volume 8 of UNESCO's General History of Africa series, Tshibangu writes: "The African is profoundly, incurably a believer, a religious person. To him, religion is not just a set of beliefs but a way of life, the basis of culture, identity and moral values. Religion is an essential part of the tradition that helps to promote both social stability and creative innovation."

Tshibangu's article (chapter 17) identifies and describes the three major strands of religious beliefs in Africa: indigenous (traditional) relig ions, Christianity, and Islam. An earlier introductory survey, Religions in Africa (Stewart et al. 1984), follows the same three-part focus--one that we have adopted for this chapter.

The twenty essays in Religion in Africa: Experience and Expression (Blakely et al. 1994) provide a scholarly--yet accessible--overview of the varieties of religious experiences and expressions that are rooted in the African continent. The book i s the fruit of a conference entitled "Religion in Africa: The Variety of Religious Experience in Sub-Saharan Africa" held at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, 22-25 October 1986. Scholars from four continents who study religious expression througho ut all the major regions of Africa and in the African Diaspora in the Americas gave presentations on an array of topics from multi-disciplinary academic perspectives.

Nairobi University professor J. N. K. Mugambi's undergraduate textbook A Comparative Study of Religions (Mugambi 1993) presents a wide-ranging survey of religions and belief systems both in and outside Africa (from "the religion of indigenous Au stralians" to "the rise of Zoroastrianism"). Four essays in section 3--all written by S. G. Kibicho, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Nairobi--cover earlier studies of African religion, the nature and structure of African religion, the conception of God in African religion, and the conceptions of divinities and spirits.

Distribution of belief systems in Africa

African countries in which one belief system is estimated to have the allegiance of 50 percent or more of the population. (Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: Africa (Gale Research).

African countries in which one belief system claims 50 percent or more of the population as believers
Traditional Religions Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Togo, Zambia
Christianity Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Equitorial Guinea, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Islam Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gambia, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisis
Mixed* Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania
* no belief system having 50 percent of the population as adherents

Indigenous religions

"The importance of traditional African religion," Tshishiku Tshibangu writes (see Mazrui 1993, p. 505), "goes well beyond what the statistical affiliation figure of 20 percent of the total African population may suggest. For many Christians and Muslims," Tshibangu contends, "the basis of moral values still derives more from the old cosmology than from the new beliefs." He cites, as evidence, the continuing respect for ancestors, belief in the continuing involvement of ancestors in the life of their succes sors, belief in the forces of good and evil that "can be manipulated by direct access to the divinities through prayer and sacrifice, belief in the efficacy of charms and amulets to ward off evil," and, finally, "the vast area of African life which both I slam and Christianity have invaded but have not succeeded in completely displacing," the area of health and healing.

Kenyan theologian John Mbiti's African Religions and Philosophy (Mbiti 1990) is acknowledged to be the standard work in the field of systematic studies of traditional African religious and philosophical concepts.

African Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective (Gehman 1993) represents an attempt by a U.S. missionary with more than 30 years' experience in East Africa to search out and understand the positive aspects of African traditional religion in light of the Christian Scriptures.

Recognized books on the history and development of indigenous African religions include


The Atlas of the Arab World: Geopolitics and Society (Boustani and Fargues 1991) is a good starting point for graphic illustrations of the growth of the Islamic faith in nations across the north of Africa. The atlas covers cultural, social, and eco nomic issues in 21 Arab countries--in the Near and Middle East, North Africa, Mauritania, and the Horn of Africa. Chapter 2 focuses on ethnic groups and religions.

Books that introduce Islam in a comprehensive historical and geographical manner include

Professor Gregory Kozlowski's 100-page introduction to Islam is entitled The Concise History of Islam and the Origin of Its Empires (Kozlowski 1991). Islam's expansion throughout Africa is covered most completely in Islam in History by Pr ofessor Bernard Lewis (1993).

The following three volumes concentrate on the influence of Islam in various regions of Africa:

Country-specific studies of the nature and political impact of the Islamic movement in Egypt, Sudan, and Tunisia are contained in Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World (Ayubi 1991). The growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Egyp t is examined in Islamic Fundamentalism in Egyptian Politics (Rubin 1990) and Islam: The Fear and the Hope (Boularès 1990).

Recently published reference works on Islam include


Four recently published books cover the growth of Christianity in Africa:

Orbis Books (Maryknoll, N.Y.) is the foremost publisher of English-language studies about Christianity and Christian theology in Africa. Among their many titles are

In 1995, Willaim B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, Mich.)--another publisher with a strong list of English-language titles on this subject--published what it describes as "the first comprehensive survey of Christian theology in Africa to appear in English," t heologian John Parratt's Reinventing Christianity: African Theology Today (Parratt 1995).

Books that deal with various facets of the engagement of African Christian churches in the political life of their societies include

Bibliographies and reference works

See the lengthy bibliographies in Religion in Africa (Blakely et al. 1994) and in Africa Since 1935 (Mazrui 1993) for other books and articles on the subject of African belief systems. See also:

Background on African belief systems can be found in these reference books:

U.S. churches and Africa

The Africa Office of the National Council of Churches (USA) and the Washington Office on Africa produced Christian Witness for Africa: A Guide for Effective Action in the fall of 1995 in order to encourage informed and effective involvement by U.S. religious institutions in the formulation of U.S. government policies toward Africa. The packet contains background information, liturgical resources, and advocacy strategies designed "to assist church activists and people of conscience interested in ref ocusing U.S. assistance policy toward Africa." For information, write the Washington Office on Africa, 110 Maryland Ave., NE, Ste. 112, Washington, DC 20002 USA.

The church engaged: South Africa

Resource materials that concern the involvement of the churches and church people in the struggle against apartheid and the effort to build a new South Africa include: Books by and about South African church leaders include:

For additional information on the church in South Africa, see South Africa as Apartheid Ends: An Annotated Bibliography with Analytical Introductions (Stultz 1993), pp. 89-93: "Religion and churches."

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