Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa: A Survey and Analysis of the Numbers and Percentages of Christians, Muslims and Those Who Practice Indigenous Religions

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa: A Survey and Analysis of the Numbers and Percentages of Christians, Muslims and Those Who Practice Indigenous Religions

Article excerpt

Purpose of Study

Religion has become a major topic in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Christianity and Islam, the two largest religions in the world appear to be competing for influence across the world. These two world religions have also substantially increased their numbers in Africa.

Out of curiosity, this author embarked on research to identify not only the numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and Africans who continue to practice indigenous religions in Africa, but also how these numbers and percentages breakdown within its five regions (Eastern, Middle, Northern, Southern and Western Africa). According to figures presented in the Encyclopedia Britannica 2003 Book of the Year, as of mid-2002, there were 376,453,000 Christians, 329,869,000 Muslims and 98,734,000 people who practiced traditional religions in Africa (p.306). So the author wanted to know what the breakdowns of those three religions in Africa would be by region, having noted that this information is not currently available.

In addition, the author also decided to compile and calculate the estimates of the numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and Africans who continue to practice indigenous religions in the former African colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom. The reason for this was to learn whether there would be significant differences in the religious makeup of those former African colonies.

It is important to note that the figures in this study are only estimates. However, it is also clearly important to study the religious breakdown of Africa, a continent with almost 11.7 million square miles and a total population as of July 2003, estimated at 857 million and projected to be just over a billion, 11 years from now in 2015. The purpose of this study is influenced by the fact that the new focus on religion around the world after September 11, 2001 has made it even more important to continue to closely study the differences in the religious make-up within the different regions of Africa. This is especially important for students, government officials, the general public and religious and experienced scholars of Africa who could find similarities or contrasts within the data. The purpose of this study is also to contribute to the long-term collection of such religious statistics so that they may be readily available to the public as people attempt to understand the impact of Christianity and Islam in Africa.

It is also important to point out that, although there are a number of religions in Africa, this study focuses primarily on the overall numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and Africans who continue to practice indigenous religions. Other religious groups are therefore classified as "Other." Furthermore, generally speaking, the study does not present a breakdown of the various denominations within Christianity or Islam.

Data Source, Reliability and Methodology

The problem with gathering data on the different religious adherents of countries in Africa and the world is the accuracy of such statistics. How reliable are they? Moreover, one might tend to question the procedure or methodology of how such estimates were compiled and computed. Nevertheless, there are a number of organizations or institutions that provide estimates of various religious adherents in their annual publications. Some of the annual publications of these organizations or institutions were carefully studied by this author to find out whether or not they share identical estimates on religion. The publications are: the Encyclopedia Britannica Book 2003 of the Year, the 2002 New York Times Almanac, the 2002 World Almanac and Book of Facts, the World Christian Encyclopedia 2nd Edition 2001 and the 2001 United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook.

After studying these five publications carefully, the author found out that three of them (the New York Times Almanac, the World Almanac and Book of Facts and the CIA World Factbook) present almost identical estimates of the various religious adherents in countries of the world. …

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