Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Interrogating Religious Plurality and Separation of State and Religion in Ethiopia

Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Interrogating Religious Plurality and Separation of State and Religion in Ethiopia

Article excerpt



Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia in the 4th century C.E. by Egyptian and Syrian missionaries, which led to the conversion of King Ezana (Doresse, 1959; Ullendorff 1960; Zewde 1991)/ Since then, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Christianity is strongly associated with Ethiopia and its political establishment. The introduction of Islam to Ethiopia dates back to 615 C. E. (Ford 2007) and its expansion is attributed to trade and, in some parts, to resistance ideology against the expansion of the Abyssinian Christian kingdom (Trimingham 1952; Gnamo 2002; Hassen 1992; Adem 1997; Jalata 2016). As such, these two religions, i.e. the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Christianity and Islam, have the largest number of followers (CSA 2007).

Protestantism, the third populous religion and the second largest Christian denomination in the country, was present in Ethiopia for much of the 19th century, though it did not make much penetration until the early 1960s. It used to be treated as the small fry in the Ethiopian religious landscape because it is regarded as mät'e haymanot [alien/foreign religion] both by the Ethiopian polity and many Orthodox Christians. The missionaries who played key roles for the expansion of Protestantism were allowed to operate only in what were then called 'open areas', i.e., areas that did not belong to the Orthodox Church or 'Ethiopian Church Areas' (Trimingham 1952).

Present day Ethiopia was formed by the expansion" of the Orthodox Christian King Menelik II to the south in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Kebede 1999; Zewde 1991; Tilahune 2016). Orthodox Christianity remained the official state religion until Emperor Haile Selassie I (r. 1930-1974), the last monarch in the Ethiopian imperial history, was deposed by the military junta, the Dergue, in 1974, which in turn was overthrown in 1991 by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In 1995, a constitution which structured the country into Federal State, thus forming the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), was adopted.

Ethiopia's population, based on the 2007 census, was 73,918,505 (50.5% male and 49.5% female) (CSA 2008:8). The religious composition of the population was: Orthodox Christians - 43.5%; Muslims. . - 33.9%; Protestants - 18.6%; 'Traditional' believers - 2.6%; Catholics" - 0.7; and others - 0.6% (CSA 2008:17). Regional distribution of religions shows that the majority of the followers of Orthodox Christianity are concentrated in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara, and partly in central Ethiopia. Islam is dominant in Somali, Afar, Harari, Oromia, and in some towns (e.g. Dessie, Kamise, Walkite, Warabe, e.t.c.) of other regional states. Almost all Ethiopian Muslims are Sunni (Erlich 2007), with a majority Sufi and a minority, but a recently growing, Salafi sects.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals continue to be the fastest growing groups and established Protestant churches such as Mekane Yesus and Kale Hiwot are strong in the SNNPRiv, western and central Oromia, and in urban areas. Religions that come under what the census report labels 'traditional', and what I call 'indigenous', include a variety of belief systems practiced by the different ethnic groups, who at times practice their indigenous beliefs sideby-side with their 'official' religions. Among these are included the Oromo, who believe in one Supreme Being/Creator called Waaqa (de Salviac 1901; Bartels 1983). The belief system of the Oromo is called Waaqefanna, the term coined recently to position itself in the religio-political landscape of the Ethiopian society and also to register with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as was required by law (Tolera 2012).

In Ethiopia, as elsewhere in the world, state and religion relationship has undergone changes. From the 4th c. to 1974, Orthodox Christianity was the official state religion (Tamrat 1972; Ahmed 2006; Erlich 2007; Isaac 2008:117). …

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