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Who believes what in sub-Saharan Africa

Posted on the April 17th, 2010

The religious landscape of sub-Saharan Africa is unrecognizable today from what it was a century ago, according to a newly-released report from Pew Research Center. Around 1900, the dominant religions in the region were traditional African religions, the Pew study reports, with Muslims and Christians being small minorities. But today the vast majority of sub-Saharan Africans belong to one or the other of the latter two religions:

“…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%).”

The sub-Saharan survey is part of the Pew Research Center’s project exploring Religion and Public Life, begun in 2001. Its goal is to offer better understanding “of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs.” The primary purpose of the  sub-Saharan study was to find out how sub-Saharan Africans “view the role of religion in their lives and societies.”

To answer this question, the Pew survey conducted more than 25,000 face-to-face interviews in more than 60 languages or dialects in 19 countries.

“The resulting report offers a detailed and in some ways surprising portrait of religion and society in a wide variety of countries, some heavily Muslim, some heavily Christian and some mixed. Africans have long been seen as devout and morally conservative, and the survey largely confirms this. But insofar as the conventional wisdom has been that Africans are lacking in tolerance for people of other faiths, it may need rethinking.”

One particularly interesting finding of the Pew survey was that “Muslims are significantly more positive in their assessment of Christians than Christians are in their assessment of Muslims.”

You can read the full Pew report here. Findings are summarized and there are links to the database of the original study itself.

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