Friday, March 02, 2012

Maps of African Religious Affiliations

Religious affiliation, 1990
I have been reading The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief by V.S. Naipaul (see previous post). It occurred to me to look up a map of the distribution of religions in Africa. It can be compared with the maps of religious affiliation in the United States which I just posted.

I suppose the data is based on responses to survey questions, and doesn't reflect the observation by Naipaul that many Africans seem to have beliefs that stem from indigenous and imported religions.

The term "traditional" assumes something we don't really know. How old are the "traditional" beliefs in Aftica? The written records of African beliefs in the pre-colonial period must be sparse to non existent. We know that new religions arise in other locations -- think of Mormonism, Christian Science, Scientology, Baha'i, Sikhism, etc. Even within established religions, some beliefs change with time -- think about the changes in Catholicism codified in the Second Vatican Council. And incidentally, if the African indigenous religions are to be deemed "traditional", how about Christianity which is a couple of thousand years old, based at least on earlier Jewish religious beliefs, in which traditional belief of the faithful is cited as justification for those beliefs to be held today.

It does seem to me that thinking about African religious beliefs and belief systems clarified for me that American religious beliefs and belief systems are changing rapidly (in historical terms).

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