April 15, 2010

Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Chapter 2: Commitment to Christianity and Islam

Large majorities in every country surveyed express belief in the core tenets of Christianity or Islam. For example, roughly three-in-four or more people express absolutely certain belief in the existence of God. In eight countries, at least nine-in-ten people express this view. By way of comparison, 71% of adults in the United States, arguably the most religious country in the industrialized world, say they are absolutely convinced of God’s existence. The only sub-Saharan African nations where fewer than eight-in-ten believe in God with absolute certainty are Botswana (74%), Chad, Mozambique and Uganda (77% in each).

The survey finds that nearly everyone in the countries surveyed who professes belief in God adopts a monotheistic rather than a polytheistic view, with very few people saying they believe in more than one God.

In keeping with the teachings of both Christianity and Islam, more than eight-in-ten people in nearly every country surveyed say they believe in heaven. Respondents in Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya are all nearly unanimous on this question, with 97% or more of the populations of these countries expressing belief in heaven. Belief in hell tends to be somewhat less common, though in every country surveyed upwards of six-in-ten people say they believe hell exists.

In addition, large numbers of Christians – including at least half in every country surveyed and nearly nine-in-ten people in Nigeria and Liberia – say they believe the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally, word for word. Most Muslims adopt a similar view of the Koran, including roughly nine-in-ten or more Muslims in Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana.

This chapter includes information on:

  • Importance of religion in people’s lives
  • Religious beliefs, including belief in heaven and hell
  • Religious practices, including frequency of attendance at religious services and prayer
  • Intense religious experiences, including divine healings and exorcisms
  • Influence of the Pentecostal movement

Download chapter 2 in full (8-page PDF, <1MB)


Photo credit: Sebastien Desarmaux/GODONG/Godong/Corbis

Part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project