April 15, 2010

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

Chapter 5: Religion and Society

Across the sub-Saharan region, large numbers of Christians and Muslims alike express strong support for democracy as well as for religious freedom. At the same time, there is strong backing among both groups for government based on the Bible or sharia law. And sizable numbers, especially among Muslims, support the application of criminal sanctions such as whipping or cutting off the hands of people who commit theft or robbery.

People in the region hold very conservative views on issues such as abortion, homosexuality and prostitution. Majorities in nearly every country surveyed say Western music, movies and television have hurt morality in their nation. At the same time, however, majorities in most countries say they personally like Western entertainment.

Those living in the region generally support the right of religious leaders to speak out on political questions. Most people are comfortable with having political leaders who do not share their faith, but large majorities in nearly every country say it is important to them that their political leaders have strong religious beliefs.

Views on whether women should have equal access to jobs or serve in religious leadership roles are somewhat divided along religious lines, with Muslims in some countries being less supportive than Christians of women’s rights in these areas. Men are also less supportive than women in some countries.

Many people in sub-Saharan Africa believe they do not have much say in what their government does, and most express dissatisfaction with the way things are going in their country. In 14 of the 19 countries, clear majorities of those surveyed express dissatisfaction with the way things are going. In particular, sub-Saharan Africans commonly cite unemployment as a big problem, and many people in the region say they have had trouble affording food and other basic necessities. Nevertheless, sub-Saharan Africans are at least as likely as people in any other region of the world to say their lives have improved over the last five years, and they are more likely than people in other regions to express optimism about the future.

This chapter includes information on:

  • Support for democracy and religious freedom
  • Support for religious jurisprudence
  • Religion and politics
  • Morality of various issues, such as homosexuality and polygamy
  • Gender issues and the role of women
  • Economics, such as the affordability of food, medicine and clothing
  • Current life satisfaction, perceptions of progress and optimism about the future

Download chapter 5 in full (10-page PDF, <1MB)


Photo credit: Sebastien Desarmaux/GODONG/Godong/Corbis

Part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project


Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (April 15, 2010) http://www.pewforum.org/2010/04/15/executive-summary-islam-and-christianity-in-sub-saharan-africa/, accessed on July 23, 2014.