Survey: 1 in 4 Christians in Africa Hold to Indigenous Beliefs

About one in every four Christian in sub-Sahara Africa believes sacrifices to spirits or ancestors can protect them from bad things happening, according to the results of a recently released, 19-country survey on religious attitudes in Africa.

"Sizable percentages of both Christians and Muslims - a quarter or more in many countries - say they believe in the protective power of juju (charms or amulets)," reported the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, the behalf of which the survey was conducted on.

In Tanzania and South Africa – where 60 percent and 87 percent of respondents, respectively, claimed to be Christian – more than half the people surveyed (60 percent and 56 percent, respectively) said they believe that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits can protect them from harm.

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"Many people also say they consult traditional religious healers when someone in their household is sick, and sizable minorities in several countries keep sacred objects such as animal skins and skulls in their homes and participate in ceremonies to honor their ancestors," the Pew Forum added.

The survey also found that while majorities in almost every country say that Western music, movies and television have harmed morality in their nation, majorities in most countries also say they personally like Western entertainment.

Only two countries – Tanzania and Ethiopia – had large majorities saying that they don't like Western TV, movies and music.

Conducted in more than 60 languages from December 2008 to April 2009, Pew's survey gathered information from more than 25,000 people on topics including religious affiliation, commitment to Christianity and Islam, traditional African religious beliefs and practices, interreligious harmony and tensions, and religion and society.

Among the results, the Pew Forum found many Muslims saying they were more concerned about Muslim extremism than about Christian extremism. Christians in four countries, meanwhile, said they were more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism.

Notably, however, Christians and Muslims in the region admit to not knowing very much about each other's faith. In most countries, fewer than half of Christians said they knew either some or a great deal about Islam, and fewer than half of Muslims said they knew either some or a great deal about Christianity.

Moreover, people in most countries surveyed, especially Christians, tended to view the two faiths as very different rather than as having a lot in common. And many people said they were not comfortable with the idea of their children marrying a spouse from outside their religion.

Despite this, people throughout the region generally saw conflict between religious groups as a modest problem compared with other issues such as unemployment, crime and corruption, according to the Pew Forum.

Still, substantial numbers in all the countries surveyed except Botswana and Zambia said religious conflict is a very big problem in their country, reaching a high of 58 percent in Nigeria and Rwanda. In addition, substantial minorities (20 percent or more) in many countries said violence against civilians in defense of one's religion can sometimes or often be justified. And large numbers (more than 40 percent) in nearly every country expressed concern about extremist religious groups in their nation, including within their own religious community in some instances.

While the survey was conducted among at least 1,000 respondents in each of the 19 countries, in three predominantly Muslim countries – Djibouti, Mali and Senegal – the Pew Forum noted that there were too few interviews with Christian respondents to be able to analyze the Christian subpopulation And in four predominantly Christian countries – Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia – there were too few interviews with Muslims to be able to analyze the Muslim subpopulation. That left only 12 countries in which comparisons between Christians and Muslims were possible.

The Pew Forum's report, released Thursday, was supported by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, which aims to increase people's knowledge of religion around the world.

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