The rise of Christianity in Africa and its possible effects on traditional spiritualism

The rise of Christianity in Africa and its possible effects on traditional spiritualism

The African continent is known for its rich spiritual culture. The vast cultures across the continent have their own spiritual expressions that sets them apart. However, the past century or so has seen a steady rise of many western religions, namely Christianity and Islam especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Christianity has really made its mark within this region, boasting very large Christian populations of many denominations.  One must ask how the steady rise of a religion such as Christianity will be able to coexist with the indigenous spiritual beliefs as it establishes itself as the religion of choice throughout most places on the continent.

Africa is projected to be the epicenter of Christianity over the next 50 years, as it is home to the most Christians in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to about one out of five of all the Christians in the world (21%).Nigeria’s Christian community is projected to double by 2060 and it already has the largest population of Christians on the continent. Some of the people who are expected to convert to Christianity during this time maybe be followers of some form of traditional African spiritual belief. Traditional spiritual beliefs not only influence how the supernatural is perceived but also influence how the followers see themselves and the world around them.

The Yoruba diviners of the Ifa tradition in Nigeria are a group that draw wisdom and knowledge from the indigenous teachings of the Ifa. Ifa is an essential collection of knowledge that covers science, medicine, cosmology, and metaphysics, and it cannot be duplicated elsewhere because much of its knowledge has been handed down from a babalawo to another babalawo. The babalawo is an Ifa priest/diviner; similar to what a priest is in Christianity, and they are equipped with knowledge that the community can utilize when in need of guidance. The possible influence of Christianity on a culture such as this could sway followers to view their expression of spirituality as wrong or primitive due to the fact that they are consulting a man for guidance rather than following the new norm and praying to an invisible deity that answers prayers based on one’s faith in him.

Professor Jacob Olupona from Harvard’s school of divinity stated in an interview in 2015 that African spirituality is falling out of favor across the continent due to the rise of religions such as Islam and Christianity, this is opposed to the 1900’s when the majority of Sub-Saharan Africa was practicing some form of African spirituality. There is nothing wrong with coming into a new sense of spiritual awakening because people are free to believe what they want. However, when it comes at the expense of one’s indigenous culture it can be a cause of concern due to the fact that natives are no longer accepting their spirituality as valid because they chose to follow more popular ones in which they have no direct relationship to.

The inevitable takeover of Christianity in Africa is going to have monumental effects on traditional spiritual belief systems in the coming future. The all out adoption of Christianity will potentially wipe out the indigenous spiritual practices of the land as pressure to follow the norm will be what those still practicing these beliefs will have to face. Hopefully there will be a group of individuals such as the Yoruba diviners who choose to retain the practices of their ancestors so that there will be remnants of how the past use to be, which will be a constant reminder that there was a spiritual history in Africa before the growth of outside spiritual influences.


Featured image| Ifa divination tray | Toluaye | wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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