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African religion

African religion. No single religion corresponds to the term ‘African religion’, nor could it. The geography of Africa ranges from rain forests to uninhabitable deserts; its peoples are organized in many different social ways, from itinerants to villages to tribes to urbanized communities; and the vast continent has been invaded by other religions which frequently dominate particular areas, especially Christianity and Islam, but also to a lesser degree Hinduism. These in turn have often been appropriated and given a new and distinctive African style and content (see e.g. AFRICAN INSTITUTED CHURCHES).

Nevertheless, although there is no such ‘thing’ as ‘African religion’, attempts have been made to draw out some of the recurrent and characteristic emphases to be found in Africa.1. There is strong reverence for a supreme God.2. The power of God to inspire particular individuals or functionaries is emphasized.3. Religion is important in maintaining both social and cosmic order.4. The importance of ancestors is noted. ‘Ancestor worship’ is too strong and too misleading a term; in fact it is commonly believed that each individual is made up of several different ‘souls’, including the continuing effects of the ancestors as guardians; the ancestors are not saved out of the world, but rather continue to be related to the ongoing family, and remain a part of it–until they are removed by the extending gap of succeeding generations.5. Rites of passage maintain stability and order.6. Magic and witchcraft are emphasized.7. The oral tradition is powerful; myth is rich and eloquent.8. There is emphasis on the sacred and often sacrosanct nature of the environment, almost any aspect of which may carry religious meaning.

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