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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Origin of Religion in Africa and Theories Leading To It

The Origin of Religion in Africa

Religion is present in every ideology of existence in this 21st century. We can all acknowledge the fact that deities or supreme existence have influenced the trajectory of our growth over centuries and generations. Most scholars and scientists agree that humanity began in Africa. We are going to be looking at what a few scholars have to say about the origin of religion in Africa.

It is not possible to specifically identify the spot exactly where religion was formulated or began in Africa, it’s not that simple but looking at the encyclopedia of religion covering this topic, let us borrow from Deji Ayegboyin for abit.

We will be exploring African history and culture and this shouldn’t be seen as an absolute record, but this is a scholar’s conclusion from an African perspective. Religion in Africa is not a specific activity or practice.

Deji Ayegboyin’s quote;

“The question of polytheism or monotheism is not an African question and has limited value in trying to understand how Africans came to view their lives and those of their neighbors. One doesn’t need to draw sharp distinctions between those who believe in many deities and those who purport to believe in one deity to gain an appreciation of the African way of life. In fact, most Africans accept believe in one creator deity although there may be many spirits. Thus in reality this is similar to the later forms of religions which followed the African pattern in many aspects.”

Deji Ayegboyin
Encyclopedia of African Religion, UK publications SAGE publications 2009


He doesn’t go ahead to expand on this but I think we can postulate this was in comparison with religions like Christianity where one supreme deity is worshipped and other lesser spirits include angels and demons. He says African religion be it whatever sect follows this pattern of one supreme deity and diverse divisions under it.

Why Religion Came to Be in the First Place

Before we proceed, people have asked questions about why religion came to be in the first place. Deji Ayegboyin discusses some of these theories and applies them to African people. There are psychological, intellectual, emotional, and other theories. The psychological theory claims that early Africans created gods or supernatural beings as a result of fear and anxiety. The intellectual theory maintains that Africans were trying to make sense of the world around them. Emotional theorists claimed that religious beliefs arose from emotions, it wasn’t thought out but danced out to forestall the mountain of fear and anxiety in conditions where success is uncertain.

If we conceptualize the so-called African religion as simply as an extension of a particular ethnic group or way of life instead of viewing it as a separate identity as they do in the West, then the origin of African religion becomes less vague. Making it have more weight and meaning.

The origin of life that seems to be more relatable is the origin of monotheism, some documentations refer to one God.

“Africans were the first humans to conceive of the concept of monotheism and Akhenaten is considered the first person to have commented on the idea of God. Of course there’s ample evidence to note that many african traditions accepted that the supreme deity was too distant to deal with daily issues, these were left for the ancestors and other spirits.”
Deji Ayegboyin

 Even though we cannot conclusively say African religion began here or there, we can begin challenging our paradigms and also Deji’s philosophy has helped to throw more light from another perspective.


The Earliest Forms of African Religion

The origin of religion in Africa is a complex and multifaceted topic, as the continent has a long and diverse history of religious practices and beliefs. Scholars generally agree that Africa has a rich and varied religious heritage that predates the arrival of Christianity and Islam on the continent.

The earliest forms of African religion were animistic, meaning that they recognized a spiritual force or essence in all living and non-living things. Animistic beliefs are still present in many African cultures today, particularly in traditional societies that have remained largely isolated from the influence of modern religions.

Over time, various forms of organized religion emerged in Africa, including the Egyptian religion, which was one of the most influential and well-documented religions in ancient Africa. Other major religions that emerged in Africa include Islam and Christianity, both of which were introduced to the continent through contact with Arab traders and European colonizers.

Today, the religious landscape of Africa is incredibly diverse, with a wide range of traditional religions, as well as significant populations of Christians, Muslims, and followers of other religions.





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