The relevance of African indigenous religions in the 21st Century | This is Africa

African identities

The relevance of African indigenous religions in the 21st Century

Traditional/Indigenous African religions are the traditional beliefs and practices of African people including the various traditional religions and customs. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic, and traditional medicine.



Indigenous African religions are by nature plural, varied, and usually informed by one’s ethnic identity i.e. where one’s family came from. For instance, the Yoruba religion has historically been centered in southwestern Nigeria, the Zulu religion in southern Africa, and the Igbo religion in southeastern Nigeria.

“African spirituality simply acknowledges that beliefs and practices touch on and inform every facet of human life, and therefore African religion cannot be separated from the everyday or mundane.”  Jacob Olupona, professor of indigenous African religions at Harvard Divinity School

Indigenous African spirituality had been increasingly falling out of favour and practice. The amount of devotees to indigenous practices had dwindled as Islam and Christianity have both spread and gained influence throughout the continent.

Read: Religious fundamentalism and the erasure of African cultures, religions and traditions


Although Africans who still wholly practice African indigenous religions are only about 10 percent of the African population, there are many professed Christians and Muslims who participate in one form of indigenous religious rituals and practices or another (see syncretism). This testifies to the enduring power of indigenous religion and its ability to domesticate Christianity and Islam in modern Africa. Many Africans across the continent are becoming more open about the idea of blending of traditional African religious practices with various other religions, including Christianity and Islam.

The revival

Modernity has not put a total stop to the influence of Indigenous African spirituality. Due to the pluralistic nature of African-traditional religions, African spirituality has always been able to adapt to change and allow itself to absorb the wisdom and views of other religions. A traditional African practitioner would have no need to ascribe to any one “religion” in that there would no conflict in his mind between his traditional African spirituality and another faith for they would not be mutually exclusive.

Modernity has not put a total stop to the influence of Indigenous African spirituality Photo: DailyPost

The essence of indigenous African religions and the reason for its accommodating nature is that it does not maintain to uniform doctrine therefore its spiritual beliefs are not bound by a written text or code. This allows it to more easily be amended and influenced by other religious ideas, religious wisdom, and by modern development.

Read: Traditional medicine in a modern world

Modern Application


Given the dynamism of Indigenous African Religions, it is easy to surmise its modern day relevance and applications in that:

1. They present a worldview that has collectively sustained, enriched, and given meaning to a continent and numerous other societies for centuries through its epistemology, metaphysics, history, and practices.

2. Diviners for example have access to an extensive literary corpus and verbal trove of information covering science, medicine, cosmology, and metaphysics.

Evidence of which is briefly demonstrated in Amanda Gcabashe interesting TED talk on her life as a traditional healer in the 21st Century.

3. They have provided the blueprint for robust conversations and would transform thought leadership in issues about community relations, interfaith dialogue, civil society, and civil religion.


4. Women play a key role in the practice of these traditions, and the internal gender relations and dynamics are very profound. The traditional approach of indigenous African religions to gender is one of complementarity in which a confluence of male and female forces must operate in harmony.

5. Given our current impending ecological crisis, indigenous African religions have a great deal to offer both African countries and the world at large on how human beings can best live within and interact with the environment

Ultimately Indigenous African Religious beliefs and practices will always be relevant as they provide our societies with moral values, which guide the relationships between people in the community and instruct our relationships with the environment, spiritual realm and physical wellness.


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