African Religion and Culture

David Northrup

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
African Religion and Culture

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
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Africa has been home to a great variety of religious and other cultural practices and beliefs, including the many that developed within particular African societies and those that were introduced from outside the continent. Those originating within the continent are generally termed traditional, although it would be wrong to think of traditional beliefs and practices as static or unchanging. Cultural borrowing from parts of the Middle East and Europe began in North Africa well before the beginning of the Common Era, twenty centuries ago. Because of the absence of written records outside the Nile Valley, little is known about the early history of traditional cultures in Africa other than that they had millennia to develop and spread. Detailed descriptions of some African societies south of the Sahara occur in Islamic accounts from the later Middle Ages and from the 1400s in European accounts of the Atlantic coasts. These descriptions make it clear that by 1500 sub-Saharan African societies exhibited great differences in their languages, beliefs, and customs and that many in these societies were curious to learn about the outsiders’ religions and cultures. Consequently, pockets of African Muslims and Christians came into existence south of the Sahara. Although some Africans learned languages and beliefs from abroad, Islam and Christianity were also Africanized as they spread. Those Africans whom the slave trades transported across the Sahara, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic brought their cultures with them and, in turn, their cultures were altered by contact with other societies. The greatest cultural changes within Africa have come within the last two centuries under the influence of European colonial rule and Muslim and Christian missionaries. Despite profound changes, Africans maintain and cherish strong cultural continuities with their past.

Article.  7035 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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