Religion by the numbers in Ethiopia

  • School children arriving to the schools at the Cathedral, Addis Ababa. Catholics run many prominent schools in the capital.

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa,” helps highlight a number of aspects Ethiopian culture.1 The study does not differentiate between Catholics and other Christians, but provides a useful frame for understanding Catholicism in Ethiopia.

In the Pew study, 1% of Ethiopians identify as Catholic, 16% as Pentecostal, 49% as Ethiopian Orthodox, 30% as Muslim, 3% as “ancestral, tribal animist or other traditional African religion.”

Ethiopians and societal problems

40% of Ethiopians surveyed are satisfied with the way things are going overall in their country today. 10% think the economic situation is very good; 33% think it is good. 36% saw it as somewhat bad, and 20% as very bad. Ethiopians rate their personal situation similarly.

54% of Ethiopians say their lives have improved since years ago; 75% think their lives will be better in five years.

Pew asked Ethiopians to rate the seriousness of the following as problems in the country: crime, conflict between religious groups, corrupt political leaders, conflict between ethnic groups, unemployment. They could rank these as very big, moderately big, small or no problem.

19% of Ethiopians cited conflict between religious groups as a “very big problem.”

23% of Ethiopians cited ethnic conflict as a “very big problem.”

30% of Ethiopians cited crime as a “very big problem.”

40% of Ethiopians cited corrupt political leaders as a “very big problem”

70% of Ethiopians cited unemployment as a “very big problem.”

49% of Ethiopians think most people can be trusted, a much higher proportion than most other African countries surveyed.

30% say that at some time in the past year they did not have enough money to buy food; 39% lacked money to get healthcare in the last year.

76% of Ethiopians believe they should rely on a democratic form of government to solve their country's problems.

23% believe that the country should rely on a leader with a strong hand to solve their country's problems.

49% agree that they don’t have any say about what the government does.

59% of Ethiopians surveyed think that Western movies, music and television undermine morality. Only 33% of Ethiopians say they like Western movies, music and television, a far lower proportion than in the rest of Africa.

79% of Ethiopians believe it is the responsibility of the government to take care of very poor people who can’t take care of themselves.

Ethiopians and religion

99% of Ethiopian respondents said they believe in God; 89% were “absolutely certain” of this belief. 54% believe in a “Personal God,” while 40% saw God as an “impersonal force.”

79% of Ethiopians (77% of Christians) surveyed say that religion is very important in their lives. This put them in the low end of the range for Africans surveyed, but significantly above all of Latin America and in an entirely different category from Europe and North America.

74% of Ethiopians believe in angels, and 62% in miracles. 

31% said they believe in evil spirits, and 17% in witchcraft.  25% believe in the ability to cast curses and spells that cause harm. 11% believe that sacrifices to spirits or ancestors can protect them from bad things happening. 29% believe that certain spiritual people can prevent bad things from happening, and 13% believe that shrines and sacred objects can prevent bad things from happening. All of these are marks of traditional African religion. Compared to other African countries surveyed, Ethiopia fell in the lower half in terms of adherence to African traditional beliefs.

72% of Ethiopians believe it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.

81% of Ethiopians surveyed say people are very free to practice their own religion and think this is a good thing, but 55% of Ethiopian Christians favor “making the Bible the official law of the land” in Ethiopia (65% of Muslims want the same for Sharia law).

73% of Ethiopians say that it is important for political leaders to have strong religious beliefs, and 35% of Ethiopians say that it is okay if political leaders’ faith is different than their own. 

63% of Ethiopians believe religious leaders should keep out of political matters; 36% said religious leaders should express their views on political questions.

2% of Ethiopia Christians believe Christians are very often treated unfairly by the government; 5% say it happens somewhat often; 13% say not too often; and 74% say never.

7% of Ethiopian Christians describe themselves as Evangelical, 20% as Pentecostal, and 46% as Charismatic.

45% of Ethiopian Christians see a conflict between being a devout religious person and living in a modern society.

Muslims and Christians together

19% of Ethiopians surveyed say religious conflict is a very big problem in the country.  

75% of Muslims associate the word “tolerant” with Christians, and 90% of Christians associate the world “tolerant” with Muslims.

59% of Christians, and 57% of Muslims, say they generally trust people with different religious values than them.

63% of Ethiopian Christians, and 55% of Ethiopian Muslims said they knew little or nothing about the others’ faith.

48% of Ethiopian Christians, and 69% of Ethiopian Muslims, had a positive view of the other’s religion.

7% of Ethiopian Christians and 17% of Ethiopian Muslims, said that the use of violence against civilians in defense of religion is sometimes or often justified.

Christian beliefs and practices in Ethiopia

89% of Ethiopian Christians were “absolutely certain” of their conviction in God, 9% fairly certain, and 1% “not too certain.” 81% of Christians saw their religion as the one true faith leading to eternal life, while 17% saw other faiths as roads to eternal life.

99% of Christians said they believe in only one God.

97% of Christians said they believe in heaven as a place of eternal reward. 93% said they believe in Hell as a place of eternal punishment.  25% said they believe in reincarnation. 

55% of Christians surveyed in Ethiopia believe that Jesus will return in their lifetime.

67% of Christians surveyed said the Bible is to be taken as the literal word of God.

75% of Christians surveyed claimed to attend church weekly or more often.

65% of Ethiopian Christians surveyed claimed to pray at least once a day. 52% say they have received definite answers to specific prayer requests, a very low number compared to African neighbors.

86% of Ethiopian Christians surveyed claimed to fast at times like Lent.

63% of Ethiopian Christians say they have witnessed or experienced a divine healing of an illness or injury.

28% of Ethiopian Christians say they have received a direct revelation from God.

74% of Ethiopian Christians say they have directly witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person.

31% of Ethiopian Christians listen to religious radio or watch religious TV.

72% of Ethiopian Christians associate the word “devout” with their fellow Christians; 95% associate “honest”; 10% associate “violent”; 13% associate “selfish”; 7% associate “immoral”; 7% associate “arrogant”; 90% associate “tolerant”; and 89% associate “respectful of women.”

46% of Ethiopian Christians completely agree, and 35% mostly agree, that they have a duty to try to convert others to their faith. 

70% of Ethiopian Christians believe God will grant wealth and good health to those who have enough faith.

38% of all Ethiopian Christians describe themselves as “born again.”

69% of Ethiopian Christians agreed that only men should be allowed to serve in religious leadership roles, such as pastor, priest or imam.

33% of Ethiopian Christians completely agree, and 35% mostly agree, that here are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong.

48% of Ethiopian Christians completely agree, and 24% mostly agree, that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.

74% of Ethiopian Christians see divorce as morally wrong.

94% of Ethiopian Christians see prostitution as morally wrong.

86% of Ethiopian Christians see euthanasia as morally wrong.

92% of Ethiopian Christians see suicide as morally wrong.

63% of Ethiopian Christians see drinking alcohol as morally wrong.

74% of Ethiopian Christians see sex between people not married to each other as morally wrong.

88% of Ethiopian Christians see polygamy as morally wrong.

85% of Ethiopian Christians see abortion as morally wrong.

96% of Ethiopian Christians see homosexual behavior as morally wrong.

4% of Ethiopian Christian men reported having more than one wife.

Christians and traditional African practices

4% of Ethiopian Christians say they know a great deal about “ancestral, tribal, animist, or other traditional African religions”; 17% know “some”; 27% “not very much”; and 49% “nothing at all.”

6% of Ethiopian Christians reported having traditional African sacred objects at home, such as shrines to ancestors, feathers, skins, skulls, skeletons, powder, carved figures or branches, spears, cutlasses or animal horns.

7% reported having participated in traditional African ceremonies or having performed special acts to honor or celebrate their ancestors.

7% of Ethiopian Christians report having participated in traditional African puberty rituals or manhood/womanhood initiation rituals for friends, relatives or neighbors in your area, such as endurance or challenge tests, or initiation to a traditional dance.

39% of Ethiopian Christians had used traditional religious healers.

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