Pew survey on Christian attitudes and beliefs in Tanzania

  • Rural Tanzanian scenery on the way to Arusha from Mwanza. Photo courtesy of Krystina Kwizera-Masabo.

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

In the Pew study 60% of Tanzanians identify as Christian (51% of these as Catholic, 44% as Protestant), 36% as Muslim, 2% as affiliated with traditional African religions, 1% as unaffiliated. The largest Protestant identities are Lutheran (8% of the population), Pentecostal (6%), Anglican (6%) and African Independent churches (3%).  32% of respondents in the Pew survey said they were raised Catholic, and 31% said they were now Catholic; 23% said they were raised Protestant, but 27% are now Protestant.

Tanzanians and societal issues

44% of Tanzanians surveyed are satisfied with the way things are going overall in their country today. 3% think the economic situation is very good; 32% think it is good. 38% saw it as somewhat bad and 24% as very bad. Tanzanians rate their personal situation almost exactly the same way.

44% of Tanzanians say their lives have improved since five years ago; 50% think their lives will be better in five years. This latter number puts them on the low end of the spectrum compared to other African neighbors surveyed.

Pew asked Tanzanians 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.

24% of Tanzanians cited conflict between religious groups as a “very big problem.”

21% of Tanzanians cited ethnic conflict as a “very big problem.”

68% of Tanzanians cited crime as a “very big problem.”

71% of Tanzanians cited corrupt political leaders as a “very big problem.”

82% of Tanzanians cited unemployment as a “very big problem.”

14% of Tanzanians think most people can be trusted, a very low percentage by worldwide standards and among the other African countries in the survey. 

48% say that at some time in the past year they did not have enough money to buy food; 54% lacked money to get healthcare in the last year.

60% of Tanzanians believe they should rely on a democratic form of government to solve their country's problems. 37% believe that the country should rely on a leader with a strong hand to solve they country's problems.

58% agree that they don’t have any say about what the government does.

80% of Tanzanians surveyed think that Western movies, music and television undermine morality, even as 34% of Tanzanians say they like Western movies, music and television.

86% of Tanzanians completely agree or mostly agree that it is the responsibility of the government to take care of very poor people who can’t take care of themselves.

Tanzanians and religion

99% of Tanzanian respondents said they believe in God. 94% of these were “absolutely certain” of this belief. 66% believed in a “Personal God,” while 27% saw God as an “impersonal force.”

93% of Tanzanians (95% of Christians) surveyed say that religion is very important in their lives. This put them at the second highest level among Africans surveyed, far above all of Latin America and in an entirely in a different category from Europe and North America.

95% of Tanzanians believe in angels, and 95% in miracles, the highest proportions in Africa. 

96% said they believe in evil spirits, and 93% in witchcraft. Both proportions are far higher than almost anywhere else in Africa. 80% believe in the ability to cast curses and spells that cause harm. 60% believed that sacrifices to spirits or ancestors can protect them from bad things happening. 70% believe that certain spiritual people can prevent bad things from happening, and 49% believe that shrines and sacred objects can prevent bad things from happening. All of these are marks of traditional African religion. When Pew combined these factors, the survey concluded that 62% of Tanzanians ranked “high” on the scale, the highest number compared to 18 other African countries surveyed.

82% of Tanzanians believe it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.

94% of Tanzanians surveyed say people are very free to practice their own religion and think this is a good thing, but 39% of Tanzanian Christians favor “making the Bible the official law of the land” in Tanzania (41% of Muslims want the same for Sharia law).

24% of Tanzanians say that it is important for political leaders to have strong religious beliefs (by far the lowest figure among African countries surveyed), and 83% of Tanzanians say that it is okay if political leaders’ faith is different than their own. 

43% of Tanzanians believe religious leaders keep out of political matters — 55% said religious leaders should express their views on political questions.

5% of Tanzanian Christians believe Christians are very often treated unfairly by the government, 3% say it happens somewhat often, 17% say not too often, 60% say never.

17% of Tanzanian Christians describe themselves as Evangelical, 12% as Pentecostal, 8% as Charismatic.

48% of Tanzanian Christians see a conflict between being a devout religious person and living in a modern society.

Muslims and Christians together

24% of Tanzanians surveyed say religious conflict is a very big problem in the country, a relatively low proportion among Africans surveyed.

80% of Muslims associate the word “tolerant” with Christians, and 87% of Christians associate the world “tolerant” with Muslims.

60% of Christians, and 65% of Muslims say they generally trust people with different religious values than them.

60% of Tanzanian Christians, and 65% of Tanzanian Muslims, said they knew little or nothing about the others’ faith.

36% of Tanzanian Christians, and 75% of Tanzanian Muslims had a positive view of the other’s religion.

2% of Tanzanian Christians, and 3% of Tanzanian Muslims said that the use of violence against civilians in defense of religion is sometimes or often justified. These were by far the lowest proportions among the African countries surveyed.

Christian beliefs and practices in Tanzania

94% of Tanzanian Christians were “absolutely certain” of their conviction in God, 4% fairly certain, 1% “not too certain.” 53% of Christians saw their religion as the one true faith leading to eternal life, while 44% saw other faiths as roads to eternal life.

97% of Christians said they believed in only one God.

93% of Christians said they believe in heaven as a place of eternal reward. 91%, one of the highest proportions in Africa, said they believed in hell as a place of eternal punishment. 32% said they believe in reincarnation. 

62% of Christians surveyed in Tanzania believe that Jesus will return in their lifetime.

78% of Christians surveyed said the Bible is to be taken as the literal word of God.

82% of Christians surveyed claimed to attend church weekly or more often.

56% of Tanzanian Christians surveyed claimed to pray at least once a day, which puts them on the low end among Africans surveyed. 56% say they have received definite answers to specific prayer requests, a very low number compared to African neighbors.

70% of Tanzanian Christians surveyed claimed to fast at times like Lent.

63% of Tanzanian Christians say they have witnessed or experienced a divine healing of an illness or injury (this is on the low end for Africa).

23% of Tanzanian Christians say they have received a direct revelation from God.

62% of Tanzanian Christians say they have directly witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person, the third highest proportion among Africans surveyed.

92% of Tanzanian Christians listen to religious radio or watch religious TV.

86% of Tanzanian Christians associate the word “devout” with their fellow Christians, 85% associate “honest,” 7% associate “violent,” 19% associate “selfish,” 16% associate “immoral,” 10% associate “arrogant,” 87% associate “tolerant,” 85% associate “respectful of women.”

69% of Tanzanian Christians completely agree, and 14% mostly agree that they have a to try to convert others to their faith. 

39% of Tanzanian Christians believe God will grant wealth and good health to those who have enough faith.

29% of all Tanzanian Christians describe themselves as “born again,” 12% as Pentecostal, and 8% as Charismatic.

37% of Tanzanian Christians agreed that “only men should be allowed to serve in religious leadership roles, such as pastor, priest or imam.”

49% of Tanzanian Christians completely agree, and 19% mostly agree that here are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong, and 20% mostly or completely disagree.

70% of Tanzanian Christians completely agree, and 9% mostly agree that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.

63% of Tanzanian Christians see divorce as morally wrong.

92% of Tanzanian Christians see prostitution as morally wrong.

91% of Tanzanian Christians see euthanasia as morally wrong.

91% of Tanzanian Christians see suicide as morally wrong.

75% of Tanzanian Christians see drinking alcohol as morally wrong.

87% of Tanzanian Christians see sex between people not married to each other as morally wrong.

75% of Tanzanian Christians see polygamy as morally wrong.

91% of Tanzanian Christians see abortion as morally wrong.

91% of Tanzanian Christians see homosexual behavior as morally wrong.

16% of Tanzanian Christian men reported having more than one wife.

Christians and traditional African practices

8% of Tanzanian Christians say they know a great deal about “ancestral, tribal, animist, or other traditional African religions”; 19% know “some”; 16% “not very much”; 39% “nothing at all.”

17% of Tanzanian 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.

31% reported having participated in traditional African ceremonies or perform special acts to honor or celebrate their ancestors.

39% of Tanzanian Christians report having participated in traditional African puberty rituals or manhood/womanhood initiation rituals for friends, relatives or neighbors in their area, such as endurance or challenge tests, or initiation to a traditional dance.

35% of Tanzanian Christians report having used traditional religious healers.

  • 1The Tanzanian portion of the survey was conducted in 2008-9 in Kiswahili and English in all 21 regions of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar. The margin of error for these data is 4% for questions referring to all Tanzanians, 5% for questions relating only to Christians, and 6% for questions related to Muslims. See for the report and African comparison data. The report did not provide non-African comparison data.