Religious beliefs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)

An Orthodox church in Kalemie, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Editorial credit: Nada B / Shutterstock.com.

The sub-Saharan region in which the Democratic Republic of the Congo is located is known to have great religious diversity compared to regions in North Africa, where most of the populations are Muslims. In fact, the most widely practiced religion in the country is Christianity in its various forms. Christianity has a fairly long history in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dating back to 1484, when Portuguese colonizers arrived in the country and missionaries established high-level conversions (like the king as well as his entourage). In 1506, King Alfonso I of the Congo established relations with the Vatican, the center of Catholicism. A more widespread conversion to Christianity occurred during the Belgian colonial era.

Interestingly, many Christian and Muslim devotees also retain elements of traditional African religions in their respective beliefs. About 90% of the population attends religious services once a week. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has also adopted freedom of religion as a fundamental human right in its constitution. Foreign missionaries operate freely within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and as a result the country has been heavily influenced by other countries in matters of religion. This article will explore the different religious beliefs of this nation.

Roman Catholic Christianity

Roman Catholicism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is largely a product of the Belgian colonial era, with Belgian colonizers establishing Catholicism early on. The Belgian state also subsidized Roman Catholic missions which would establish schools as well as hospitals throughout the country. When establishing this religion in the country, the Belgian colonizers believed that Catholicism would lead to a more disciplined, healthy and somewhat more educated population. In the 1970s, the Catholic Church of the Congo was one of the most vocal critics of the Congolese state, which led to a deterioration in church-state relations. The Roman Catholic Church has educated approximately 60% of primary school students as well as 40% of secondary / secondary school students in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Roman Catholic Church has hospitals, schools, and even farms and shops around the country. Some observers argue that the church manages state functions, such as health care and education, better than the government always has.

Protestant Christianity

Protestant Christianity has roots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo dating back to 1878, when the first Protestant mission was founded in the country. This religion is valued by the Congolese population because of the image of integrity that the church projects in such a corrupt country. Protestantism is also highly regarded for the educational and medical services provided, much like the Roman Catholic Church. Although the Protestant Church has not been as well received and / or subsidized as the Catholic Churches, a quarter of the country identifies with this religion. Since independence in 1960, Protestant churches have been successfully handed over to African control, with foreign missionaries working under the leadership of the Congolese Church of Christ. The church is headed by a president who holds the rank of bishop. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is a union of 62 Protestant denominations across the country.

Islam

Islam crept into the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 18th century, as Arab ivory traders from East Africa moved inland to obtain more tusks from elephant for ivory. The majority of Muslims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo identify as Sunni (90%) and 10% identify as Shia, and Muslims are mainly concentrated in the provinces of Maniema, Orientale and Kinshasa, respectively. Islam was widely repressed publicly during the period of Belgian colonialism until 1920, when Islamic organizations such as Koranic schools were opened. Muslim holy days are not observed in the country, but observed nonetheless. Muslims in the country are generally stereotyped and reduced to a public image of illiteracy and unemployed. The majority of schools in the Democratic Republic of the Congo throughout history are and were Christian, therefore Muslims could not attend.

Other forms of Christianity

Jamaa means “family” in Swahili, and the Jamaa religion is a hybrid of European and African religious beliefs. Jamaa is somewhat accepted as a form of Catholicism by the Roman Church, but the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has started to question religion due to the growing disparity between Jamaa and the Catholic Church.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the 1940s, and throughout their history in the country, many missionaries have been attacked by the government as well as by local people of different faiths. Fast forward to today and Jehovah’s Witnesses are free to practice their religion, protected by constitutional law.

Mormonism is a newcomer among churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, having been first established in 1986. The church today has nearly 44,000 members as well as 145 congregations nationwide. There is also a large Mormon temple (the first of its kind in the country) under construction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a completion date set for late 2018 or early 2019. Currently, the church has three missions in the Democratic Republic. of the Congo, the first of which was established in 1987, shortly after the purchase of Mormonism in the country.

Indigenous and other beliefs

As is the case with many indigenous religions and rituals around the world, the traditions and beliefs of traditional African religions have always been transmitted orally rather than being written down in canonized scriptures. The variety and diversity of traditional African religious beliefs, even in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, makes it difficult to generalize into a specific list of religious beliefs or rituals. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, there are several variations of traditional African religion. Many of those who practice traditional methods may also believe in Christianity or Islam and they will incorporate traditional methods into these frameworks. Coherent aspects of traditional African religion are belief in a supreme creator god, belief in traditional medicine and magic, and belief in spirits, especially those of deceased ancestors. The indigenous religion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo also incorporates many different ceremonies such as a funeral or a ceremony for a change in an individual’s social status such as, for example, when a boy reaches puberty.

Religious beliefs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)

Rank Belief system Share of the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)
1 Roman Catholic Christianity 43.0%
2 Protestant Christianity 25.8%
3 Islam 12.6%
4 Jamaa, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon and other forms of Christianity 11.2%
Indigenous and other beliefs 7.4%