Religious Beliefs In Papua New Guinea

Community members attending mass at a church in Papua New Guinea. Editorial credit: Michal Knitl /
Community members attending mass at a church in Papua New Guinea. Editorial credit: Michal Knitl /

Papua New Guinea (known formally as the Independent State of Papua New Guinea) is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean just north of the island continent of Australia. The Oceanic nation comprises the eastern half of the much larger island of New Guinea while the western portion is home to Papua and West Papua which are provinces under the jurisdiction of the nation of Indonesia.

With a land area of 178,700 square miles, Papua New Guinea is home to 8,084,999 inhabitants most of whom still live in rural areas working in the agricultural industry as farmers as opposed to moving to urban centers. With its national motto espousing a belief that there can be “unity in diversity,” the population of the island country speaks approximately 850 languages and belongs to hundreds of cultural and ethnic groups. Besides indigenous groups, Papua New Guinea has also become home to a variety of citizens from a variety of other nations including China, Indonesia, and Australia.

Largest Religions in Papua New Guinea

It seems obvious that due to the cultural mix among the residents living in Papua New Guinea the country would be home to a variety of domestic as well as imported religious beliefs and practices.


According to a census taken in 2011, the majority of citizens, almost 96%, cite their religion to be Christianity. Although the majority of local Christians belong to Protestant denominations, some 26% of worshippers are members of the Roman Catholic Church. Among the most popular Protestant Christian denominations in Papua New Guinea include the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, the United Church in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the Evangelical Alliance, Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, as well as smaller populations who identify as Baptists, members of the Salvation Army, and various other Christian churches. Interestingly, the census also revealed that many citizens of Papua New Guinea have chosen to mix elements of local indigenous religious practices and traditions with their modern Christian belief system.


Besides Christianity, a minority of residents living in Papua New Guinea are of the Muslim faith. The largest portion of the approximately 2,000 total Muslims living in the Oceanic country are Sunnis while a much smaller number are Ahmadi. In terms of missionary activity, according to The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches both Muslim and Confucian missionaries still operate on the island. A small number of locals also espouse to the Bahá'í Faith, a religious belief system which originated in Iran and other parts of the Middle East before spreading across the world.

Indigenous Religions

Indigenous religions still practiced in Papua New Guinea are most often associated with Animism, or a belief system based on all things, including animals, inanimate objects, plants, and rocks being alive. Animism is known as the world’s oldest religion. Ancestor worship is also practiced by a number of local residents.

One aspect of traditional religion which is still thought to be believed by a significant number of local tribal members in Papua New Guinea is the belief in evil spirits, also known as masalai, who have been held responsible for all sorts of malicious activity including accidents, injuries, misfortunes, and even deaths.


More in Society