The sub-Saharan area in which the Democratic Republic of the Congo is located is known to have a great deal of religious diversity when compared to those areas in Northern Africa, where most of the populations are Muslim. In fact, the most widely practiced religion in the country is Christianity in it's various forms. Christianity has a rather long history in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dating back to 1484, when Portuguese colonizers arrived in the country and missionaries established some high profile conversions (such as the King as well as his entourage). In 1506, King Alfonso I of Congo established relations with the Vatican, the center of Catholicism. More widespread conversion to Christianity occurred during the Belgian colonial era.
Interestingly, many Christian and Muslim followers also retain elements of traditional African religions within their respective beliefs. Approximately 90% of the population attends religious services once a week. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has also adopted freedom of religion as a basic human right in it's constitution. Foreign missionaries operate freely within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and consequently, the country has been influenced a great deal by other countries when it comes to 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 state of Belgium also subsidized Roman Catholic missions that would establish schools as well as hospitals throughout the country. While establishing this religion in the country, the belief was held by Belgium colonizers that Catholicism would lead to a more disciplined, healthy and somewhat more educated population. In the 1970's, the Catholic church of the Congo was one of the Congolese State's loudest critics - this lead to a souring of relations between the church and the state. The Roman Catholic Church has educated approximately 60% of primary school students as well as 40% of high school/secondary students in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Roman Catholic Church owns hospitals, schools and even farms and stores in the country. Some observers contend that the church is doing a better job at managing state functions, such as healthcare and education, than the government has historically done.
Protestant Christianity has roots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo going back to 1878, when the first Protestant mission was founded in the country. This religion is valued by the Congolese population due to the image of integrity the church projects in such a corrupt country. Protestantism is also highly valued for the educational and medical services provided, much in the same way as the Roman Catholic Church is. Although the Protestant Church was not nearly as welcomed and/or subsidized as 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 Congolese Church of Christ guidance. The church is lead by a President who holds the rank of Bishop. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo there is a union of 62 Protestant denominations throughout the country.
Islam made it's way into the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 18th Century as East African Arab ivory traders made their way inland in order to attain more elephant tusks 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 largely suppressed publicly in the period of Belgian colonialism until 1920, when Islamic organizations such as Quran schools were opened. Muslim Holy Days are not observed in the country, but still respected nonetheless. Muslims of the country are usually stereotyped and reduced to having a public image of being illiterate and unemployed. The majority of schools in the Democratic Republic of 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 questioning the religion due to the growing disparity between the Jamaa and Catholic Church.
The Jehovah's Witnesses have been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the 1940s, and throughout their history within the country many missionaries have come under attack from the government as well as local people of different religions. Fast forward to today and Jehovah's Witnesses are free to practice their religion, protected by constitutional law.
Mormonism is a relative newcomer among churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, having first been established there in 1986. The church today has almost 44,000 members as well as 145 congregations within the country. There is also a large Mormon temple (the first of its kind in the country) being built 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 Mormonism was bought into the country.
Indigenous and Other Beliefs
As is the case for many indigenous religions and rituals throughout the world, the traditions and beliefs of the traditional African religions have always been passed down orally rather than being written down into canonized scripture. The variety and diversity of traditional African religious beliefs, even in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, make it hard to generalize into one specific list of religious beliefs or rituals. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone there are several variations of the traditional African religion. Many who practice traditional methods may also believe in Christianity or Islam and they will incorporate traditional methods within these frameworks. Consistent aspects of the traditional African religion are the belief in a supreme creator-god, belief in traditional medicine and magic, and a belief in spirits, especially those of ancestors who have passed away. Indigenous religion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo also incorporates many different ceremonies such as funerals or a ceremony for a change in an individual's social status such as, for example, when a boy is reaching puberty.