The Sociology of Religion in South Africa - article ; n°1 ; vol.32, pg 143-164
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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1971 - Volume 32 - Numéro 1 - Pages 143-164
22 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



Publié par
Publié le 01 janvier 1971
Nombre de lectures 48
Langue Français
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo


Edward Higgins
The Sociology of Religion in South Africa
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 32, 1971. pp. 143-164.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Higgins Edward. The Sociology of Religion in South Africa. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 32, 1971. pp.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1971.1871 des Rel. 32 1971 143-164 Arch
In South Africa sociology as an academic discipline was only established
in the It was precisely at this time that South Africa was experiencing the
impact of the great depression in general and her own poor White problem in
particular Consequently strong social welfare element appears in much of the
early sociology taught at South African universities as well as in the research
carried out However in recent years sociological research has broadened its
base and certain studies more properly have been undertaken some
of these are in the field of the sociology of religion
Most of the research in the sphere of the sociology of religion has been fragmen
tary or tangential in that it deals with one or other racial group or religious group
or is confined to particular locality No overall depth research in the sociology
of religion has been carried out in South Africa The that has been done
is more descriptive than analytical more empirical than theoretical However
there are signs of more sociologically mature approach to research in the socio
logy of religion in the undertakings of some of the younger sociologists
Consequently this paper will concentrate on the demographic aspects as
the raw data for these are to be found in the census which is taken every ten years
in South Africa In addition some attention will be devoted to research already
carried out in South Africa in the sociology of religion reference will also be
made to the relevant research in progress at the present time 1)
The Republic of South Africa covers 471 445 square miles of the southern
portion of the African continent The population is composed of four main ethnic
groups viz. the Whites descendants of early Dutch French British and German
settlers) the Coloured non-White people of mixed racial descent) the Asiatics
Paper contributed to the VIIth World Congress of Sociology Varna Bulgaria
Setpember 1970)
This is necessarily incomplete as not all university departments and individual socio
logists have responded to the request for information In addition in South Africa
good deal of social science research is never published
chiefly Indian the descendants of 19th century migrant Indian labourers
and the Bantu the of various negroid tribes who moved southwards
about the same time as the White settlers moved northwards viz. mid-eighteenth
In many ways the varied population composition of South African society
is fascinating one for sociological research The Whites are divided into two
main groups English- and Afrikaans-speaking in addition these linguistic
divisions are fairîy co-terminous with religious differences The Coloureds are
what many sociologists would describe as marginal group i.e in pigmentation
non-White yet culture-wise western Like the Whites the Coloured group is
predominantly Christian vis-a-vis religious affiliation The Asiatics constitute non-christian group they are mainly Hindu with about one-
fifth being Muslim The Bantu are composed of different tribal and linguistic
groups and from the viewpoint of Christian religious affiliation occupy mid-
position between the Whites and Coloured on the one hand and the Asiatics on
the other
The numerical and percentage distribution of the total population as at
1960 last census and mid-1966 appear the following table 2)
Numerical and percentage distribution of population South Africa by race 1960 and 1966
I960 1966
Total ............... 15994181 100.0 18464800 100.0
White 3080159 19.3 3491500 18.9
Coloured ............ 1509053 9.4 1812800 9.8
AcllQ+l 477047 3.0 576500 3.1
Bantu 10927922 68.3 12584000 68.2
Table indicates that in the nineteen sixties the Bantu comprise the largest
population group in South Africa approximately two-thirds of the total popu
lation while the Whites account for somewhat less than one-fifth the Asiatics
constitute very small minority while nearly every tenth person in South Africa
is Coloured
That South Africa is culturally speaking heterogeneous country is evident
from table II
In terms of religious affiliation the South African is quite largely Christian
with nearly three-quarters of the total population belonging to one or other
Christian denomination In the case of both the White and Coloured groups nine
The 1960 figures represent the revised final figures for the 1960 census made available
by the Bureau of Census Pretoria These figures do not always coincide with the totals appearing
in other publications this is due to the method of computer processing of the data
The 1966 figures appear in Statistical Year-Book 1966 compiled by Bureau of Statistics Pre
toria 41
Percentage distribution of total population of South Africa by religious affiliation by race
as at 1960 census
Total Religious
Population White Coloured Asiatic Bantu Affiliation
Total ............ 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
73.4 94.2 90.8 7.5 67.9
ixf ch 0.7 3.7
2.0 68.5
TditYï 1.2 6.1 20.7
Other and
cT fif fi 22.7 2.1 3.1 3.3 32.1
out of every ten persons are Christian as are two-thirds of the Bantu population
The Asiatics are mainly Hindu with sizeable one-fifth Moslem minority plus
tiny Christian minority As persons with no religious affiliation at all form
negligible proportion of the total population they are not listed separately in
table II but are grouped with <i Other and Unspecified Only among the Bantu
is significant proportion of non-religious persons encountered viz. 274
per cent These are mainly persons who have not been evangelised by Christian
missionaries Some of these persons are given to ancestor worship
in fact South African anthropoligists contend that there has been post-war
resurgence in ancestor worship among the Bantu
Figure represents diagrammatically the proportion of Christians in the four
main population groups as well as for the total population
All the major Christian denominations are to be found in South Africa Among
the Whites the numerically strongest group is the Dutch Reformed Church which
actually consists of three separate Calvinist churches whose members are Afrikaans-
speaking Approximately three-fifths of the White population as well as nearly
nine-tenths of the Coloureds reported Afrikaans as their home language at the
1960 census
In addition to the usual Christian denominations found in the western world
South African Bantu Christians have founded many indigeneous churches in the
last few decades some of these churches are breakaway movements from established
denominations while others are enturely new creations This phenomenon is not
of course confined to South Africa but is encountered in other parts of the African
continent as well Some anthropological research has been done and is being
All raw data pertaining to religious affiliation is available in Population census Wh
September 1900 Volume Religion Bureau of Statistics Republic of South Africa
These three churches are Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk Gereformeerde Kerk and the
Nederduits Hervormde Kerk At the I960 census the membership of these three churches for
all races was as follows N.G Kerk 289 128 Geref Kerk 124 055 and the N.H Kerk 216
10 20 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
done on the Bantu Separatist Church movement in South Africa En passant
we may note that some anthropologists regard this phenomenon as partial
substitute for enfeebled kin groups in the face of westernisation urbanisation
and industrialisation The South African census classifies all these churches as
Separatist churches These groups tend to fit well-known sect typology
in certain respects 6)
The next table depicts the percentage distribution of all Christians in terms
of denomination and race
Reference to this will be found in the bibliography at the end of the paper Henceforth
numbers which appear within brackets refer to the bibliography
TROELTSCH The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches vol translated by Olive
Wyon) London George Alien and Unwin 2nd impression 49
Percentage distribution of all Christians by race by denomination as at 1960 census
All Denomination
Christians White Coloured Asiatic Bantu
== 11727479 == 2899756 == 1371702 35962 7420059
Total ..... 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

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