African theology is a general term that refers to the many types of theological study in Africa. Speakers talking about African theology can be referring to different things in different contexts or fields of study. It can be used to describe general African theological thought, including ideas from all religions, or it can refer only to Christian theology from that region. In some circles, the term can be used to describe the different ways of studying religion that have originated from Africa, or it can refer to the means of observing religion that African theologists have learned from Western theologists.
Since it is the largest religion in Africa, Islamic theology clearly has a large influence on general African theology. The development of African theology has also been influenced greatly by Christianity, which is the second most popular religion on the continent. Africa was an important part of the world during the rise of early Christianity, and Christian missions originating from European nations helped further build Christianity in Africa.
Other factors that have influenced the development of African theology include feminism, education, and social changes. Continuing religious missions and Bible study groups started by both local Christians and those from overseas have a large impact on African theology even today. When discussing Christian theology and history, many people use the term African theology to refer only to Christian theological thought that comes from Africa.
The indigenous African religions also have an effect on the way the people of Africa view God. Though there are a number of variations on traditional indigenous religion in Africa, there are just a few dominant traditional religious belief systems, the largest of which include Yoruba, Mande, and Akan. The beliefs held in each traditional religion are usually dominant regionally, and they are most often passed on orally, rather than through written works. Common practices in African traditional religions include attention to multiple deities and rituals for magic, healing, and to honor the dead. For many, traditional beliefs and practice exist alongside practice of Christianity or Islam.
Changes in religious and political dominance and the influence of leaders in Africa means its popular theology is ever-changing. Influence from Western religious leaders who provide counsel to African religious leaders continues to change African theology. While many religious missions work to shape African theological thought for the betterment of the people there, some religious and political leaders push to shape African social policy by popularizing related religious dogma.