Original Research

Religion, politics and the dilemma of modernising Ethiopia

Mohammed Girma
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 74, No 1 | a4878 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i1.4878 | © 2018 Mohammed Girma | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 November 2017 | Published: 30 April 2018

About the author(s)

Mohammed Girma, London School of Theology, United Kingdom and Department of Science of Religion and Missiology, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Ethiopia is an old society often confronted with new ideas and foreign values. As a result, social changes and modernisation were important contentious points especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some wanted change and progress at the expense of indigenous values, specifically cultural and political independence, while others opted for a more cautious approach. Inasmuch as Ethiopia’s context was one in which the church and the state were accustomed to seeing themselves as two sides of the same coin, the discourse of modernisation had both a political and religious flavour to it. This article therefore aims to examine the volatile dynamics between religion (especially the Protestant churches of the ‘southern peripheries’) and the Marxist regime in modernising Ethiopia. Specifically, the article intends to explore how state-church relations transformed social thinking in Ethiopia. I begin by sketching the historical background and proceed to unravel the dilemma of modernisation. In the final part, I discuss how Protestantism contributed to modernising three aspects of social structure: the understanding of the human person, state-church relations and social organisation.


Ethiopia; politics; religion; modernisation; Protestantism


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