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African, Religious, and Tolerant? How Religious Diversity Shapes Attitudes Toward Sexual Minorities in Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 September 2019

Sarah K. Dreier
University of Washington
James D. Long
University of Washington
Stephen J. Winkler
University of Washington
E-mail address:


Despite trends towards greater LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights in industrialized democracies, the rights of sexual minorities have become increasingly politicized and restricted throughout Africa. Recognizing religion's central role in shaping attitudes toward gays and lesbians, we hypothesize that local religious diversity could expose individuals to alternative religious perspectives, engender tolerance toward marginalized communities, and therefore dislodge dogmatic beliefs about social issues. Employing cross-national Afrobarometer survey data from 33 countries with an index of district-level religious concentration, we find that respondents living in religiously pluralistic communities are 4–5 points more likely to express tolerance of homosexual neighbors (50% increase) compared to those in homogeneous locales. This effect is not driven by outlier countries, the existence of specific religious affiliations within diverse communities, respondents' religiosity, or other observable and latent factors at the country, sub-national, district, and individual level. Further robustness checks address potential threats to validity. We conclude that religious diversity can foster inclusion of sexual minorities in Africa.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2019

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Long acknowledges financial support from the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies; Winkler acknowledges financial support from the National Science Foundation (DGE-1256082). We thank the University of Washington's Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences, Center for Social Science Computation and Research, Christopher Adolph, Loren Collingwood, Jeff Arnold, Sam Payment, and Sophia Wallace for helpful comments. Replication data are publicly available from Afrobarometer at; replication files used in this paper are posted at


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