A Guest Post by Dr. Tim Stabell

Hi Bob,

I’ve done a couple of small-scale replication studies based on the information you sent me a couple of months ago, looking at how students in the two universities where I teach here in Congo respond to questions about their experience with accusations of witchcraft. I haven’t finished looking at the results yet, but thought I’d share with you what I have so far. The differences between the two sets of results from the two different schools are striking.

The first school is Shalom University in Bunia (USB), where Dr. Katho Bungishabako is Rector. Here I did the survey with a group of 23 students in the Theology Faculty. These men are older than the second group of students (average age of 43 as opposed to 23). They have years of pastoral experience behind them, and most of them are from the northeast province of Congo (Orientale). They have lived a smaller proportion of their lives in urban environments. Congo has many more ethnic groups than Kenya, so I didn’t have nearly enough participants to meaningfully divide out the data by ethnic group, especially for the USB students.

The second group is from the Bilingual Christian University of Congo (UCBC), where David Kasali, a graduate of TEDS (PhD in New Testament) is Rector. Here I had a class of 79 students who took the survey. Most of these are not theology students (only 5 of the 79 are in the Theology Faculty); the vast majority are majoring in Communications.  UCBC students are mostly from the two Kivu provinces (North and South). They are, as noted, significantly younger, generally have no pastoral experience, and are more mixed in terms of Christian commitment. They also have more urban exposure (one of the reasons one sometimes hears as to why people move to the city is in order to avoid relatives in the village who are suspected of being jealous witches).

As is clear from the first chart above, USB students are much more likely to be from social contexts where people frequently report being victims of witchcraft, with 87% saying that they know more than 20 people who have claimed to be victims. None of these students say that they don’t know anyone who has made such a claim, while 22% of the UCBC students say that they don’t know anyone who has told them that they have been attacked by witches.

USB students (the older group) are also much more likely than are UCBC students to have attributed some of their own problems to occult attacks of human origin.

Of the UCBC students, 77% have never seen themselves as victims of witch attacks, while for the USB students only 18% put themselves in this category. And while only 1% of the UCBC students see themselves as having been victimized very frequently (11 times or more), 27% of USB students put themselves in that category.

Interestingly, the rate of personal belief in the power of witches to kill others is only slightly lower for UCBC students, despite their relatively low scores in response to other questions. The younger students are only a little less sure about the reality of claims regarding the power of witches.

Roughly two-thirds of respondents are confident that some people have the power to kill others through witchcraft, with a small minority asserting that they do not, and others with varying levels of belief and doubt.

On the question of the number of people students know personally who have been accused of harming others through witchcraft, there is again a significant difference between the two schools.

USB students know many more people who have been accused, while UCBC students report in significant numbers that they don’t know anyone who has been so accused, or that they only know of one or two such individuals (combined 77%).

I decided to compare as well numbers of personal acquaintances accused of merely harming others with those accused of actually using occult power to kill, and the pattern is very similar, though at least for UCBC students, the rates are a bit lower.

While 34% say that they don’t know anyone who has been accused of harming others, 47% say that they don’t know anyone accused of killing others through witchcraft. The number of USB students who say that they know more than 20 people accused of harming and of killing is almost exactly the same.

Most respondents know one or more people that have been accused of witchcraft that they think were innocent.

USB students know more people who have been accused whom they think were innocent, but I think this may be simply a by-product of the fact that UCBC students know fewer people who have been accused than USB students.

When it comes to reported consequences of being accused of harming others through witchcraft, almost every one of the USB students claimed to know accused people who had suffered each of the possible outcomes. All 100% report knowing accused relatives, neighbors, or colleagues that were physically attacked and beaten up, that were driven out of home and community, and that had their property taken as a result of being accused of having harmed others through witchcraft. Fully 74% report knowing a relative, neighbor, or colleague that was killed as a result of being accused. UCBC students report less exposure to negative consequences of being accused, but the numbers are still very significant (similar to the results you found at NEGST).

From my previous experience of teaching at these two schools, I thought it was likely that these differences would be there. I’m not sure what all the factors are that account for the fairly significant degree of variation. My guess is that it is some combination of age, urban exposure, and/or province of origin.

The significance of the province of origin may be related to experiences of the war, during which some armed groups took it on themselves to eliminate or punishing people accused of witchcraft (hence the high numbers of serious consequences reported by the USB students?). One student at USB mentioned this in a brief discussion after filling out the questionnaire.  Students from North and South Kivu seem to have significantly less exposure to accusations of witchcraft.

USB and UCBC students, however, differ on all three of these factors, with USB students scoring on all three in ways that would seem to naturally contribute to greater exposure to accusations of witchcraft (older, less urban, northern province), while UCBC students score lower in each of these variables. So I’m left wondering which if any is more important. Because the three factors coincide, it may be that the apparent difference associated with province of origin (above) is actually explained more by the difference in ages of the two groups of students, or by their greater urban exposure.

For the following chart, I divided all of the students into three equal groups (34 per group), sorted by age from youngest to oldest.

It seems pretty clear that the older students knew more people who have been accused, but it also just happens that all of the older students are at USB, so the real reason for the higher score may be their lower urban score, or their province of origin.

In the following chart I divided the group into those with “maximal urban exposure,” those who reported essentially spending their whole lives in an urban context, from those with less urban exposure.

Maximal urban exposure seems to correlate with less exposure to accusations of witchcraft, but once again, this may simply be because of the nature of the two groups, and the real cause may be youth or province of origin (or something else).

There may be ways of fairly easily exploring this kind of question. The University in Bunia has a large number of younger, more urbanized students in faculties other than Theology. It should be easy enough to have some of them do the survey as well. This would at least eliminate the difference of province of origin, and give more data for comparing the relative importance of the other factors. It might also be very helpful to interview a cross-section of students in greater depth and in that way seek to tease out some of what is going on.