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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
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Contents >> Culture and recreation >> Religious affiliation

In 1983 the High Court of Australia defined religion as 'a complex of beliefs and practices which point to a set of values and an understanding of the meaning of existence'.

At the time of European settlement the Aboriginal inhabitants followed their own religions involving beliefs in spirits behind the forces of nature, and the influence of ancestral spirit beings.

During the 1800s European settlers brought their traditional churches to Australia. These included the Church of England (now the Anglican Church), and the Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Lutheran and Baptist churches.

With the exception of a small but significant Lutheran population of Germanic descent, Australian society in 1901 was predominantly Anglo-Celtic, with 40% of the population being Anglican, 23% Catholic, 34% other Christian and about 1% professing non-Christian religions.

Further waves of migration helped to reshape the profile of Australia's religious affiliations over subsequent decades. The impact of migration from Europe in the aftermath of World War II led to increases in affiliates of the Orthodox Churches, the establishment of Reformed bodies, growth in the number of Catholics (largely from Italian migration), and the creation of ethnic parishes among many other denominations. More recently, immigration from South-East Asia and the Middle East has expanded Buddhist and Muslim numbers considerably, and increased the ethnic diversity of existing Christian denominations.

In response to the 2001 Census of Population and Housing question stated religious affiliations were: 27% Catholic, 21% Anglican, 21% other Christian denominations and 5% non-Christian religions. Just over a quarter of all persons either stated they had no religion, or did not adequately respond to the question to enable classification of their religion.

A question on religious affiliation has been asked in every census taken in Australia, with the voluntary nature of this question having been specifically stated since 1933. In 1971 the instruction 'if no religion, write none' was introduced. This saw a seven-fold increase from the previous census year in the percentage of persons stating they had no religion. Since 1971 this percentage has progressively increased to about 16% in 1996 and 2001. Table 12.17 provides a summary of the major religious affiliations at each census since 1901.


12.17 MAJOR RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS
Christianity

Anglican
Catholic
Other
Total
Other religions
No religion
Not stated/ inadequately described
Total
Census year
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
'000

1901
39.7
22.7
33.7
96.1
1.4
0.4
(a)2.0
3,773.8
1911
38.4
22.4
35.1
95.9
0.8
0.4
(a)2.9
4,455.0
1921
43.7
21.7
31.6
96.9
0.7
0.5
(a)1.9
5,435.7
1933
38.7
19.6
28.1
86.4
0.4
0.2
12.9
6,629.8
1947
39.0
20.9
28.1
88.0
0.5
0.3
11.1
7,579.4
1954
37.9
22.9
28.5
89.4
0.6
0.3
9.7
8,986.5
1961
34.9
24.9
28.4
88.3
0.7
0.4
10.7
10,508.2
1966
33.5
26.2
28.5
88.2
0.7
0.8
10.3
11,599.5
1971
31.0
27.0
28.2
86.2
0.8
6.7
6.2
12,755.6
1976
27.7
25.7
25.2
78.6
1.0
8.3
11.4
13,548.4
1981
26.1
26.0
24.3
76.4
1.4
10.8
11.4
14,576.3
1986
23.9
26.0
23.0
73.0
2.0
12.7
12.4
15,602.2
1991
23.8
27.3
22.9
74.0
2.6
12.9
10.5
16,850.3
1996
22.0
27.0
21.9
70.9
3.5
16.6
9.0
17,752.8
2001
20.7
26.6
20.7
68.0
4.9
15.5
11.7
18,769.2

(a) Includes 'object to state'.

Source: ABS data available on request, Census of Population and Housing.


Table 12.18 shows the distribution of religious groupings by the number and percentage of affiliates at the 1996 and 2001 censuses, and the change which occurred during the five-year period. Affiliates of religions other than Christianity have shown the largest proportional increases since the 1996 census. Buddhist affiliates increased by 79%, Hindu affiliates by 42%, Islam affiliates by 40% and Judaism affiliates by 5%.

Growth in the numbers and proportions of persons of all ages affiliating with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism are largely due to changes in the countries of origin of recent immigrants. Between 1996 and 2001 there were just over half a million new arrivals to Australia and, although the most common religious affiliation of immigrants is Christianity, affiliates of other religions are more highly represented among recent immigrants than in the total population.

Of all people affiliating with Hinduism in 2001, 82% had been born overseas, with 34% born in India and 11% in Sri Lanka. Similarly, nearly three-quarters of all those affiliating with Buddhism had been born overseas - 26% in Vietnam and 8% in China. Of persons of all ages affiliating with Islam in 2001, 62% were overseas born, with almost 11% born in Lebanon and 9% in Turkey.

Christian denominations had smaller proportional changes in the numbers of affiliates than the non-Christian religions. Between 1996 and 2001 Catholic affiliates increased by 4.2% and Baptist affiliates by 4.8%. However, as the total population grew by 6% during this period, the actual percentage of the population professing affiliation to these denominations remained virtually unchanged. The most notable decreases in Christian affiliation occurred for Churches of Christ (decreasing by 18%), the Uniting Church (decreasing by 7%), and Presbyterian and Reformed (decreasing by 6%). An 11% increase was seen for Pentecostal affiliation between 1996 and 2001 (from 174,720 to 194,592). A substantial increase, associated with immigration from South Eastern Europe, was also seen for the Orthodox Churches, with the number of Orthodox affiliates increasing by 7% (from 497,015 to 529,444).


12.18 RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION
1996
2001


Change
'000
%
'000
%
%

Christianity
Anglican
3,903.3
22.0
3,881.2
20.7
-0.6
Baptist
295.2
1.7
309.2
1.6
4.8
Catholic
4,799.0
27.0
5,001.6
26.6
4.2
Churches of Christ
75.0
0.4
61.3
0.3
-18.2
Jehovah's Witness
83.4
0.5
81.1
0.4
-2.8
Lutheran
250.0
1.4
250.4
1.3
0.2
Orthodox
497.0
2.8
529.4
2.8
6.5
Pentecostal
174.7
1.0
194.6
1.0
11.4
Presbyterian and Reformed
675.5
3.8
637.5
3.4
-5.6
Salvation Army
74.1
0.4
71.4
0.4
-3.7
Uniting Church
1,334.9
7.5
1,248.7
6.7
-6.5
Other Christian
420.6
2.4
497.9
2.7
18.4
Buddhism
199.8
1.1
357.8
1.9
79.1
Hinduism
67.3
0.4
95.5
0.5
41.9
Islam
200.9
1.1
281.6
1.5
40.2
Judaism
79.8
0.4
84.0
0.4
5.2
Other religions
68.6
0.4
92.4
0.5
34.6
No religion
2,948.9
16.6
2,906.0
15.5
-1.5
Not stated/inadequately described
1,604.7
9.0
2,187.7
11.7
36.3
Total
17,752.8
100.0
18,769.2
100.0
5.7

Source: ABS data available on request, 1996 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


In 2001, 82% of persons aged 65 years and over identified themselves as Christian, compared with 60% of 18-24 year olds. In contrast, the other religions have a younger age profile. For example, 15% of all Christian affiliates were aged 65 years and over, compared with 6% of Buddhist affiliates; and 8% of Christian affiliates were aged between 18 and 24 years, compared with 13% of Buddhist affiliates. The largest group of Buddhist affiliates was 35-44 year olds. Similar trends were evident for Hindu and Muslim affiliates. In the 2001 census, people in the 18-24 years age group were the most likely to state that they had no religion (20%).

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