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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2002   
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Contents >> Population >> Religion

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 which were animistic in nature, involving belief 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 and Baptist churches. In 1838, German Lutherans arrived in South Australia. From the 1840s onwards, groups such as Mormons, Swedenborgians, Spiritualists, Christadelphians, Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses arrived in Australia.

Separation of church and state, and the freedom to exercise any religion, were principles enshrined in Section 116 of the 1900 Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Constitution). 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 Church of England, 23% Catholic, 34% other Christian and about 1.4% professing non-Christian religions. While the population had more than doubled by 1954, the denominational mix had changed little, with 38% Church of England (Anglican), 23% Catholic, 28% other Christian denominations and 0.6% non-Christian religions.

Further waves of migration helped to reshape the profile of Australia's religious diversity 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 1996 Census question, Australians' stated religious affiliations were: 27% Catholic, 22% Anglican, 22% other Christian denominations and 3% non-Christian religions. Approximately one-quarter of all Australians either stated that they had no religion or did not adequately respond to the question.

Growth in the proportion who either stated that they had no religion, or who did not state an affiliation with any religion, has been an area of substantial change. In every Census taken in Australia, a voluntary question on religious affiliation has been asked. Since 1933, the voluntary nature of the religion question has been specifically stated. In 1971, the instruction 'if no religion, write none' was introduced. The percentage who stated that they had no religion increased from 0.4% of the population in 1901 to almost 17% by 1996. At the same time there has been an even larger percentage point decrease in the proportion stating an affiliation with Christianity, from 96% in 1901 to 71% in 1996. Table 5.56 provides a summary of the major religious affiliations at each Census since 1901.

5.56 MAJOR RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS

Religious affiliation

Christianity

Census year
Anglican

%
Catholic

%
Other

%
Total

%
Other religions

%
No religion

%
Not stated/
inadequately described
%
Total

’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

(a) Includes ‘object to state’.

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


While Australia's population grew by 5.4% in the five years to 1996, stated affiliations to many religions grew at a far greater rate, and others declined. Between the 1991 and 1996 Censuses there was a 35% increase in the number of people with no religion. Anglican affiliates decreased by 115,455 (2.9%) while Catholic affiliates increased by 192,299 (4.2%). However both groups decreased their proportion of total religious affiliation. Other Christian denominations which showed a decrease in affiliates were Presbyterian and Reformed (7.7%), Churches of Christ (4.2%), the Uniting Church (3.8%) and the Lutheran Church (0.4%).

The Christian groups that showed the largest percentage increases in affiliates were Pentecostal (16.0%) and Jehovah's Witness (11.6%). Affiliates of other religions, while only 3.5% of the population in 1996, have shown the largest increases since the 1991 Census. Stated affiliation to Hinduism increased by 54.5%, to Buddhism by 42.9%, to Islam by 36.2% and to Judaism by 7.6%. These changes partly resulted from trends in immigration. In 1996, 48% of those who had arrived in Australia since 1991 were affiliated to Christianity, 23% had no religion, 8% were affiliated to Buddhism, 8% to Islam and 1% to Judaism.

Table 5.57 shows the breakdown of religious groupings by the number and percentage of affiliates at the 1991 and 1996 Censuses, and the growth which occurred during that five-year period.

5.57 RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION

1991
1996
No.

’000
Proportion

%
No.

’000
Proportion

%
Growth

%

Christianity
Anglican
4,018.8
23.8
3,903.3
22.0
-2.9
Baptist
279.8
1.7
295.2
1.7
5.5
Catholic
4,606.7
27.3
4,799.0
27.0
4.2
Churches of Christ
78.3
0.5
75.0
0.4
-4.2
Jehovah’s Witness
74.7
0.4
83.4
0.5
11.6
Lutheran
250.9
1.5
250.0
1.4
-0.4
Orthodox
474.9
2.8
497.0
2.8
4.7
Pentecostal
150.6
0.9
174.7
1.0
16.0
Presbyterian and Reformed
732.0
4.3
675.5
3.8
-7.7
Salvation Army
72.3
0.4
74.1
0.4
2.5
Uniting Church
1,387.7
8.2
1,334.9
7.5
-3.8
Other Christian
339.6
2.0
420.6
2.4
23.9
Buddhism
139.8
0.8
199.8
1.1
42.9
Hinduism
43.6
0.3
67.9
0.4
54.4
Islam
147.5
0.9
200.9
1.1
36.2
Judaism
74.3
0.4
79.8
0.4
7.6
Other religions
40.0
0.2
68.6
0.4
71.6
No religion
2,176.6
12.9
2,948.9
16.6
35.5
Not stated/inadequately described
1,762.1
10.5
1,604.7
9.0
-8.9
Total
16,850.3
100.0
17,752.8
100.0
5.4

Source: ABS data available on request, 1991 and 1996 Censuses of Population and Housing.


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