Religious affiliation provides a useful indicator of aspects of the cultural diversity of Australia's multicultural society. In order to satisfy wide community interest in the religious affiliations of the Australian population, and to meet a growing statistical and administrative need, the ABS has developed the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG).
The ASCRG is intended for use in collecting, aggregating and disseminating data relating to the religious affiliation of the Australian population, or subsets of the population. It is envisaged that the classification will improve the usefulness of religion data provided on administrative forms such as hospital admission and school enrolment forms, as well as being used to classify religion data from statistical censuses and surveys.
Data classified by religious group can be used for policy and planning purposes related to the location and development of educational facilities and church buildings, the provision of aged persons' care facilities and services, and the provision of other social services by religious organisations. The classification will enhance the usefulness of data used to assist in assigning chaplains and other care providers to hospitals, prisons, armed services, universities, and other institutions, and for the allocation of time to particular community groups on public radio and in other media. The ASCRG will also be a useful tool in general sociological research.
In the classification, religions are grouped into progressively broader categories on the basis of similarity in terms of religious beliefs, religious practices and the cultural heritage of adherents. This results in those religions and religious groups which are closely related in terms of their intrinsic characteristics being closely aligned in the structure of the classification. Thus, similar populations of religious adherents are aligned to produce a classification that will be useful for the purposes of Australian social analysis.
This classification has been developed by the ABS by means of extensive research of Australian and overseas literature in the field of interest, employment of statistical principles and techniques relating to statistical classification, and analysis of existing data relating to the religious profile of Australia (primarily data from the 1991 Census of Population and Housing). This methodology was supported and enhanced by information and advice from academics and religious experts, and by consultation with community and religious groups interested in this topic.
To make the classification as useful as possible, the number of adherents of a particular religious group has been a significant factor in developing the classification structure so that the current religious composition of Australia is accurately reflected. Thus, Christian denominations are extensively identified. However, the identification of individual religions or denominations in the classification, and the way in which they are grouped, does not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the ABS concerning the relative merit or importance of particular religions or the people who practice them.
The ABS will use the ASCRG in its own statistical work, starting with the 1996 Census of Population and Housing, and will actively promote its use by other government agencies, private organisations, community groups, and individuals collecting, analysing, or using information relating to religion. As the ASCRG has the status of a National Statistical Standard it should be used for the production and dissemination of all official statistics on religion.