1266.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), 1996  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/11/1996   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All  
Contents >> Chapter 1: Explanatory notes >> Definition of religion

Precise definition of the concept of religion, or of what generally constitutes 'a religion', is difficult, if not impossible, because of the intangible and wide-ranging nature of the topic. Generally, a religion is regarded as a set of beliefs and practices, usually involving acknowledgment of a divine or higher being or power, by which people order the conduct of their lives both practically and in a moral sense. This method of defining religion in terms of a mixture of beliefs, practices, and a Supernatural Being giving form and meaning to existence was used by the High Court of Australia in 1983. The High Court held that "the beliefs, practices and observances of the Church of the New Faith (Scientology) were a religion in Victoria". As part of the ruling, it was stated that:

        "For the purposes of the law, the criteria of religion are twofold:

        first, belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and

        second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief, though canons of conduct which offend against the ordinary laws are outside the area of any immunity, privilege or right conferred on the grounds of religion."

Although the above definition may be regarded as useful in going some way toward describing the nature of the entities included in the classification, it is by no means all-inclusive. Some of the entities included in the classification do not fit the definition, but are regarded, either universally or widely, as religions. Such entities are included to ensure that the classification is comprehensive and useful, and to make the classification widely acceptable.

For instance, Buddhism is universally accepted as a religion although it does not acknowledge a personal God. Similarly, Confucianism is regarded as a religion, even though it involves no belief in the supernatural, because it provides the moral code of its adherents. However, not all philosophies which involve beliefs about the nature of life or codes of behaviour are accepted as religions. For instance, Marxism is regarded as a religion by some because it is based on a coherent set of beliefs, but it is more generally regarded as a political philosophy and is, therefore, excluded from the classification.

Thus, the extent of opinion in regard to what constitutes a 'religion' (particularly the opinion of the adherents), practical considerations, and generally-held notions about the nature of philosophies, organisations and institutions all play a role in defining religion or identifying the concepts that underpin religion. These elements complement the more stringent notions of belief, practices and a Supernatural Being included in the definition of religion.

Although the classification is intended to classify entities defined as religions, its base level units (that is, the categories at its most detailed level) are not all of the same order. Factors such as the number of adherents in Australia and the organisational structure of particular religions have made it expedient to include different sorts of religious entities as the categories at the finest (most differentiated) level of the classification.

The base level units therefore describe: groups of religions, religions, and subsets of religions, such as, religious denominations, administrative and organisational groupings, groups of churches, churches, and breakaway groups. All these entities, while not necessarily constituting discrete religions, are comprised of one or more subsets of the spectrum of world-wide religions. They are described here as Religious Groups in that each is composed of a group of people who share common religious beliefs and practices, or belong to organisations that are unified by a common religious theme. Thus, the base level entities in the classification are termed Religious Groups and the classification is called The Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG).

Previous PageNext Page