1291.0 - A Guide to Major ABS Classifications, 1998  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/09/1998   
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Contents >> RELIGION: Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG)


The Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) was developed in order to satisfy wide community interest in the religious affiliations of the Australian population, and to meet a growing statistical need. Religious affiliation provides a useful indicator of aspects of the cultural diversity of Australia's multicultural society.

The classification includes all religions and subsets of religions in the world. However, in practice, only those religious groups that have significant numbers of adherents in Australia are separately identified in the classification structure. All other religions are covered, notionally being included in the most appropriate residual (not elsewhere classified) category of the classification.

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. 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.

Purpose of the classification

The ASCRG is a National Statistical Standard and should be used for the production and dissemination of all official statistics on religion. Data classified by religious group can be used for policy and planning purposed 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 ASCRG is a useful tool in general sociological research.

The ASCRG was used in the 1996 Census of Population and Housing, and actively promotes its use by other government agencies and private organisations for collecting, analysing or using information relating to religion.

Units of the classification

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. Some of the entities included in the classification do not fit this definition, but are regarded, either universally or widely, as religions. For instance, Buddhism is universally accepted as a religion although it does not acknowledge a personal God. Such entities are included to ensure that the classification is comprehensive and useful, and to make the classification widely acceptable.

The most detailed level units describe groups of 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 as Religious Groups as 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 tradition and perspective.

Structure of the classification

The ASCRG has a hierarchy consisting of three levels:

      • the first and most general level contains 7 Broad Groups formed by aggregating Narrow Groups (and hence Religious Groups) which are broadly similar in terms of religious beliefs, religious practices and/or cultural heritage;
      • the second level contains 33 Narrow Groups of Religious Groups similar in terms of religious beliefs, religious practices and/or cultural heritage; and
      • the third and most detailed level, contains 107 Religious Groups as described above.

The seven Broad Groups of the classification are:
      • Buddhism
      • Christianity
      • Hinduism
      • Islam
      • Judaism
      • Other Religions
      • No Religion

A coding index has been included in the publication to enable responses to be assigned accurately and quickly to the appropriate category of the classification. It contains a comprehensive list of the most probable responses to statistical and administrative questions relating to religions and their correct classification codes.

One, two or three, and four digit codes are assigned to the first, second and third level units of the classification respectively. The first digit identifies the Broad Group in which each Religious Group or Narrow Group is contained. The first two or three digits together identify the Narrow Group in which each Religious Group is contained. The four digit codes represent Religious Groups.

The following examples illustrate the coding scheme:

Broad Group2. Christianity
Narrow Group24Pentecostal
Religious Group
Assemblies of God
Broad Group6. Other Religions
Narrow Group605Chinese Religions
Religious Group

Further information

Further information may be obtained through the following products:

  • Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (Cat. no. 1266.0)
  • ASCRG - on floppy disk (Cat. no. 1266.0.15.001)

ASCRG release date:
ASCRG was released on 6 November 1996.


      Assistant Director
      Classification and Data Standards

      Phone: (02) 6252 7074
      Fax: (02) 6252 5281

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