1266.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups, 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/07/2011   
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The theoretical and conceptual considerations for developing the classification were tempered by other considerations including:
  • the practical usefulness of the classification for collecting data from both statistical and administrative collections,
  • the analytical usefulness of data collected within the framework of the classification, and
  • the number of Australians affiliated to each category at each level of the classification.

Generally, the classification criteria were applied in a straightforward manner. However, some decisions in regard to the identification of religious groups and the progressive grouping of units were made on the basis of whether it would be possible to collect data in relation to certain religious sub-sets or whether data for particular religions would be more useful if classified in a broader or finer manner. These decisions were made in consultation with religious and ethnic communities, religious experts and users of religion data.

The effect of these constraints on the classification has been that:
  • some religious groups which are significant in a world context are not separately identified in the structure
  • some broad groups are limited in the number of narrow groups they subsume
  • some major world religions are represented at levels below the broad group level.

The most notable effect has been in the large number of narrow groups and religious groups represented as subsets of the broad group Christianity.


The classification criteria are the principles by which the base level units of the classification are formed into classification categories which may be aggregated to form broader or higher-level categories in the classification structure.

Three classification criteria are used in the ASCRG to form the various levels of categories of the classification:
  • similar religious beliefs;
  • similar religious practices; and/or
  • cultural heritage.

Religious groups, the most detailed level of the classification, are combined to form narrow groups (the middle level of the classification) on the basis of their similarity in terms of these criteria. Although the religious groups are not necessarily identical in any particular characteristics, the narrow groups formed are relatively homogeneous in terms of the set of classification criteria.

The most general level of the classification, the broad groups, were developed in a slightly different manner. On the basis of the number of affiliated persons worldwide, the major world religions are generally accepted as: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Tao, Confucian, Tribal, Animist, and Jewish. It would seem appropriate to make these major religions, the broad groups in the classification, particularly as they are generally homogeneous in terms of the classification criteria (beliefs, practices, and cultural heritage). However, consideration of the number of adherents of each of these religions (in Australia) indicates that it is unacceptable in terms of the statistical balance of the classification to include Tao, Confucian, Tribal and Animist religions as broad groups.

Thus, on the basis of a broad application of all the classification criteria, supported by the size of the religions in Australia, the first five broad groups within the classification are:
  • Buddhism
  • Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Islam
  • Judaism

This application of the criteria enables the delineation of appropriate narrow groups (constructed on the basis of a more rigorous application of the criteria) as subsets (sub-categories) of these broad groups.

Additional broad groups

There are two additional broad groups:
  • Other Religions: The classification criteria are then applied so that other major world religions and residual narrow groups form a meaningful and useful classification structure within a residual broad group: Other Religions.
  • No Religion: A further broad group (No Religion) has been included in the classification for practical reasons and to make the classification more useful. As this group consists of entities not considered to be religious groups it was not developed in accordance with the classification criteria specified above.


The ASCRG has a three-level hierarchical structure.

The third and most detailed level of the classification consists of base units known as 'religious groups'. The classification consists of 115 religious groups. Some religious groups are residual categories, or 'not elsewhere classified' (nec) categories, which contain entities that are not listed separately in the classification.

The second level of the classification comprises 32 'narrow groups'. Narrow groups comprise between one and 14 religious groups which are similar in terms of the classification criteria.

The first and most general level of the classification comprises seven 'broad groups'. These are formed by aggregating narrow groups (and hence religious groups) which are broadly similar in terms of the classification criteria. Broad Group 7 No Religion comprises entities which are identifiable and useful groupings which, while not satisfying the criteria of a religion, are necessary to enable the capture of the full range of responses to questions on religious affiliation.