Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups

Latest release

This classification was developed for use in the collection, storage and dissemination of all Australian statistical data classified by religion

Reference period
March 2024


What's new

This latest release of the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), 2024 includes the following changes:

  • A new coding structure across the entire classification.
  • One new Broad group (Sikhism, 65).
  • Three new Narrow groups (within Islam, Broad group 45).
  • Additional Religious groups in Buddhism (Broad group 15), Christianity (Broad group 25), Islam (Broad group 45) and Other Religions (Broad group 85).
  • One Religious group (Albanian Orthodox) moved to Eastern Orthodox not elsewhere classified (nec) (Religious group 252399) within Christianity.

These changes were developed through the review undertaken in 2022 and 2023. More detail on these changes is available in the What has changed section. 

This is the fifth revision since ASCRG was established in 1996. The 2024 classification structure and correspondence tables are available from the Data downloads section.

About the classification

Religious affiliation is a useful indicator of the cultural diversity of Australia's society. The ASCRG provides a basis for the standardised collection, publication and analysis of data relating to the religious affiliation of the Australian population. It is used to classify religious affiliation data from the ABS Census of Population and Housing and is also recommended for use in administrative data collections where data on religious affiliation is collected.

Data classified by religion can be used for policy and planning purposes. For example, the location and development of educational facilities, church buildings, aged care facilities and services by religious organisations. It may also be used in assigning chaplains and other care providers to institutions such as hospitals, prisons, the armed services, universities; and to determine the allocation of time to community groups on public radio and in other media. This data can also be used in sociological research.

In the classification, Religious groups are arranged into progressively broader categories based on similarity in religious beliefs, religious practices and the cultural heritage of adherents. This results in those Religious groups which are closely related in terms of their intrinsic characteristics being closely aligned in the structure of the classification. Therefore, people with similar religious beliefs are grouped together to produce a classification that is useful for both social analysis and planning purposes.

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 are affiliated with them.

Conceptual model

The ABS collects data on religious affiliation in the Census of Population and Housing. This data is self-identified and represents the religion to which a person nominates an affiliation. It is not designed to measure levels of adherence to, or participation in practices common to the nominated religion. More information on how the ABS asks the question about religious affiliation is available here: Religious affiliation standard.

Definition of religion

A precise definition of the concept of religion, or of what generally constitutes a 'religion', is difficult, 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."

The above definition is useful in describing the nature of all the entities included in the classification, apart from the renamed Broad group 7, Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation.

For example: 

  • Buddhism is universally accepted as a religion because, although it does not acknowledge a personal God, it contains elements of belief in supernatural principles as well as canons of conduct.
  • Confucianism is regarded as a religion, even though it involves no overt belief in the supernatural, because it provides a moral code for its adherents and because it contains elements of belief in supernatural principles.

Not all philosophies which involve beliefs about the nature of life or codes of behaviour are accepted as religions. For example:

  • Marxism, although regarded as a religion by some, is more generally regarded as a political philosophy based on a coherent set of beliefs, without any supernatural or spiritual component, and is therefore excluded from the classification.

The extent of opinion as to what constitutes a religion, 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, accepted and wide-spread practices and canons of conduct, and a supernatural being or principle, included in the definition of religion.

Scope of the classification

The scope of the classification is all religions and subsets of religions in the world as defined above. In practice, only those Religious groups that have a significant number of affiliated persons in Australia are separately identified in the classification structure. However, all other religions are covered and are included in the most appropriate residual category: Miscellaneous, Other, or Not elsewhere classified (nec) categories of the classification. The code structure of the classification also allows the identification of Religious groups not separately identified, if such a need arises.

Secular beliefs and Other spiritual beliefs and No religious affiliation Broad group

The classification structure also includes a Broad group that covers secular beliefs, other spiritual beliefs and no religious affiliation, which could be considered to be inconsistent with the basis of the classification as described above and outside the scope of the religion topic. This Broad group has been included for practical reasons and to make the classification more useful. Many statistical and administrative applications need to accommodate the whole range of responses to a question on religion, including personal spiritual beliefs, secular beliefs and the response 'No Religion'.

Overview of ASCRG structure

The structure of ASCRG has three hierarchical levels:

  • Broad group
  • Narrow group
  • Religious group

The categories at the most detailed level of the classification are termed ‘Religious groups’. These are grouped together to form Narrow groups, which in turn are grouped to form Broad groups, the highest level of the classification.

As a result of reviews of the classification, the number of groups at each level has changed over time, as illustrated in the table below.

Table 1: Change in the number of groups, at each level of the classification hierarchy, over time.
RevisionYear of PublicationBroad groupsNarrow groupsReligious groups
First edition1996733107
Second edition2005732113
Second edition (Rev 1)2011732113
Third edition2016734131
Fourth edition2024836139

About the review

Purpose of the review

The need for periodic reviews of the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) to reflect changes in the religious profile of the Australian population, was foreshadowed when ASCRG was first released.

A review of ASCRG was undertaken from 2022 to 2023. The purpose of the review was to update the ASCRG so that is it reflects the current Australian community.

The initial scope of the review considered feedback from stakeholders and the general public, as well as research and data analysis. The initial scope was confirmed following public consultation in late 2022. 

The objectives of the changes to ASCRG implemented from the 2022-2023 review are to:

  • more accurately reflect the groups to which Australians have a religious affiliation.
  • improve the usability of the classification.
  • streamline the coding structure and better accommodate new groups over time.

Details of the changes implemented in the 2024 version of ASCRG are provided below, in the What has changed section.

An assessment of the conceptual model underpinning the classification was out of scope of this review.

How the review was done

The 2022-2023 review used statistical analysis, research and stakeholder consultation to identify the need for changes to the ASCRG, as outlined below. The process used in the 2022-23 review is broadly consistent with the process used in previous reviews of ASCRG.

Statistical analysis

Analysis of data from the Census of Population and Housing (2011, 2016 and 2021) was conducted. The purpose of this analysis was to identify Religious groups whose number of affiliated persons had significantly changed (increased or decreased) since the last review in 2016.


Extensive research was conducted to:

  • identify the appropriate terminology to be used for new categories in the classification.
  • confirm the characteristics of current and new groups within the classification.
  • assess the accuracy of coding of Religious groups.

Stakeholder consultation

Three phases of stakeholder consultation were undertaken in the 2022-23 review:

  • Public consultation on the scope of the review (August to November 2022).
  • Consultation with individuals, community and stakeholder groups, data users and academics (January to September 2023).
  • Public consultation on the changes proposed to the ASCRG (September to November 2023).

Stakeholders did not raise any concerns regarding the proposed changes to the ASCRG through these processes. The 2024 release of the classification reflects the outcomes of the 2022-23 review, as discussed with stakeholders and published on the ABS Consultation Hub

A number of issues were raised during the public consultation phase of the 2022-23 review, and the 2026 Census Content Consultation, which have not been investigated at this time. All issues identified through these consultation processes, that have not been investigated, will be considered in the next review of the ASCRG. The next review is yet to be scheduled.

What has changed

Summary of changes

The 2022-23 review of the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) has resulted in changes to the Broad, Narrow and Religious group levels of the classification. These changes include:

  • A revised coding structure across the entire classification.
  • The identification of new groups at the Broad group (two-digit), Narrow group (four-digit) and Religious group (6-digit) levels.
  • The retirement of one Religious group.

Please note: the codes included below reference the new (2024) coding structure, unless otherwise stated. Concordances between the new and old (2016) coding structures are available in the Data downloads section.

Changes to the coding structure

In the new (2024) structure, Broad groups have two-digit codes; Narrow groups have four-digit codes and Religious groups have six-digit codes. Previously Broad groups were identified by a one-digit code; Narrow groups by a two- or three-digit code; and Religious groups by a four digit code.

The purpose of the new coding structure is to streamline the coding structure and better accommodate new groups that are identified in the future.

Changes by Broad group

The changes made to ASCRG for the 2024 version are outlined below, by Broad group. Stakeholders were consulted on these changes through the public consultation held in late 2023. The ABS received no objections to these changes from stakeholders. 

Buddhism (15)

Additional detail has been included at the Religious group level. The Religious group Buddhism (previously code 1011) has been replaced by the following groups: 

  • Mahayana Buddhism (151111)
  • Theravada Buddhism (151112)
  • Vajrayana Buddhism (151113)
Christianity (25)

Two changes have occurred within Christianity:

  • One Religious group (Syriac Catholic, 251514) has been added to the Narrow group Catholic (2515).
  • One Religious group has been retired (Albanian Orthodox, previously code 2231) and is now included in the Eastern Orthodox, not elsewhere classified (nec) group (251799).
Islam (45)

Additional detail has been included at the Narrow group and Religious group levels. Islam was previously represented by a single Narrow group (Islam, previously 401) and a single Religious group (Islam 4011). These groups have been replaced with the following:

  • Shia (Narrow group 4511), containing the following Religious group:
    • Shia (451111)
  • Sunni (Narrow group 4512), containing the following Religious group:
    • Sunni (451211)
  • Other Islam (Narrow group 4513), containing the following Religious groups:
    • Ahmadiyya (451311)
    • Alawite (451312)
    • Alevi (451313)
    • Islam, nec (451399)
Sikhism (65)

The 2024 version of ASCRG includes one new Broad group, Sikhism (Broad group 65). Sikhism was previously included in the ASCRG, under Other Religions (Broad group 85).

Both the Narrow group for Sikhism (previously code 615) and the Religious group (previously code 6151) have been moved from the Broad group, Other Religions (previously code 6) to the Broad group Sikhism (65).

Other Religions (85)

Of the eight Narrow groups in Other Religions, only one has undergone change: Miscellaneous Religions (8518). One Religious group has been added to 8518: Kirat Mundham (851815).

Reordering of groups

Several groups within the classification have been reordered and are now in alphabetical order, including the Narrow groups within Christianity (25).

In addition, Religious groups in the following Narrow groups have been alphabetized:

  • Anglican (2511)
  • Assyrian Apostolic (2512)
  • Catholic (2515)
  • Churches of Christ (2516)
  • Latter-day Saints (2521)
  • Oriental Orthodox (2523)
  • Pentecostal (2524)
  • Presbyterian and Reformed (2525)
  • Other Protestant (2531)
  • Other Christian (2532)
  • Miscellaneous Religions (8518)

No other changes were made to the classification.

Changes to the coding index

Changes to the coding index will reflect the changes across the classification, as outlined above. 

Comparing current and previous editions of the ASCRG

An important consideration in the development of a classification is the need to build in sufficient robustness to allow for long-term usage. This robustness facilitates meaningful analysis of data over time; and must be balanced against the need for revisions which ensure the classification is contemporary.

Revisions to ASCRG occur to identify changes in religious affiliation in Australia. This includes identifying groups that are emerging or declining; and reflecting changes in group names (titles). There have been four revisions to ASCRG since its establishment in 1996 as shown in the table below.

Table 2: Summary of the changes in each revision to the ASCRG 
RevisionYear of PublicationSummary of Revision
First edition1996ASCRG established
Second edition2005Changes to the structure of the classification and renaming of some groups 
Second edition (Rev 1)2011Minimal change
Third edition2016Expansion of Broad group 7, Secular and Spiritual beliefs and No Religious Affiliation
Fourth edition2024Expansion of Broad groups 15 (Buddhism) and 45 (Islam); creation Broad group for Sikhism. Introduction of new coding structure across the classification. 

Correspondence tables are available in the Data downloads section. One enables users to convert data from the fourth edition (2024) to third edition (2016) of ASCRG. The second enables users to convert data from the third edition (2016) to the fourth edition (2024).

The correspondence tables itemise the code linkages between groups, details the links between the Broad groups and the Narrow groups, and indicates movements within the structure of particular Religious groups. In some instances, there is not a direct relationship between the groupings of the structures of the two editions. Partial linkages within the structure are indicated by including the word 'part' after the code of the group concerned.

Building the classification

Classification structure

The Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) has a three level hierarchical structure that consists of Broad groups, Narrow groups and Religious groups.

Broad group

The Broad group level is the highest and most general level of the classification. Eight Broad groups have been formed by aggregating Narrow groups, and hence Religious groups, which are broadly similar in terms of the classification criteria.

Broad group 95, Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation, comprises entities which are identifiable and useful groupings. While these groups do not satisfy the criteria of a religion, they are necessary to enable the capture of the full range of responses to questions on religious affiliation.

Narrow group

The Narrow group level is the middle level of the classification. There are 36 Narrow groups in the ASCRG. They were formed by aggregating Religious groups which are similar in terms of the classification criteria.

Religious group

The third and most detailed level of the classification consists of base units known as Religious groups. There are 139 Religious groups in the ASCRG. Some Religious groups are residual categories (Not elsewhere classified (nec) categories) which contain entities that are not listed separately in the classification.

An example of groups in the hierarchy are provided in the table below.

Table 3: An example of related groups at each level of the classification hierarchy
Hierarchical levelExampleReligion
Broad group85Other Religions
Narrow group8511Japanese Religions
Religious group851111Shinto

Classification criteria and their application

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

Three criteria are used in the ASCRG to form categories in the Religious and Narrow group levels of 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. The first six Broad groups (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism) were identified through a broad application of the classification criteria: homogeneity in terms of beliefs, practices, and cultural heritage; and a large number of people are affiliated with these groups in Australia. In addition, these groups are considered to be significant globally, based on numbers of adherents worldwide. 

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 of these Broad groups.

Additional Broad groups

There are two additional Broad groups:

  • Other Religions (85): the classification criteria have been applied to create a Broad group for other religions that are less common in Australia. The residual Narrow groups form a meaningful and useful classification structure within this residual Broad group.
  • Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation (95): this Broad group has been included in the classification for practical reasons and to make the classification more useful. However, as this group consists of entities not considered to be Religious groups, its development differs from the classification criteria specified above.

Design constraints

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.

In addition to theses factors, in some cases, consideration was also given to whether data could be collected for certain religious sub-sets; as well as the usefulness of data 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 (25).

About codes

Code scheme

The ASCRG code scheme has been devised so that any future changes to the classification structure can be easily accommodated. For example, when a Religious group is added to ASCRG it is allocated a previously unused code, and when a Religious group is deleted its code is retired and not used again.

Broad group level

The first level of the classification, the Broad group level, comprises eight categories and provides a broad overall picture of the religious affiliation of the Australian population. The Broad groups covering the major religions are arranged alphabetically, and are represented by two-digit codes.

They are:

Table 4: Broad groups in the classification
Broad group
85Other Religions
95Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation

Narrow group level

Narrow groups are represented by a four-digit code, the first two digits indicate the Broad group to which they belong. For example, the following Narrow groups are within the Christianity Broad group (code 25): 

  • Anglican is code 2511.
  • Baptist is code 2513. 
  • Brethren is code 2514.

Religious group level

At the third and most detailed level, Religious groups are represented by a six-digit code. The first four digits represent the Broad and Narrow groups to which they belong.

For example, Religious groups 251111 Anglican Catholic Church, 251112 Anglican Church of Australia, and 251199, Anglican, not elsewhere classified (nec), all fall within the Anglican Narrow group (code 2511) and the Christianity Broad group (code 25). These relationships are shown in the table below.

Table 5: an example of the code structure in ASCRG and how it shows relationships
Broad groupNarrow groupReligious group
25 Christianity
 2511 Anglican
 251111 Anglican Catholic Church
 251112 Anglican Church of Australia 
 251199 Anglican, nec

Residual category codes

Not elsewhere classified (nec) categories

Some Narrow groups include residual 'Not elsewhere classified' (nec) groups. These categories are represented by six-digit codes consisting of the four-digits of the Narrow group code, followed by the digits 99. All Religious groups which are not separately identified in the classification are notionally included in the nec category of the Narrow group to which they relate. The classification currently includes 15 nec categories.

'Other' or 'Miscellaneous'

Some Broad groups also contain residual categories at the Narrow group level. These groups are termed 'Other' or 'Miscellaneous' categories and consist of separately identified Religious groups which do not fit into other Narrow groups on the basis of the classification criteria. The classification currently contains five such residual categories.

Additional residual categories

Provision exists in the code structure for the creation of additional residual categories. If experience indicates the need for further residual categories, the ABS will create them and add them to the classification structure. Residual categories are part of the classification structure and should not be used to 'dump' responses that are not sufficiently detailed to be coded to a separately identified category of the classification.

Supplementary codes

Supplementary codes are used to process inadequately described responses in statistical collections. They are not part of the classification structure but are required to enable coding of responses that are not sufficiently detailed to enable them to be coded to a Religious group. Supplementary codes are listed separately in the Data downloads section (Table 2).

The codes are of two types:

  • six-digit codes ending with two or more zeros
  • six-digit codes commencing with five zeros

Supplementary codes ending in zero

Codes ending in zero are described as 'not further defined' (nfd) codes.  These are used to code responses about religious affiliation which cannot be coded to a Religious group (six-digit level), but which can be coded to a higher level of the classification structure.

For example, responses which cannot be identified as relating directly to a particular Religious group, but which are known to be within the range of religions relating to a particular Narrow group, are coded to that Narrow group. Such responses are allocated an nfd code consisting of the four-digit code of the Narrow group followed by 00.

Similarly, responses which do not contain sufficient information to be related directly to a particular Religious group, or to a Narrow group, but which are known to be within the range of a particular Broad group, are coded to that Broad group. Such responses are allocated an nfd code consisting of the two-digit code of the Broad group followed by 0000. For instance, the response 'Christian' does not contain sufficient information to be related directly to a Religious group or a Narrow group, but it can be coded to Broad group (Christianity, 25), which encompasses all Christian religions. It is allocated to Christianity, nfd, code 250000.

Supplementary codes starting with zero

Six-digit codes commencing with ‘00000’ are supplementary codes included for operational purposes only. Inclusion of these codes facilitates the coding of responses which cannot be allocated one particular group in the classification (Religious, Narrow or Broad). For example, responses that do not provide enough detail to be categorized to one group in the classification are considered to be ‘Inadequately Described’ (code 000000).

Currently the only supplementary codes, starting with zeros are:

  • 000000 Inadequately Described (this code replaces former supplementary code 0003 Not Defined)
  • 000001 Not stated

Index for coding responses

Why we use it

Responses provided in statistical and administrative collections do not always precisely reflect classification categories. A coding index is therefore necessary to act as a link between responses and the classification, enabling responses to be assigned accurately and quickly to the appropriate category of the classification.

How it was developed

The ASCRG coding index has been developed to assist in the implementation and use of the classification and should be used when coding responses to questions relating to religious affiliation. The coding index has been devised by reference to existing literature in the field, consultation with religious experts and ethnic and community groups, and by analysis of existing ABS data. It includes responses obtained in ABS statistical collections. It also contains a comprehensive list of the most probable responses to questions relating to religion and their correct classification codes.

The ASCRG coding index has been updated to reflect the changes made to the classification during the 2022 and 2023 review. It may be requested by contacting

Coding rules

In developing the coding index a number of rules were followed in assigning index entries the correct classification code. It is recommended that these rules be adhered to when coding any response that does not appear in the coding index provided.

The coding rules are as follows: 

  • Responses which relate directly to a Religious group category are coded to that Religious group. Such instances include:
    • responses which are an exact match with the Religious group category title.
    • responses which are an exact match with the Religious group category title except in terms of alternative spelling and the use of abbreviations.
    • responses which match the title in terms of the fundamental or basic words of the title and differ only in terms of qualifying or extraneous words.
  • Responses which relate directly to a Religious group because they describe an entity which is a subset of the Religious group (denomination, administrative or organisational grouping) are coded directly to that Religious group.
  • Responses which cannot be identified as relating to a separately identified Religious group in the classification are assigned a residual category code, or a supplementary code.

Using the classification

Editing specifications

The codes which describe the classification structure, as well as the supplementary codes, should be used in all specifications. This includes validating input codes at the editing stage, manipulating data, and deriving output items. Responses should be allocated to 'Not further defined' (nfd) or 'Not elsewhere classified' (nec) codes, as a last resort, i.e. when no other (more precise) category is suitable.

All the codes are in the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) accessible from the Data downloads section.

Coding, storage and presentation of data

Regardless of the level of aggregation envisaged for the dissemination of data, wherever possible, data should be captured, classified and stored at the six-digit level of the classification. This allows the greatest flexibility for the output of data, enables more detailed and complex analyses, facilitates comparisons with previous data using related classifications, and preserves information that may prove historically useful.

However, the constraints affecting each statistical collection or other application, such as problems with confidentiality or standard errors, may not permit the output of data at the lower levels of the classification. Nevertheless, the use of a standard classification will enhance data comparability even though it may not always be possible to disseminate the data at the most detailed level.

The hierarchical structure of the classification allows users the flexibility to output statistics at the level of the classification which best suits their needs. Data can be presented at Broad group, Narrow group, or Religious group level.

Post release changes

03/04/2024 - Updated Table 5 to reflect new classification codes.

Data downloads

Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), 2024


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Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 1266.0

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