Australian society is secular and citizens are entitled the freedom to observe any faith so long as its practises do not break the law. As religion is regarded as a personal matter of preference, Australians tend not to discuss it public or explicitly with those whom they do not know very well. Conversations about faith are still welcome, but it is generally unappreciated when others try to promote their faith or speak defensively about it (including atheism). Similarly, preaching in social conversation is often seen as irritating and self-righteous. People may choose not to identify themselves as a religious person (particularly in the workplace) to keep distinctions between their private life and public life.
The religious and spiritual landscape of Australia is diverse and changing. There is no official national religion, but Christianity has been the dominant faith since colonisation. Though Christianity is in steady decline among Australians, 52% of the population still identified with it in the 2016 census. The largest Christian denominations were Catholics (23%) and Anglicans (13%).
Australia has always had broad representation of non-Christian faiths, however it was not until the 1970’s and the abolition of the White Australia policy that the numbers began to shift significantly. The 2016 census recorded over 100 different religious denominations, each with 250 or more followers. Of the 8.2% of the population that follows a religion other than christianity, Islam (2.6%) and Buddhism (2.4%) have the largest following.
Hinduism is the fastest growing religion, correlating with increased migration from India. However, the fastest growing category is ‘no religion’. 30% of Australians identified as non-religious in the 2016 census. However, this response was most common among younger Australians aged 18-34.
Despite census figures indicating 60% of the Australian population identify with a religion, active participation and observance is not as high. When asked about attendance at religious services (other than weddings and funerals) in the 2012 World Values Survey, 17% indicated they attended more than once a month. A 2008 Gallup poll published that nearly 70% of Australians regard religion as “having no importance” in their daily life.
The decline in the popularity of religion can be seen in the changes in one of its institutions – marriage. The choice of celebrants has significantly shifted towards a preference of civil servants. Ministers of religions performed 96.2% of all marriages in 1902 and 48.7% in 1999. However, they only performed 27.4% of marriages in 2013.
Nevertheless, religion remains important for a significant number of Australians. The current trend shows that older Australians are more likely to believe in God. The World Values Survey in 2012 found 64% of Australians reported believing in a “God”, whilst 33% believed in “Hell”. Religious institutions also play a large role in society. For example, almost 40% of school children attend private school – most of which have a religious affiliation. Many private hospitals have also been established upon religious foundations.
Australian Aboriginal Spirituality