The dominant religion among Papua New Guinea’s population is Christianity (95.6%), followed by indigenous beliefs (3.3%). Within the Papua New Guinean-born population in Australia, the 2011 census identified most as Christian, with 32.1% identifying as Catholic, 12.3% as Anglican and 10.8% as Uniting Church. In terms of the non-Christian population, 28.3% identified with ‘Other’, while 16.4% chose ‘no religion’.
Christianity gained popularity in Papua New Guinea during the interactions with European missionaries in the late 19th century. Today, the vast majority of Papua New Guineans identify with some denomination of Christianity. The older generation are typically more stringent in their practices of Christianity, while younger generations are generally more relaxed about their devotional practices yet still hold the beliefs. However, many youth are expected to follow Christian practices and beliefs, with some having less freedom of religious choice than others.
The introduction of Christianity into Papua New Guinean society created tensions, given the pre-established indigenous tradition. A contemporary example is the way in which women are increasingly refusing to be subjected to a bride price (see ‘Marriage’ in Family). Given the dynamics between indigenous traditions and Christian beliefs and practices, there are constant attempts by people to blend and reconcile the two.
In light of the variety of indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea, most have their own cosmological explanations, each with differing beliefs and practices. The common perception for followers of indigenous traditions is that ritual practice is necessary for someone’s spiritual and physical well-being. For those communities where indigenous traditions continue to flourish, mediums and religious practitioners also play an important role. Mediums may be called on in various instances to help the spirit of a person, such as when someone is near death or has suddenly died, when someone is ill, or when a child is misbehaving. However, while these beliefs and practices are still prevalent, most are contained within their locale. This is owing to the widespread of Christianity throughout the country.