Listen: Eliane Miles talks to Stephen O’Doherty about Australia’s religious mix.
Despite atheist groups urging Aussies to admit they’re losing their religion, it turns out we’re still a very spiritual nation, according to the 2016 Census.
The Census results, released in June, show that 6 out of every 10 people in Australia still claim some kind of religious affiliation.
The ‘religion question’ began making headlines last year when the Australian Bureau of Statistics decided to move ‘No Religion’ to the top of the list of options. And an advertising campaign funded by atheist groups encouraged people to tick the No Religion box on Census night.
It definitely affected results; nearly 30 percent of Australians (29.6%) chose the No Religion option—a big increase, up from 22 percent in 2011. But it doesn’t mean those 30 percent of Australians have no spiritual beliefs, according to a study by researchers at McCrindle.
Not Religious, But Still Spiritual
The Faith and Belief in Australia study, which surveyed more than 1000 Australians, reveals that some people who claim to have no religion, still consider themselves spiritual.
The study included a question about religion but added a new option: ‘Spiritual, Not Religious’. “What we found is that 14% of Australians, 1 in 7, actually identified as ‘Spiritual, Not Religious’,” said Eliane Miles from McCrindle. “So what you will find is that many of those who might say ‘No Religion’ or nominally identify with a faith, might be in that category.
“So those in the No Religion category [in the Census], may still have a belief in a higher being, principle or power, or have some element of spirituality.”
Eliane said atheist groups seemed to imply that everyone who chose No Religion was atheists. They were ultimately pushing for reduced funding for religious groups. But their campaign was unrealistic, she said.
“There is a separate category and classification for atheism,” she said. “That proportion is less than one per cent of the population. [The religion question] is certainly not intended to be a ‘vote’ that…impacts on funding or on other government initiatives and policies. That is not the intent of the question at all.”
Australia’s Religious Makeup
The Census results show that Christianity is still Australia’s most common religion (52 per cent of the population).
Next in line was Islam (2.6 per cent) and Buddhism (2.4 per cent). Catholicism is the still the biggest Christian denomination with more than 1 in 5 Australians (22.6 per cent) aligning with that faith.
The ABS reports that Hinduism had the most significant growth in the 10 years leading up to the Census, due to immigration from South Asia.
And Young adults (18 to 34) were more likely to choose ‘No Religion (39 per cent) than other adult age groups. In a comparison of states, New South Wales had the highest religious affiliation (66 per cent), and Tasmania (53 per cent) had the lowest.