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How diverse is Australia when it comes to religious beliefs? While there is no official state religion in the country, Australia religion is always one of the essential parts of its diversity. Knowing more about this will help you understand the social and cultural dynamics of living in Australia.
What is Australian Religions?
Australia recognizes freedom of religion in the country, so you can expect to see many types of religious affiliations among the citizens. However, Christianity holds a rather dominant percentage among the population. According to the latest religious affiliation survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016, 52 percent of the population was recorded holding Christian beliefs. Catholics dominate the group (22.6 percent), followed closely by the Anglicans and other denominations.
Islam (of various branches) dominates 2.6 percent of the population outside Christians, followed closely by Buddhism (2.4 percent) and Hinduism (1.9 percent). The rest are Sikhism (0.5 percent), Judaism (0.4 percent), and other religions (0.4 percent).
Since Australia does not require citizens to hold specific religious beliefs, many populations do not have any religious affiliations. According to the same statistics in 2016, around 30.1 percent of the people do not have any religion. Australia is known as one of the least religion-adherent countries in the world. The atheist population is even represented formally by an organization called the Atheist Foundation of Australia. Other non-religious organizations cater to these populations, such as the Rationalist Society of Australia and the Council of Australian Humanist Societies.
History of Australia’s Religious Diversity
Christianity became the dominant Australian religion because of the first settlers and immigrants from the British Isles. The significant influx of British immigrants mostly came between 1788 and the Second World War. They were followed by immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, who were also predominantly Christians.
Applying the White Australia policy from 1901 to 1973, which forbade immigrants from non-European countries to come, also made Christianity become the dominant religion. In 1966, for example, around 88.2 percent of the population were Christians. When immigrants from non-European countries could finally come, they contributed to the growth of other religious groups in Australia.
With Australia dismantling the old racist policy and embracing multiculturalism, immigrants from other nations became more confident in embracing their faiths outside Christianity. Islam became the second largest group of religions in the country, especially after World War Two, since Australia needed a boost in population. Muslim communities in Australia consist of various ethnicities, such as Southeast Asian, South Asian, West Asian, North African, Bosnian, Albanian, and Turkish. Muslim populations also grew after the 1990s when more international students came, and trade with Muslim countries increased.
Hinduism and Buddhism followed suit as the subsequent fastest religions in Australia. This happened because of the influx of Asian immigrants in the 19th Century. The early Chinese miners brought Buddhist faith, while the early Hindus were workers in sugar and cotton plantations. Australia is home to several notable temples, such as Shiva Vishnu Temple in Melbourne and Nan Tiet Temple of Fo Guang Shan in Wollongong.
Finally, Sikhism showed fast growth between 2011 and 2016, with around 14.8 percent growth rate per year. Most Australian Sikhs are Punjabi, many with ancestors from Punjab Province to Australia in the early 19th Century. These ancestral Sikhs mostly worked as workers at plantations and sheep stations. However, modern Australian Sikhs also consist of Malaysian, Fijian, Singaporean, Ugandan, Kenyan, and British Sikhs.
Indigenous Religions in Australia
Despite being the minority, the Indigenous Australians have already practiced their own religions before the coming of British settlers. “The Dreaming” is the term coined by anthropologists to describe the belief system of Indigenous Australians. In this belief system, there is a concept of symbolic, totemic Dreams rooted in the people’s ancestry lines, and these lines ultimately came from one source.
When Christian settlers and ministers arrived, indigenous belief systems experienced a decline. Many Indigenous Australians were converted or forbidden to practice their belief systems. Around 72 percent of indigenous populations are Christians, while the rest practice their ancestral beliefs.
Despite not being the most religious country in the world, Australia applies the concept of multiculturalism that allows Australians to embrace (or not embrace) any belief system. Understand Australia religions and their presence in the country if you want to prepare for a visit, work trip, or stay.
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