SOR1: Changing Patterns of Religious Adherence in Australia

Christianity as the Major Religious Tradition

  • Since 1947, the patterns of religious adherence have been steadily changing, as shown in the Australian census

  • The First Fleet established Christianity (specifically Anglicanism and, to some extent, Catholicism) in Australia in 1788

  • As a result, most of the laws of Australia are based in Christian ethics and teachings

  • The White Australia policy meant that most migrants were from Europe, which is predominantly Christian

    • Anglicanism is mostly common in England, while the rest of Western Europe tends to be Catholic
    • As a result, the balance of Christian denominations in Australia shifted towards a predominantly Catholic community
    • Some Orthodox Christians also came to Australia due to political instability in Eastern Europe
  • The percentage of Christian adherents has decreased since 1947, steadily falling.

    • 1961 - 88.4%
    • 1986 - 74.1%
    • 2016 - 52%
      Christian Denomination Census Breakdown
  • The fall in Christian adherence is attributed to an increase in people turning away from religion, as well as migration from Asia and the Middle East

Formation of the Uniting Church

  • The Uniting Church was formed as a result of the decline of adherents for three Christian denominations

    • Presbyterians
    • Methodists
    • Congregationalists
  • Peaked in 1986 at 7.6% of Australians

  • Due to an older adherent base, Uniting Church adherence has declined in recent years

Rise of New-Age Religions

  • New-Age religions are a group of spiritual practices/beliefs developed in Western society from the 1970s and onwards

  • New-Age Religions tend to be ECLECTIC (ideas/beliefs which come from a wide range of sources)

    • Eclectic religions take elements from other religions, as well as philosophies, sciences and other sources in order to create a system which they believe is better suited to their community
  • Formed as a reaction against the perceived failure of traditional religious (such as Christianity), and the failure of Secular Humanism to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future

    • Secular Humanism: a philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, non-religious ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.
  • Beliefs of New Age religions include:

    • Monism: All that exists is derived from a single source of divine energy
    • Pantheism: God is everything that exists, God is at once the entire universe, and transcends the universe as well
    • Reincarnation: After death, we are reborn and live another life as a human. This cycle repeats itself many times
    • Karma: The good and bad deeds that we do adds and subtracts from our accumulated record, our karma.
  • New Age Practices include:

  • Channeling: A method similar to that used by Spiritists in which a spirit of a long dead individual is conjured up. Has existed since the 1850’s, and many groups consider themselves independent of the New Age movement.

  • Crystals: Crystals are materials (really just big rocks) which has its molecules arranged in a specific, highly ordered internal pattern.

  • Meditating: A process of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking.

  • New Age Music: A gentle, melodic, inspirational music form involving the human voice, harp, lute, flute, etc. It is used as an aid in healing, massage therapy and general relaxation.


  • The belief that religion should not interfere with public affairs
  • Caused by changing social standards, resulting in the decrease in perceived relevance of religious traditions
  • Rise of pluralism (differing political standpoints within society), materialism and individualism
  • Most evident through the increase of “No Religion” in the Census


  • Immigration has caused a major shift for religion in Australia since 1947

  • The first wave of immigration after World War 2 resulted in the establishment of a Jewish population in Australia, as well as an increase in Orthodox and Catholic people, but a decrease in Anglicanism

  • The second wave of immigration came from Asia and the Middle East

    • Stemmed from a fear of communism, as well as wars such as the Vietnam War, Cambodian Civil War, etc.
    • Saw an increase in Islam and the establishment of Buddhism
    • Decrease in Anglicanism
    • Formation of the Uniting Church
  • The third wave of immigration is a result of war, famine and terrorism

    • Caused by events such as the Gaza War, rise of Al Qaeda and Islamic State
    • Increase in Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism
    • Total drop of over 30% in Christianity

Denominational Switching

CatholicProtestantEastern Orthodox
Roman Catholic

Maronite Catholic

Eastern Catholic

Coptic Catholic

Byzantine Catholic


Uniting Church:

  • Presbyterian
  • Congregationalist
  • Methodist





    Calvinist (Reformed)


    Salvation Army


Greek Orthodox

Coptic Orthodox

Armenian Orthodox

Russian Orthodox

  • Protestants are most likely to switch denominations because they believe that the Bible is subjective, and are therefore able to interpret the nature of passages in their own way

    • Because of this, they can switch to a denomination that better suits their beliefs
  • Catholics and Orthodox Christians are less likely to switch because they are more static in their beliefs

    • The Bible is considered a complete, objective and unchanging document and therefore they have not changed over the last 1500 years
  • 10% of all people who took part in the survey changed denominations in the past five years (between 2010 and 2015)

    • This increased to 17% when only surveying Protestants
  • Pentecostalism is the fastest growing denomination (220000 in 2006 to 260500 in 2016)

People no longer remain in a particular denomination simply because their parents and grandparents belonged to it or because they share the same ethnic background with other church members.

Reasons for denominational switching

Pranav Sharma
Pranav Sharma
Site Owner

UNSW Student, site owner and developer.