Just how religious is Australia?

Religiosity in Australia – personal faith according to the numbers

In June 2021, RSA Research Fellow Neil Francis finalised a major new report investigating the evidence of religiosity in Australia. Drawing on impeccable data from the census and surveys conducted by the Australian National University, Francis analysed trends in religiosity, characteristics of the religious, the importance of God and religion to Australians, religion and economics & politics, and religious attitudes to major social reforms like abortion, voluntary assisted dying, marriage equality, schools expelling gay students or sacking gay teachers, marijuana, and global warming.

What he found will surprise many and perhaps alarm some.

Among other things:

  • when expressly asked if they belong to their religion’s organisation, most Australians (62%) say they don’t
  • only 11% of those who identify as religious say they are active members of their religious organisation
  • seven in 10 Australians say religion is not personally important to them
  • the number of Australians who expressly do not believe in a God or ‘higher power’ continues to increase (40% in 2018)
  • politically, polarisation has occurred among the religiously ‘Committed’ but not among other Australians
  • most Australians are in favour of progressive social reforms, including the religious
  • there is a large gap between the public views espoused by outspoken clerical leaders and the people they purport to represent.

This report reveals a much smaller and softer base of religiosity than headline affiliation statistics imply, a rapidly growing rate of no religion, lack of certainty of religious belief, connections between religiosity and a focus on financial issues, and a majority of social opinions – even among the religious – at odds with the vocal pronouncements of conservative clerics.

Legislators and governments would be wise to keep clearly in mind these revealed facts about Australians’ real attitudes rather than listening only to the country’s most outspoken religious conservatives. Failure to do so would not only be an affront to democratic principles but will increasingly lead to electoral backlash.

To read the full report or its chapters, click here.

In July 2019, ABC surveyed more than 54,000 people about their attitudes, behaviours and experiences. This is a summary of their opinions on religion.

The 2016 census

On 27 June 2017, the results of the latest census were released, revealing that those who ticked ‘No Religion’ now numbered 30.1% of all Australians, with some states seeing a larger percentage, jumping to as high as 37.8% in Tasmania. This marks a big increase, outnumbering for the first time those who identify as Catholic, an affiliation that dropped to 22.6%. 

The rise in the number of people identifying as not religious in the census and the corresponding decline in religious affiliation is a trend that is growing domestically and around the world in countries like New Zealand, the UK and Canada. The result raises questions about the persistence of religious privilege in Australia, and the RSA continues to campaign for a more secular country that is fair to all.

The Rationalist Society of Australia used the release of the 2016 census results to draw attention to continuing religious privilege in Australia. We gained significant media coverage regarding the results, including opinion pieces in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Huffington Post, and The Courier Mail, as well as ABC Radio interviews across Australia. We also saw an amazing online response to our video “Go for secular? It’s a no brainer.” (2017).

All the more reason.