The recent growth in adults walking away from their childhood faith and raising their own children without religion will drive the continued decline in religion over the long term, says a new report into religiosity in Australia.
The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) has today published the next instalment of Neil Francis’ landmark Religiosity in Australia research series, with Part 2 – ‘Religious minds, religious collectives’ – providing unique insights into Australians’ journey with religious faith from childhood to adulthood.
Drawing on a wide range of data sources and research, Francis outlines the trends in Australians’ staying with their childhood religion, leaving that religion, converting into religion, or changing their religion.
By Francis’ own Australian Religious Identity model, the report reveals that two thirds (66%) of childhood Notionals, nearly half (47%) of Occasionals and more than a third of Regulars (35%) and Devouts (38%) have left religion altogether in adulthood. On the whole, around a third (32%) of adults have left religion since childhood, another third (35%) have remained in the same one, 8% have changed from one religion to another and just 2% have converted into religion.
The report also details the “stickiness” of non-religion. Those raised in non-religious households are highly likely to transmit that lack of religious identity to their children, which is expected to hasten the decline of religious belief over the long term.
In a foreword to the report, former Attorney-General and RSA Patron, Gareth Evans AC QC, says the Religiosity in Australia series provides a clear understanding of Australians’ real relationship with religion and represents a “clarion call” to rethink assumptions about religion in national life.
Launched in June this year, Part 1 of the series – ‘Personal faith according to the numbers’ – revealed the level of support for religion in Australia has for years been significantly misrepresented and the views of senior religious clerics are way out of touch with those they purport to lead.
Meredith Doig, president of the RSA, said the multi-volume Religiosity in Australia is a must-read for politicians and policymakers to better understand the real nature of religion’s place in Australians’ lives.
“These research reports are significant. They show that the assumptions we have all made about the way Australians relate to institutionalised religion have been wrong. The reports are an invaluable factual resource for anyone interested in a genuinely secular nation – one that neither privileges nor discriminates when it comes to religion in public life.
“At a time when we have a Pentecostalist in The Lodge, religious activists seeking to infiltrate political parties, and religious lobbies taking their cues from American Christian nationalists, it’s important the public – and policymakers – know the facts.”
Part 2 also explores the increase in people identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR), the decline of trust in religious institutions and their leaders, and the factors driving people to leave religion. While some religious groups add the growing number of SBNR people to the total number of those with religious affiliation, Francis argues this is seriously misguided because SBNRs, by definition, are ‘not religious’, holding a range of ambiguous spiritual beliefs that have little to do with religion.
Religiosity in Australia draws on a wide range of academic research and statistical data, including studies run by expert scholars at the Australian National University – the Australian Election Study, the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and the Australian Values Study.
Religiosity in Australia has been commissioned by the RSA. We rely on the generous support of members and supporters across the country to make this important work possible. If you want to help us continue this work, please make a donation or become a member.
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