Neil Francis: ‘Religiosity in Australia’ report can improve our national conversations

Si Gladman / 12 June 2021

RSA Fellow Neil Francis is hopeful that his groundbreaking report on religion and religiosity in Australia will help improve the quality of national conversations about faith and social, economic and political issues.

The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) has published Neil’s comprehensive Religiosity in Australia: Part 1: Personal faith according to the numbers report, which features a foreword by RSA Patron and former High Court judge Michael Kirby.

The report was commissioned by the RSA.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE: https://bit.ly/35hHATi

‘Religiosity in Australia’ introduces a new religiosity segmentation, the Australian Religious Identity model, to provide powerful insights about religiosity in Australia and of attitudes towards social, economic and political issues through the lens of religion.

The model allocates Australians across six segments from the least religious, Rejecters and Socialisers, through the weakly or modestly religious, Notionals and Occasionals, to Australia’s most religiously committed, Regulars and Devouts.

“I’ve been watching for many years with interest the relationship between religious and non-religious Australia,” said Neil.

“I hold a professional library of almost 3,000 scholarly journal articles covering a wide range of facets of religion and religiosity. I also have access to extensive raw survey data from the Australian National University which allows very detailed investigation.

“So I’m delighted to have synthesised these sources to surface greater insights about what Australians really think and feel about religion and various social issues, so that our national conversations about these matters can be better informed.”

Among the report’s key findings are:

  • Australians who were formerly weakly (Notionals) or modestly (Occasionals) religious have been abandoning religion in droves for many years.
  • The proportion of religiously Committed Australians (made up of Regulars and Devouts) has remained relatively stable at around 15%.
  • Of Australians who say they are of a religious denomination, only a quarter (26%) are Committeds.
  • Only amongst Australia’s Devouts, who make up 11% of the nation’s population, do a majority – but still not all – say they are active members of their religious organisation.

In an interview with the RSA, Neil, who has a background in primary medical research and social research projects, said the report provided a much more meaningful picture of religion than simple headline Australian Bureau of Statistics figures..

“Commonly the Census data is quoted to say that a certain proportion of Australians tick denominations. But that’s what it is – it’s a measure of denomination affiliation. It’s not a measure of, necessarily, religiosity because anyone of a particular denomination could be quite religious or not religious at all. It’s just an affiliation,” he said.

“It’s quite interesting that, when you look at how religious people from varying denominations are, they’re actually quite, on average, considerably less religious than, say, for example, clerics would have us believe.”

The report also highlights significant gaps between the views of conservative church leaders and their congregations on a wide range of social policy matters, such as abortion, marriage equality and voluntary assisted dying.

Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

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