Are Australians ‘Losing their Religion’?

New data, gathered late 2009, provides a new comprehensive picture of the religious faith and spirituality of Australians. The data is part of the International Social Science Survey (ISSP) program and involved surveys of 1718 adult Australians. It is the best picture we have had of the religious faith and spirituality of the Australian population since the Wellbeing and Security Survey of 2002 conducted by Edith Cowan University, Deakin University, Anglicare and NCLS Research. Indeed, this new survey repeats a range of questions asked in 1993 and 1999, giving us an excellent picture of changes over time.

The major finding is that, among Australians, most measures of religion show significant decline. Attendance at religious services (at least once a month) declined from 23 per cent to 16 per cent of the population between 1993 and 2009. Belief in God (including those who believe but have doubts, and those who believe sometimes) has fallen from 61 per cent of the population to 47 per cent over that same period. Less than one quarter of the Australian population now say they believe in God and have no doubts about it. Identification with a Christian denomination has fallen from 70 per cent in 1993 to 50 per cent of the population.

Correspondingly, there has been a large increase in those claiming to have ‘no religion’: up from 27 per cent of the population in 1993 to 43 per cent in 2009. Having ‘no religion’ does not mean that people have rejected all sense of the transcendent. The ISSP 2009 survey shows that of those who claimed ‘no religion’, just one-third (33%) said they did not believe in God, another 25 per cent said they did not know whether there was a God or not. Around 40 per cent of the ‘no religion’ group felt there was something beyond: a higher power (29%) or perhaps God (12%), although only 2 per cent of the group said they believed in God and had no doubts.

The generation that grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, often referred to as the ‘Boomer generation’, rejected the importance of tradition. It felt no sense of duty in relation to religion. Religion changed from being part of the heritage and identity of many people to being a lifestyle option.

While Australians appear to be ‘losing their religion’, they are not losing their spirituality. There is little evidence here of a major increase in secularism, understood as a rejection of all sense of transcendence. Rather, the evidence points to a rejection of religious organisations. While, on present trends it is unlikely there will be a revival of religious interest in the near future, it is dangerous to be dogmatic about the future.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 2, Pages 1-6

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