Pointers September 2019

Friday, September 27th, 2019

Inside this issue:

Contemporary Political Challenges for Religion in Australia
As religion first emerged in human society, it was usually indistinguishable from politics. Tribal leaders declared themselves as having spiritual powers… The religious sources of traditions and ethical principles are being judged in the light of contemporary ethics based on reason and experience, and religions are having to defend themselves. That is now happening in Australia.

Funding the honorary chaplain: Exploring the possibilities of public funding for sports chaplaincy in Australia
It has been argued that Australians regard sport as sacred to their way of life, offering an alternative ‘religion’ which provides identity, meaning and belonging. Some Christian churches have recognised this importance and have shaped their ministries accordingly (Reid, 2014). One such ministry linking the church with sport is that of sports chaplaincy.

Report on the 35th Conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion
The ISSR Conference, usually hosted in European countries, is one of two truly international conferences dedicated to the sociology of religion… According to organisers, the 2019 ISSR Conference hosted 500 delegates over the course of four days… The theme of the conference was ‘The Politics of Religion and Spirituality’.

The Indian Diaspora: Hindus and Sikhs in Australia Second Edition
On 25th July 2019, the second edition of The Indian Diaspora: Hindus and Sikhs in Australia was launched by Prof. Bhajan Grewal and Prof. Marika Vicziany at the Australia India Institute, Melbourne University.

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Pointers June 2019

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

Inside this issue:

Spiritual but not Religious
The two biggest changes in the religious profile of Australia over the past fifty years are firstly the movement of people into the ‘no religion’ category. The second movement has been the growth of people who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’.

Estimating Homelessness
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), on Tuesday 9 August 2016 there were around 116,400 people who were defined as ‘homeless’ in Australia (ABS, 2018). This reflects a 13.7 per cent increase in the number of homeless people since the previous Census estimate in 2011.

Plenary Council 2020 – The Times They Are A­-Changin’
The Catholic Church in Australia is in a period of  significant change, impacted not only by the changing context of Australian society, but  specifically by the effects wrought by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Coleridge, 2016, 348). The Church as a whole is being challenged to change its ways and the people who make up the Church are in equal parts hopeful, hurting and confused as they navigate the process of doing so.

Changes Across the Globe
Peter Brierley, the former director of the Christian Research Association in the UK, has summarised some of the major religious trends in his newsletter, FutureFirst. The material is based on the Global Christian Database  developed at Gordon­-Conwell University and materials gathered by Operation World.

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Pointers March 2019

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Inside this issue:

Denominationalism Today
More Christian denominations exist today in Australia, despite the efforts to put aside differences and bring Christians together. Some attend one community for a Bible study, another for an action group, a third for worship service. Also there are those that have little regard for the old divisions and choose to call themselves ‘Christian, nfd’ (not further defined). Philip Hughes explores these interesting trends.

Reimagining a More Compassionate, Less Anxious Society: A community conversation with Hugh Mackay

Stephen Reid outlines a public conversation with Hugh Mackay where he lists a number of ‘gloomy’ characteristics which he believes paint a picture of the current situation in Australian society. He is, however, optimistic about Australia’s future. Mackay listed some factors which have led to a socially fragmented society. 

In Memorium: Rev Dr John Francis Bodycomb
In the last edition of Pointers, Philip Hughes reviewed John Bodycomb’s book, Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership. John was ordained into the Congregational Church. He had a number of appointments in churches in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Changes in the Religious Identification of Children between 2006 and 2016
Between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, the number of children being identified with a Christian denomination (by a parent or guardian) rose by around 40,000 people, from 2.292 million to 2.332 million. Stephen delves into the statistics behind changes in religious identification of children. He also notes that immigration is contributing significantly to the growth of non-Christian religious groups in Australia.


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Talks from CRA Book Launch posted online

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Earlier this year, the CRA held a book launch at Tabor College for our latest project, “Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures” by Philip Hughes and Lachlan Fraser. Labor Leader in the Victorian Legislative Council John Lenders, was invited to speak at the launch, discussing his experiences with faith in relation to politics and its influence on how decisions are made. Philip Hughes also provided a response, focusing more on how faith shapes Australian society as a whole and the statistics that reflect this.

Both talks were filmed and have now been posted online. Please enjoy.

John Lenders – The Influence of Faith on Decision Making in Politics PART 1

John Lenders – The Influence of Faith on Decision Making in Politics PART 2

Philip Hughes – The Impact of Faith in Australian Society

Conversation on Radio National on CRA’s Latest Book

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Wednesday 9th July 2014, Radio National broadcast a conversation with Philip Hughes on Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures. To listen to the interview, go

Radio National Program On Youth Spirituality Conference

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Radio National has broadcast a program on the Growing Youth Spirituality Conference. In ‘The Spirit of Things’, Rachel Kohn explores some of the themes of  the conference. She discusses them with Philip Hughes, some teachers and some young people. To listen to the program go to:

Growing Youth Spirituality Conference – An Overview

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

On Friday 19th and Saturday 20th July, more than 80 people gathered at Tabor College in Melbourne for the ‘Growing Youth Spirituality’ conference. Those who attend came from around Australia. Many were working as teachers or chaplains in schools. Others were youth workers and some were working in local churches. Some ministers, a couple of priests and a bishop joined the conference. Others participants were working in educational or denominational offices developing programs and activities for youth ministry. People from a broad range of denominations attended the conference.

The conference began by noting that, materially, young people in Australia are doing very well. Most are beneficiaries of a wealthy, prosperous culture where there is high quality education and healthcare and where the leisure options for distracting them are endless. However, many young Australians are not feeling good about life. They are finding it hard to make sense of it and to find a place and a purpose. Associated with this is the fact that most young Australians find that religious traditions and commitments do not connect well with them.

Philip Hughes (Christian Research Association) and Rowan Lewis (Tabor College) explored sociological and psychological accounts why Australian young people are not connecting easily with religious traditions or finding a sense of place and purpose in life. Philip Hughes noted that most young people have been raised to work through the meaning of life experiences from individualistic perspectives which seek meaning in their own subjectivity and experience rather than through reason and duty. Rowan Lewis spoke of young people’s need to belong, but they also the processes of individuation through which they find their personal identity.

Friday evening, Naomi Swindon from Scripture Union earthed the conference through stories of young people who had not found it easy to find a place in society. She told of how projects such as the developing a BMX track, or encouraging people to care for trees affected by drought, or mentoring had led to a concern for others beyond themselves and a sense of place and identity. She spoke of how there is gold in every person, sometimes covered by dirt, but how ‘growing spirituality’ involves finding that gold.

On Saturday morning, Rachael Kohn, the presenter of ‘The Spirit of Things’ on ABC National Radio, reminded us that part of growing spirituality means accepting contradictions and vulnerability. She noted that many young people want to be in control and to have answers. However, as Archbishop Rowan Williams has said, people who work among the suffering live with the big questions unanswered. She suggested, as a response to this, in growing youth spirituality, our focus should be more on how we live and what we do, rather than what we believe.

Three presenters spoke of different ways and different contexts in which Australians are trying to ‘grow youth spirituality’. Kath Engebretson (Australian Catholic University) spoke of the lack of understanding of the Christian tradition among students in Catholic schools and the need for a special effort to pick up again the ‘chain of memory’ which constitutes the Christian tradition.

Stephen Chatelier spoke of the Christian school context. He said that some of the students see the emphasis on faith at school as ‘overload’ in the way it complements home and church and see its demands as embarrassing among their peers. Some react to being ‘Bible bashed’ while others say they have faith and don’t want to think more about it. Stephen suggested some Christian schools are too focussed on thinking and conception rather than the affective domain and practice. He suggested that the emphasis on spirituality needed to ‘normalised’ in the students’ experience as a whole ethos, rather than something extra that was forced on them. He argued that Christian schools needed to invite, not demand, the journey into the spiritual and there needed to be an openness to diverse responses to the divine rather than the formation of cloistered communities.

Peter Mangold, a chaplain at a government school in Victoria, began by noting his very different context in which young people found it very strange to think about religion or spirituality. He suggested that, in that context, it was often most helpful to think of helping young people to develop a framework of meaning and to support young people in making sense of the experiences of life. In so doing, he said, one must help them re-shape unhelpful beliefs and assist in the integration of experiences into their lives and making explicit values and perspectives. He argued that the role of the chaplain is journeying with people in a relational way, mentoring relationships and helping young people to engage with the ‘largeness of life’. He spoke of ways in which he was doing this through ‘Changing Perspectives’ camps and through teaching psychology and personal health.

Four other speakers briefly outlined specific programs through which they were addressing the growth of spirituality among young people. Karen Dymke (a teacher and consultant) spoke about the Rite Journey, developing positive rites of passage through processes of challenge and celebration as young people move into adulthood. Rohan Waters (a former teacher and chaplain) spoke of his program, Veta, which offers Christian learning pathways for young people. Angela Sawyer (Victorian Council for Christian Education) spoke of the need to develop contextual Bible study which would be transformative of the lives of young people. Stephen Reid (Christian Research Association) noted the dominance of sport in the lives of most Australians and asked if sport could be incorporated into the vision of youth ministry. He noted briefly the research he was doing on sports chaplaincy as a way of engaging with young people.

In the afternoon, the morning’s speakers had the opportunity to take participants deeper through workshops, providing more information about the various resources and contexts for growing youth spirituality.

Thus, the conference stimulated the participants by opening up the challenges of growing youth ministry and by suggesting a variety of methods and resources through which one might respond to the challenges. Several of the break-out groups which had met three times through the conference noted that there were no easy answers, no solutions were appropriate in all circumstances. Indeed, the very nature of spirituality cannot be simply defined or contained with a program or set of procedures. Nevertheless, the conference stimulated those who attended to reflect on their own situation, and perhaps to refine what they were doing or to try new ways of ‘searching for the gold’ that exists in every person whom God has created.

Philip Hughes

A .pdf of the opening presentation by Philip Hughes can be downloaded from here:  Growing Youth Spirituality: What the Research is Telling Us (Philip Hughes) (PDF)

A .pdf of the opening presentation by Rowan Lewis can be downloaded from here: Rowan Lewis – Developing Faith-Notes.pptx-3(PDF)

Tribute To Prof Ross Langmead

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

The Christian Research Association wishes to pay tribute to the life and work of Prof Ross Langmead who died on Saturday 29th June 2013. Ross was professor of mission studies at Whitley College, the Baptist College of Victoria and a good friend of the CRA.

In some ways, Ross preempted the sort of work that CRA would later do. In 1978, Ross was commissioned by the Baptist Union of Victoria to do an empirical study of the Baptist churches in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The study highlighted the disparity in the resources of the churches in the eastern and western suburbs of Melbourne. Ross took on board the conclusions of his research and moved to Spotswood where he and his wife, Alison, played a major role in the local Baptist church and community over many decades.

As professor of mission studies at Whitley College, Ross had an influence well beyond the Baptist churches. He brought to the whole church of Australia a focus on mission as an ecumenical activity and as having social justice dimensions. He was the founding secretary of the Australian Association for Mission Studies. He became the editor of its journal. He organised small study groups and major national conferences. Within these contexts, Ross welcomed the contribution of the Christian Research Association and supported its work. Ross saw the importance of the contribution of a sound empirical understanding of the context of mission.

As an organiser and as a teacher, Ross will be greatly missed. His legacy is a scholarly approach to mission studies, combined with a practical, hands-on commitment to it. We express our condolences to his wife, Alison, to his children and grandchildren.

2011 Census Data

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The Australian Census data for 2011 was released at 11.30 am on Thursday 21st June 2012.  Out of 21.7 million Australians, 13.2 million identified themselves as Christian. This was higher than the number who identified themselves as Christians in the 2006 Census, although representing a slightly smaller percentage of the population:  61 per cent (2011) compared with 64 per cent (2006).

The number who identified with other religions was 1.7 million. This represented an increase from 2006, which Hinduism the fastest growing religion in Australia. Australia has become a little more ‘multi-faith’, reflecting that many recent immigrants have come to Australia from South Asia.

The number indicating that they had ‘no religion’ was up from 3.7 million in 2006 to 4.8 million in 2011. This represents an increase from 19 to 22 per cent of the Australian population. Most of this increase has come from people who did not answer the question in 2006, but who indicated they had no religion in 2011. The religion question has always been optional. However, the percentage not responding to it has fallen from 11 to 8 per cent of the population.

Belief Among Catholic Secondary Students: 2005 And 2011 Comparisons

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Examination of two large ‘matched’ samples of students from different points in time has shed light on some general cultural changes that have taken place among Catholic Secondary students in Australia. Recent surveys of over 4,100 students from 29 schools found that change has taken place in the beliefs and faith activities of young people, when compared to similar number of surveyed students in 2005.

For the majority of young people life is about enjoyment and making the best of it. However, fewer students in 2011 felt they had a sense of purpose in life when compared to students in 2005. Students who indicated they believe in God, or some sort of spirit or life force were more likely to state they had a sense of purpose in life, than those who did not believe in God or who did not know what to think.

Although fewer students said they were attending church services monthly or more often compared to students in 2005, the proportion of students attending services less frequently had increased significantly. Also significant was the increase from 2005 in the proportion of students who had attended church services other than Catholic.

Whilst there is wide diversity in students’ beliefs and attitudes, results showed that students are now more inclined to question the authority of the church, and are less inclined to just believe without questioning their own faith. The latest results suggest that students continue to construct their own beliefs and spirituality for life without necessarily adhering to the teachings of the church or school.

Stephen Reid