The Impact of Recent Immigration on Religious Groups in Australia

Since World War II, immigration has played a huge role in the development of religious faith in Australia. That role has been most evident in the place that many of the world’s religions now have in Australia. Since 1971, the number of Australians associated with a religion other than Christianity has risen from just 0.1 million to 1.5 million. However, many millions of the immigrants have been Christian and some denominations would hardly exist today without the enormous influx of members that immigration has brought. The 2011 Census shows that the story of immigration and its impact on the religious life of Australia is a continuing one.

Analysis shows that the proportion of immigrants in each denomination is closely associated with the rate of growth of the denomination (see Hughes 2012). The religious groups which grew most rapidly over the past 10 years have been those groups with the highest proportion of immigrants. Immigration is the major source of growth in most religious groups, both Christian and others. There is only one exception to this: the growth in the numbers describing themselves as ‘no religion’. Most of the growth in this group is occurring among Australians born of Australian parents.

Most of the remaining growth in the population is the result of more births than deaths occurring in Australia. Hence, it would appear that no Christian denomination is keeping up with normal population growth among the Australian-born population. While recent immigration has made a huge difference to many of the other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, these other religions have also been growing rapidly through births within Australia. Many immigrant families have children soon after they arrive. Hence, migrants not only boost numbers from overseas but also have an impact on the numbers of children in Australian communities. It is interesting to note that between 2001 and 2011, 23,000 more women than men migrated to Australia.

Between 2001 and 2011, immigrants arrived in Australia from all over the world. The Census counted more than 250 countries as their places of birth. However, just four countries provided 43 per cent of Australia’s migrants between 2001 and 2011: India, England, China, and New Zealand. An additional two countries, South Africa and the Philippines, brought that total to more than 50 per cent of all immigrants. Immigrants from Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan are highlighted in the media because of the issue of ‘boat people’. Yet these people are a very small part of the flow of recent immigrants. Together they constitute just 5 per cent of the immigrants who came to Australia between 2001 and 2011.

Assumptions are often made about the religion of immigrants based on the major religions in the country of birth. For example, since 85 per cent of all Indians are Hindu, one might expect most Indian immigrants to be Hindu. However, only 54 per cent of Indians who have migrated to Australia recently have been Hindu.

Churches need to ensure that they are equipped and ready to welcome immigrants. As the immigrant patterns change, so there is a need to adjust languages and other facilities to cater for the new groups at both denominational and local level.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 4, Pages 1-8

Comments are closed.