A national census has revealed that while most Australians profess Christianity as a belief, the religion as a whole in the country has been on a steady decline, while the number adherents of Eastern faiths like Buddhism and Hinduism has grown.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently revealed its first set of findings for 2011, which showed that Christianity remains the dominant religion among Australia's 21,507,717 population, and was claimed as the faith of practice by 61.1 percent of respondents – although that figure was down by almost 3 percent from 63.9 percent in 2006.
Of those Christians, 25.3 percent identified themselves as Catholic, 17.1 percent as Anglicans, 5 percent as Uniting Church (a union of the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia) and 2.8 percent as Presbyterian and Reformed – meaning that every major Christian denomination in Australia has suffered a decline in membership from 2006.
What is more, between 1986 and 2006, the number of Hindus in Australia increased sevenfold, while the number of Buddhists has fivefold. The number of Australians with no religious affiliation rose to 22.3 per cent in 2011 from holding 18.7 percent of the population in 2006. In the 2006 census, 55,000 people even selected "Jedi" as their religious affiliation, a belief system stemming from George Lucas' representation of "the Force" in his "Star Wars" series.
The recent trend in Christian decline in Australia may very well be attributed to a notable cultural shift. India, a largely Hindu country, was the leading birthplace of immigrants coming into Australia, at 13.1 percent – although that was followed closely by U.K. immigrants at 12.1 percent.
Asian immigrants also accounted for a large number of people moving to Australia, with China and the Philippines among the leading countries of origin.
"This is fundamentally shifting the cultural mix of Australia," the 2011 census executive director Andrew Henderson said. In total, about one in four Australians were born overseas, and as many as 43.1 percent of people had at least one overseas-born parent.
While Australia allows same-sex partnerships, described as de facto relationships that hold the same rights as heterosexual ones, there were 1,338 same-sex couples in Australia who identified themselves as married. The vast majority, or 96 percent of respondents, however, answered that they were in de facto same-sex relationships.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will publish the second half of its findings in October. Information about the number of respondents to the 2011 census was not readily available.