Ncls Research

Australian Spirituality

2016 Australian Community Survey (2016 ACS)

In December 2016, NCLS Research conducted the 2016 Australian Community Survey (2016 ACS).
The three goals for this Community Survey are:

    1. To compare the attitudes of church attenders and the wider community on a range of social issues in the time period at the end of 2016
    2. To track religiosity trends over time, including religious beliefs, practices and experience.
    3. To evaluate how the Australian community views the role of churches in society.
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Spiritual but not religious

Spirituality in its broadest sense is the evidence of, or attempt to explain, human transcendence. Used by the Church at many stages and in varying ways to attempt to define, explain and outline the entire relationship between a person and God a precise definition becomes impossible. Contemporary usage in wider society incorporates any aspect of humanity's connection to something other than itself. Explore definition below.

What do Australians believe about God and life beyond?

“No religion” on the rise
There has been a decline in the religiosity of Australians, with an increasing number stating that they have no religion. In the 20 years from 1991 to 2011, the number of Australians with a Christian affiliation declined from 74% to 61%. This is a major change that impacts all churches.

There is something beyond this life that makes sense of it all
Almost half of Australians (44.6%) agree that there is something beyond this life that makes sense of it all, with a third neither agreeing or disagreeing (33.5%) and around a fifth disagreeing with this statement (21.8%). Young people aged 15-29 are the least likely to agree. There are many who say they are not religious but who consider there to be a spiritual dimension to life. Church attendance is strongly related to the belief in something beyond. (NCLS Research Spirituality Fact Sheet 1, 2010.)

Australians not willing to “just believe”
Critical reflection and questioning are significant components of contemporary Australian spirituality. Nearly half (49%) of Australians surveyed think we should strongly oppose the idea of “just believing”. More than half (54%) of all men surveyed think we should question our beliefs. Being willing to question and reflect on beliefs is associated with higher levels of education. Indecision is most evident among younger people. Those who have a religion are much more likely to have a non-questioning approach to belief. Amongst those attending church, attenders have a preference to question their beliefs rather than be dogmatic. (NCLS Research Spirituality Fact Sheet 2, 2010.)

Christianity most influential life philosophy
Four out of ten Australians nominated the Christian religion as the most influential life philosophy on how they live today. A further 32% were unable to name an underlying life philosophy that most influenced them. Those born overseas are more likely to nominate both Christian and non-Christian religions as influential. Church attendance is strongly related to belief that Christianity has an influence on one’s life. (NCLS Research Spirituality Fact Sheet 3, 2010.)

Guided by faith
Nearly four in ten Australians say religious faith is important to shape life’s decisions, however around two in ten find it of little importance and the remaining four in ten say it has no importance at all. Men are much more likely to say that religious faith or spirituality has no importance in their life decisions and most younger people say it is of little importance (73% of 15-29 year olds). Compared to those Australian-born, people born overseas tend to hold faith and spirituality as more important in decision making. (NCLS Research Spirituality Fact Sheet 4, 2010.)

Australians split over Jesus’ resurrection
Around one third (35%) of Australians do not believe in the resurrection, one third (34%) are uncertain and the remaining 31% believe it was an actual event in history. Extremes in these views are seen in the youngest and highest age brackets. Higher proportions of women believe in the resurrection and those university educated are more unlikely to believe it was an actual event. (NCLS Research Spirituality Fact Sheet 5, 2010.)


Spirituality Fact Sheets

NCLS Research has released a set of fact sheets on Australian Spirituality, based on the 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, which are available here.

Spirituality Factsheet 1 - Something beyond this life
Many Australians agree there is something beyond that makes sense of it all.

Spirituality Factsheet 2 - Just believe or question?
Studies reveal Australians not willing to ‘just believe’

Spirituality Factsheet 3 - Philosophies of life
New research shows diverse philosophies influences how Australians live

Spirituality Factsheet 4 - Guided by faith?
Four in ten Australians say religious faith is important to shape life’s decisions.

Spirituality Factsheet 5 - Jesus' resurrection
Australians split over Jesus’ resurrection


Defining spirituality

The term 'spirituality' is French Catholic in origin and did not fully develop as a concept until the 18th Century. Giving an exact definition for the term becomes difficult. Used by the Church at many stages and in varying ways to attempt to define, explain, and outline the entire relationship between a person and God a precise definition becomes impossible. Contemporary usage in wider society complicates a definition further with the concept leaving its Christian roots behind and coming to mean any aspect of humanity's connection to something other than itself. This includes deism (natural revelation), and theism (revealed revelation), yet also expands to include even other human relationships. Spirituality in its broadest sense is the evidence of, or attempt to explain, human transcendence.

Some have sought to argue that religion refers to an institutional dimension whereas spirituality is to do with more subjective personal perspectives (Hill and Pargament 2003, 64). Such distinctions are often used to paint religion in a negative light in contrast with more 'enlightened' contemporary spirituality. Of course, there can be both helpful and unhelpful religions and spiritualities. Religion can also be intensely personal (eg Wuthnow 1998) just as some contemporary spiritualities can form part of large international business complexes. Further, in practice, many experience spirituality in a religious context and do not draw such distinctions (Marler and Hadaway, 2002).

Hill, P.C., & Pargament, K.I., (2003). Advances in the conceptualisation and measurement of religion and spirituality: Implications for physical and mental health. American Psychologist, 58 (1), 64-74.

Marler, P.L., & Hadaway, C.K., (2002). "Being religious" or "being spiritual" in America: A zero-sum proposition? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 289-300.

Wuthnow, R. (1998). After heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press.


How ‘Christian’ are Australians

How 'Christian' are Australians? How much confidence do they have in the churches and what do they see as the role of churches in our multi-faith society?

Six out of ten Australians affiliate themselves with one of the Christian churches.

Most Australians have some contact with the churches and see them as having a wider role, primarily as moral guardians, but also to provide public worship and a range of social services. There is no doubt that there have been changes in the place of Christian churches in the past few decades, yet they remain a significant part of the Australian landscape.

Spirit Matters

Research on the Spirituality of Australians has been published in 2010 by NCLS Research and its research partners in the book Spirit Matters. For more information about Spirit Matters visit www.ncls.org.au/spiritmatters.



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