a multicultural History of Australia

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Period: This Generation »


Commentary on: Religion, values and spirituality in Queensland »

Prof Andrew Jakubowicz.

Text Commentary

Societies and the communities that make them up are held together through shared beliefs and rituals. Religions are institutions that bring people together around beliefs in a supreme being or beings. Religions offer moral codes, community and the possibility of spiritual revelation. They can also be very powerful institutions for imposing world-views on people, and forcing them to follow rules.

Indigenous Queensland – made up of hundreds of tribal groups – developed many religious frameworks for interpreting the cosmos, and placing people within a spiritual order. European Christian missionaries believed that aboriginal belief systems were based on superstition, and while some recorded their beliefs and rituals, most wanted to stamp out the old way of thinking. Christian missions, established by groups from all over Europe, became important centres for the forced resettlement of Indigenous communities driven from their land. These European missions cared for the damaged Indigenous communities, but also tried to recruit them to their own kinds of Christianity.

Besides the religious denominations of Christianity brought into Queensland by Europeans, a number of other faiths also flourished. Various tendencies of Buddhism and Taoism came with the Chinese, with their typical joss houses and temples. Hindus established temples, while Muslims opened mosques wherever their travels took them throughout Queensland. The Jewish community opened its first synagogue in Brisbane in 1885, 20 years after its foundation in 1865.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with the exception of a small but significant Lutheran population of Germanic descent, Australian society in 1901 was predominantly Anglo-Celtic, with 40% of the population being Anglican (then Church of England), 23% Catholic, 34% other Christian and about 1% professing non-Christian religions. In response to the 2001 Census of Population and Housing question, Australians’ stated religious affiliations were: 27% Catholic, 21% Anglican, 21% other Christian denominations and 5% non-Christian religions. Just over one-quarter of all Australians either stated they had no religion, or did not adequately respond to the question to enable classification of their religion.

Religion has re-emerged as a major dimension of social difference, even though a larger proportion of people than ever now say they have no religious affiliation. New evangelical Christian churches are attracting people from many ethnic backgrounds, while Tibetan Buddhism is establishing centres in Queensland. Many communities such as the Muslim and Jewish religions have opened faith-based schools, while inter-faith dialogue has become an important part of government multicultural strategies.