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Aussie spirituality alive and well

The most recent analysis of Australian religion indicate that religion in Australia is growing and increasingly popular.

Monash University academic and UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations Prof. Gary Bouma this week released his new book, Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century, published by Cambridge University Press Australia.

Bouma says while it’s long been assumed that religion is giving way to more scientific beliefs, Australia’s soul is alive and kicking

The key findings of the report indicate that a substantial majority of Australians (74.7%) continue to identify with a religious group, and spirituality is ever-increasing.

The bad news for churches is that Australia’s religious and spiritual life is increasingly diverse and less tied to formal organisations (those in the category ‘Other Religions’ in the 2001 census had increased by 33%).

While Australia’s future seems certain to involve religion and spirituality, including both new and traditional forms, Bouma says the challenge for religious leaders is to make faith relevant and contemporary.

Bouma, a US expatriate, claims that while Australians are not as devout as their US counterparts, they are more religious than citizens of many other Western nations, such as the United Kingdom and Sweden.

"Many evangelical Christians who have come to Australia from the USA quickly form the impression that Australia is spiritually dead and that Australia is ripe for conversion.”

Bouma says in contrast to the brash, mega-industry of the right-wing Christianity in the United States, it is considered un-Australian to “trumpet encounters with the spiritual like some American televangelist”.

This hasn’t stopped Australia’s youth flocking to new and emerging mega-churches, such as those of Christian Pentecostals, engaging in energising forms of worship that Bouma refers to as "spiritual aerobics".

Amongst other religions on the rise are Buddhism (up 79% since 1996), Islam (up 40%), Hinduism (up 42%), Pentecostalism (up 11%), ‘nature religions’ including Paganism and Wicca/witchcraft, (up 130%), and Scientology (up 37%).

The findings of Bouma’s survey show that the historic reasons for seeking spirituality remain especially relevant post-9/11: searching for the meaning of life, dissatisfaction with materialism and scientific rationality, and the natural compassion of humanity.