Aussie soul alive and kicking, academic discovers

In a newly published book analysing Australia's spiritual and religious trends, Monash University Professor Gary Bouma argues that, contrary to assumptions that the nation is becoming increasingly secular, religion is in fact growing and increasingly popular.

In the book described by the publishers as "the most comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of Australian religion available", Professor Bouman says that "while it's long been assumed that religion is giving way to more scientific beliefs, Australia's soul is alive and kicking".

Professor Bouma, who also chairs a UNESCO committee on Interreligious and Intercultural Relations, reported his findings in a new book, "Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century", published by Cambridge University Press Australia.

"In fact, religion in Australia is growing and increasingly popular," the professor says.

Amongst those 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%).

Professor Bouma found that a substantial majority of Australians (74.7%) continue to identify with a religious group, and spirituality is ever-increasing.

Australia's religious and spiritual life is increasingly diverse and less tied to formal organisations while Australia's future seems certain to involve religion and spirituality, including both new and traditional forms, the report says.

"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," says Professor Bouma, a US expatriate.

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", the academic adds.

But this has not stopped Australia's youth flocking to new and emerging mega-churches, such as those of Christian Pentecostals, engaging in energising forms of worship that Professor Bouma refers to as "spiritual aerobics".

The findings of Professor 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.

"Our spiritual life is not decline", says Professor (Media Release, Cambridge University Press Australia

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Professor Gary Bouma, Monash University
Australian Soul (Cambridge University Press)

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29 Nov 2006