Story: Diverse religions

Page 1. Religious diversity in New Zealand

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‘Religious diversity’ refers to the presence of different religious communities within a society. New Zealand is home to Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and a number of newer religious movements. Most New Zealanders support the value of this diversity, but some have more negative attitudes – for example, that religious differences threaten social unity.

Origins of New Zealand’s religions

New Zealand’s pattern of religious diversity developed out of the religious cultures brought by the communities that migrated to the country. Māori brought religious customs and practices from Polynesia. European missionaries and settlers brought varieties of British Protestantism and French Catholicism. Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians shaped the structure, values and traditions of the new society. Almost all Māori adopted forms of Christianity, so New Zealand was regarded as a Christian nation.

Effect of Christian traditions

Since the early days of European settlement tiny Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh faith groups have existed alongside the Christian majority. This unified religious identity has been a significant factor in educational, moral, social and cultural policies and debates. In the 21st century New Zealand’s Christian traditions remained evident in the 2007 decision to retain the Christian prayer in Parliament, in support for the theistic national anthem and in the practice of swearing on the Bible in court.

Secularism

From the 1970s there was a dramatic decline in church attendance and affiliation in New Zealand. As a result, in the 2013 census 42% of New Zealanders described themselves as having no religion. The proportion was even higher in larger cities and among the young. This figure is about double that of the US and Britain, and Australia. Fewer than 10% of those who state they have ‘no religion’ are committed atheists, and many do have spiritual interests and concerns.

My aim is true

In 2006 the New Zealand Defence Force confronted an issue of religious diversity. It learned that the US-manufactured sights on weapons used by its troops in Afghanistan were inscribed with Biblical references. Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said that when New Zealand soldiers were operating in Muslim countries, the references could be misconstrued. The manufacturer was instructed to remove the inscriptions from further orders of the gun sights.

Religious fundamentalism

Since the 1970s there has been a worldwide intensification of religious identity. This has been reflected in New Zealand in the growth of the charismatic movement in the mainstream Christian churches, and in new evangelical and Pentecostal communities.

Impact of new migrants

Changes to immigration policy from the 1980s meant that adherents to non-Christian religions doubled in number between 1996 and 2006, and another 20% between 2006 and 2013. Immigration changes have also influenced Christianity in New Zealand, with substantial numbers of Korean Presbyterians and Methodists, Taiwanese Presbyterians, Samoan Catholics and Congregationalists, South African conservative Presbyterians and Filipino and Tongan Catholics settling in New Zealand.

In the 2010s Christianity remained the largest single religion in New Zealand but there were also sizeable Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh communities. These so-called communities were made up of various ethnic and language groups with very different migrant experiences. None was represented by a single organisation. There was sometimes considerable dissent and tension between different faith groups, resulting in complex relationships both within and between religious communities.

How to cite this page:

Paul Morris, 'Diverse religions - Religious diversity in New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/diverse-religions/page-1 (accessed 23 October 2017)

Story by Paul Morris, published 5 May 2011, updated 13 Feb 2017