New Zealand Culture

Religion

Christianity is the largest religion in New Zealand, with 15.4% of the population identifying with Protestant denominations, 10.1% identifying as Catholic and 11.9% identifying with some other form of Christianity.1 However, almost half (48.6%) of New Zealanders stated they had no religion in the 2018 census, signifying the first time that the number of ‘religiously unaffiliated’ people has exceeded Christians.2 The number of people affiliating with minority (non-Christian) religions is also increasing, such as Hinduism (2.7%), Maori religions, beliefs, and philosophies (1.3%), Islam (1.3%) and Buddhism (1.1%).3  


Christianity in New Zealand

Many of the British who settled in New Zealand in the 19th century arrived with the intent of setting up Christian missions. They wished to convert the lawless British who had arrived from the Australian penal colony, as well as the tribal Māori. As Māori culture is polytheistic, it quite easily accepted a new God to be blended in with its practices, resulting in almost all Māori adopting some Christian tenets or understandings. This was part of a larger mission scheme throughout the Pacific Ocean, so most Pacific Islanders in New Zealand that have migrated from neighbouring islands are also very strong believers in the Christian faith. Today, while traditional denominations of Christianity have been declining in popularity, evangelical sects are continuing to gain adherents.


Religiously Unaffiliated

The percentage of people identifying as non-religious has been steadily increasing from 29.6% in 2001, to 34.6% in 2006, to 41.9% in 2013 and 48.6% in 2018. Considering this, the Pew Forum predicts New Zealand’s population to have a non-religious majority by the end of the century. It is important to note that not all who identify as having no religion are committed atheists. However, the decline in the popularity of faith can be partly attributed to a generational difference, as data shows that younger people are less likely to have religious affiliations. New Zealanders with European or Māori descent are also more likely to claim no religion. Recent migrants—including people of Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African populations—are much more likely to be religious.


1 Central Intelligence Agency, 2020

2 Central Intelligence Agency, 2020

3 Central Intelligence Agency, 2020

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