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May 12, 2023 | About Australia

Religious Sectarianism In Australia:Social, Political and Theological Debate it Caused.

Religious sectarianism in Australia has been a major social and political issue for centuries.

Sectarian violence, religious intolerance, and the debate over religious foundations have plagued Australian society since its inception.

This problem is not just seen in Australia either: throughout history, people of all nations have had to contend with this divisive force.

To better understand how sectarian conflict can arise within a given community, Translation service in Australia has produced this blog to better understand what it is, its impact and its causes.

What is Australian Sectarian Religion?

What is Australian Sectarian Religion?

Sectarianism is a term that can be used to describe religious division.

The word “sectarian” in this sense comes from the Latin” sect,” which initially meant” following” but took on its modern meaning of theology”, especially as an exclusive system of beliefs or practices that separates one group from the rest ー usually by claiming authority for itself and condemning others as unorthodox (Pew Research Center).

In Australia, sectarianism refers to hostility between different churches known simply as sects. Know more about Australian mythical creatures in this post and don’t forget to read the full article.

Sects are divided primarily due to theological differences, specifically those relating to understanding Jesus Christ.

An example of Sectarianism in the Catholic Church would include the Roman Catholic church who believes in transubstantiation against Protestant denominations such as Anglicans and Baptists who do not.

The former believe that during the act of Holy Communion (or Mass), the bread and wine are transformed into Jesus” body and blood, while many Protestant denominations believe it to be symbolic ー a representation only ofChrist’ss actual body and blood.

Catholic historian and senior lecturer of the University of Sydney, Michael Hogan, writes,” the rivalry which permeated colonial politics in the second half of the nineteenth century and survived well into the twentieth century…those divisions and the heat they generated seem a lifetime away… They are the stuff of history for young Australians”.

When Was Religious Sectarianism in Australia?

The religious sectarianism in Australia starts with the foundation of two colonies, New South Wales and VanDiemen’ss Land.

The relative success of these colonies determined that one would be predominantly Protestant (New South Wales) and the other predominantly Catholic (VanDiemen’ss Land).

This distinction was to last for some time. Before this development, there had been a history of animosity between Protestants from Ireland and Catholics who were mainly Scottish or Irish. Still, it is not clear what role religion played in their disputes.

The sectarian rivalry saw an upsurge when penal laws discriminated against Catholics during 1795-1813; they had forbidden positions as farmers, merchants, or school teachers, among others, while at the same time, Anglican services became compulsory although many Catholics could not afford to attend them.

What is Sectarianism in religion?

What is Sectarianism in religion?

Sectarianism is the hostility between different religious sects or churches.

In Australia sectarianism typically manifests itself in social and political conflict – with hostile attitudes towards other religions being a significant factor behind increased levels of racism in society.

A primary benefactor that impacted the South Australian economy and the country in a negative way. 

Many Sectarianism examples throughout history show how this can happen: for example, when Catholics persecuted Protestant Irish settlers during colonial times; or when Protestants opposed immigration from Catholic countries such as Poland and Italy from the beginning of the last century.

Historically there have been some extreme cases where sectarian tensions lead to violent clashes, e.g., The Troubles between Northern Ireland’s Unionists (primarily Protestant) and Nationalists (mostly Catholic).

From 1788 to 1868, about 160,000 men, women, and children were transported from Great Britain & Ireland to penal colonies in Australia such as Western Australia, Victoria, Melbourne & Sydney.

Religion is also a critical factor in the current Middle East conflicts.

The religious tension within Australia and around the world can be traced to theological debate about Christian beliefs regarding salvation – whether people are saved by faith or deeds.

Theological Differences: Protestants believe you are saved through faith alone, while Catholics believe you have faith and good works for your salvation.

Impact of Sectarianism In Australia: Sectarian attitudes often subject themselves to social and political conflicts such as racism which has become an increasing problem with increased levels of immigration from countries like Italy, London, and Poland at the start of the last century; violence between groups such as Northern Ireland Unionists (primarily Protestant) vs. Nationalists (mostly Catholic).

Is Australian Society Catholic or protestant?

Is Australian Society Catholic or protestant?

Australia is a secular state with no religious affiliation. Australia’s constitution prohibits the government from making laws for any specific religious organizations, including Christianity, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

However, some people may identify as Catholic because of their family or ancestry, while others might say they are Christian based on their beliefs about God.

However, this does not change the law that it is illegal to make a law that favors one group over another regarding religions such as Protestant Christians vs. Catholics as well as Western vs. Eastern Culture.

It also means each person has the right to choose whichever faith they want without fear of persecution by authorities or other groups like Protestants who seek to convert them through force or scare tactics.

However, there have been many debates throughout history between different denominations within Christianity, which still rage today.

As an example, the Anglican Church has historically conflicted with many other Christian churches such as Catholics and Presbyterians over issues like a religious authority in regards to sacraments (i.e., who consecrates the bread and wine for communion), differences of opinion on what happens when a person dies before being able to repent their sins, and whether a priest or archbishop must be celibate.

The ongoing talk between different denominations within Christianity has also caused some people to question not only their faith but even God himself, which can lead them down a dark path if they are unable or unwilling to turn back towards Christ’s love; this process is called spiritual free falling.”

According to a Sydney library journal, “Spiritual free falling” refers to the process of losing faith in God or even questioning one’s religious affiliation, which can happen for many reasons, such as the death of a loved one.

When Did religious sectarianism Start in Australian history?

When Did religious sectarianism Start in Australian history?
It is a stiff question to answer, and there are many different interpretations.

Taking an article from Robert Hughes’s book “Fatal Shore,” Australian Sectarianism started with the arrival of Europeans in the Australian colonies; others argue that it began when people from Ireland and Great Britain arrived as convicts or migrants and settled in places like Victoria, Sydney, and Melbourne.

Founding Cultures

The officials onboard the First Fleet who founded the penal settlement of New South Wales in 1788 brought anti-Catholic views with them. These views precipitated a sectarian divide thanks to Irishman and women who also came on the First Fleet.

The settlement remained vigilant in the case of risings led by political convicts exiled to Australia – rebellions had occurred twice before, and many involved had been transported from Ireland- during the war with republican France.


During the late 19th century, Irish convicts no longer posed a significant threat to the penal colony. This was partially due to migration search from Ireland and London created by their hunger and hopelessness.

The Irish and Scottish involvement in the Eureka Stockade of 1854 and supporting Fenian (a term referring to Roman Catholic) insurrectionists upon their arrival on Australian shores served to erode the Protestant ascendancy established by earlier Irish arrivals.

Position of Irish Catholics and Anglicans Protestants

The Australian colony saw the Irish Catholics’ identity as being less civilized than them because they practiced a more traditional form of Catholicism which was very conservative and had been outmoded in Europe for hundreds of years.

Other Australian Protestants saw their religious practices — such as Sunday mass attendance–as superior and not too dissimilar from those practiced locally until then.

However, the difference between Protestantism (such as Anglicanism) here at home and abroad complicated matters further.

For example, if an English person became Catholic, he or she would no longer be a member of the Church of England.

According to an essay by Roberts (2004) notes, the typical work of “reformation the guilt” is not regarded by many in Australian society.

Contemporary Effect

Religious sectarianism in Australia has caused many social and political conflicts.

One of the historical conflicts was between Catholics and Protestants during the 18th century, which led to different economic interests, which may have had a substantial impact on Australian society.

The ultimate cause of this strife was an eternal war within Christianity over its interpretation of scripture (Lyon).

Sectarian violence especially between CALD communities remained to a more or less extent until 2006 when it declined sharply, with only 12% of Australians citing religion as the most critical issue facing their country according to an APN report published 2009-2010.

As Lester Kurtz said in his biography, “Gods in the Global Village”- “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we shall die together as a fool.”

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When did sectarianism end in Australia?

According to one commentator, Australia’s anti-Catholic sectarianism ended in the 1950s when the conservative government—which was predominately Protestant—agreed to provide state funding for Catholic schools.

2. Is Christianity growing or declining in Australia?

Throughout the past century, fewer Australians have declared Christianity as their religion; from 96% in 1911 to 61.1% Christianity in Australia has decreased from 68% to 61.1% over the past ten years.

3. What is the fastest-growing religion in Australia?

Regarding absolute numbers, Hinduism is one of the religions in Australia that is expanding the fastest.

4. What caused sectarianism in Australia?

The people in charge of the First Fleet who established the penal settlement of New South Wales in 1788 had anti-Catholic feelings, leading to sectarian separation due to the Irish men and women who were also passengers aboard the First Fleet.

5. Is sectarianism only religious?

Sectarianism does not always mean adherence to religious groups or sects. Sectarianism can involve political, cultural, as well as religious groups. 

6. What is the religious divide in Australia?

The 2021 Australian census revealed that 43.9% of Australians consider themselves Christians. The second-largest category was “No Religion,” with 38.9%.

7. Is secularism and sectarianism same?

Secularism is not subscribing to any particular religion or sect, while sectarianism involves devotion to a specific religious or ideological group.

Emily Chen

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