What does spirituality look like in New Zealand?

By Katie Stone

Reading time: 13 minutes

Spirituality is a universal human experience. Throughout history, people everywhere have searched for ways to connect with something beyond. This has spawned an enormous variety of spiritual paths, from mass religious followings to personal pilgrimages.

New Zealand is at once a secular, multicultural, and multi-faith country. Most of us are surrounded by religion every day: at home, in the street, in schools, in workplaces, and even online. Our major religions include Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, along with a host of smaller religions such as Greek Orthodox and Judaism.

[gallery size="large" ids="1222,1220,1221"]

 

Over the past few decades, however, we have become more and more secular. And, despite the many different ethnicities and faiths within our population, New Zealand now ranks as one of the most secular countries in the world. In fact, the proportion of us who are ‘religionless’ is double that of the United States.

By Katie Stone

Reading time: 13 minutes

Spirituality is a universal human experience. Throughout history, people everywhere have searched for ways to connect with something beyond. This has spawned an enormous variety of spiritual paths, from mass religious followings to personal pilgrimages.

New Zealand is at once a secular, multicultural, and multi-faith country. Most of us are surrounded by religion every day: at home, in the street, in schools, in workplaces, and even online. Our major religions include Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, along with a host of smaller religions such as Greek Orthodox and Judaism.

 

Over the past few decades, however, we have become more and more secular. And, despite the many different ethnicities and faiths within our population, New Zealand now ranks as one of the most secular countries in the world. In fact, the proportion of us who are ‘religionless’ is double that of the United States.

Our 2018 Census showed that more New Zealanders now identify as ‘non-religious’ than those who identify as Christian. Previous census data suggests that New Zealand’s church followers are diminishing steadily, particularly Anglican and Presbyterian.

But that doesn’t mean New Zealand is becoming less religious as a whole. Researchers have pointed out that the smaller religions have actually grown, including smaller Protestant groups and non-denominational churches.

And being ‘non-religious’ does not mean ‘non-spiritual’. Rather, the influence of our multi-faith society has allowed us to learn from – and borrow – aspects of spirituality that don’t fit within a specific doctrine.

So, what does spirituality look like in New Zealand?

Christianity

Around 37% of Kiwis identify as Christian, which makes it our largest religion.

The first missionaries arrived in New Zealand in December 1814, led by chaplain Samuel Marsden. Since then, Christianity has branched into three major groups (Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian) and a range of smaller denominations.

Catholicism comprises seven solemn rites known as sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, matrimony, penance, holy orders and Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Sick). The Catholic church teaches that these rites were instituted by Jesus and that they confer God’s grace.

Protestant churches, on the other hand, practise only baptism and the Eucharist (known as the Lord’s Supper). These sacraments are treated as symbolic rituals through which God delivers the Gospel. Both denominations worship personally, privately, and collectively through prayer, song, and by attending church.

While Anglican and Presbyterian followers in New Zealand are on the decline, newer forms of Christianity have continued to develop as migrant communities grow. These include Chinese, Korean, and even internet-based churches.

Hinduism

As the world’s oldest religion and the second largest in New Zealand after Christianity, Hindus constitute 2.63% of our population.

It is believed the first Hindus arrived in New Zealand as soldiers – known as sepoys – in the 1890s. From then until the 1980s, the majority of Hindu migrants arrived from Gujarat. They later came from all over India and the world, including Sri Lanka and Malaysia and as far as South Africa.

The Immigration Act 1987 and India’s Economic Liberalisation saw New Zealand’s Hindu population increase substantially throughout the 1990s. The population grew again after 1996 following further changes to the immigration policy and Fiji’s political turmoil, which saw more Fijian Indians migrating to New Zealand.

The roots of Hinduism can be traced back more than 4,000 years. It is not a single organised religion but rather a ‘way of life’. Most Hindus worship a Brahman (the highest Universal or Cosmic Principle), but also recognize other gods and goddesses. Hinduism is based on the concept of Saṃsāra: life, death, and reincarnation – and karma.

Worship is known as ‘puja’, and is usually carried out in the Mandir (temple) whenever a follower chooses. Many Hindus also create a special shrine to certain gods and goddesses for worship at home. This usually involves giving offerings, such as gifts of flowers or oils.

Islam

Around 1.32% of New Zealand’s population identifies as Muslim, which makes it our third-largest religion.

Muslim settlement began in the 1850s with the arrival of Muslim Chinese gold miners, but historical accounts note that Islam first arrived in New Zealand in 1769, with two Indian Muslims.

The migration of Fiji-Indians marked the beginning of large-scale Muslim immigration in the 1970s. Refugees from Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Iraq saw the population grow steadily throughout the 1990s.

Islam was founded by the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the 7th century CE. It is based on the five pillars: the profession of faith (shahada), prayer, giving alms, fasting (such as at Ramadan), and pilgrimage to Mecca. Allah is worshipped as the sole creator, sustainer, and restorer of the world. Allah’s will is documented in the sacred scriptures, the Qurʾān (or Koran), as revealed to his messenger, Muhammad.

Muslims are called to prayer five times a day. Prayer is as practical as it is spiritual, and can be considered a means of maintaining the day’s order and work patterns. The call is heard at dawn, noon, late afternoon, sunset, and evening, and can be carried out wherever they are at each prayer time. Each prayer involves facing toward the Ka’bah (the House of God) while reciting the opening chapter of the Qur’an (the sura).

On Fridays at midday, a weekly prayer called the Jumah is observed, in which Muslims pray together in congregational mosques. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual contact from dawn until dusk.

Buddhism

Buddhism is our fourth-largest religion, comprising 1.5% of New Zealanders. The majority of Buddhists (65%) are those who have migrated from Asia, while the rest have chosen it as their faith.

Buddhism was founded by the prince Siddhartha Gautama more than 2,500 years ago in India. Gautama achieved enlightenment (nirvana) after many days of meditating under a fig tree in Bodh Gaya. He then spent the rest of this life teaching the Three Universal Truths and Four Noble Truths, which have become the central tenets of Buddhism.

There are no gods or deities in Buddhism, and even Buddha himself taught his followers not to worship him or anyone else as a god. Instead, Buddhists focus on achieving enlightenment: a state of inner peace.

There are three main branches of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism (mostly Southeast Asia), Mahayana Buddhism (China, Japan, Vietnam), and Tibetan Buddhism.

Buddhist practices involve some form of devotion to the Buddha. This can be done through meditation, chanting mantras, and performing rituals. Meditation is particularly important as it helps Buddhists open themselves to a higher state of awareness.

Offering gifts to the Buddha – such as flowers and candles – are a show of respect for the Buddha and a reminder of the impermanence of things.

Māori religions

A resurgence of interest in Māori Christianity has been noted over the past two decades. While these increases may reflect a growing engagement in Māori spirituality, scholars suggest it may also be due to a growing Māori population.

Around 1.83% of Kiwis identify with a Māori religion, which includes Rātana, Ringatū, Pai Mārire, and other non-specified religions. These religions are a blend of traditional and Christian practices that have woven into new systems of belief.

Pai Mārire was the first organised expression of an independent Māori Christianity. Founded by Te Ua Haumēne in 1862, it was based on the principle of pai mārire – goodness and peace – and combined aspects of European society and culture with Māori needs and practices. However, it was quickly seen as an anti-European movement and led to several armed conflicts.

Ringatū was founded by the Māori leader Te Kooti in 1868 after he claimed God spoke to him and instructed him to teach the people. Ringatū means ‘the upraised hand’. Worship involves Bible verses, songs, and prayers ending with members raising their right hands in homage. Today, Ringatū is still an established faith, with several regional branches through New Zealand under different names.

The Rātana movement was founded by Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana in 1918, following a vision in which he claimed he was asked to preach the gospel to Māori people. He believed he was also urged to overthrow the tohunga (Māori chief) and cure the spirits and bodies of his people. Today, the Ratana church is still based at the settlement of Rātana Pā near Whanganui.

The non-religious

So, what about the majority of us who claim to be non-religious? Are we still spiritual?

According to a study published in the International Journal of Religion and Spirituality, we are indeed. When posed with the statement, “I don’t follow a religion, but am a spiritual person interested in the sacred/supernatural,” 30% of Kiwis agreed.

The definition of spirituality is somewhat subjective. Essentially, it is the recognition that something greater than the self exists, whether it be cosmic or divine in nature. This belief can help us to find meaning and purpose in our lives. Numerous studies show that spirituality – however it is practised – has a positive impact on wellbeing.

While others find their spirituality in a church, a mosque, a temple or a synagogue, the rest of us may find our own methods of reaching out to a higher power. We might do this through contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, prayer, or spiritual readings. Spirituality can also be as simple as practising gratitude each day.

We don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. And it must be pointed out that whether we realise it or not, practise it or don’t practise it, all people are spiritual to the core, even if our spiritual awareness differs.

Spirituality can be demonstrated publicly or kept private. It can be whatever fits into our own thoughts, beliefs, and schedules. It can be deeply comforting. It can help bring comfort, joy, and relief from other troubles. At the end of the day, many of us choose to acknowledge our spirituality because it makes us feel good.

What more do we need?

To immerse yourself in more articles like this, Subscribe or Log in