Did “The Force” influence the Census?
Happy Star Wars Day everyone – May the 4th be with you!….In line with this theme, here’s a brief look at the “Jedi” phenomenon and how it affected the Australian Census.
Prior to the 2001 Census, a bunch of Star Wars fans around the world decided that it would be good to get “Jedi” recognised as an official religion. For some reason, someone decided that if 10,000 people in the country put down a religion on their Census form, it would suddenly be recognised as an official religion (presumably with tax fee status for Yoda, and a nice office overlooking the harbour).
This was around the time of the release of the 3 “prequel” Star Wars films, and Star Wars fans, never particularly quiet, were rather prominent walking the streets with their lightsabres. So an email was circulated encouraging Star Wars fans to write their religion in the “Other” box as “Jedi”, and it gained pretty wide coverage – now it would doubtless go through Facebook and Twitter and get even wider coverage, but this was before those days, when plain old email was the primary means of electronic communication.
This figure of 10,000 is of course completely untrue, but don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. The religious beliefs counted in the Census are defined in advance of the Census, and have to meet criteria about belief in a supernatural being, set of canons, and all sorts of things which are set out in the Standard Classification of Religious Groups (yes, ABS has a classification for everything!) No actual number of adherents can constitute a religion.
Actually I can’t see why Jedi couldn’t fit into this. There is a whole section in there on “No Religion”, which includes non-religious groups, such as “Atheism” and “Humanism”. “Satanism” is also a valid option!
But the ABS dug their heels in, with a media release, saying that it’s very important not to falsify Census information, and Jedi wasn’t a religion etc. This media release is still available on the ABS website, 10 years on.
People are prosecuted every Census for refusing to fill in the form – Census is compulsory and vital information for Australia’s future – everyone should fill it out as accurately as possible. However Religion is and always has been an optional question – the Australian constitution prevents governments from forcing people to reveal their religion. In 2006 11.2% of the population chose, quite legally, not to answer the question. That’s a lot more than the number who answered Jedi.
Anyway, a lot of people did follow the email, and answered “Jedi”, or some other variant such as “Jedi Knight”, “Jedi Master”, “Sith Lord”, or “Padawan”. Such was the interest that after 2001, the ABS put out a media release with the actual number of people who responded with one of these.
The upshot was that in the 2001 Census, there were just over 73,000 Jedi in Australia, or 0.37% of the population. To put in perspective, if it was allowed as an “official” religion, it would’ve been larger than the Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventists, and only slightly smaller than Judaism. But all the Jedi were put into “Religious Belief, nfd”, and made up about a third of the 229,000 people in this category. There are some wierd and wonderful religious beliefs in this category – anyone heard of “Pastafarian” (look it up!)
In 2006, there was far less hype about the Jedi (George Lucas had finished releasing the “Revenge of the Sith” a year before, and it was a all a bit old hat), so while we expect that there were some responses on the 2006 Census, it’s likely to have been well down on 2001. In any case, the ABS didn’t release the number.
The amazing thing is that “The Force” did have an effect on the Census. You can see the effect that the Jedi had by looking at any of .id’s community profiles.
Generally the “No Religion” response, which includes anyone who ticked that box on the form, plus the few who take the trouble to tick “Other” and write in “Atheism”, “Agnosticism” etc., has been increasing for many Census periods – Australia has become a more secular society. This trend is apparent from 1991 through to 2006, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF 2001 in most areas.
These are the figures Australia-wide:
- 1991 Census – 12.9% No Religion
- 1996 Census – 16.6% No Religion
- 2001 Census – 15.5% No Religion
- 2006 Census – 18.7% No Religion
At the same time, the “Religious Belief, nfd” category hit a peak of 229,000 in 2001 before falling by almost 100,000 in 2006.
Using some common sense, I’d suggest that if you were a strong believer in a “traditional” religion, you would probably put that down on the form, so the Jedi have probably taken a lot of people who would otherwise have ticked the “No Religion” box, and relatively few from the other religions. Because they are taken out of there, it shows up as a dip in 2001 for this category.
You can see this in the online community profile for most areas with a strong “No religion” response, eg. City of Yarra, City of North Sydney, City of Tea Tree Gully (despite its moniker as the City of Churches, Adelaide actually has a very high proportion of people with no religion!).
So these things do have an impact on the results if people do them in enough numbers, and can mask real trends in society. That’s why it is important to be accurate on the Census form – the information is used for long periods of time in a wide variety of areas.
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