Philosophies influencing Australian lives

NCLS Research has recently published some preliminary results from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) about Australian spirituality.

The ISSP asked “Which philosophy of life has had most impact on how you live today?” The response options were:

  • Christian religion
  • Non-Christian religion
  • Secular/humanist philosophy
  • Other philosophy
  • Don’t know/nothing

Overall, 39% of Australians say Christianity is the philosophy that has had the most impact on the way they live. And a staggering 32% say they don’t know what philosophy has had an impact, or that they think no philosophy has had an impact on their life. This provides a fascinating place to start asking questions:

  • Is this proportion of the population just badly trained in being able to name different philosophies that impact our lives?
  • Do they simply not care to think things through in an active way?
  • Does this proportion of the population think that by turning their backs on religion, they somehow have freedom from any kind of framework that shapes how they understand the world and make decisions in it?

What other questions does it raise for you?

NCLS Research provide a couple of different cross-tabulation of the data (comparisons by gender, age etc.). The one I’m interested in is between those born in Australia and those born overseas.

People who live in Australia but were born overseas are more likely than the Australian born to agree:

  • that Christian religion impacts how they live (45% compared to 38%);
  • that non-Christian religion impacts how they live (9% compared to 4%); and
  • that secular or humanist philosophy impacts how they live (10% compared to 8%).

Other philosophies and the don’t know/nothing option are both much lower in the overseas-born population than the Australian born population (9 vs 17% and 27 vs 33% respectively). Now, I’m not sure which of those differences are statistically significant, but they’re fascinating, don’t you think? It just raises even more questions:

  • Are the overseas-born just better educated about philosophy and more self aware about what impacts their lives?
  • Are the overseas born more reflective about decision-making?

5 responses to “Philosophies influencing Australian lives

  1. This is really interesting!

    I wonder whether a kind of “other people have culture” argument applies for the 32% dunno/none. Maybe they don’t see themselves as having a philosophy because they see themselves as “normal”. This effect might be compounded by the list of options: people could easily read the first three as extremes and other as either too open to be meaningful or devalued by appearing with the others.

    This might too go some way towards explaining why the migrant figure is lower if in both the migrant experience and Australian discourse difference/non-“normality” is being reinforced.

  2. Yup, this is interesting!
    The first thing I thought, which I then found partly in Bryonny’s comment, is that perhaps it’s something to do with what is significant about picking a label. It seems to be rather different to say, ‘this is what I think’, rather than this is what is said by XXX.

    I would guess that the migrant experience would play into how people think about themselves and how they think and respond to questions about how they live. However, it would be really interesting to trace out what various people in Australia think counts as a sound way to assess how they live.

    Just to throw a more contestable point into this comment, I think the two questions you end your post with sit rather neatly with the work of many ‘Christian Anthropologists’ (i.e. academics at Christian unviersities who position themselves as such). … but that’s just based on my reading of the [lack of] interface between ‘Christian anthropologists’ and other anthropological work.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Bryonny – I think your idea about difference is fascinating. I wonder though, how that fits with more migrants claiming Christianity has had an influence on their lives than the Australian born? Perhaps ‘difference’ makes them aware of just how much of an impact it has?

    Tracey, I’m totally with you about whether this is an effective way to assess Australians’ ways of living in the world. I wonder if you could elaborate a bit more on your contestable point?

  4. There seems to be quite a few books written from a Christian point of view that talk about ‘world views’. I have not read them all, and it is quite a while since I have looked at any of them, but I am going to give my reductionist account anyway. While some of these texts I have come across are more interested in ideas and concepts, some others are texts for evangalising. The texts that seem to be written more for evangalising tend to go on to say that many people fail to recognise the frameworks they are using (sometimes this is spoken about as ‘post modernism’) and that all other frameworks are deficient when compared with Christianity. While texts about world views that seem to be less about evangalising are clearly written by people who think that Christianity is the right framework, they talk about proving the Christian world view are right and more about everybody as making decisions through their frameworks.

    This sort of discussion (of frameworks as always being there, whether you recognise them or not,) does not seem to be spoken about much in current anthropology (perhaps I am wrong!). However, I did see a few panels that are going to be at the 2012 AAS conference that suggest some academics could be interested in talking more about frameworks.

  5. Thanks Tracey. Your ‘reductionist account’ certainly resonates with some of my experience. And perhaps I have internalised some of that kind of thinking (about everyone having a ‘framework’ even if they don’t realise it) in my exposure to those kinds of discourses :)

    I find your suggestion that this isn’t really spoken about in current anthropology kind of curious though. Isn’t the whole discipline of social and cultural anthropology built on the premise that different people think about and live in the world in different ways? Aren’t we trying to figure out what these frameworks (cosmologies? philosophies?) are, even when they’re not articulated as such? You’ve done much more work in the field than I have, though, so I’d love for you to put me straight!

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