New Zealand is a 103,483 square mile nation that is situated in the southwestern section of the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand is made up of more than 600 islands, two of which Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu occupy the largest area. According to data from Statistics New Zealand, the nation was home to roughly 4,917,620 people in November 2018. Historical evidence indicates that humans first settled in New Zealand approximately 7,000 years ago and the first communities to set up a home in the region were Polynesian who set up a distinct religious tradition. The history of New Zealand has had a significant impact on the religions practiced within its boundaries. According to the constitution of New Zealand, every citizen is free to practice the religion of their choice. However, the country's monarch, often referred to as the Defender of the Faith, has to be a member of the Anglican Church.
History of Religion in New Zealand
The history of religions in New Zealand dates back to the establishment of the first communities in the area. The Polynesians who migrated to the island brought over their traditional beliefs and practices. Those beliefs formed the foundation of the traditional religion practiced in New Zealand. One of the beliefs that made up the traditional Maori religion included the belief in whakapapa, a system through which all the objects in the world were linked since they were believed to have a common origin. Western religions were introduced to the people of New Zealand by missionaries after the arrival of the Europeans. One of the missionaries who worked in New Zealand at the time was Samuel Marsden who was a key member of the Church Missionary Society.
Religions in Present-Day New Zealand
Data from the 2013 census indicated that the majority of people in New Zealand, nearly 48% of the population, were Christians. Other religions that had a significant presence in New Zealand were Hinduism, whose members accounted for 2.11% of the population, Buddhism, whose members made up 1.5% of the population, and Islam whose members made up 1.18% of the population. A small population of the Maori people, approximately 2,400 according to data from the 2006 census, still practiced the traditional Maori religion.
Christianity gained prominence in New Zealand after the arrival of a large number of European settlers. Some of the Christian denominations with the most significant number of adherents in New Zealand include the Roman Catholic Church whose members made up approximately 12.6% of the country's population and the Anglican Church whose members made up roughly 11.8% of the population. Father Paul-Antoine Léonard de Villefeix was the first Christian to lead a service in New Zealand. Despite the historical prominence of Christianity, the number of New Zealanders attending church services has seen a steady decline since the 1960s.
The spread of Islam in New Zealand began during the 1870s after the arrival of Chinese Muslims who were mainly looking for gold in the region. The area with the highest Muslim population in New Zealand is Auckland. Most of the Muslims in New Zealand are descended from refugees who migrated into the country during the 20th century.
The Significance of Religion in New Zealand
Religion has played an enormous role in New Zealand mainly in the politics of the country. Many Christian political parties were formed in New Zealand; however, most of them have not enjoyed widespread public support.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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