'But South Australia deserves much, for apparently she is hospitable home for every alien who chooses to come, and for his religion too.'
Mark Twain Following the equator p. 181
South Australia's founders had a vision of religious tolerance which made the new colony attractive to a diversity of religious practitioners. Initially this included many English 'Dissenters' who had suffered discrimination in England. Among them, the various Methodist strains of Christianity were well-represented - being particularly numerous at Goolwa amongst the riverboat families and in the Moonta district through the Cornish settlers.
Smaller groups such as the Unitarians were also strong in South Australia. The Unitarian Church attracted many intellectuals including Catherine Helen Spence, and the Secretary of the South Australian Institute (the forerunner to the State Library) Robert Kay. The artist John Dowie is a current member. Several thousand Prussian 'Old Lutherans' came to South Australia seeking refuge from religious persecution in their homeland, sponsored by Colonization Commissioner George Fife Angas. They established their own particular form of Lutheranism in the Barossa Valley and to this day the Lutheran Church in Australia remains a separate entity to the official German Lutheran Church.
In the 1890s and early 1900s groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists and Christadelphians were established in South Australia from American bases. The period was a time when many traditional Christians - particularly women - explored a greater variety of spiritualities.
Each wave of immigration has brought new religious alliances to the state. Immigration from the countries of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe since World War Two has resulted in many new Orthodox Christian churches being established. Migrants from Italy, South East Asia and Africa have included adherents of established denominations, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, bringing greater diversity within older churches.
The Chinese community built a Kuan-Ti temple in Hindley Street in 1891, but most of the interest in eastern religions has come from native-born South Australians. For a time in the 1970s and 1980s, the Hare Krishnas were a common sight - singing and dancing in Rundle Street daily, at hourly intervals.
In recent years religion has diversified far beyond what Mark Twain could have imagined. Since the late twentieth century there has been a growing influence from his own country on the practises and beliefs of some of christian churches. A form of Christianity outside of the churches, comprising those disillusioned or disatisfied with formal religion, but retaining many of the characteristics of Christianity and belief in God, has grown up. Organisations crossing religions, such as the Multi-Faith Association, Sophia (the women's spirituality group) and the Queer Spirituality conference have come into being. The Pagan Society, Humanist Society and South Australian Atheist Society represent yet another slant on modern religious practice in South Australia.
Bowden, John, ed. Encyclopedia of Christianity, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005
Twain, Mark. Following the equator : a journey around the world, Hartford, Conn. : American Pub. Co., 1897
(Image: Adelaide Mosque, Critic, 17 August 1904, p. 4)
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