Return of the Jedi? Statistics NZ reconsiders religion

September 26, 2016

Return of the Jedi? Statistics NZ reconsiders religion

A Jedi sticker. Photo: John Manoogian / Wikimedia

Those who identify as Jedis, Marxists, Taoists or Pastafarians may be officially registered as religious followers after the 2018 Census.

Statistics New Zealand has proposed to amend the categories of religious affiliation, and the aforementioned are some of the beliefs being considered.

Senior researcher at Statistics New Zealand Andrew Hancock said the current wording doesn’t reflect New Zealand society.

“We haven’t done any work on the classification for about 10 years, and obviously the world moves on,” he said. “We need to update it to include emerging categories and religions that are being reported in our statistical surveys.”

Statistics New Zealand is still in the initial stages of consultation, and although changes aren’t yet definite, it is considering expanding the sub-categories that sit under some of the broader religious affiliations such as Judaism and Islam.

In 2001, an email campaign sparked an international Jedi census phenomenon, with people from countries all over the world saying their religion was “Jedi”. In New Zealand that number was just shy of 54,000. In 2013, the number had dropped to 19,089.

Last year, the Department of Internal Affairs rejected a request by the Jedi Society to be recognised as a legitimate charitable endeavour.

Now, the society’s main aim is for those who call themselves Jedi to be counted as one, not “out of scope” as it is today, said chief Jedi of the Council of the Jedi Society, Anthony Bremner.

He thinks it is “inherently wrong” not to classify Jediism as a religion.

“You put down an answer and they say ‘no, that is not an answer'. If you are not categorising 30,000 people, if you can’t see movements within society, it defeats the purpose of a census,” Mr Bremner said.

The Auckland Catholic Church Diocese spokesperson Dame Lyndsay Freer said the church did not have an official position on the proposed revision.

However, when asked if the church was comfortable with Jediism and Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster being classified in the same league as Catholicism, Dame Lyndsay Freer said:

“Of course not, it’s not in the same category. We are a religious faith that is 2000 years old. These are movements that have just started up. One is a response to a science fiction movie, the other is a group of people who are trying to send up organised religion.”

Statistics New Zealand’s Mr Hancock said it was not the role of a statistical agency to say who is and who isn’t a religion.

“Our criteria for inclusion is simply: are sufficient people reporting these, is there a demand for the information, can we output the data and does it improve our ability to reflect contemporary New Zealand society?” he said.

Consultation is open until October 7, after which Statistics New Zealand will decide what changes to include in the classification. The new version should be available for use in the 2018 Census.

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