Religion and Spiritual Life Off-Campus
Whether or not one identifies with religious or spiritual beliefs or practices, religion plays an important role in shaping cultures and societies, both in the United States and abroad. In most study abroad locations, there will typically be a dominant or mainstream religion and one or more minority religions, as well as individuals who identify as atheist/agnostic/non-practicing. Seeking to understand the interplay between culture, religion, society, and individual practice or beliefs of the dominant and minority religions in your host country is a fascinating aspect of the study abroad experience, and some of the most interesting cultural sites to visit in your host location may be places of worship.
However, your personal religious beliefs and practices—or lack thereof—may be perceived and understood differently in your host culture, depending on their relationship to the majority and minority faiths in the region, than they are perceived at home. There may be cultural expectations related to religious faith and practice in your location that run counter to your personal values and beliefs.
Even if you do identify with the dominant religion in your host country, it is beneficial to research how it is practiced in your host location. There is always a chance that you may practice differently than your host country. It may also be helpful to speak with your program provider’s on-site staff or a religious leader in the area to be sure of what you may or may not be allowed to participate in as an outsider to that particular place of worship. Whether you follow a religion or not, it is always polite to be sure your participation is allowed and respectful as a person who does not regularly practice in that location.
Navigating the subtle terrain of faith, spirituality, and practice can be difficult in a foreign environment. It can also be difficult to understand how your own religious identity fits into your host culture. Each person’s experience of this aspect of their identity abroad will differ, but you are encouraged to think about potential challenges for cultural adjustment ahead of departure.