Countries, much like people, have different levels of commitment to religion and spirituality. Some countries have a state religion around which daily life is planned. Other countries, like the U.S., have citizens of almost every religion. Still other countries, like Italy, maintain close ties to a particular religion while remaining open to those who practice a different tradition or do not subscribe to any religion at all. Religion remains a fundamental aspect of virtually every culture. It shapes worldviews, influences behavior, and is reflected in art, poetry and architecture. Whether a student experiences the elaborate paintings in Europe’s churches, the holy cows of India or a call to prayer in the Middle East - religion, most likely, will influence daily life in the host culture.
Students are encouraged to participate in religious/spiritual events as a way to further their cultural understanding, but only to the extent that they feel comfortable. Be sure to research the group or tradition first, and always be respectful of the rituals and the customs of the group. Remember that arms, legs, and heads may need to be covered before entering a holy place. Sometimes shoes must be removed, or hands and feet washed.
As part of your pre-departure preparations, ask these questions of yourself, your study abroad adviser, and your study abroad program.
- What do you know about the religion(s) of your host country and the role religion plays in society?
- What is the attitude of people in your host country towards other religions?
- How are religious holidays observed and celebrated? Will you want to participate?
- How will people perceive your religion? Is your religion legal in your host country?
- Will you have access to your religion’s places of worship or religious groups? If not, how will you adjust your religious practice while abroad?
- Will your religion’s holidays be observed and celebrated in your host country? If not, how do you plan to observe holidays?
- Will your religious dietary restrictions be accommodated in your host country?
- If you plan to live in a homestay while abroad, are you open to living in a homestay with a similar or diverse religious background from yourself?
Look at international news sources to get a sense of current political and societal issues in your host country.
On the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project explore religious change and its impact on societies around the world through areas such as, how religious beliefs and practices shape people’s social values and political attitudes, trends in religious affiliation, and comparisons of restrictions on the practice of religion.
Religious and Spiritual Groups Abroad
For students searching for a particular religious or spiritual group abroad the following sites may prove helpful.
International Humanist and Ethical Union - IHEU is the world union of over a hundred Humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, atheist and freethought organizations in more than 40 countries.
Secular Web - List of organizations, including a limited number of international student organizations.
World Buddhist Directory - Worldwide searchable database of Buddhist organizations.
Christianity Today International - International network of Christian ministries.
Many denominations have their own church directories. Try searching for your denomination and your host country or city name.
Hindu Temples Worldwide - Details of various Hindu temples in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, Europe, UK and the Caribbean.
Islamic Finder - Directory of prayer times, Islamic organizations, and mosques worldwide.
Synagogue Finder - List of synagogues worldwide.