Identity-Based Resources for Study Abroad: Religious and Spiritual Identity

China, summer 2016 | photo by Haleigh Leonard, ’17

Religion is an important part of many cultures around the world. During your study abroad experience, you will likely encounter a variety of religious practices and history. It’s important to be open-minded about the religions you encounter while abroad, and also to be informed about how your religious background may be viewed in your host country.

Monks performing a temple ceremony.

China, summer 2016 | photo by Haleigh Leonard, ’17

Students who are used to being in either the religious majority or minority at home may find that role reversed while abroad. Understanding levels of religious tolerance in your host country and how to worship safely abroad, if you wish to do so, will be vital parts of your pre-departure preparation. In some countries, there may be cultural or political contexts that impact some religious practices.

If you have religion-based dietary restrictions, communicate this to the OIP in your post-acceptance forms and mention it to your program faculty or study abroad provider to ensure your dietary needs are met.

If you are not religious or if you will find yourself in the religious minority while abroad, be sure to keep an open mind when exploring the intersections of your host country’s cultural and religious history. In many cases, art and politics were interwoven with religious practices in the past and you may learn about this in your courses while abroad. There may also be standards of dress required when visiting religious sites on group excursions such as cathedrals or temples.

Questions to Consider

  • What is the dominant religion in my host country? 
  • Will I be part of the religious majority or minority abroad? 
  • Are there any laws regarding religion in my host country? Is there a separation between religion and government?
  • How tolerant is my host country of other religions? What about atheists and agnostics? 
  • Is it safe for me to wear religious symbols or clothing and/or worship while abroad? 
  • How can I respect the religion in my host country and participate in cultural events, even if I don’t practice that religion?