The Collegian
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Religion in England

It is interesting to me that the University of Richmond's Study Abroad Office discourages students from choosing traditional places -- such as England, Spain, France and Italy -- to study abroad. I guess that from their point of view, non-traditional countries can offer students a more pronounced difference in culture and take them further out of their comfort zone.

Certainly, I have heard enough stories and read enough blogs from friends who have traveled to places such as Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua to know that living in a developing nation affects a person in a life-altering way; but this should not lessen or invalidate the experiences of those who choose the more traditional route. In my mind, both ends of the spectrum provide a way to deepen self-awareness and national-awareness.

There is no denying that British society mirrors American society in many regards, and in many ways I do miss out on the opportunities that a less developed nation would provide. But I think that living in such a similar yet separate environment allows me to notice cultural details on a more minute and imperceptible level. It's like looking into a funhouse mirror. The image is recognizable, but only to a certain extent. In coming weeks, I will focus on different aspects within this theme, and this week I'll start with religion.

As a Christian, one of the things I worried about before coming to London was the cultural view on religion. My general understanding was that only a small percentage of Europeans considered religion to be important, as compared to a majority of Americans. I worried how this would translate into real life. I was relieved when I arrived and discovered that my particular school, Queen Mary, has two different student Christian groups on campus.

I have only attended one group so far, the Christian Union, and it best compares to Richmond's InterVarsity. Now as you are all aware, Richmond is a pretty small school with only about 3,000 undergraduate students. On average, about 110 people attend IV each week. Weekly meetings for the CU at Queen Mary, with a student body of 13,000, average about 20 people. Now I may be an English major, but my math skills are good enough to know that those percentages are drastically different.

The CU meetings are similar in style and message to IV, but because of the different environments, the students' approach to their faith is slightly different. I've gotten a few chances to socialize after some of the events I've attended, and each time I am struck with the promptness that religion comes into the conversation. Whether it is the two guys off to the side debating a theological issue, the person bringing up a topic she was just reading about, or being asked about my life story and how I became a Christian. It is not so much a matter of one method being better than the other, but more a matter of each method reflecting the culture around it.

Because Christianity is fairly respected and practiced in America, I don't think we feel as much of an immediate need to assert or prove ourselves as Christians. Over here though, it is more of a "desperate- times-call-for-desperate-measures" situation. Since there are so few Christians, and those few are so out of place, they tend to put it more on the forefront of their actions in an attempt to band together.

Church history seems to be more relevant to them as well. Perhaps it is because so many buildings here evoke the past, reminding them of the bloody wars and power shifts throughout their nation's history. Sadly, this sometimes means that their view of Catholics remains rooted in the prejudices of their past. In America we tend to lump Catholics and Protestants under one banner of Christianity, but over here the groups are isolated.

It feels comfortable to be surrounded by a community so similar to the one that I am used to, and yet these small differences force me to pause and re-evaluate aspects of my faith that I have never considered before. Their greater openness has inspired me to be more candid in talking about my faith, and it is a positive trait that I hope I take with me when I go.

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