Religious Diversity

Living in California and studying at UC Santa Cruz, we see a diverse range, general acceptance, and integration of diverse religions and spiritualities while being in a secular environment. Here, respect for these diverse practices is common. However, in other places away from Santa Cruz and from California in general, it may not be so. Whether you are a member of a religious or spiritual community,  are a non-practicing member, or have no affiliation with a religion or spirituality, it is important to consider what religious and spiritual diversity might mean for you while you are studying away or abroad. 

Perhaps you will study abroad or away and find yourself of the religious or spiritual majority. Or maybe, you will find yourself being of the religious or spiritual minority. Perhaps you might be a non-practitioner of a religion or spirituality, but based on your cultural, ethnic, or racial background, people might associate you with one. What do you do then? Maybe you are a non-practitioner in a place where practices play a large role in everyday life. Whatever your stance or practice may be, we at UC Santa Cruz Global Learning are here to support you. Wherever you go in the world, you will gain a new or deeper perspective about your religious or spiritual practices and the practices of others.

All Students: Please Research the Religious or Spiritual Practices of the Places You Will be Visiting

All students should prepare for their Global Learning program by researching and becoming familiar with the common religious or spiritual practices of the location where they will be studying. Firstly, we recommend that you read up on cultural relevance and the history of the religions or spiritualities in the places you will go. This way, you can assess the extent to which you should prepare yourself for your time away in regard to religious or spiritual practices.


  • Look up religious or spiritual holidays and observances – these could be days you will not have classes or access to public services.
  • Look up religious or spiritual customs, such as dress and diet – appropriate dress and customary practices will help you be a respectful visitor and guest.
  • If the religion or spirituality is not one that you identify with, you should also research how to respectfully participate if you feel intrigued or obliged to.
  • If you do not wish to partake in any visits to religious or spiritual sites or in any practices,  please be sure to express that to your on-site program coordinator.
  • Try to have an open mind and always be respectful of others’ beliefs and practices, even if they might not be your own.

Religious or Spiritual Practitioners

Whether you identify as a practitioner of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Shikism, Hinduism, an Indigenous spirituality, or another of the many, many different religions and spiritual practices from around the world, it is important to always remind yourself that you have the inherent right to practice your religion or spirituality wherever you are. However, it is also important to make yourself aware of and well informed about the religious majority and their consensus about other religious or spiritual practices in the region where you will be studying. In some places around the world, there might even exist certain laws that prohibit certain religious or spiritual practices and expressions in public, for example. Before you go, prepare yourself about your religious or spiritual rights and the general sentiments about people of your practice. You can also research places of worship or practice and communities that you can join while away.

Culturally Affiliated Non-Practitioners

Even if you are a non-practitioner of a religion or spirituality, you may be someone who grew up with a practice that is culturally embedded in who you are, or who people might assess you to be, based on your cultural, ethnic, or racial identifiers. If you do not practice religion or spirituality, you might need to prepare yourself with answers to what your religious or spiritual practice is, if you are asked. Especially by people of older generations or of more traditional communities, sometimes there is an expectation that all people belong to a faith or practice, and there is a possibility that you could be considered an outsider for being a non-practitioner of one. Do not let this discourage you, but you may want to be prepared for questions like, “You’re not religious?” Some people might not understand what you mean when you say that you don’t practice a religion or spirituality, so you might want to come up with a ready response or explanation. If you feel more safe leaning on the religion or spirituality that you might have been raised with or grew up being culturally affiliated with, you can make that claim as well.

Non-Affiliated, Non-Practitioners

If you are someone who does not practice a religion or spirituality, nor affiliates yourself with one, know that this is absolutely fine. You can choose to openly discuss this among your peers and other people you feel safe doing so with. However, when it comes to local people and/or strangers who might try to open you up to their religious or spiritual practices, it could be best to either listen kindly and politely or to kindly but firmly state that you are not interested in having that conversation. Please be aware that religion and spiritual practices are central to many cultures and making open comments against or rejecting a religion or spirituality publicly could be seen as taboo and in some cases, could even be dangerous. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how you would like to navigate being a non-affiliate, non-practitioner, but as a global citizen always make sure to be respectful of other people’s beliefs and practices.

Questions to Ask Concerning Religion or Spirituality

  • What is the dominant religion or spirituality in the location of my Global Learning program? 
  • Will I be part of the religious or spiritual majority,  or of the minority?
  • Are there any laws in this region regarding religion or spirituality? 
  • Is there a separation between religion or spirituality and government?
  • How tolerant and accepting is the host location and local people of other practices or of people who are non-practitioners? 
  • Is it safe for me to wear symbols or clothing of my religion or spirituality in my host community?
  • What are the religious or spiritual days of observance I should make myself aware of?
  • During these days of observance, what are the customary practices I should make myself aware of?
  • What am I allowed to do or am disallowed to do in the case that I am a non-member of the religious or spiritual majority in this region?

Tips About Religious or Spiritual Practices

  • If you are planning to practice your religion or spirituality abroad or away, research what local places of worship or communities there are for you to join.
  • If you have religious or spiritual dietary restrictions, be sure to let your program director or appropriate staff know ahead of time.
  • As a global citizen, stay open-minded about local religious or spiritual practices, even if they are different from your own beliefs or practices.
  • If at any time you feel discriminated against or in danger due to your religious or spiritual practices, please notify your on-site program coordinator immediately.

Student Perspectives


Recommended Readings

  • Look at international news sources like The Economist 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.
  • Read news and commentary on religion worldwide through BBC Religion and Ethics.
  • On the CIA World Factbook website, look for your host country’s page and research the “People and Society” section, where you can find the religious breakdown of the country.
  • Read Elliott and Romito’s (2018) article on identity development while looking through a different lens of cultural exploration in the context of faith and study abroad
  • Learn about the history and traditions of your host culture’s majority religion through Harvard University’s Pluralism Project
Last modified: May 17, 2024