Here, There, and (Almost) Everywhere: Civil Religion and Cultural Competency
Keywords:Study abroad, Religion, Confucianism, Shinto, Education Abroad
Students coming to study in the US know full well that religion plays a significant role in American lives, but they are often surprised to discover not only the pervasiveness of religious sensibility in American culture but also the extent to which an acceptance--and even expectation--of fairly specific religious ideas or practices suffuses American national identity. This paper argues that education about civil religion should be part of cultural competency preparation for study abroad students, whether coming to the US or going abroad from it, and no matter their own religious orientation or lack thereof. In most cases, civil religion represents a fusion of national pride and identity with a historically dominant religion, e.g., Calvinism (why the Dutch don't draw their curtains at night), Confucianism (why vertical rather than horizontal social relations are paramount in Chinese society), or Shinto (why the Japanese emphasize notions of ritual cleanliness and purity). Manifested not by attendance or participation in traditional religious rituals but by generally unexamined everyday actions and situations, civil religious sensibilities and expectations can pervade even a seemingly secular society, rendering certain customs and "habits of the heart" opaque to the uninitiated.
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