Many of the oldest universities in the world were founded with theology as the core discipline of study. Although religion has changed in form throughout human history, the concept of the Divine has maintained its steady presence in human thought. Studying theology abroad will expose you to important perspectives and cross cultural viewpoints about the conceptualization and practice of religion.
Why Study Theology Abroad
Whether you retain a secular or religious interest in theology as an academic discipline, studying abroad carries the seed of a spiritually enlightening journey for all who will take the leap. Traveling the world to study how life in other religious contexts differs from your own can be an invaluable experience in coming to understand how religion is truly a universal human phenomenon; religious differences as cultural differences are but a matter of changing form.
Where you decide to study theology abroad will greatly determine the scope of your theological studies. Though in today’s hyper-globalized world you can find people practicing different religions everywhere, there is an undeniable geographical clustering that has resulted from the forces of history. Different cultures vary greatly with their level of religious conservativeness, so keep this in mind too when deciding where to study theology abroad.
Christianity, the world’s largest religion, has been practiced most places in the world, although it is most prevalent today throughout the Americas, Europe, and parts of Africa. Likewise Islam, the world’s second largest religion, is most popular in regions of North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. These are commonly thought of as the major Western religions, along with Judaism, which is relatively confined to North America, Europe, and Israel.
The most popular Eastern religions are Hinduism and Buddhism, both which have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion today with over one billion practitioners, mostly residing in India. While Buddhism is no longer commonly practiced in India, it still holds a strong influence in Eastern countries such as Japan, China, Thailand, and Cambodia.
This is only a brief synopsis of the major global religions, and there are thousands of other smaller indigenous religions also continuously practiced throughout the world. As stated Theology is a universal discipline, and anywhere you go is bound to provide you with a unique and fascinating scope of study.
Studying Theology Abroad
The type of coursework you will complete will depend largely on the type of school you study theology abroad in. Most major universities today are secular by nature, and thus theology courses are offered as a systematic and rational study of religion. World Religions, Comparative Religions, History of Religion, Religion and Society, and other courses within these veins are all examples of the classes you might take while studying theology abroad at a major public university abroad.
There are also, however, religious institutions across the world, where it is also possible to study theology abroad within a practice-based setting. Seminaries, monasteries, and the like often open their arms to students of theology from all over the world who wish to advance their spiritual studies. You do not even necessarily have to be a practicing member of the religion, as long as you are willing to be a respectful and reverent student.
Theology study abroad programs are typically offered during the Summer, Fall, or Spring terms, and it is also possible to enroll for up to a full year. Keep in mind that the language barrier can prove a big obstacle when studying theology abroad in certain places. Although English is commonly spoken as a second language across the world, many local schools nevertheless use their native tongue as the language of education.
Students who study theology abroad become ambassadors to other cultures around the world, and today perhaps more than ever it is becoming vitally important to promote cross-cultural understanding of theological differences and sameness. Whatever your beliefs, students of theology cannot help but benefit from the experience of uprooting from their own context of religious understanding and traveling to experience life within another. Religious and cultural differences interact heavily with one another, and studying theology abroad is the perfect way to begin unwinding the intricate web of difference.