Religion is a topic that people have been pondering, discussing, debating, romanticizing, and philosophizing since the beginning of humanity (and maybe even before that). Religion, spirituality, and in some ways even agnosticism and atheism, have encouraged, inspired, and saved millions of people’s lives, but it also has hurt, defeated, and destroyed just as many lives. It has caused people to sit alone in caves for years, sell all their possessions and travel to foreign lands, incite wars, write books, give speeches, marry, divorce, wear certain clothing, shave their heads, grow long beards, and sit under freezing cold waterfalls.
At this point, a gentle (cultural) warning should be given:
The subject of religion is far to vast and complex to adequately cover in this textbook, and it is an extremely difficult topic for many people to discuss. It is very important that everyone’s mind remains open and flexible to other ideas and ways. The goal is never to change people, but to listen, respect, and understand their perspective. This, as mentioned in a previous unit, is how we become better intercultural communicators and Global Critical Thinkers.
With that said, for the purposes of reflection and discussion, let’s take a look at some general information about religion, and move into our focus of Italy.
If you research how many religions are there in the world, you’ll find that the answers vary from source to source. To give us a starting point for discussion, according to Barrett, et al., (2001), there are 19 major world religions in the world, which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones. For example, 34,000 separate Christian groups have been identified in the world.
The pie chart above shows the percentages of major world religions, although the pie chart’s percentages provide only a “snapshot” of the general religious categories. The numbers are also based on information from several years ago, but it should be noted that the percentages in the categories (mainly Christianity and Islam) fluctuate only slightly. In the map below, you can see how the major religions are spread out in every region around the world (PBS, 2020).
If you are unfamiliar with any of the religions listed above, that’s ok! Although most people have probably heard of the major religions in the world, many of them are not familiar with their belief systems, customs, and traditions, which means that a lot of what they believe is based on stereotypes. Stereotypes, or false beliefs based on a small amount of truth, can be very dangerous. Some examples of religious stereotypes are “All Muslims are terrorists,” “Buddhists have no emotions or feelings,” and “All Christians are judgmental and hypocritical.”
Which religion is considered the “major” religion in your home country? What are some main features of the religion? For example, does the religion have one god, many gods or no gods? What are the stereotypes associated with this religion? For example, if your home country’s main religion is Buddhist, you could write something like, “All Buddhists shave their heads and meditate.” Remember that a stereotype is an exaggerated belief that is based on some truth (in other words, some Buddhists may shave their heads and meditate, but not all of them). After you have written some information in the chart below, share with a partner or small group!
KEEP IN MIND: You don’t have to talk about your or your family’s religious beliefs, although you are welcome to discuss them if you and your partner/group are comfortable with each other and respectful of each other’s ideas and perspectives. If you’re not sure, just talk about your country’s main religion in general.
Home Country’s Main Religion
When one thinks of “Italy” and “religion,” it is almost impossible not to think about the Pope—the Bishop of Rome, and the head of the Roman Catholic Church. If you review the chart below, you can see that Christianity is the religion of the majority of Italy—83.3% of the population of Italy, to be exact!
Although the second largest religious group, Islam is only around 3% of the population, but are many concerns and challenges behind this small number. Muslims make up 3% of Italy’s population, but Islam is not a legally recognized religion in Italy, and there is only one mosque that provides a place for prayer for one million Muslims.
Both videos illustrate the problems Muslims are experiencing in Italy, and how the Italian government is making religious activities difficult for them. After you watch the videos, return to your lists above and see what is included and what is missing.
Given the information that is available, is Italy’s hesitancy with Islam understandable? Consider this question before moving on to the discussion questions below.
As the world becomes smaller due to globalization and technology, one would think that religious understanding and tolerance would increase. However, many events that have taken place or are currently taking place (e.g., new leaders of countries with strong opinions about immigration; refugees seeking new lives and opportunities in foreign countries, racial and religious violence, and so on) have caused a major challenge to global harmony. This is something that every person in every country needs to think about very deeply, and discuss openly with others. Whether you share the same or different opinions, everyone should strive to understand each other, and respect and celebrate cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious differences.