Eric Wang (C'24) is majoring in economics with a double minor in mathematics and Spanish, aspiring to attend law school. He is studying abroad in the United Kingdom at Queen Mary University of London. Born and raised in Alabama and a Chinese-American student, he is looking forward to both the British and European lifestyles as he attempts to master the Tube transportation system, the English accents and, of course, the weather fluctuations. On campus, Eric is a part of GU Moot Court Team, Georgetown Gaming, the Japan Network, and Campus Outreach. Light-hearted and playful, he isn't afraid to take life as it comes, adapting to every step of the way. Fall is his favorite season, for change is surely the only constant. In his free time, Eric enjoys exploring new cultures and traditions, especially regarding food and community. He also cares deeply for his cute Shiba Inu! He is part of the spring 2023 cohort of the Doyle Global Dialogue.
As a native Alabamian attending a Jesuit university, I grew up in environments heavily influenced by Christian values, especially within the political and cultural frameworks of the United States. Unsurprisingly, I seldom found myself in settings where Christianity was not the majority religion.
Studying abroad in London exposed me to a much broader religious context than back home. In 2021, only 40.7% of London’s population identified as Christian, a sizable difference compared to the 63% of the population that identified as Christian in the United States. As one of the most diverse cities in the world, London also holds a more religiously diverse atmosphere than most American cities, and I could see subtle differences in comparison with the United States. For example, I found a significant Muslim community at my exchange university where the school proudly celebrated Islamic cultures and customs, which astonished me because this wasn’t as emphasized in my prior schools.
Despite these differences, both the United Kingdom and the United States are still rooted in many historically Christian traditions, often seen in older generations. Common religious sayings such as “Blimey” (meaning “God blind me”) or “God save the Queen/King” traditionally underlie the British colloquial language, even if the speaker isn’t Christian. Additionally, London’s impressive Christian structures, such as Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, architecturally convey the historical significance of Christianity in the country’s foundation. I can also say, from personal experience, that practically every street has at least one church or cathedral!
One major contrast I noticed between the United States and the United Kingdom is how religion is often intertwined with U.S. political views and even used as a rhetorical device for support (“God bless America”). In contrast, the British political atmosphere seems to avoid openly discussing politics or religion, especially among politicians. British politics tend to ignore religious pluralism which reveals a deeper facet of its society, such that this ignorance is what drives civic isolation on controversial issues. Ignorance, though less socially optimal, is easier than compromise. For example, the growing “mind your own business” mindset in recent years—as seen by the infamous lack of social interactions on the Tube metro system—seems to have cultivated a more secular lifestyle with an increase in religious tolerance, causing a subsequent decrease in Christian traditions.
However, the existence and role of the Royal Family complicates my understanding of religion within the country. Why does England (in addition to Scotland) have an established church? Is there or isn’t there a separation of church and state? If the country were hoping to lead a more secular trajectory, why would there be a monarch in the first place? Furthermore, why would that monarch be crowned the “Supreme Governor of the Church of England?” Frankly, I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it seems that modernity and newer generations may soon stir up changes within some of these religious traditions.
More specifically, the late Queen Elizabeth II led a renowned faith-oriented approach in her service, often seen as a bridge in supporting interfaith dialogue while meeting with religious leaders from all across the world. It will be fascinating to observe how King Charles III will lead and navigate the complex relationship between religion and state in the coming years. Will Britain’s religious affiliation change drastically throughout His Majesty’s reign, either positively or negatively? Only time will tell.
This semester abroad has revealed to me the different structures of life and society on a new continent, along with how religion serves as both a medium and a tool for social change. More broadly, through my travels to various European countries like Spain, Ireland, Sweden, and many more, I have observed that religious acknowledgment and affiliation are approached in different ways based on the unique structures of each society. This diversity is a testament to the richness of the world we live in, and I have come to appreciate the differences in spite of the challenges of adapting to each new circumstance.
While I wish I could spend a semester in every country to gain a fuller understanding, I am satisfied with the widened perspective that I have gained from this trip. Even if I forget the details of my experiences, the fact that I was able to meet and learn from real people grants me a more empathetic understanding of those from faraway cultures, pushing me past a U.S.-centric world belief. I believe that experience will be something profound to take back to Alabama, aspiring to combat the ever-growing “us vs. them” mindsets in my home country.