Initial impression: religious ambivalence
After spending almost two weeks in Copenhagen, I think it’s a good time to establish some of my initial impressions about religious life among my peers. Keep in mind that I have not conducted any formal interviews yet; these will come in time. But from my casual conversations with my fellow American and Danish friends, here is what I’ve gathered:
Young adults in both Denmark and America are largely ambivalent about religion.
Of course, this conclusion depends a lot on how exactly you define “religion.” For me, it embodies two basic principles: 1) a belief in some sort of higher entity, particularly a divine one; 2) and a genuine, consistent attempt to follow and understand that entity. Is my definition adequate? Too vague? Unsubstantial? Comment if you wish – this is vital!
I’m pretty confident that there is not a single practicing religious person in my entire kollegium. I certainly haven’t asked everyone about their religious beliefs (not exactly an ice-breaker kind of question). But my general impression is one of marked irreligiosity:
“I was raised as a so-and-so, but once I went to college I stopped paying attention to all those traditions.” “I think there might be a God, but I don’t really participate in any formal worship.” “I’m pretty much an atheist right now.” “I don’t really know, sorry.” “I go to Church maybe twice per year; it is more of a cultural thing, anyways.”
50 Americans in my kollegium, and I have yet to talk with someone who strikes me as a “religious” person. Danes respond to me in the same way.
I think my conclusion is shaped by my new environment. Coming to Denmark has really shaken my perception of religion among young adults, partly because I’m interacting with a different, more diverse group of young adults. At home, Georgetown has a very diverse student body; but as a practicing Catholic, my faith has undoubtedly shaped my social network. Many of the classes, clubs, and organizations in which I partake are filled with people who are already inclined towards religion. For this reason, I had a more optimistic view of the prevalence of religion among America’s college youth.
DIS is a bit different. I did not choose who would be in my social network in Denmark. I could not choose who would be living in my kollegium in the same way that I chose to be part of the Knights of Columbus or Catholic chaplaincy at Georgetown. We are thrown together like awkward freshmen. Students from public schools and private ones, religious schools and non-religious ones. Different backgrounds and cultures. Various majors and interests.
A lot of diversity, but not much religion.