by Imani Pugh
As I prepared to go abroad, I looked forward to living in a country where I would be a part of the racial majority. However, I was warned that I would still be a minority in Ghana in many ways. Religious affiliation was one of them. I was born Baptist, but as I got older, my immediate family transitioned into a more spiritual and Agnostic household. My beliefs were consistent with my family’s, but I never figured out for myself how to interact with Christians and other extremely religious people regarding the topic of religion without completely staying neutral on the issue or backing away from the conversation entirely. Generally, I do not participate in any Agnostic practices. I primarily focus on my own personal spirituality while being aware of my Agnostic views. This aspect of my identity has made highly-religious spaces slightly awkward for me.
For my Sociology of Religion class, we surveyed thirty-five people at the University of Ghana campus to gather results that would tell us about religious beliefs within the community. We asked how committed to religion individuals were on a spectrum of 1:“I know really God exists and I have no doubt about it” to 6:“I don’t believe in God.” As I conducted the survey, I kept hearing people explain their commitment to God repeatedly, and it made me reflect on why I felt some level of discomfort toward my personal religious beliefs in the context of this study abroad experience. Many times during the survey, I found myself nervous that people would get defensive when I asked them to explain themselves. It was clear that a lot of people weren’t used to being questioned about what they believed. I realized that for a long time, I have constantly made sure that I don’t come across as disrespectful when I express any form of disagreement with people who are committed to more organized religions.
It bothered me that I was surrounded by people who belonged to a religious community while I struggled to get in touch with what spiritual practices work best for me this semester. In any conversation about religion, I feared the potential conflict that could come out of speaking to people who I assumed wouldn’t understand me. Through deep reflection, I was able to pinpoint what caused these feelings. I was ill-prepared for the impact that religion would have on my life abroad. I think it would’ve been helpful to engage in conversations with people who practice organized religions and learned about the religious history of Ghana in order to develop realistic expectations for my experience.
After talking to people with whom I feel comfortable, journaling, and examining my survey results, I have figured out the solution for my internal conflict. I should continue to respect the religious opinions of others while digging deeper into what my own religious and spiritual beliefs are so that I am more grounded. This Sociology of Religion assignment was eye-opening for me because it gave me a new lens to see Ghana through while also providing an opportunity for personal growth.
Since completing this assignment, I have gained some closure on the issue. I did this by both actively pursuing conversations with people who are more religious than I am, and fostering the conversation organically by talking about the experience I had with the assignment. I learned that I have more in common with the people around me than I thought. My religious views are valid, and I’m capable of expressing them to others without caving in to the fear of being different. I wasn’t expecting religion to have such an impact on my semester abroad. Even so, I am appreciative of all situations that push me to have a better understanding of myself, and how I relate to the world around me.