April 17, 2014, by Guest blog

Religious diversity in my French village…a topic of conversation or not?

Just before returning to Spain after the Christmas holidays, a friend of mine told me that when I went back it would be a completely different experience to my first few months there. I didn’t believe her at the time, but it turned out to be completely true!
Phrases or cultural quirks I had been aware of before solidified in my consciousness.

The first of which is the phrase ‘no pasa nada’, usually accompanied by a hand gesture brushing off the mere suggestion that what you have done/said worries them in any way. I was aware that many Spaniards often utilize this phrase, but it took a while for me to fully comprehend how perfectly these three words encapsulate most Spanish people I have met to date. With risk of generalizing greatly, Spain, as a country, is laid-back, welcoming and, in all, ‘Mediterranean’. Whilst I worry if I have asked too much of someone and am constantly pleading apology for even the slightest mishap, the Spanish haven’t given it a second thought. This relaxed and carefree attitude is something to which I feel I should aspire!

Living in a small town in the least densely populated region in Spain, there is, of course, bound to be less religious diversity as, say, Madrid. In my town we have a singular Catholic Church. That is not to say that there are no residents of other religious affiliations, just that there is no building for them to go to. This, again, was something that had caught my attention from the off: the seemingly less diverse nature of my Spanish compares to my home town back in England. (This is based on my personal experience of my town here in Spain, and I am not attempting to make sweeping generalizations about Spain as a whole!)

However, this fact really only hit home was when I was discussing religion with one of my colleagues. Noticing that ‘culture’ was a topic which was to come up for one of my classes, I offered to make a presentation on world religions. Her response shocked me; she told me that this would not interest the students, and so there was no point in having such a presentation. This said to me two things: firstly, details of religions other than the Catholic branch of Christianity were not taught at this school, and, secondly, this narrow focus was not questioned by this teacher (not without hesitation, this statement could be extended to include others of the ‘older generation’, and, due to self-perpetuation, potentially the ‘younger’ one too). As it transpires, what I had assumed was Religious Education spanning a broad range of beliefs is actually more of an extension of Sunday School. Though an opt-in subject, the content of these lessons seems far too limited, far too constricting.

Hope was restored when I mentioned the idea of my presentation to some of my students. Maybe just to appease me, they told me they would be very interested in learning more about world religions. It pleased me to know that the resigned conviction of certain teachers (that Catholicism or atheism are really the only two options available, and that knowledge of other religions remains purposeless) has not rubbed off on the students.

Despite this apparent rant, I am learning more and more about the true Spanish way, the great majority of which has enhanced my love for this country, and will make it all the more difficult for me to leave.

Posted in Cultural challengesMaking connections