“Buonissimo!” Delicious food. “Ciao!” Friendly faces. “Amen!” Churches everywhere. Coming to Italy, I was already anticipating that I would appreciate all three of these. Still, I didn’t realize how greatly I underestimated that appreciation, especially when it comes to religion in Italy. My folly lay in the fact that I had turned an eye to history in the religious context, and assumed that Catholicism was the only religion in Italy. I nearly missed out on the opportunity to gain an appreciation for diversity of religion, not just in Italy, but around the world in places like my hometown and at MIT.
Even though Roman Catholicism is the major religion of Italy, it certainly isn’t the only one and hasn’t always been the only one. Besides all of the reminiscent references to ancient Roman gods and historical buildings that draw inspiration from temples used for the polytheistic traditions of ancient Egypt and Greece, I was able to learn more about religion that came more recently relative to the course of history. While in Rome, I found myself having more than one in-depth discussion with one of my friends (a fellow MIT peer traveler and a former missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) about Mormonism and the similarities and differences between it and Catholicism.
At that time, he had just come back from a day trip to a newly established Mormon temple on the outskirts of Rome. I will be honest, I hadn’t really ever had a discussion about differing religions like this one. I’d always been vaguely familiar with other religions based on what I’ve learned in history classes, but other than that, my main exposures have been to Catholicism and Protestantism. It was fascinating to listen to my friend speak about his own religion so passionately. For sure, there were many differences, one of the main being the Book of Mormon. But, besides the greatest differences, I was astonished at how much each of our religion’s beliefs coincided with one another, especially when it comes to core values. We both realized that different religions, while having their own specific set of beliefs, boil down simply to something that is, in most basic terms, “goodness.”
Having an intelligent conversation with someone my age about religion was another unique experience in Italy, mainly due to the fact that whenever I go to church in smaller Italian cities, I am often the youngest one there by at least thirty or forty years. I’m used to going to church on MIT’s campus, where most of my peers are actively involved in all kinds of different religious activities on and off-campus. In my opinion, it’s important to have some kind of spiritual comfort to turn to during daily life and whenever life becomes difficult, especially for young adults like my peers and myself. For me (and other Christians), we turn to God. And after all of my experiences here in Italy, I want to learn more about what other people turn to in their own religions, whether they are Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, etc. I had always shied away from proclaiming that I was Catholic, mostly because of my impression that religion always seemed to be a hostile, hot topic in the world. Yes, we all may have differing belief systems, but I believe that in all places, and especially at a place like MIT—a melting-pot of students of many varying religions and beliefs—the diversity of core “goodness” of religion is something to be shared and celebrated without shame, without doubt, and certainly without fear.
Sophia Mittman is a member of the class of 2022 studying Materials Science and Engineering. This summer she is completing archeological field work research in Italy as a part of the ONE-MA3 program.