Primiano lectures on religious diversity

By Paul Skow
December 3, 2009

The idea that religions are often misunderstood by individuals outside, as well as inside, of the society where a religion is found was the main point of a lecture on religious diversity by religious studies professor and department chair, Dr. Leonard Norman Primiano.

The lecture, entitled”Religious Diversity in Contemporary Philadelphia” was hosted in the Mansion dining room on Tuesday, Nov. 17, as a part of a series of lectures sponsored by the Office of Diversity Initiatives.

Primiano began by offering a historical sketch of belief systems in Philadelphia by discussing the founding of Pennsylvania by William Penn, the Quaker who wanted to create a place of religious freedom.

“The Quakers looked to the spirit in each other. In that way, they found God in each other,” Primiano said.

Regardless, Pennsylvania, and specifically Philadelphia, permitted the religious practices of the small Catholic community and the colony became a melting pot for many religious cultures and a center for religious tolerance.

From a discussion of religion in historic Philadelphia, Primiano then addressed contemporary belief systems present in contemporary Philadelphia such as Vodou, Witchcraft and Satanism.

He brought with him interesting religious objects from his own collection, what he called “religious material culture,” which helped to illustrate and explain the religious practices that he described.

These religions are often mistakenly tied together and mentioned in a negative manner in the media and therefore are commonly misunderstood. Primiano made it clear that the practices of each are “very different.”

Satanism, for example, exists in many forms. There are young people who dabble, thinking that they are Satan worshippers, lunatics who commit criminal acts and actual Satanists, who are protected by the freedom of religion clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Vodou and witchcraft, however, are completely unrelated to Satanism.

Witchcraft is an earth-centered religion. As Primiano said, “There is a great separation between Christian and non-Christian religions.”

Primiano described Vodou as an “intermixing of cultures.” It is a combination of Roman Catholicism and African religions and not to be confused with black magic, which is where negative opinions on Vodou often originate.

He brought a colorful Vodou bottle, used in ceremonies, which was decorated with red satin, sequins and feathers, with a prominent image of the Virgin Mary, likely representing Our Lady of Sorrows.

Primiano also discussed a group of gay and lesbian Catholics, who have hopes of acceptance by the Church. Primiano hopes to write a book on this particular topic. The object that he would like to use for the cover is a rosary with each of the five sections having a different bright color representing a rainbow, the colors of the gay liberation movement, as well as a replica of Pope John Paul II’s crucifix.

Primiano also mentioned Mother and Father Divine of the International Peace Mission Movement (which was quite popular throughout the 20th century), who as Primiano stated were “interested in erasing racial distinctions.”

Communication professor Dr. John Cordes, who was in attendance at the lecture, said it was “a great talk” and said that “everything was very interesting.” Cordes said that he was “particularly interested in the Action News segment” that Primiano showed about Mother and Father Divine’s adopted son wanting to unrightfully claim his parents’ legacy. He also enjoyed “the poppet that had been specifically made for (Primiano).”

Primiano hopes to continue lecturing on religious diversity soon to cover more material.

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Paul Skow

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