13. The Upper Room: Domestic Space, Vernacular Religion, and the Observant University Catholic

Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs - Ülo Valk

Leonard Norman Primiano [+-]
Cabrini College, Pennsylvania
Leonard Norman Primiano (11 January 1957 – 25 July 2021) was Professor at Cabrini College, Radnor, Pennsylvania. He was the author in 1995 of the groundbreaking article “Vernacular Religion and the Search for Method in Religious Folklife” (Western Folklore 54 (1): 37–56). Primiano’s nuanced appreciation and analysis of vernacular Catholic images and praxis; his research on the ‘Dignity’ movement; his long-term study of Father Divine and the International Peace Mission; and his insatiable interest in religious material culture all contributed to a rich and varied body of work, which will be celebrated in a forthcoming collection of his writings to be published under the title Vernacular Religion (NYU Press, forthcoming).


The study of vernacular religion has assisted a switch in emphasis from former scholarly concentrations on polarities of ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ religion and their conflicts and influences to reflections on the centrality and relationship between the individual and community in the creation, recreation, and negotiation of religious beliefs and practices in everyday life. This article is centered on that relationship and tension within the life of a contemporary conservatively religious Roman Catholic undergraduate student who resists what he sees is the secularizing, non-devout, non-observant, and irreligious life styles and personal choices of same-age peers residing in community around him. Responding to his perception of the non-traditionalist dimensions of 21st century post Vatican II Catholicism, this student has constructed in his dormitory room a sacred space comforting to and compatible with his lifestyle and spirituality, what one friend responding to its preponderance of religious imagery and objects has deemed the Upper Room. This student’s single dorm room accommodation in the midst of a traditional American collegiate residence has been religiously re-imagined as a sacred monastic or shrine-like sanctuary which soothes and supports with Catholic iconography while also protesting and contesting the behaviors and sinful choices of his Catholic peers living around him. This study examines the religious beliefs and practices of an individual Roman Catholic believer and his vernacular understanding and enactment of ‘Catholic’ space and place.

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Primiano, Leonard. 13. The Upper Room: Domestic Space, Vernacular Religion, and the Observant University Catholic. Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2022. ISBN 9781781792377. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=29214. Date accessed: 19 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29214. Oct 2022

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