“The Upper Room”: Domestic Space, Vernacular Religion, and the Observant Catholic

Contesting Authority - Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs - Marion Bowman

Leonard Norman Primiano [+-]
Cabrini College, Pennsylvania
Leonard Norman Primiano is Professor and Chair and Co-Director of the Honors Program at Cabrini College, Radnor, Pennsylvania. He is currently working on a study of the Newfoundland vernacular religious artist “Sister” Ann Ameen, and editing A Cultural History of Religion (in the West) for Bloomsbury and Vernacular Catholicism: Folkloristic Studies of Catholic Culture for the University of Utah Press.


The recent work of Donna Freitas (2009;2013) on the relationship of spirituality and sexuality in the lives of contemporary American undergraduates has inspired this study of the religious beliefs and practices of an individual Roman Catholic believer and his vernacular understanding and enactment of “Catholic” space and place. 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 twenty-first 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. Images of the space will accompany the study and interview perspectives of my consultant.

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Primiano, Leonard. “The Upper Room”: Domestic Space, Vernacular Religion, and the Observant Catholic. Contesting Authority - Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Oct 2022. ISBN 9781781792377. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=29214. Date accessed: 18 Apr 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29214. Oct 2022

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