hero-angle-alpha hero-angle-beta icon-rss-square icon-instagram icon-rss icon-facebook icon-facebook-square icon-facebook-official icon-twitter icon-twitter-square icon-google-plus icon-google-plus-square icon-linkedin icon-linkedin-square icon-pinterest icon-pinterest-square icon-youtube icon-youtube-square icon-youtube-play icon-search icon-gift icon-graduation-cap icon-home icon-bank icon-envelope icon-envelope-square Cabrini Logo Cabrini Logo icon-chevron-right icon-chevron-left category academics category athletics category just for fun category service and mission category living on campus category profiles category advice category activities and events Cabrini University logo with crest
Return Home

The Cabrini community mourns the loss of Religious Studies Professor Emeritus Leonard Norman Primiano, PhD, who died Sunday, July 25, 2021.

Well-known and much respected among the Cabrini community and beyond, Primiano’s legacy lives on in the many lives he impacted. Friends, colleagues, and former students will remember him for his passion for teaching and scholarship; his affinity for religion and collection and study of religious artifacts; his appreciation of the arts; and his impeccable fashion sense and style.

Leonard Norman Primiano, PhD

Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies

Recipient, Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching Recipient
The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award (2014)

Leonard Norman Primiano, PhD, past Professor in the Department of Religious Studies. A renowned folklorist and religious studies scholar, he taught courses in the history of Christianity, vernacular religion, religious folklife, sectarian religion and contemporary American religion.

Primiano’s research areas included American religion; vernacular, folk, and popular religion; American folklore and folklife studies; religious material culture (including Roman Catholic “holy cards”); and religion and the media, including Catholicism and television.

A recipient of the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award and The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award in 2014, Primiano also was elected a Fellow of the American Folklore Society and served a three-year term on the Society’s Executive Board. He also served as co-chair of the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife chapter of the society and as the co-chair of the Folklore and Religion Seminar of the American Academy of Religion.

Primiano served as the developer and curator of Cabrini’s Religious Folk, Popular, Liturgical Arts Collection. His curated exhibitions include his personal collection of Italian ex-voto paintings, “Graces Received: Painted and Metal Ex-Votos from Italy” and “The Religious Mind: The Art of Science, Religion, and Healing” with Ben Danner ’13. In 2006, he coordinated the acquisition of The Don Yoder Collection of Religious Folk Art.

Primiano earned a dual doctorate in religious studies and folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned a master of theological studies from Harvard University and received a master of arts in folklore and folklife and a bachelor of arts in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

Areas of Expertise

American religion; vernacular, folk, and popular religion; American folklore and folklife studies; American sectarian religion; religious material culture (including Roman Catholic “holy cards”); and religion and the media, including Catholicism and television.

Publications and Productions

  • General Editor, A Cultural History of Religion. 6 Volumes. Bloomsbury Press; (in preparation) 
  • Editor, Volume 6: A Cultural History of Religion: In the Modern Age Bloomsbury Press; (in preparation) 
  • Editor, Vernacular Catholicism: Essays in Folkloristic Ethnography. University of Utah Press: Folklore and Religion Series (in preparation) 
  • Editor, Folklife Studies. University of Utah Press (in preparation) 
  • Co-producer “The Father Divine Project,” a multimedia documentary and video podcast about Father Divine, Mother Divine, and the Peace Mission Movement.
  •  “Kitsch and Religion” in Companion to Religion and Popular Culture, John Lyden and Eric Mazur, eds. (Routledge Press,2015:281-312)
  • “Bayside Apparitions; Ex-Votos; Retablos” in Miracles: An Encyclopedia of People, Places, and Supernatural Events from Antiquity to the Present, Patrick J. Hayes, ed. (ABC-CLIO, 2016) 
  • “Artifacts of Belief: Holy Cards in Roman Catholic Culture” in Experiencing Religion: New Approaches to Personal Religiosity, Clara Saraiva, et. al. eds. (Lit-Verlag, 2016:119-142)
  • “Domestic Objects of Vernacular Belief and Practice” in Religion: Material Religion, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, ed.  (Macmillan Reference USA, 2016:257-277)
  • “When ‘God in a Body’ Lived in Philadelphia: Father Divine and His Peace Mission in the City of Brotherly Love,” in Religion in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez, ed. (Temple University Press, 2016:247-253)
  • In Conversation: Collecting Vernacular Religious Material Culture, Material Religion, 12(2016): 381-383
  • “Obituary, Don Yoder (1921-2015),” Journal of American Folklore, 130 (2017):109-113
  • Review Symposium of Julie Byrne, The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016) for American Catholic Studies, 128(2017):72
  • Editorial Introduction, Experimental Religiosities and Dharma Traditions: New Directions in the Study of Vernacular Religion in Asia and the Diaspora, International Journal of Dharma Studies, July 2017


  • International Peace Mission Movement of Father Divine in Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Randall M. Miller, co-ed. (in press)
  • “Encountering the Female Divine…Literally:  Ethnographic Writing about Mother Divine and Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement,” Antropologicheskij forum / Forum for Anthropology and Culture (in press)
  • “As A Living Shrine I Came”: Remembrance, Creativity, and Paradox in God’s American Tomb, Magic, Ritual, and Wittchcraft (in press)
  • “The Upper Room”: Domestic Space, Vernacular Religion, and the Observant Catholic in    Contesting Authority - Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs, eds. Marion          Bowman and Ulo Valk (Equinox Pub., in preparation)
  • “Folkloristic Existentialism,” Journal of American Folklore (in preparation)


  • “Ethnological Sensation” interview published to the SIEF web site
  •  “Ephemeral: The Spirits Among Us,” an art exhibition discussion at Adelphi University, October 2015
  • “‘A World Set Apart:’ The Emergence and Sustenance of Utopian Space Through Expressive Culture,” at the meeting of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) in Zagreb, Croatia, July 2015
  • “‘Distorted Images:’ The Use of Documentary Photography and the Ethical Treatment of Religious Individuals and Communities,” at the Annual American Folklore Society Meeting in Santa Fe, N.M. (He also offered remarks at the memorial service for Prof. Don Yoder at the meeting), October 2015
  • “Marian Apparitions and Theoretical Problems in Religious Studies,” panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, in Atlanta, Georgia, November 2015
  • “The Complexion of God: The Vernacular Photography of Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement” at the annual American Academy of Religion, meeting, in Atlanta, Georgia, November, 2015
  • Panelist: “How Do We Depict Religious Experiences?,” Public Programs: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, September 2016
  •  “Evangelical Acupuncture: The Healing Benefits of Complementary Religion,” Conference of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) Working Group on Ethnology of Religion, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, September 2016
  •  “’The Upper Room’”: Domestic Space, Vernacular Religion, and the Observant Catholic,” American Folklore Society, Miami, FL, October 2016
  • “A Pure White Cow, The Barking Dog, and Our Blessed Virgin: Votive Bestiaries, and the Visual Culture of Catholic Intercession,” American Academy of Religion, San Antonio, Texas, November 2016
  • “What is Vernacular Catholicism?” Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania, September, 2017
  • Remarks, Dedication of the Father Divine Library and Museum, Woodmont, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, October, 2017
  • Session Chair, Material Culture and Vernacular Religion, American Academy of  Religion, Boston, MA, November, 2017
  • “The Art of Social Justice: The Contemporary Retablos of Alfred Vilchis,” Conference of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) Working Group on Ethnology of Religion, Amsterdam, Siena, Italy, September 2018
  • “Contemporary Mexican Ex Votos as Social Critique: The Vernacular Religious Art of  Alfredo Vilchis,” American Folklore Society, Buffalo, New York, October 2018
  • “The Upper Room: Domestic Space, Vernacular Religion, and the Observant Collegiate Catholic,”  American Academy of Religion, Denver, Colorado, November 2018

Awards and Recognitions

  • Regional Faculty Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Research Seminar on Color within the Penn Humanities Forum at the University of Pennsylvania (AY 2014-15)
  • The Kennedy Center/ Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award (2014)
  • Selection for the American Folklore Society/Mellon Foundation sponsored program and book series,“Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World,” supporting the development and publication of his upcoming monograph, “God’s Paintings in Wool: The Vernacular Religious Art of Sister Ann Ameen by the University of Illinois Press.” (2010)
  • Selected to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities-supported Summer Fellowship program “Broadening the Digital Humanities,” held at the Vectors-IML/UC-HRI Summer Institute at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy. (2010)
  • Received the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award from Cabrini (1999)
  • Buzzalino Family Faculty Scholars Award, Cabrini University (April  2018)
  • Bryn Mawr Film Institute-Cabrini University On Justice Fellowship (2018-2019)