Glance at the bookcases that line professors’ offices and you have a window into their lives.
Take the shelves of Maureen Tilley, associate professor in the department of religious studies. Yes, she has books in her third-floor Humanities office, but two high shelves near a window are full of candles used by practitioners of voodoo and other religions.
Some depict Catholic saints, others warn of death. All are instructional aids she uses when she teaches Afro-Latin religions such as Voudou (Tilley’s preferred spelling), Santería, Candomble and Umbanda, all religions of the African diaspora in the West.
At a Catholic university, why teach these subjects, which for many Americans conjure images of zombies, magic, animal sacrifice and more?
Well, because those things are not really central to these faiths, which are genuine religious traditions practiced by millions, said Tilley. Santería, the Cuban form, is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States. All satisfy the needs of practitioners, interact with Catholicism in fascinating ways, and are badly misunderstood if known at all. In fact, Tilley prefers the French spelling “Voudou” to distinguish her topic from the connotations “voodoo” conjures.
Just imagine her students’ very serious conversations: “I’d love to, but I can’t go. I’ve got to study my voodoo.”