Studying Santeria (in School)

The Miami Herald has a nice little story looking back at Florida International University’s first-ever course on Santeria.

“Those who came to Oba Ernesto Pichardo’s fall semester course at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus expecting chicken heads, seashells and drum circles probably left disappointed. The controversial, charismatic and enterprising Pichardo, a Yoruba priest and the country’s leading expert on Santeria, spent hours talking about the transatlantic slave trade, paraded in cultural anthropology professors and expected both Powerpoint presentations and 12-page research papers at semester’s end.”

No doubt some would argue with whether Pichardo (head of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye) is truly the “leading expert on Santeria” in America, but the story is very positive and is a nice change of pace from the “decapitated animals it must be Santeria” sensationalism one usually sees. It also hints at the fact that minority religions are slowly making their way into the traditional religion curriculum at Universities.

“Four months ago he concluded FIU’s first three-credit Santeria class, with a grand prediction: “You are making history here today.” “This is not some fringe movement,” Pichardo told his students. “If you can get a Ph.D. in Judaism or Christianity, you should at least be able to take a course in Santeria.” … Pichardo hopes his course will grow into a major.”

Certainly courses touching on modern Paganism have been popping up here and there, but like this Santeria course they aren’t tied into a major, and are usually electives. Considering the growth of religious minorities in America, it isn’t unheard of to someday see a Masters in Pagan Studies, or Doctorate in Afro-Cuban Faiths at some point in the future.