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Release: Immediate

Pagan religions are topic of Feb. 28 panel

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Members of the Iowa City Pagan Community will present a panel discussion entitled, "What is Wicca (Witchcraft) and How Is It Practiced Today in the Iowa City Community?" at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28 in the International Center Lounge.

The program is sponsored by the University of Iowa Office of International Education and Services (OIES) and the River City Pagan Community as part of the OIES Iowa Insights Program. Iowa Insights is designed to offer foreign students opportunities to learn about various aspects of Iowa and U.S. history and culture. It is free and open to the public.

According to Dawn Atkins, a River City Pagan Community member, many people have misconceptions and stereotypes of Wicca, associating the religion with images of Satanism, the Devil and the Halloween witch on a broom.

"The most important thing for us is to dispel stereotypes about Wicca and Paganism," Atkins said. "We don't recruit. We don't proselytize, but we don't want to be persecuted because of what we believe in, either."

Atkins says one of the group's goals is to show foreign students the diversity, and similarities, between religions.

"It's important for them to understand the diversity of religion in the U.S. as well as internationally," she said. "The U.S. is not one monolithic place. But it's also important to understand that there are a lot of commonalties among religions. Just as Wicca is not a proselytizing religion, we believe that there are many paths to the same goal, whether it's Christianity or Judaism or some other religion. The most important thing is to show people that this is a spiritual tradition with its own values."

Atkins said Paganism is an umbrella term that broadly defines Earth based and Goddess-centered religious traditions, and that Wicca holidays are based on the earth's and moon's cycles. During the presentation, members of the River City Pagan Community will share their religious philosophy, explain their holidays and answer questions about Wicca and Paganism. Presenters will include Atkins, Norma Eiler-Bounk, Lon Sarver and Timothy Murphy.

The Iowa Insights program is coordinated by Liz Pearce-Burton, OIES assistant director for the Cross Cultural Education and Training Program.

There was an episode about Wicca on the TV show Picket Fences, and it made me more aware of Pagan religions and some of the misconceptions that people have of Witchcraft,'' said Pearce-Burton. "I decided to add this to the insights program because we have an active pagan community in Iowa City and as we are focusing on different domestic cultures this semester it seemed a natural fit."

OIES provides foreign student advising and educational and study abroad programming. Approximately 2,000 students and scholars representing an estimated 100 different countries from around the globe study at the UI, and more than 400 UI students study abroad each year in programs and exchanges in about 35 countries.

OIES is located in the UI International Center, which can be reached by car at the end of Ferson Avenue off Park Road in Iowa City, or by foot up the stairway from Riverside Drive.

For more information, call Lois Gray, OIES International Media Coordinator, at (319)335-2026 or Pearce-Burton at (319)335-0335.