Malara, “Exorcizing the Spirit of Protestantism”

Malara, Diego Maria. (2019) “Exorcizing the Spirit of Protestantism: Ambiguity and Spirit Possession in an Ethiopian Orthodox Ritual.” Ethnos. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2019.16 31871.

Abstract: This article discusses the exorcism of Protestant spirits from Ethiopian Orthodox hosts in Addis Ababa. This controversial ritual is animated by injunctions to draw essential distinctions and boundaries between Protestantism and Orthodoxy, at a time of religious liberalisation. The expulsion of Protestant spirits provides an occasion to reaffirm the centrality of local Orthodoxy to Ethiopian identity, construing Protestantism as a foreign religion at odds with the country’s ancient Orthodox history. However, this ritual project is marked by profound ambiguities, as exorcism’s means, aesthetics and themes are suspiciously similar to those characteristic of Protestantism. By foregrounding ritual ambiguity, I argue that exorcism publically exposes and vividly magnifies the irreparable permeability of the very inter-religious boundaries that it seeks to demarcate. In contrast to classic understandings of ritual as an ordering process, exorcism rituals become hazardous events that balance uncertainly on the edge of the ever-present risk of becoming the other.

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