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.
Seeking to uproot evil from people’s life, neo-Pentecostal exorcists in Brazil separate between internal and external bodily surfaces and then ‘close’ the victim’s entire body to protect against further malignant intrusion. Based on fieldwork in Brazil and the analysis of expulsion videos online, I demonstrate that exorcists self-consciously use topological imaginaries of connectedness and disjunction to generate a reality in which demons and humans occupy mutually exclusive ontological domains. I argue that the moral transformation that these rituals encourage is thus contingent on the successful disentanglement of bodily surfaces, which distinguishes inside from outside and humans from demons. I use the term ‘moral topology’ to analyze this process and call for further cross-cultural attention to the ethnographic vitality of topological imaginaries in the making of cosmological boundaries.
Abstract: This essay investigates the pervasive presence of Christian demonology in contemporary American culture. After discussing the concept of demonic possession according to Catholic and Protestant theology, Maggi explores the crucial role played by the ritual of exorcism in modern popular culture, especially cinema. After the collapse of traditional historical categories due to the 9/11 tragedy, popular culture has interpreted the early-modern ritual of exorcism as the locus of a nostalgic return to a hypothetical past. However, the ritual meant to bring order to the chaos created by evil is now a performance leading to troublesome and even pernicious consequences.
Abstract: Beginning with nineteenth-century Indian curse rhetoric as a national jeremiad, and continuing into the twentieth century through Puritan-derived landscapes in fiction by Howard Philips Lovecraft and Jay Anson, Indian curses and accursed lands stand apart from other paranormal beliefs in the explicit voice they give to Euro-American anxieties over cultural authority. By imagining themselves as living in Indian terrains, accursed though they are, white Americans lay claim to the land, articulating an indigenized myth of national origin. Since the 1970s, neo-charismatic Protestants have taken a keen interest in Lovecraft-inspired religions and Indian curse lore, engaging in various deliverance ministries to exorcise individuals and landscapes, and to symbolically claim the nation for themselves.