Thornton, “Victims of Illicit Desire”

Thornton, Brendan Jamal. 2018. Victims of Illicit Desire: Pentecostal Men of God and the Specter of Sexual Temptation. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1).

Abstract: For men in the context of urban poverty in the Dominican Republic, Pentecostal conversion may lead to conditions of gender distress: frustration stemming from the challenges of reconciling the conflicting gender ideals of the church with those of the street. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with members of a Pentecostal community in the town of Villa Altagracia, I discuss how many young men come to experience the initial trials of conversion as tormenting spiritual assaults on their manhood in the form of alluring succubi. At the same time, male converts adopt newly inspired antagonisms with women familiars whom they blame for their illicit desires. Elsewhere I have discussed the strategies Pentecostal men deploy in order to mediate the conflict between barrio masculinity and evangelical Christianity; here I am concerned with illustrating how this conflict is given personal and cultural expression and how the attending experience of gender distress and its symbolic elaboration shapes masculine identity and male subjectivity in the church and local faith communities. By focusing on male converts and their struggles to remain manly, this article contributes to a richer understanding of gender dynamics in Pentecostal churches and offers useful insight into how gender is variously troubled, performed, and remade through conversion and religious practice more broadly.

McCloud, “American Possessions”

McCloud, Sean. 2015. American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States. New York: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Description: Stories of contemporary exorcisms are largely met with ridicule, or even hostility. Sean McCloud argues, however, that there are important themes to consider within these narratives of seemingly well-adjusted people who attend school, go shopping, watch movies, and also happen to fight demons. American Possessions examines Third Wave spiritual warfare, a late twentieth-, early twenty-first century movement of evangelicals focused on banishing demons from human bodies, material objects, land, regions, political parties, and nation states. While Third Wave beliefs may seem far removed from what many scholars view as mainstream religious practice, McCloud argues that the movement provides an ideal case study for identifying some of the most prominent tropes within the contemporary American religious landscape. Drawing on interviews, television shows, documentaries, websites, and dozens of spiritual warfare handbooks, McCloud examines Third Wave practices such deliverance rituals (a uniquely Protestant form of exorcism), spiritual housekeeping (the removal of demons from everyday objects), and spiritual mapping (searching for the demonic in the physical landscape). Demons, he shows, are the central fact of life in the Third Wave imagination. McCloud provides the first book-length study of this influential movement, highlighting the important ways that it reflects and diverts from the larger, neo-liberal culture from which it originates.

James, “Themes in Spirit Possession in Ugandan Christianity”

James, R. 2013. Themes in Spirit Possession in Ugandan Christianity. International Journal of Modern Anthropology.

Abstract: Spirit possession and the belief in witches and their curses is common in Uganda. This paper discerns a number of common themes that run through many of these experiences. In particular, sex as a motif for deviance and evil is noted as a common feature of many of the possession stories and all contact with spirits is seen as fundamentally dangerous. There is also some commonality in the content of some stories recounted by interviewees. This paper compares the observations and interviews conducted in Uganda and their common themes with Eni’s book Saved from the Powers of Darkness, with Ugandan cultural traditions and Ugandan experiences of terrorism to probe the origins of their conceptualisations. Through these comparisons it is possible to note Nigerian influence in at least some Ugandan expressions of the experience of spirit possession. However, Ugandan, rather than Nigerian, traditions and experiences are probably more important overall. Besides the traditions that are noted as influences on the way in which spirit possessions are expressed and experienced, the possibility for the breaking of witches’ curses being a cohesive of community activity is noted, as is a connection between the casting out of spirits and the resolve (or at least desire) to live a better, morally reformed, life in accordance with what is being preached in a church. This paper notes evidence that supports Horton’s suggestion that spirit possession is the theorisation of the world in order to understand and affect it.