American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty Hardcover – Sep 11 2001
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In 1973, the film version of The Exorcist seared Linda Blair's head-spinning, vomit-spewing rendition of demonic possession into the popular consciousness. The movie's popularity, according to sociologist and anthropologist Michael W. Cuneo, tapped into Americans' deepest spiritual anxieties and helped spawn a "booming business" for Catholic, Protestant, and freelance exorcists that shows no signs of slowing. American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty begins with a cultural history of exorcism from the 1960s to the present day. Then the book offers a wealth of case studies, based on the author's firsthand observation of dozens of contemporary exorcisms performed by New Age entrepreneurs and clerics of Christian traditions. But Cuneo's explanation of exorcism's popularity--that the rite allows believers to absolve themselves of responsibility for problems, including "depression, anxiety, substance addiction, or even a runaway sexual appetite," by offering assurance that "Indwelling demons are to blame"--seems merely a pretext for his scathing judgment of the whole phenomenon. "Personal engineering through demon expulsion: a bit messy perhaps, but relatively fast and cheap, and morally exculpatory. A thoroughly American arrangement." Cuneo's judgment may or may not be correct, but his research appears sloppy ("widely quoted" sources go unidentified, and sweeping cultural observations are unsubstantiated by footnotes). And his prose is littered with smug double-entendres such as "The pop culture industry cast its spell, so to speak, and an obliging nation fell into line." In both its argument and style, American Exorcism is every bit as lazy and sensationalistic as the phenomenon it purports to criticize. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
Not so long ago pundits were complaining that Americans had lost their sense of evil; "no one cares about Satan anymore," they sighed. This mesmerizing study proves them utterly misguided. Cuneo, an intrepid sociologist based at Fordham University, explores the bizarre subculture of renegade priests, rough-and-tumble preachers, shady psychiatrists and tormented souls, spewing foulness. Building on his earlier surveys along the fringes of contemporary Catholicism, the "openmindedly skeptical" author interviewed hundreds of believers and attended dozens of exorcisms, here described in mordant deadpan. The current plague of demonic infestation among charismatics and evangelicals, Cuneo proposes, has less to do with the machinations of hell than the productions of Hollywood. Popular books and movies have blamed malevolent spirits for a wide range of maladies everything from voices in one's head, to twinges in one's groin, to dissatisfaction in one's heart. And they have established models of behavior for both the possessed and their heroic deliverers: Regan and Father Damien of The Exorcist have scores of real-life imitators. The rise of a new therapeutic ethos also has something to do with it. Aimed at curing addiction, compulsion and other psychological problems, exorcism has become "a recovery program with a supernatural twist." Lucidly written and riveting as any horror novel, Cuneo's excursion into the darker paths of American faith offers a deeply disturbing, ironic vision of what he sees as the unintended consequences of popular culture for the modern religious imagination.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Cuneo's thesis is that two factors have led to this upsurge of demand: firstly, the popular media, particularly the book and film of "The Exorcist" and the work of a renegade Catholic priest, the late Malachi Martin, in the early 1970s; and secondly, the development of a "therapeutic culture" of self-fulfilment and self-help. As a result, the deliverance practices of Pentecostalism have come to feature across the board in conservative Protestantism and the previously rarely-used rite of Roman Catholic exorcism has become increasingly accessible.
The author travels across America, meeting exorcists and their patients and attending dozens of sessions. There are Catholic traditionalists, anxious to reassert the mystical authority of the priesthood after Vatican II; members of the Charismatic wings of several of the major American denominations; and independent Pentecostals and Fundamentalists. In many places (once prompted by Cuneo, it has to be noted), "The Exorcist" and Malachi Martin's book "Hostage to the Devil" are cited by informants as inspirations for their "countersecular worldview" in which human motivations can very easily be ascribed to demonic influence.
Cuneo's book is an excellent resource for tracing the way different parts of the movement have influenced each other.Read more ›
One would have thought that this method--the hermeneutics of generosity, ironically largely a result of Post Modernism--would be familiar to someone like Mr. Cuneo. After all, it has led to spectaculur results in other fields, e.g., Biblical studies (N. T. Wright), anthropology and literary criticism (Rene Girard), and philosophy (Jean-Luc Marion).Read more ›
I think the book would have been much improved if Cuneo delved deeper in to the history of American exorcism. For example, a chapter or two about the Salem witch trials or other "exorcisms" from the distant past of American history would have given the book the bite it lacks. Although the book was slightly entertaining, it would be easy to skip over.
As for the topic of demonology, Cuneo concludes that demonic presence is non-falsifiable. However, to continue wasting words on this subject is asinine; it is unimportant to the text. Demons do not matter; it is all in how people react to their alleged presence. Quite simply, people want these demons out of their hair and out of their spheres of influence.
Cuneo argues convincingly that popular culture has wielded its influence in Americansï¿½ spiritual lives. It is no coincidence that the belief in demons and demonic possession rose immediately following the two theater runs of William Peter Blattyï¿½s The Exorcist. Further, people watched a 2020 episode in which a Roman Catholic priest performed an exorcism and walked away believing that they, too, were the victims of diabolical possession. This displays a disconcerting readiness to identify with what we see on television and in other media. However, something else must make these people susceptible to the belief that they have had their bodies taken over by some malevolent supernatural force. Could there somehow be a benefit to believing yourself possessed?Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
AMERICAN EXORCISM is a fascinating book, tracing the resurgence and spread of the practice of exorcism in America since the first screening of the movie THE EXORCIST. Read morePublished on Dec 29 2002 by Mark I. Vuletic
Cuneo's sociological approach to a (strictly) religious ritual exposes this phenomena to be purely anthropic. Read morePublished on June 10 2002 by Thomas Lucadamo
got this book because I'm interested in the subject of demonology and exorcism. The book is very promising at first, and it keeps you wanting to turn the pages. Read morePublished on April 4 2002 by Christine
For a man who is today (April 1st 2002) at a meeting of American Atheists in Boston Michael Cuneo gives a very fair hearing and an even fairer look at exorcism in America. Read morePublished on April 1 2002 by Peter Ingemi
I got this book because I'm interested in the subject of demonology and exorcism. The book is very promising at first, and it keeps you wanting to turn the pages. Read morePublished on March 9 2002
I purchased this book expecting to find case studies of exorcisms (specifically Catholic) that have been performed in recent years in the United States. Read morePublished on March 4 2002 by James F. Anderson III
Well written and generally smooth reading book with lots of documented research material to further study. Read morePublished on Jan. 26 2002
Cuneo is thorough in his research and lucid as a writer. Even though I am trained in theology and psychology, I had no idea how widespread the exorcism phenomenon is in the USA. Read morePublished on Dec 18 2001 by subclone3433
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