The Devil within Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West Brian Levack

Format:
Hardback
Publication date:
05 Mar 2013
ISBN:
9780300114720
Dimensions:
352 pages: 242 x 163 x 35mm
Illustrations:
16pp. section of b&w illustrations

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In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the era of the Reformation, thousands of Europeans were thought to be possessed by demons. In response to their horrifying symptoms - violent convulsions, displays of preternatural strength, vomiting of foreign objects, displaying contempt for sacred objects, and others - exorcists were summoned to expel the evil spirits from victims' bodies. This compelling book focuses on possession and exorcism in the Reformation period, but also reaches back to the fifteenth century and forward to our own times. Entire convents of nuns in French and Spanish towns, 30 boys in an Amsterdam orphange, a small group of young girls in Salem, Massachusetts - these are among the instances of demon possession in the United States and throughout Europe that Brian Lavack closely examines, taking into account the diverse interpretations of generations of theologians, biblical scholars, pastors, physicians, anthropologists, psychiatrists, and historians. Challenging the commonly held belief that possession signals physical or mental illness, the author argues that demoniacs and exorcists - consciously or not - are following scripts encoded in their various religious cultures, and their performances can only be understood in those contexts.

Brian P. Levack is John E. Green Regents Professor in History, University of Texas at Austin, and author of the best-selling textbook, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. He lives in Austin, Texas.

'The argument of this wonderfully readable and lucid book is only a framework, which allows Levack to give a comprehensive and detailed account of this extraordinarily durable cultural phenomenon, in all its everyday freakishness. It will become the subject’s indispensable encyclopaedia'. Alec Ryrie, Times Higher Education Supplement