Mormon Exorcism: Two Articles and a Podcast Episode

By October 29, 2018

With Halloween this week, I thought it would be fun to highlight some work on a spooky topic. In the past year, scholars have published two excellent articles on exorcism in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve included them below and a link to a podcast by Blair Hodges and the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship featuring Stephen Taysom.

Taysom, Stephen. “’Satan Mourns Naked upon the Earth’: Locating Mormon Possession and Exorcism Rituals in the American Religious Landscape, 1830-1977.” Religion and American Culture 27, no. 1 (Winter 2017): 57-94. {LINK}

Abstract: Since its inception in 1830, an important feature of Mormonism has been its belief in a literal Devil and in the ability of the Devil to possess human beings. Despite the pervasiveness of these beliefs and practices, Mormon possession and exorcism is a largely unstudied phenomenon. What follows is a careful study of four historical accounts of Mormon exorcism rituals dating from 1830, 1839, 1888, and 1977, and their narrative presentations. This article traces the development of Mormon possession/exorcism beliefs and practices and situates them within their larger historical contexts. The article also describes the relationship between Mormon dispossession rituals and the dispossession rituals of Protestant and Catholic groups in American history and presents through a consideration of the impact of broader American cultural trends on the theory and practice of Mormon exorcism from 1830 to 1977.

Blythe, Christopher. “The Exorcism of Isaac Russell: Diabolism and Nineteenth-Century Mormon Identity Formation.” Journal of Religion 98, no. 3 (July 2018): 305-326. {LINK}

Brief Argument: In order to examine this diabolical worldview in early Mormonism, this article documents the reception history and multiple uses of the exorcism of Isaac Russell narrative, a particularly influential supernatural assault tradition/narrative…[and] traces the development of this story as it spread from a few missionaries to others, was published in church periodicals, and became the subject of midcentury sermons…In the twentieth century, these understandings dissipated, and as a result the narrative was able to be used for a more general application that did not seek to establish Mormon identity at the expense of living individuals or institutions.

Hodges, Blair. “Mormonism Exorcism Lore, with Stephen Taysom.” The Maxwell Institute Podcast. Podcast audio, October 2017. {LINK}

Podcast Description: In 1888 a Mormon woman in the Southern States mission of the LDS Church requested a visit from the missionaries. She said she was possessed by the devil and asked the elders to help her by the laying on of hands. They were happy to comply and the evil spirit was summarily dismissed. Then things took a turn for the worse.

This, and other stories of Mormon exorcism are featured in this special edition of the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Learn more about the history of Satan as he was understood before, during, and after the life of Jesus, through Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation, to the days of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and beyond.

Article filed under Miscellaneous

  1. Thanks, J. I’ve read Steve’s article, it’s great. Just sending off for CB’s now.

    Comment by wvs — October 29, 2018 @ 9:36 am

  2. Not my favorite LDS podcast (e.g. compared to Exploring Mormon Thought, etc.) But man, production values are the best I’ve ever heard on that episode

    Amazing job, Blair!

    Comment by jpv — November 3, 2018 @ 10:12 am

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