Author:Tünde Komáromi (Károli Gáspár University, Budapest)
Paper short abstract:
Based on fieldwork in Sergiev Posad monastery, Russia I argue for an approach to demonic possession and exorcism deliverance that takes into account conversion studies in order to better understand the cognitive and social transformations under way.
Paper long abstract:
Religious conversion is often described as a radical reorientation of the self followed by a series of cognitive and social transformations. Possession is an experience of the spiritual forces from within the person; an eventual exorcism or deliverance 'restores' the self into its 'natural' state. My paper is exploring the intersection of these two concepts and argues using empirical case studies of post-possessed converts that the transformations associated with possession and exorcism are often lead to conversion.
During my fieldwork in an Orthodox Christian Russian parish I encountered several cases (mostly women) whose religious career was closely associated with personal experiences of suffering and relief from demonic influences. In these cases deliverance or exorcism from possession was followed by strong adherence to the parish and its associated structures (ex. serving as aides in the church, the canteen of the parish ('trapeza') or hostels built around the church etc).
Large part of the conversion studies focus on missionary work and conversion to Christianity in the protestant and neo-protestant denominations. The anthropological study of changing church adherence ('votserkovlenie' - in the Russian case) and conversion is relatively neglected in the Eastern Christian traditions. The experiences of possessed people and their conversion careers show that these phenomena far from being survivals 'from times long passed' are better understood as responses to contemporary social transformations and the postsoviet way to 'modernity'.
Rethinking spirit possession