Bent, Jacquelyn and Gavin, Helen (2016) Enduring belief in demonic possession: A biopsychosocial perspective. In: The Supernatural in Theory and Practice, 11-13 March 016, Budapest. (Unpublished)

Regardless of time period or culture, certain beliefs persist in the human psyche. The notion that a person can be overtaken by a malevolent other, most recently referred to as demonic possession, still instills fear in the heart of the otherwise rational person. Evidence can be found for this belief and associated ‘treatments’ in countless cultures and faiths throughout the world including ancient Egypt, China, Israel, Europe and more. From Zoroastrianism through to modern Christianity the notion of demons infecting human agency with an evil intent continues to through the modern era.
Contemporary sciences including psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, and medicine have sought to explain away this phenomenon through rigorous study of mental illness, disorder and neurological diseases. It remains unclear why this particular misconception is so tenacious. The media frequently highlight cases where a person has killed in the throes of an alleged demonic thrall. Equally, they thrive on stories where someone is killed in the course of an exorcism, a set of rituals intended to expel the demonic foe. Most recently, actor Morgan Freeman’s step-grandaughter was murdered on a Harlem street by her boyfriend, in what many reporters claim was an attempt to exorcise her of demonic spirits.
There is no doubt that the concept of possession is one that fascinates and terrifies in equal measure. The enduring popularity in cinema and print is attested to by ‘The Exorcist’ and similar films in this genre. Even the Catholic Church acknowledges, albeit grudgingly, that the Rituale Romanum is still in use today. Modern psychology attempts to explain this belief, and indeed, the manifestation of demonic possession, by the application of theory and research into issues such as delinquency, fear of female agency, and social control. In order to explore the belief in demonic possession from the psychological perspective, it is necessary to examine how this belief has evolved and remained part of the collective conscious, and what purpose such a belief might serve.

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