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American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty Paperback – October 15, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway (October 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767910095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767910095
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By R. Bartholomew on February 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The period since the early 1970s has seen a huge rise in Americans seeking relief from demons. The possessed have sought exorcism, while those merely "oppressed" by diabolic forces have received "the deliverance ministry". Cuneo's study is an in-depth exploration of the different Christian groups in America offering these services.
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.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Peter Ingemi VINE VOICE on April 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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.
Looking at both the patholigy, its relationshiop to cultural motifs (to which he points squairely at The Exorcist) and actual practicioners of the practice from many faiths. Cuneo paints a picture of both sincerity and theatre, psycology and paranormal.
He reserves judgement while examining what is done and said, and has no qualms about attending events himself.
In my opinion he shows respect for the subjects of his book and doesn't hesitate to give them a platform while turning a critical eye on the process.
A fairer book from an outside observer you will not find. Well done.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Wonderfully written, unbelievably researched, the book is a sheer joy. The case studies will amuse you, will horrify you, will leave you wanting more. What can I say, it's the best book I've read this year.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Cuneo's book is not written for superstitious minds but rather for thinking people who are fascinated at how obsessed Americans still are with demons. How long has it been since the Salem Witch trials? You won't think of it as being that far back when you see what's going on in our country today. I recommend this book to readers of serious but quirky non-fiction about American life, such as FAST FOOD NATION or even SEABISCUIT.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book and couldn't disagree with the [other] review ... more! I thought Michael Cuneo's research was meticulously documented and all his bases were, so to speak, covered. I also found him sympathetic and nonjudgmental about the people who felt they needed exorcisms--I started reading this book thinking the whole thing was just for kooks, but my opinion definitely changed. Also, I loved Cuneo's writing style and thought he was very witty, which is unusual in books like these. All in all, I really felt that this was an even-handed book, not at all lazy or lurid.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By abt1950 on September 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
"American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty" is an accessible and sometimes journalistic account of the resurgence of belief in demonic possession in among Protestants and Catholics in contemporary America. Written by a professor of sociology at Fordham Univesity, much of the book consists of first hand accounts of interviews with those involved in contemporary exorcisms and of rituals that the author witnessed.

Cuneo begins with what he considers the beginning of the modern rise of exorcism in America, namely the impact on the popular psyche of William Blatty's novel, "The Exorcist" and the immensely popular film made from it. From there, he discusses the influence of Malachi Martin's "Hostage to the Devil," the rise of beliefs in demonic possession and the practices of exorcism among conservative Protestant sects, and finally the current position of exorcism in American Catholicism.

Although skeptical of most claims of demonic possession, Cuneo tries to be evenhanded and (mostly) respectful in describing his experiences. He often provides multiple interpretations of what he saw, but sometimes wonders if those people whose exorcisms he witnessed might really have been suffering from psychological problems. He notes that even though some groups attribute virtually all problems to demonic affliction, others make efforts to distinguish between possession and mental illness. Cuneo's worst criticisms are aimed at Malachi Martin's less than adequately documented "Hostage to the Devil" and at "Michelle Remembers," a supposed first person account of a young woman's upbringing and torture at the hands of a satanic cult.
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