Today, the conception of spirits and demons has been mostly consigned to pop culture in films and novels. Any notion of supernatural possession is often derided as outdated belief or legend. The Western world has essentially "cast out" stories of exorcisms that persist throughout much of the world today. Consequently, Western Christians have a limited framework to interpret the exorcism accounts scattered throughout the Synoptic Gospels and Acts in their depictions of the ministry of Jesus and his followers.
With Phenomenal Phenomena, Joy L. Vaughan maps the hermeneutical problem readers of biblical spirit possession and exorcism stories might face. Vaughan communicates how the intersection of Western and global perspectives is a fruitful frame through to compare modern stories of spirit phenomena compare to ancient accounts. She surveys interreligious and global perspectives through three relationships: spirit possession and illness; spirit possession and violence or extraordinary strength; and spirit possession and vocalic activity/alteration, demonic speech, and oracular activity. These global perspectives challenge reductionist readings that pervade Western scholarship and allow the actuality of spirits to contribute to our collective interpretive task.
Considering the complexity of global experiences of spiritual and demonic activity, a variety of interpretive options are needed to understand the transcultural occurrences of these phenomena. Vaughan demonstrates that listening to global voices opens up a wide horizon of modern spirit possession and exorcism stories that have comparable characteristics to New Testament accounts. A fresh opportunity arises to read both sets of data as eyewitness testimony to extraordinary events.
Joy L. Vaughan is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Asbury University.
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