American Possessions

Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States

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Sean McCloud
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     192 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Sean McCloud’s American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States examines the Third Wave spiritual warfare movement, delving into the (literal) demonization of culture and politics. Quoting Bob Larson, an apt model for the Third Wave, McCloud describes the conflict going on in conservative American Christianity: “There is a war going on every day, being waged against us. Satan hates us. We know who the enemy is, we know what he’s attacking and we can fight back” (1). This is a call to arms for this Evangelical group. McCloud places the ministries of deliverance among current waves of existentialism, cultural anxieties, capitalism, and against neo-liberalism using books and publicly available interviews. He also focuses on books designed to serve as manuals to defeating demons in modern society: spiritual warfare handbooks.

Chapter 1 explores Third Wave theology’s methods of handling the demonic in non-evangelical religions, American pop culture, the nation-state, and politics. McCloud explores how Third Wave spiritual warriors see impurity imbued through institutions and materialism and the demonic seeping into every facet it can to tempt and infest. The author shows that these believers think that religions other than evangelicalism either willingly or unknowingly open people and institutions up to the demonic. He also argues that political movements that promote diversity give demons a home outside the confines of religion. American pop culture completes the saturation by opening up everyone to temptation through, for example, role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.

In chapter 2, McCloud expands on the idea of demonic possessed consumer items, locations, and lands. These are not just suggestions of the demonic but emissaries of “land [that] is not just haunted, but demon-infested, by past injustices, and it cries out for repentance” (59). Focusing on the exemplars of how Evangelicals believe demons infest, exist, and are banished from materials, the author interestingly posits placing the anxieties of Evangelicalism in consumerism, which some believe non-corporeally houses demons and exposure to leads to possession.

Chapter 3 shows the augmented version of therapeutic discourse that Third Wave spiritual warfare created. The title, “Gothic Therapeutic,” tactfully summarizes the chapter. McCloud shows that the spiritual warfare manuals mimic self-help books in their attempt at growth and purification. “Gothic,” then, represents the opposite: “the grotesque, the decaying, and the repressed” (66). This back-and-forth analysis brings with it a sense of mundane legitimacy that invites more research into the field.

McCloud examines the understanding of autonomy, agency, and free will in the (self-identified) Third Wave in chapter 4. The author’s take on drawing parallels between modern currents of existential doubts and supernatural compulsion is thorough. Demonically induced sexual deviancy serves as a case study leading to a broader conversation on the repressed and subconscious. The author ends the chapter with a broader comparison between Third Wave and neoliberalism.

American Possessions is a thought-provoking take on how Third Wave spiritual warfare’s ideologies contort political views, capitalism, therapeutic practices, and American pop culture to interweave the threads of a demon-infested society into a culture that doesn’t usually talk about demons. But the book isn’t without its flaws. With sections of McCloud’s work focusing on biblical law delegitimizing minimum wage and stating that “in Third Wave imaginary, poverty is often seen as a curse for breaking God’s law” (110), the lack of discussion on the impact of these beliefs is surprising.

In a similar vein, even though there is much published or self-published on Third Wave spiritual warfare, McCloud relies on texts from a heavily fragmented field. Focusing further on the oral tradition may have been an oversight, or it may have been intentional in order to leave room for further analysis. One significant strength of this book is that it divulges the hybridism of this movement. The Third Wave movement is revealed to be a self-feeding ecosystem in itself, using an already established doctrine of demonology and applying it to a changing landscape of culture and politics—a feedback loop created and sustained through a fragmented community that integrates issues as they arise and therefore creating a syncretic doctrine. In an understudied field, McCloud’s analysis is a welcomed addition due to his concise argument, fair criticisms, and well-organized work on a topic that is often dismissed.

About the Reviewer(s): 

J. Tyler Odle is an Independent Scholar.


Date of Review: 
June 28, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Sean McCloud is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies and Communication Studies Faculty Affiliate at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He teaches, publishes, and researches in the fields of American religions and religion and culture. His publications include Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and Journalists, 1955-1993 (2004), Divine Hierarchies: Class in American Religion and Religious Studies (2007), and a co-edited volume, Religion and Class in America: Culture, History, and Politics (2009).


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