Tag Archive for McAlister

McAlister in The Conversation: For Some Catholics, It Is Demons That Taunt Priests with Sexual Desire

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, writes about a lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse of children uncovered in the Catholic Church: In some strands of Catholic thought, priests who abuse children have succumbed to temptation by demons. McAlister is also chair and professor of African American studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, professor of Latin American studies.

For some Catholics, it is demons that taunt priests with sexual desire

A Pennsylvania grand jury recently released a report on the systematic ways Catholic priests aided and abetted one another to sexually abuse children for 70 years.

It reveals once again how the strict patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church gives rise to conspiracies of silence and allows for routine cover-up of crimes. Cover-ups are also encouraged by clericalism – the belief that ordained priests are inherently superior and closer to God than the laity. This much has been demonstrated by countless observers.

But there is another, lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse, that I want to point out as a scholar of spiritual warfare in some forms of Christianity. This factor lies in the realm of belief: In some strands of Catholic thought, when priests abuse children, it is because they have been tempted by demons, and succumbed.

History of demon beliefs

The Catholic Church invites priests to view sexuality as a battle in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is one name for this view of the world and it has a long history in Catholic teachings.

The idea of demons has been around since antiquity – in the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and elsewhere. In Christianity, preoccupation with demons reached its peak in the Middle Ages. Demons were explicitly defined by the church in 1215 under Pope Innocent III.

Theologians worked to identify classes and ranks of demons who operated under the authority of the devil himself. Demons were seen as fallen angels who disobeyed God and worked to subvert God and goodness.

Demons are malevolent beings who lord over specific domains of sin. Christians are called to battle evil, including evil that comes by way of the demonic. The more pious one is, the more intense will be the attacks from the demons.

After the Second Vatican Council of 1964, demons faded out of focus and exorcisms were rare. But my research shows that the spiritual warfare world view is on the rise in the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact that demons and exorcisms are largely viewed by most American Catholics as remnants of a medieval past.

The return of demons and exorcisms

In 1999, Pope John Paul II brought back a focus on the formal rites of exorcism – the official ritual that priests use to rid a person from demonic affliction or possession. The pope later recommended that every diocese in the Catholic world appoint and train an exorcist.

The Catholic Church in the United States took up the call and in 2012 founded the Pope Leo XII Institute in Illinois to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” To this day it serves as a “school for exorcism and deliverance” of the laity from demons.

The institute offers workshops for clergy such as “Angels and Demons, Natures and Attributes.”

Under this belief system, in the battle for souls, demons can establish relationships with people who open the door to them through sin and disobedience to God. If someone masturbates, for example, which is a mortal sin, they are opening the door wider to demons of more serious sexual perversion.

Such demons include figures mentioned in the Bible such as Baal, the ancient Phoenician sun God, and his consort Ashtoreth, now viewed as a force of sexual immorality and perversion. Jezebel, the ninth-century B.C. Phoenician princess, lives into the modern era as a demonic personality who encourages illicit sexual acts, violence and rape.

Devil and role-play in one church

Writing for Commonweal, an American Catholic journal, one ex-seminarian described a formation, or training, workshop sponsored by his seminary. He described how participants were given nametags with the names of demons on them and asked to play the role of demons to tempt one another. He explained how they would choose one person and “hiss and curse” to entice him to “watch pornography” and “masturbate.”

The point, of course, was to train the participants how to choose chastity and to stand strong against sexual desire.

To be clear, this is only one documented instance. However, I would argue that it points to the Church’s current preoccupation with evil spirits and the need for priests to ritually remove that evil.

It is sobering that one seminary should choose to offer those training for a life of service and celibacy, a role-play of hissing demon impersonators, as a way to govern their conduct.

Medieval practices in today’s church?

Ascribing sexual desire to demonic temptation takes away the blame from the perpetrators. It puts the cause, the consequences, and questions of accountability into an invisible world populated by angels and demons, sin and repentance.

Suggesting that the offending priests were afflicted by demons is a version of “the devil made me do it.”

There is a second heartbreak. Many of the abused report feeling guilty, as if they had sinned themselves. I have heard from my own research participants that because sinning opens the door to more demons and more sin, then some abuse survivors think of themselves as being in relationships with personal demons and more vulnerable to demonic attack.

As investigations continue into the institutional factors allowing for this horrific abuse, it may also be pertinent to look into some of the intellectual and theological elements at the heart of the Catholic tradition.

For some branches of the Church, this includes the medieval world of demons.

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, Wesleyan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

McAlister Authors New Paper on the Militarization of Prayer in America

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister is the author of a new paper, “The Militarization of Prayer in America: White and Native American Spiritual Warfare” published Jan. 4 in the Journal of Religious and Political Practice.

In the article, McAlister examines how militarism has come to be one of the generative forces of the prayer practices of millions of Christians across the globe. She focuses on the articulation between militarization and aggressive forms of prayer, especially the evangelical warfare prayer developed by North Americans since the 1980s. Against the backdrop of the rise in military spending and neoliberal economic policies, spiritual warfare evangelicals have taken on the project of defending the United States on the “spiritual” plane. They have elaborated a complex theology and prayer practice with a highly militarized discourse and set of rituals for doing “spiritual battle” and conducting “prayer strikes” on the “prayer battlefield.” The research draws on ethnographic fieldwork at an intensive spiritual warfare boot camp organized by a group of Native Americans who have founded a training base in Oklahoma dedicated to training recruits in the theology and practical strategy of spiritual warfare.

Despite their hyper-aggressive rhetorical and ideological stance, members of this network in fact practice self-sacrificial rituals of fasting, holiness and submission to the Holy Spirit. Native prayer warriors are using spiritual warfare prayer to assert a privileged place for themselves in Christian life as heirs of God’s authority over the stewardship of North American land and as central to the project of repairing sinful pasts both on and off the reservations, reconciling present racial conflict, and defending the land in spiritual battle against new immigrant invasions by foreign, demonic forces.

McAlister also is professor of American studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Elizabeth McAlister on the State of Vodou in Haiti Today

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister spoke to The Guardian about the state of the Vodou religion in Haiti today.

“Most Americans don’t know that they don’t know what Vodou really is,” said McAlister, who specializes in Haitian Vodou.

The article describes the actual practice of Vodou, and discusses its critical place in Haiti’s history as the first black republic. And turning to McAlister for her expertise, it addresses Vodou’s stance on homosexuality.

“Many, many gays and lesbians are valued members of Vodou societies,” explains McAlister, who has devoted years to researching LGBT in Haitian religion. “There is an idea that Vodou spirits that are thought to be gay ‘adopt’ and protect young adults who then become gay.”

“Vodou ‘does gender’ totally differently than the Christian tradition,” McAlister explains. After all, Vodou has gender fluidity at the core: men might become mediums for female spirits, women for male spirits. “But Christians, especially evangelicals, have zero flexibility for this; they see homosexuality as a sin, period.”

Stigmatized as a primitive, or even wicked religion, Vodou is inherently progressive and inclusive, McAlister continues.

“Vodou tends to be radically unjudgmental,” she explains. “The alcoholic, the thief, the homeless, the mentally ill, all of these people are welcomed into a Vodou temple and given respect.”

In reality, McAlister emphasizes, Vodou is far more similar to a close-knit church community than most Americans could ever imagine.

McAlister is also professor of African American studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and professor of Latin American studies.

McAlister Speaks on American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, professor of African American studies, professor of American studies, spoke at DePaul University on May 11. The topic of her talk was “American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare and Vodou in Haiti.”

According to the flyer for the talk, one strand of American evangelicalism practices so-called “spiritual warfare” in which Christian “prayer warriors” pray against “territorial strongholds.” This group believes the world to be mapped into either Christian or demonic space, where Satanic forces operate as “strongholds” of evil. They believe that Haiti is under the influence of Satan. McAlister draws on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Haiti to examine how American missionaries are waging spiritual warfare on the traditional Afro-Haitian religion of Vodou, and how some Haitian Vodou practitioners are responding, paradoxically, by adopting evangelical modes of prayer, publicity and self-presentation.

Back in January, McAlister spoke on “The Militarization of American Prayer” at the Social Science Research Council.

McAlister on Studying Aggressive Prayer

In this essay on the Social Science Research Council’s “The Immanent Frame” blog, Elizabeth McAlister considers “negative prayer as a part of lived religion,” citing examples from the Afro-Haitian Vodou religion and American evangelicalism. She writes: “Just as sorcerers are famous for their deployment of malediction, evangelical Christians are well known for a branch of thought and practice known as ‘spiritual warfare,’ which is also a form of aggressive prayer.”

McAlister is professor of religion, professor of African-American studies, professor of American studies.

McAlister discusses the ways different religious groups employ negative prayer. She concludes:

Studying prayer as it is actually lived in the world means paying attention to such aggressive forms of prayer, and exploring how ideas about negative and aggressive prayer change over time in a given society. We must also open up questions about the negative implications of positive prayer. […]  Studying aggressive forms of prayer may mean asking how religious actors engage with supernatural forces they perceive to be destructive, such as in exorcisms, or magic, and how they control the ritual so they are not themselves harmed. It means figuring out how explicitly negative prayer is rationalized or even justified by the person praying. Does someone praying negatively imagine themselves to be partnering with destructive or evil forces for their own gain, or do they imagine themselves to be neutral, or even righteous? Perhaps they imagine themselves to be in alliance with forces of ultimate good, which demands an aggressive form of prayer. How is negative prayer tied to conceptions of justice?

Read more about McAlister’s study in this past News@Wesleyan article.

McAlister Teaches “Ethnography of Religion” Seminar in Haiti

In June, Professor Elizabeth McAlister taught a seminar on prayer practices at the State University of Haiti. She previously spent almost four months in Haiti studying with Pentecostal prayer warriors and Haitian sorcerers.

In June, Professor Elizabeth McAlister taught a seminar on the ethnography of religion at the State University of Haiti. She previously spent four months in Haiti interviewing Pentecostal prayer warriors and Haitian sorcerers.

Professor Elizabeth McAlister recently presented a weeklong intensive seminar on the ethnography of religion at the Anthropology and Sociology Department, Faculté d’Ethnologie, at the State University of Haiti, Université d’Etat d’Haïti. McAlister is professor of religion, professor of African-American studies, professor of American studies.

Her seminar catered to Haitian university students who are training in field methods of ethnography of religion.

The seminar wrapped up McAlister’s four-month study on “Understanding Aggressive Prayer Forms in Evangelicalism and Afro-Atlantic Religions.”

Her research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation in “New Directions in Study of Prayer.” Developed through the Social Science Research Council’s program on religion and the public sphere, the funds support the academic ventures of 28 scholars and journalists on multidisciplinary aspects of prayer in a modern, global context.

McAlister Awarded Grant from Social Science Research Council

Elizabeth McAlister, chair of the Religion Department, received a grant worth $114,000 from an initiative funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and developed in conjunction with the Social Science Research Council’s program on Religion and the Public Sphere. McAlister plans to study the increase and globalization of what she terms “aggressive forms of prayer,” including evangelical spiritual warfare prayer and political forms of imprecatory prayer, in the context of increasing global militarization. Over the coming years, 28 grantees will participate in a series of interdisciplinary workshops and digital initiatives organized in conjunction with the project.

McAlister also is associate professor of African American studies, associate professor of American studies and associate professor of religion.

McAlister’s “Religion of Zombies” Published in Anthropological Quarterly

Elizabeth McAlister, associate professor of religion, associate professor of African American studies, associate professor of American studies, is the author of  “Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies,” published in Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, pages 457-486, 2012;

And “From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History,” published in Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2012.

McAlister Presents Work on Evangelical Missionaries in Germany

Elizabeth McAlister, associate professor of religion, was invited to present recent work on how evangelical missionaries are responding to the Haiti earthquake at a conference on Refugees and Missionization at the Max Planck Institute, Goettingen, Germany Oct. 6-7, 2011.

She also attended an invited conference on the study of prayer funded by the Templeton Foundation at the Social Science Research Council, Desmond NYC, on April 30, 2012.

McAlister also is an associate professor of African American studies and associate professor of American studies.

McAlister, Daughter Present Keynote at Harvard Dance Symposium

Elizabeth McAlister, associate professor of religion, associate professor of American Studies, associate professor of African American Studies, gave the keynote presentation in collaboration with her daughter, Lovely Nicolas, at a conference at Harvard University on March 25 titled “African Dance Diaspora: A Symposium on Embodied Knowledge.

McAlister and Nicolas presented an academic performance combining dance, memoir, and dance theory in a piece titled “Move Your Words.”

McAlister Speaks on Transnational Icon Wyclef Jean at Invited Conference

Liza McAlister

Liza McAlister, associate professor of religion, African American studies and American studies, joined an invited conference on “Global Oprah: Celebrity as Transnational Icon” Feb. 25-26 at Yale’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. The academic conference aimed to theorize neoliberalism, celebrity and humanitarianism, using Oprah Winfrey as a focusing lens.

The conference consisted of six panel discussions, which examined the way celebrities define America, and the role they play in international human rights and politics.

McAlister presented a paper on Wyclef Jean, a Haitian-born Hip-Hop superstar. She discussed his career trajectory beginning with the Fugees, to his founding a humanitarian foundation, serving as a roaming celebrity ambassador to the UN, to his bid to run for President of Haiti. She examined the ways his celebrity status has translated into political capital in the different yet interconnected contexts of the U.S. and Haiti under the current conditions of neoliberalism.