Paul C. Johnson

Professor of History University of Michigan

My current book project is called, To Be Possessed: “Religion” and the Purification of Spirits. An excavation of the category of "spirit possession," I consider first its creation as an early project of civil religion, next the ways the construct was implemented in colonial regulations of religion in the Americas, and finally the positive appropriation of the category by ethnographers and religious actors themselves. By closely examining philosophical, theoretical and discursive invocations of spirit possession as well as the empirical studies those models infiltrated, but also were influenced by, this study aims to show how the category worked not only as a descriptor of “primitive” religions but also, even primarily, as an exorcism the West performed on itself.