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  • This chapter is unavailable for purchase
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Conclusion: What Do Sociologists of Religion in Academia Do Apart from Teaching and Marking? Their Work as Intellectuals

  • Adam Possamai, University of Western Sydney
  • Publisher: Acumen Publishing
  • pp 196-205



In the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the Catholic priest who conducted a failed exorcism on Emily is brought to a tribunal. He is accused of not having given her proper care which led to her death. Strong debates happen during the court case between medical doctors who claim that the victim needed a medical treatment to survive and Emily's family and friends who witnessed what they believed was a bona fide possession. The debate reaches an impasse because no dialogue exists between these two forms of discourses. One is strongly secular and does not take into account religious/superstitious beliefs. The other is religious and puts faith above science. However, the defence lawyer manages to move the debate further by inviting an anthropologist of religion as an expert witness. This anthropologist has witnessed many cases of exorcism in her fieldwork and is able to give an account that stands between these two opposite discourses. She does not claim that the devil exists and that religious actions should be performed to stop him (or her). She explains that some people believe strongly in him (or her) and that religious rituals are put into place for those who have this religious conviction to free the possessed from such an evil spirit. These rituals can also be interpreted as a form of therapy that allows the person who thinks he or she is possessed to be cured from what could be seen as a form of mental illness. This expert witness provides a key account in the debate by underlining that rituals are a valid form of therapy and that the use of medical drugs is not always necessary to provide treatment.