(OPINION) While belief in religion is at an all-time low in the US, nearly 60 percent of Americans still believe in Hell and the devil.

In the midst of this shifting religious landscape, exorcisms, the ritual of purging someone from demonic possession, have been on the rise — a boom that spans not only the United States but beyond.

Andrew Chesnut, a chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, says: “No doubt there is a global exorcism boom, not just in the US but also in Latin America.”


The driving force behind this surge, according to Chesnut, is Pentecostalism—a branch of Christianity emphasizing the power of the Holy Spirit, which has rapidly become the most expansive brand of Christianity worldwide since its inception in Los Angeles in 1905.

Pentecostals were pioneers in openly embracing exorcisms in the 70s-80s, taking these rituals out of the shadows and even holding special exorcisms en masse on Friday nights.

Feeling the pressure from this burgeoning movement, the Catholic Church responded by mainstreaming Catholic exorcisms, by training more priests to perform them, thus trying to capitalize on their demand. According to Chesnut: “It’s a free market of faith, and if you want to compete, you have to offer the goods and services that people want.”

Professor Deepak Sarma from Case Western Reserve University observes that the US has long been a hub for spiritualism, although the emphasis on individuality has made it the perfect hotbed for developing exorcism practices.

“Many more people have moved away from institutional religion towards ‘Spirituality’, where individuals are able to pick and choose doctrines, practices, rituals, and in this case purifying/ healing endeavors from across any number of religions.

This toolbox approach empowers individuals to be able to act on their own, without bowing before religious institutions and hierarchies.” But if the US has always been a potential breeding ground for performing exorcisms, why is the boom seemingly only happening now?

Chesnut suggests that the rise in exorcisms may be linked to global anxiety about world events, with religious individuals interpreting these as potential signs of an impending apocalypse. In an era marked by global challenges like the pandemic and geopolitical conflicts, such as Russia and Ukraine as well as Israel and Palestine, the belief in demonic possession and its cure provides a seemingly rational solution.

This rise is cause for concern for many reasons, one being individual safety. Just this past year, a four-year-old boy in North Carolina died and his adoptive parents were accused of subjecting him to an exorcism. Additionally, in 2022, in Northern California, individuals were arrested after a three-year-old girl died following a ceremony at a tiny Pentecostal church in San Jose.

There is also growing concern about the connection between these practices and the rise of far-right ideologies. Chesnut explains that public exorcisms are being leveraged for conservative, moral, and political agendas.


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