in Believe Not Every Spirit

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226762821
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226762951 | DOI:

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After 1650, the number of group possessions in convents decreased before disappearing altogether. When religious orders that had developed such interiorized techniques and exercises purged themselves of the more extreme and therefore more suspicious practices, the designation of demonic possession lost much of its utility. The silencing of passive and Quietist forms of interiorized spirituality and the growing suspicion of spiritual possession were part and parcel of much larger dramas that were reshaping post-Tridentine Catholicism, including the redrawing of boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate forms of personal pursuit of the divine, and the growth of an entire new apparatus of knowledge about the soul and how to read its signs. An equally important process was the reshaping of exorcismal techniques. Exorcism lost much of its broader religious meaning as a probative mechanism for discerning interiority. Instead, it became the mundane healing ritual that it had been in the Middle Ages, and that centered on curing an afflicted individual and helping her reintegrate into her society.

Keywords: convents; demonic possession; spirituality; Catholicism; soul; healing ritual; exorcism; interiority; Middle Ages

Chapter.  1500 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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