Spirit Possession and Exorcism

History, Psychology, and Neurobiology

by Patrick McNamara


What is "spirit possession," and does it exist outside of cult-classic movies? From a religious perspective, possession is an attack on a person's soul, but the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization diagnose spirit possession as stemming from mental or physical illness. Who has proof that they're right?

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Cover image for Spirit Possession and Exorcism

April 2011


Pages 373
Volumes 2
Size 6 1/8x9
Topics Psychology/Abnormal

This two-volume text reviews spirit possession throughout history, analyzes case studies from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, and examines rites for exorcism.

From the beginning of civilization to the present day, and across all major religions and cultures, there have been documented cases of people seemingly overtaken by an unseen entity. The invading force—whether good or bad—appears to replace the possessor's soul with the spirit's own persona, resulting in mystifying symptoms such as levitation or other supernatural feats, speaking in tongues, and even horrific and inexplicably accelerated physical distortion and deterioration.

This is a two-volume chronological history and examination of spirit possession that addresses its phenomenological, psychological, and neurobiological aspects, and its effects on societies. Volume one reviews spirit possession from the upper Paleolithic era to modern times, while Volume two focuses on case studies and rites of exorcism.


  • Provides a comprehensive bibliography of materials that gathers historical, anthropological, and archaeological sources, as well as comparative religionist and neurologic literature
  • Contains indexes that reference key religious events, rituals, and personalities, and cross-reference key characteristics of case studies


  • Presents the most exhaustive review and analysis of spirit possession phenomena ever published
  • Provides the first neurologic analysis of possession phenomena
  • Utilizes a scientific approach to explore the topic of exorcism rituals
  • Illuminates the history of religious innovations from a new angle
Author Info

Patrick McNamara, PhD, is associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA. McNamara has studied neurolinguistics and brain-cognitive correlation techniques and is currently investigating the evolution of the frontal lobes, the evolution of REM and NREM sleep states, and the evolution of religion in human cultures. His published works include numerous journal articles as well as Praeger's Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion and The Neuroscience of Religious Experience.



"McNamara’s work is recommended reading for psychologists, historians, and ministers. Spirit Possession and Exorcism is an insightful while controversial work that offers strong neurological evidence for a misunderstood aspect of human spirituality."—PsycCRITIQUES

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