Possession, exorcism and psychoanalysis

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Abstract
This paper investigates the historiographical utility of psychoanalysis, focussing in particular on retrospective explanations of demonic possession and exorcism. It is argued that while 'full-blown' psychoanalytic explanations-those that impose Oedipus complexes, anal eroticism or other sophisticated theoretical structures on the historical actors-may be vulnerable to the charge of anachronism, a weaker form of retrospective psychoanalysis can be defended as a legitimate historical lens. The paper concludes, however, by urging historians to look at psychoanalysis as well as trying to look through it. Full-blown psychoanalysis is a bad historical lens but it may, in some cases, be an excellent explanatory template: a thorough understanding of how psychoanalytic therapy functions in the modern world is, for example, a good theoretical preparation for historians seeking to understand the sixteenth-century's demonological universe.
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First archival date: 2019-11-06
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2009-01-28

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