Living in two worlds: pastoral responses to possession in Singapore
Solomon, Robert M.
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Possession behaviour and exorcism have become more common in Singapore churches since 1972 with the increasing popularity and influence of the charismatic movement. This study aims to describe, analyse, and evaluate the responses of pastors in Singapore to people who display possession behaviour. The in- depth interview of 16 pastors involved in exorcism/deliverance ministry forms the primary material for this study and is complemented by interviews of subjects of possession, psychiatrists, and other informed persons. The study is divided into three phases.In the descriptive phase (chapters 3-5), the pastors' worldview and understanding of the epidemiology, symptomatology, and therapeutic management of possession behaviour are described. They espouse a traditional spirit worldview which views life as a battle between God and and a hierarchy of evil spirits who play an intimate role in the daily lives of people. People are believed to be possessed by evil spirits through contact with occultic and non-Christian religious practices. According to the pastors, people from the lower socio-economic strata, and those with emotional problems and other needs are predisposed to such contact: Demon possession is said to manifest itself through the emergence of an alternate personality, with accompanying personality and behavioural changes and disturbances. The pastors' respond in such instances by attempting to exorcise the "demon" through a deliverance session.In the analytical phase (chap 6-7), the pastors' understanding, explanation, and response to possession behaviour is compared with competing paradigms from the scientific disciplines (eg psychiatry and social anthropology). The similarities between the two sets of discourses are shown using their epidemiological (and phenomenological) description of possession suggesting that they may be describing similar phenomena. However, the fundamental tension between the two discourses emerges when their hermeneutic understanding of possession is examined. This tension is centred in competing epistemological and cosmological assumptions. The pastors' accounts are constructed around a two-worlds worldview while the scientific accounts are based on modern science's one- world worldview. The pastors respond to the competing scientific paradigm by attempting to live between both their worlds in various ways. Some focus on the other (spiritual) world, while others attempt to live in one world at a time. Yet others try to live in between both worlds. Analysis of the pastors' approach shows that their demonological paradigms are created and reinforced by various social and psychological factors largely centred around the theme of competition played in various arenas: ecclesiastical, religious, professional, and personal. While such hermeneutics of suspicion a.re employed to unmask the motivations of the pastors and the way their worldview is shaped, this does not mean that science and scientific explanations can provide the metanarrative with which we can evaluate the pastors' response.The evaluative phase of the study (chapt7-8) develops this question further by looking at the limitations of modern science and contemporary theologies constructed around the scientific paradigm. This is done by examining the theological questions of epistemology, theodicy, and cosmology. The limitations of reductionist epistemologies and theodicies are shown with a critique of both modern science and theology, and charismatic demonology. The model of living in both worlds simultaneously is proposed using the cosmological understanding of Orthodox theology and Christology, thus recovering the patristic paradigm of a spiritual universe and embodied spirituality. The implications of this for pastoral responses to possession behaviour are then outlined centering on the theological vision of two co-existing worlds (a spiritual universe) and the pastoral task of unmasking and resisting evil in all its varieties and depth.