Against Scarecrows and Half-Baked Christians

Thomas Hobbes on Spiritual Possession and (Civil) Exorcism

in Hobbes Studies
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The aim of this paper is to trace Thomas Hobbes’s arguments for the rejection of spiritual possession in Leviathan (1651). Several layers of Hobbes’s thought converge in this subject: his suggestion regarding the sovereign’s right to control religious doctrine; his mechanistic critique of incorporeal substances; his tirade against demonology and Pagan philosophy; his ideas about fear and the natural seeds of religion; his Biblical criticism. Hobbes’s reflections over the matter of spiritual possession allowed him to simultaneously attack institutionalized and charismatic supernatural experiences, rejecting on Biblical as well as philosophical grounds the possibility of demonic and divine possession. This assault on traditional pneumatology led him to new interpretations of the notions of spirit and immateriality, a core element in Leviathan’s resignification of the interaction between nature and supernature. The paper will address Hobbes’s call for a civil exorcism―political, exegetical, and philosophical―against the spiritual powers that possess the Commonwealth.