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The Church Sinister

The Devil’s Works and the Anglican Church on British Television

In: Journal of Religion in Europe
Authors:
Marcus Harmes University of Southern Queensland Australia Toowoomba, Queensland

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5104-1967
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Meredith Harmes University of Southern Queensland Australia Toowoomba, Queensland

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Barbara Harmes University of Southern Queensland Australia Toowoomba, Queensland

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Abstract

The exorcism of Michael Taylor in 1974, which led to murder, pushed Anglican exorcisms into the public gaze. This article proposes a particular trajectory of Anglicanism and the preternatural into popular culture and popular awareness of religion. The Taylor case was one of the catalysts for private anxiety among clergy about the preternatural in the Church of England. By the early 1970s, some clergy ignited public debate including open letters and television appearances to declare the Church of England should not exorcise and complete belief in the accounts of the Gospels was not necessary. Their debate moved to television, some clergy declaring on talk shows the Church should not exorcise, others consenting to be filmed exorcising. Clergy exorcising on screen gave visual cues and content to fictional drama that traversed different genres and channels. This article identifies a common element to drama showcasing the Church and the preternatural, showing the institution and its clergy as weak or absent in the face of evil. Drama brought to the fore clerical concerns that engaging publicly with the preternatural made the Church seem theologically confused and denuded of spiritual authority, a point reinforced by the tragic real-world consequences of the Anglican exorcism of Michael Taylor.

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