The Exorcist

John G. Turner

While watching Bobby Jindal's Republican response to the unofficial State of the Union address tonight, I was reflecting on the joys that many of us might have writing about his religiosity during the 2012 campaign (having just started to recover from Jeremiah Wright and Sarah Palin). Fortunately, it's a long way off. However, today I stumbled upon an evidently somewhat well-known piece about Jindal's early years as a Catholic convert. Since it was new to me, it might be new to you as well. It's an excerpt of an essay Jindal published in the 1994 New Oxford Review. Evidently, the entire article is only available for a small fee; however, CBN's David Brody published an extended excerpt.

In the essay, Jindal describes a prayer session for a cancer-stricken friend, Susan, who has been behaving oddly. The prayer session occurs at a meeting of University Christian Fellowship at Brown University. Here is an excerpt of the excerpt:

A senior in UCF (University Christian Fellowship) and a leader of my Bible study group had once asked me if I believed in angels, spirits, and other such apparitions ... After I related my doubts, the se­nior proceeded to describe recent incidents involv­ing mutual acquaintances -- e.g., a woman who claimed demons inflicted physical scars on her arms. I remained polite, but incredulous. The issue of spirits did not affect me, and I was thus content to leave its resolution to others. I had no opinions or feelings on the subject ...

After a period of group prayer, a student made a movement to end the meeting. Suddenly, Susan emitted some strange guttural sounds and fell to the floor. She started thrashing about, as if in some sort of seizure. Susan's sister must have recognized what was happening, for she ordered us to gather around and place our hands on Susan's prostrate body. I re­fused to budge from my position and froze in hor­ror. I will never forget the first comprehensible sound that came from Susan; she screamed my name with such an urgency that the chill still travels down my spine whenever I recall this moment.

Maybe she sensed our weariness; whether by plan or coincidence, Susan chose the perfect opportunity to attempt an escape. She suddenly leapt up and ran for the door, despite the many hands holding her down. This burst of action served to revive the tired group of students and they soon had her restrained once again, this time half kneeling and half standing. Alice, a student leader in Campus Crusade for Christ, entered the room for the first time, brandishing a crucifix ... Surely Crusade's experienced leader would be able to rescue us and reaffirm our faith in Christ, the Bible, and everything good ...

While Alice and Louise held Susan, her sister continued holding the Bible to her face. Almost taunting the evil spirit that had almost beaten us minutes before, the students dared Susan to read biblical passages. She choked on certain passages and could not finish the sentence "Jesus is Lord." Over and over, she repeated "Jesus is L..L..LL," often ending in profanities. In between her futile attempts, Susan pleaded with us to continue trying and often smiled between the grimaces that accompanied her readings of Scripture. Just as suddenly as she went into the trance, Susan suddenly reappeared and claimed "Jesus is Lord."

With an almost comical smile, Susan then looked up as if awakening from a deep sleep and asked, "Has something happened?" She did not re­member any of the past few hours and was startled to find her friends breaking out in cheers and laugh­ter, overwhelmed by sudden joy and relief...

I left that classroom with a powerful belief in Mary's intercessions and with many questions about spiritual warfare; I also learned a lasting lesson in hu­mility and the limits of human understanding. Was the purpose of that night served when so many indi­viduals were inducted into the Church? Did I witness spiritual warfare? I do not have the answers, but I do believe in the reality of spirits, angels, and other re­lated phenomena that I can neither touch nor see.

Wish I had gotten this into my Campus Crusade book, though my sense is that only a minority of Crusade leaders go about combating demons with crucifix in hand. [They usually brandish the Four Spiritual Laws]. I know the good folks at Daily Kos and Huffington Post would enjoy analyzing this sort of material during a 2012 Jindal campaign. However, I also reckon that a healthy percentage of Americans would affirm Jindal's final sentence.


Anonymous said…
I wonder if Jindal's rearing as a Hindu makes him more open to the idea of supernatural forces.

Which brings us to another question. What if he were still a Hindu? Would he be able to have the same political career? I can just see some snarky journalist saying, "So Mr. Jindal, can you tell us exactly the number of Hindu gods and goddesses you deny as well as the exact number you affirm?" or "How will your belief in karma affect your foreign policy decisions?" or--at one of the those primary debates--"Please raise your hand if think the Vedas are Sacred Scripture."

The fact that I can picture all this happening means I think you're right, John. The media will not be able to leave this exorcism business alone. Their only regret will be the lack of video footage, but I suppose a few movie clips of "The Exorcist" will suffice.
Mike Pasquier said…
Thank you for the post, John. Two points... First, it's interesting to observe the Protestant-Catholic crossover that sometimes occurs during CCC functions and other "nondenominational" organizations like Young Life and Youth for Christ. This is especially the case in parts of the United States where Catholicism has strong cultural roots. Talk about some unexplored ecumenical(?) action going on there. Second, Jindal's Catholicism--one part theologian, one part charismatic, with a dash of Peychaud's bitters--is an attractive combination for many Americans. And the Rhodes Scholarship will be a nice chaser for many of those who have a hard time swallowing the whole Jindal cocktail. Me, I'll have a Miller Lite.
John G. Turner said…
The Rhodes Scholarship will make it more difficult for the media to write Jindal off as a religious wacko (his piece is extremely reflective and thoughtful, but it would be very easy for opponents / the media to take parts out of context).

I agree with you, Manlius, especially for a Republican.
You know, if Rhodes scholarships and professorships and political offices can go to "religious wackos," why don't posts in the media? It's so odd to me that the media is so behind on the experiences of popular religion. We scholars of religion might be the only and best "interpreters" of this that America has got.
Christopher said…
I didn't know much about Jindal's religion and religiosity until the last couple of days. Thanks for the post, John.

According to this 2007 article, he speaks regularly at Baptist and Pentecostal churches:

Sundays often find him giving testimony in Pentecostal or Baptist churches, whether large ones in Monroe, Alexandria and Shreveport or before tiny congregations, the farther back in the woods the better. Jindal says his giving witness predates his political life, and that he feels the obligation because "there were people who witnessed to me, and I wouldn't have become a Christian if they hadn't."

He doesn't talk politics in church, but he doesn't have to in order to move an audience and to forge a deep personal connection with many who felt nothing in common with him before. Few in Louisiana politics have reached out to Pentecostals as much as Jindal has since Edwin Edwards.
Mike Pasquier said…
Long before Jindal started making the Pentecostal speaking circuit in Louisiana, there was Bill Clinton. In fact, Clinton developed a rather close relationship with the pastor and larger community known as The Pentecostals of Alexandria, Louisiana (

See this NYTimes article on Clinton speaking about impeachment and other personal matters at the Alexandria Pentecostal church.

The choir of this church sang during pre-inaugural events for Clinton. The former president was also known to attend Pentecostal camp meetings in Arkansas.
Anonymous said…
This is fascinating to hear, as similar things went on in the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at my university in the 1980s. One of my friends (now married to a minister and a devout Christian) said it took her several years to "get over" the constant drama of repeated "exorcisms," etc. I wonder if this is a typical smart-evangelical-in-college experience?
Phil said…
With Jindal's star rising in the Republican Party, it is also interesting to note Michael Steele's religious affiliation.

The new chair of the RNC is a former seminarian who once studied for the priesthood, and appears to be a committed Roman Catholic.

Don't know many details beyond this, but perhaps this represents something of an evolution of sorts religion, politics, and the Republican Party.

Anyone have the details on Steele's religious history?
Christopher said…
Phil, this fairly recent write-up on Catholic Online looks helpful re: details of Steele's religiosity.

This line from the article resonates with what you get at in your comment about "something of an evolution of sorts religion, politics, and the Republican Party":

The Republican Party has imploded. It is in need of leadership which can inspire it to become once again the Party of Lincoln and stand up for a true new birth of freedom that includes the freedom to be born. Perhaps this articulate, dedicated Catholic Christian and loyal family man is just the recipe needed to bring some leaven to that old dying loaf.
Phil said…
Thanks, Christopher. I'll check out the article.
Matt W. said…
Take this for what it is worth.

I am a comp-stage PhD student in the sociology of religion at one of the most liberal universities on the east coast, so I am no stranger to objectifying religion for analytical purposes. I am also a former evangelical, though still a devout Christian.

I can tell you that I had an experience that, if I had written it down, would have been almost identical to Jindal's. In a college-age meeting, right at the end of the meeting, the stumbles over "Jesus is Lord"--the works. And I'm not entirely sure I wouldn't have concluded my essay with a similar response to Jindal's regarding the limits of rational engagement with the cosmos. This all occurred in 1995--in Northern California.

I can see all of your academic wheels turning. :) Just thought I would muddy the waters a bit.
John G. Turner said…
Thanks, Matt. That's incredibly interesting.

At my InterVarsity chapter, spiritual warfare was a very live topic. There was a set of people who were very much focused on that aspect of Christian spirituality. I never heard of any exorcisms, but some people were engaged in active spiritual combat against demons, etc. Since it wasn't "my thing," I probably didn't get all the details.

Of course, given Jindal's recent struggles with telling true stories (evidently, there is a lot of question about the Katrina story he told during his reponse), I guess I'm currently taking him with a grain of salt.
Matt W. said…
Thanks, John.

I'm with you: Jindal is not to be trusted. However, I say he isn't to be trusted because of his role as politician and not simply because of some inherent moral quality. Nothing about that exorcism story gets you political or social advantage, at least outside of your sectarian group--in fact, it only makes you sound crazy, as evidenced by the responses he has been getting.

Maybe one might be deluded. Maybe, in Jindal's case, Susan's cancer was to blame. (Note: the woman in my version was not sick in any way and was leading a normal life 2 years later when I saw her) Maybe one is having some kind of group illusion, a neo-Durkheimian collective effervescence with delusional aspects. But one does not, in any case, make the stuff up out of whole cloth.

Oh, and I should add that no one in our group was of the "exorcism" persuasion nor was there a particular wave of "spiritual warfare" spirituality sweeping our church. This was simply someone who fell down screaming during one of our otherwise very routine college-age church meetings.

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