Passing Orders

Demonology and Sovereignty in American Spiritual Warfare

American Studies | Theology | Political Theory

Demonization has increasingly become central to the global religious and political landscape. Passing Orders interrogates this centrality through an analysis of evangelical “spiritual warfare” demonologies in contemporary America. Situating spiritual warfare as part of broader frameworks of American exceptionalism, ethnonationalism, and empire management, author S. Jonathon O’Donnell exposes the theological foundations of the systems of queer- and transphobia, antiblackness, Islamophobia, and settler colonialism that justify the dehumanizing practices of the current U.S. political order. 

O’Donnell argues that demonologies are not only tools of dehumanization but ontological and biopolitical systems that create and maintain structures of sovereign power, or orthotaxies—models of the “right ordering” of space, time, and bodies that stratify humanity into hierarchies of being and nonbeing. Alternative orders are demonized as passing, framed as counterfeit, transgressive, and transient. Yet these orders refuse to simply pass on, instead giving strength to deviant desires that challenge the legitimacy of sovereign violence. Critically examining this challenge in the demonologies of three figures—Jezebel, the Islamic Antichrist, and Leviathan—Passing Orders reimagines demons as a surprising source of political and social resistance, reflecting fragile and fractious communities bound by mutual passing and precarity into strategic coalitions of solidarity, subversion, and survival.

Praise for Passing Orders

“This beautifully written, sophisticated analysis of spiritual warfare writing illuminates much about the colonial, white-supremacist state of the contemporary United States. S. Jonathon O’Donnell takes us into this genre of apocalyptic thought and compels us to pay attention to its deep political hold. Drawing on insights from critical race theory, decolonial theory, and critical theory, O’Donnell shows how prophecy writers try to fend off difference yet are ultimately compromised by, or implicated in, the very uncertainty and oppression that they seek to forestall. A must read for those seeking to understand the influence of apocalyptic thought on U.S. politics.”

Erin Runions, author of The Babylon Complex: Theopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty.

“A well-written and engaging examination of American spiritual warfare texts that provides a compelling theoretical intervention, one that reveals the fissures cracking the formative logics of U.S. nation state sovereignty and its binaries of good/evil, insider/outsider, and pure/impure.”

Sean McCloud, author of American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States

Passing Orders “is poetic and as a result, not an easy book, but rather a rewarding book that is infinitely citable, each sentence carefully crafted, each idea carefully embedded in relevant queer, critical race, indigenous, and decolonial theory—from every discipline the left side of the STEM disciplines—all challenging the boundaries of these theories and disciplines, which is the overarching point of the book: to challenge boundaries, passing orders, the flow of all things and their resistance to capture, categorization, conclusion, and shall we say, conservativism. Excuse me if I lay praise on thick, this is an excellent book. Such books deserve praise.”

Tristan Sturm, Senior Lecturer, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast, Review in Society and Space.

Coming November 3, 2020. Preorder Now.

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