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.
Reviews of 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 re-deploys queer theory concerns with sovereignty, ontology, and futurity by applying them to neocharismatic Christian demonology literature, that which demonizes queer, black, indigenous, and colonized bodies as integrally, inevitably, and incontestably other.“
— Tristan Sturm, Society and Space.
“O’Donnell… spin[s] the gold of profound political and theoretical insight from the straw of an apparently nonsensical literature in this remarkable text.“
— Adam Kotsko, Politics, Religion, and Ideology.
“This book is key to understanding the social and cultural meanings carried by these spiritual warriors in America… and is bound to become a reference point for any future research on this sub-group.”
— Adam Possamai, Journal of Contemporary Religion
“With its analytical sharpness, the book contributes to a deeper understanding of current dynamics in religious groups and the connection between religious and political discourses in contemporary society and is thus as relevant to Political Science as it is to Religious Studies, American Studies, Sociology, and History.”
— Nicole Maria Bauer, Religious Studies Review