Skip to content

Exorcism, Possession and Accusations of Malevolent Spiritual Power: Protecting the vulnerable versus respecting autonomy NLS6

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2022

Project ID: NLS6

In contemporary society, various groups and individuals hold beliefs in relation to possession and malevolent spiritual power, and engage in practices to address these. There have been high-profile instances of both children and adults dying or suffering harm as a result of such practices. Mental health charities have expressed concern about impact of exorcism, especially where the capacity of recipient’s to consent is impaired, and there has been civil litigation from individuals arguing that exorcism harmed their mental health. However, many adults freely choose to participate in such practices, in accordance with their faith/ worldview, and perceive this to be beneficial. Many involve no risk to physical or mental health, and are often understood to be routine within their social context. Where illness is a factor, mainstream medical opinion affirms the importance of respecting a patient’s views and values. Even with minors, many practices are not demonstrably harmful, and form part of a young person’s participation in community life and growing sense of identity/culture.

Reconciling these dual realities is not straightforward for legal regulation and State intervention. The overarching question for the project is how to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the vulnerable from harm or abuse, versus respecting both individual and collective freedoms. At present there is only a limited body of academic research in this area, and a greater understanding of the challenges and imperatives faced by the law is needed to propose an effective strategy.

Indicative content may include:

  • The extent to which such practices prevail and the nature of their impact upon specific groups including minority religious or cultural communities, females, non-neurotypical people and/or those facing mental health or behavioural challenges.
  • The nature of risk factors
  • The role of personal autonomy
  • The role of paternalism, from the state and/or family / community.
  • Whether current models of legal regulation are sufficient to protect the safety and security of citizens, as well as their health and wellbeing
  • Possible routes to reform where deficiencies have been identified.

Strategic research priority area

This research aligns with Centre for Rights and Justice existing strengths in human rights, law and religion and vulnerability and sustained cross-disciplinary activity across Safety & Security of Citizens Research Theme.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

For guidance and to make an application, please visit our studentship application page. The application deadline is Friday 14 January 2022.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2022 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Download our full applicant guidance notes for more information.

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418