"Political Demonology in Trump’s America": Research seminar with Dr Jonathan O'Donnell

In this Centre for Religion and Public Life research seminar Dr O'Donnell will be speaking about: "The Deliverance of the Administrative State: Political Demonology in Trump’s America"


Over eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and amongst his most fervent early adopters were white neo-charismatics. Drawing on a cross-section of public materials (books, blog posts, sermons) published during and since the 2016 election campaign, this lecture will explore the potential reasons for this vocal early support by tracing intersections between Trump’s “America First” emphasis on (ethno)nationalist sovereignty and security and neo-charismatic concepts of “spiritual warfare,” which envisions the world as a site of unseen struggle between God and Satan in which both bodies and spaces must be reclaimed from and secured against demonic influence. In doing so, the lecture will explore how the Trump’s administration’s assault on institutional norms and his dismantling of bureaucratic systems—what former advisor Steve Bannon memorably termed “the deconstruction of the administrative state”—becomes reframed by spiritual warriors as a reclamation of physical and ideological territory from demonic “principalities and powers” that are understood as illegally occupying it. Far from merely representing a rejection of corrupt and neoliberal state apparatuses, however, the lecture will demonstrate how in Trump’s America such conceptions of “illegal” demonic occupancy become enmeshed with racialized xenophobic discourses that code undocumented migrants, Muslims, and other vulnerable populations framed in conservative rhetoric as benefitting from the state as the visible corollaries of invisible demonic presence, and thus as equally deserving of exorcism from the nation’s borders.


S. Jonathon O’Donnell is an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clinton Institute for American Studies, University College Dublin, where they work on the intersections between demonology, authoritarianism, and post-truth politics in Trump’s America. They received their PhD in the Study of Religions from SOAS, University of London, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. Their research in the areas of religion and politics, demonology, gender, and (post)secularity has been published in journals such as Patterns of Prejudice, Political Theology, Religion and Gender, and Zygon, as well as in several edited collections, including The Concept of Hell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and The Hermeneutics of Hell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).