Aggressive prayers, curses, and maledictions

A diverse range of traditions and communities invoke what we might call “negative prayers”—including cursing, exorcism, spiritual warfare, and imprecatory prayer—that call down divine or earthly retribution or speak directly to evil. Contributors to this discussion began with the view that malediction is neither an aberrant practice nor a marginal one, thus countering the limitations of many accounts of malediction, which cordon these practices off from “good” prayer in any number of ways. This perspective raises the question of what we can learn not only by paying attention to malediction, but also by situating it within a wide range of religious activities.

How might studying negative prayer might influence our understanding of prayer more broadly? How do the ethics, aesthetics, and politics of invoking or dealing with evil contribute to our understanding of social life and the place of religion within it? How are such practices at work in the world today? How are such prayers at work in or on human bodies, or how are they transformative of relationships with each other and with the sacred? What are the costs of designating some prayers “good” and some “bad,” and who gets to make that designation? In this discussion, scholars tackle these questions across a range of disciplines, locales, and time periods.