Religious studies professor explores exorcisms in new book from Penguin Classics

Featured Faculty

Julie Cooper | September 21, 2020

With the publication of his newest book, The Penguin Book of Exorcisms (Penguin Classics, 2020), Dr. Joseph Laycock is learning people really want to talk about exorcisms.

Laycock, an assistant professor of religious studies in the College of Liberal Arts, was part of an online Reddit “Ask me Anything” in early September. He was also a recent guest on Coast to Coast AM, which boasts a radio audience of some 2 million listeners. On October 28, Laycock will be a guest on Jenny McCarthy’s Sirius radio show to discuss his book. says the book features “haunting accounts of real-life exorcisms through the centuries and around the world, from ancient Egypt and the biblical Middle East to Colonial America and 20th century South Africa.” It is part of a Penguin Classic series that includes The Penguin Book of Witches, The Penguin Book of the Undead, the Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, the Penguin Book of Hell, and The Penguin Book of Mermaids.

Laycock said the weirdest question he got from Reddit users was, “Do exorcisms work in outer space?” The AM radio show, which Laycock says tends to attract a lot of long-haul truckers, meant he had to schedule his day around a radio call in show that was held from 2 to 4 a.m.   

Exorcisms are not just something from the distant past. As recently as 2019 the Vatican convened 250 priests from 50 countries to a weeklong seminar on exorcisms. This July, a writer for the online Catholic News Agency wrote: “Exorcism is not an obscure practice shrouded in darkness, but a ministry filled with light, peace, and joy, according to a new guide for Catholic exorcists.”

As part of university faculty for the new B.A. in Religious Studies introduced this fall, Laycock is currently teaching two face-to-face courses: “Demonology, Possession and Exorcism” in the Honors College and “What is Religion?” Of the latter, Laycock says it is an introduction into the theory and method to religious studies. 

In class, students and teacher are wearing masks and are keeping a safe distance from each other in assigned seats. “I feel safe,” Laycock said. Lecture materials are also being uploaded for those who cannot attend classes in person.

In the spring, Laycock will be teaching “Cults and New Religious Movements” and “Religion and Film.”

Laycock is currently editing a book based on the “Of Gods and Monsters” conference that spanned three days on the San Marcos Campus in 2019, and another project that will explore the relationship between exorcisms and its portrayal in horror movies.

joe laycock headshot
Dr. Joseph Laycock, assistant professor of religious studies in the College of Liberal Arts
book cover
The Penguin Book of Exorcisms (Penguin Classics, 2020)

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922