The devil made Dr. William Bradshaw do it.
The retired minister and academic from St. Louis, Mo., recently released Sinister Among Us, a suspense novel about the president of a small American Midwest college who uncovers a group of Satanists at the centre of the school’s problems.
But Bradshaw isn’t out to simply send chills down a reader’s spine, he claims the fictitious work is an introduction to his main labour — demonology.
“It’s demonology 101,” says Bradshaw. “I wrote it so that the layman could more easily find out about demons and evil spirits, and I’ve inserted the research in the form of a novel. You find out all about it.”
A graduate of the University of Missouri and Yale Divinity School, Bradshaw was studying for his PhD at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 1961 under religious scholar Matthew Black. Black, among other theologians, was exploring the possibility of a satanic influence behind the Nazi atrocities during World War II, asking if people could be that inhumane to each other independently of ultra-human assistance, or if a kind of demonic possession was involved. Bradshaw got on the case, tracing the appearance of Satan and demons through early Middle Eastern literature and Judeo-Christian texts, and researching exorcisms or cases considered to be exorcisms.
He returned Stateside after his studies as America’s first strictly academic demonologist, always stressing that he has always done his best to keep his research as unbiased as possible.
“I do not say what I do and do not believe because people will say, ‘Well, that’s why you wrote that.’ I’m giving people the information and they make their own decisions,” says Bradshaw. “Let me tell you that scholarly information would suggest that demon possession, very definitely, does happen.”
And it happens to good people, Bradshaw theorizes, noting that targets tend toward the innocent, highly virtuous and unusually gifted. Bradshaw says diabolical inhabitations themselves are not unlike the scenario depicted in the horror classic The Exorcist, which, pea soup sprayings and spinning heads aside, is based on an alleged 1949 possession case involving a nine-year-old boy from Cottage City, Md.
“Hollywood trumps it up for dramatic effect, of course,” says Bradshaw. “But I would say The Exorcist is the most accurate depiction of demonic possession.”
You might think such a pursuit would make him that scary bugger whom no one at the party wants to talk to, but Bradshaw claims this isn’t so.
“It’s really the other way,” he laughs. “Interest in demonology tends to ebb and flow according to what’s going on in the world. When there’s great human suffering, people look for reasons why, and these questions have come to the fore once again.”