The Devil Sat on My Bed: Encounters with the Spirit World in Mormon Utah

Oxford Univ. Feb. 2024. 224p. ISBN 9780197639634. $125. REL
Stiles’s (anthropology, Univ. of Nevada, Reno) provocative title offers a sensitive ethnographic portrayal of how beliefs in the spirit world are integrated into the lives of practicing Latter-day Saints in the lush, green Cache Valley of northern Utah. She makes it clear from the outset that these beliefs are not separate from their everyday lives; they’re integral to their understanding of how their faith is enacted. The encounters, as she calls them, which gives them a phenomenological turn, are presented and rooted in several forms. They involve contact with ancestors in the temple ceremonies, interactions with children yet unborn, a quest to defeat bad and evil, and ways in which priesthood authority can be used to heal. She considers this last element through the lens of gender because that is how it is constructed within the culture. She is also attentive to how people live their religion in contrast to how the Church might formally present itself.
VERDICT General readers will enjoy this book’s many stories about spiritual experiences and the accessibility of its arguments. Academics, too, can appreciate how the author situates the specifics of the Mormon experience in the larger theoretical discourse of spirit manifestations in other cultures.
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