Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



Although interest in exorcism has spiked in real world and fictional filmic contexts, scholars have yet to fully identify the exorcism film as a subgenre of the horror film. Following Anne Rothe’s (2011) argument that representation of trauma in popular culture may function like “a discursive knot in contemporary culture due to its vast associative powers of generating interactions between disparate ideas” (p. 4), this study recognizes exorcism as a discursive knot that deserves further attention. Utilizing a case study approach, this dissertation focuses on three exorcism films: The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), The Last Exorcism (2010), and The Conjuring (2013). Results concluded that although filmmakers utilize a distinct formula of narrative stages and signature characters to represent contemporary exorcism, such elements were negotiated through each film’s construction. Additionally, this study utilizes Lowenstein’s (2010) concept of “spectacle horror” to highlight dynamic elements of the exorcism film including: bodily contortions, film-viewer relationships, and intertextuality. Based on the analysis, gender stands as a significant theme in the exorcism film’s content and in conceptualizing its constitution. Exorcism films portray women as inescapably connected to men, but rebellious performances of possession provide liberatory possibilities for new symbolic orders. This study also indicates that representation of exorcism itself is gendered and draws attention to the distinct strategies characters utilize. Finally, this dissertation finds the mother-daughter relationship as a crucial site of stability (and horror) in the exorcism film.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Shaffer, Tracy Stephenson



Included in

Communication Commons