The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The story of Bobby Jindal and an apparent exorcism you probably haven’t heard

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (Danny Johnston/AP)

On Wednesday, Bobby Jindal became the first Indian-American to be a serious candidate for president.

The Louisiana Republican governor's bid also adds another little-known first: He's the first presidential candidate (that we know of) to participate in an apparent exorcism.

Here's the story.

Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, grew up Hindu but converted to Christianity as a teenager. He would read the Bible by flashlight in a closet so as not to upset his parents, and he got baptized as a Catholic while attending Brown University. As Annie Gowen and Tyler Bridges write in the Washington Post, Jindal has made Christianity a central part of his life ever since.

Back in 1994, the now 44-year-old had just finished studying at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He moved to Washington to work at the major consulting firm McKinsey, when he wrote a piece in the Catholic magazine, the New Oxford Review, titled “Beating a Demon: Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare.”

In it, Jindal described a woman and fellow Christian he had befriended at Brown. He kind of liked “Susan” (Jindal says he changed some names in the story) but was afraid of committing to her, so they just stayed friends. Over a period of a few weeks, Susan found out one of her close friends at home had committed suicide and that she had skin cancer.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal talked the importance of conservatism and faith as he joined the crowded Republican field for the U.S. presidency in 2016. (Video: Reuters)

Shortly after that, Jindal said Susan started having visions and smelling like sulfur (sulfur, Jindal noted, “supposedly accompanies the devil”).

But he didn't piece it all together until a meeting of friends praying for Susan's health. Susan was there to receive their prayers.

And we'll let Jindal take it from here:

Suddenly, Susan emitted some strange guttural sounds and fell to the floor. She started thrashing about, as if in some sort of seizure. Susan’s sister must have recognized what was happening, for she ordered us to gather around and place our hands on Susan’s prostrate body.
I tentatively ap­proached the group and placed the edge of my finger­tip on her shoulder … In a voice I had never heard before or since, Su­san accused me: 'Bobby, you cannot even love Susan.'
The students, led by Susan’s sister and Louise, a member of a charismatic church, engaged in loud and desperate prayers while holding Susan with one hand. Kneeling on the ground, my friends were chanting, ‘Satan, I command you to leave this woman.’ Others exhorted all ‘demons to leave in the name of Christ.’
Whenever I concentrated long enough to begin prayer, I felt some type of physical force distracting me. It was as if something was pushing down on my chest, making it very hard for me to breathe. Being a biology major at the time, I greeted this feeling with skepticism and rational explanations. I checked my pulse for signs of nervousness and wondered what could cause such a sensation. Shortness of breath is a common symptom that can mean very little or may signal the onslaught of a fatal stroke. Though I could find no cause for my chest pains, I was very scared of what was happening to me and Susan. I began to think that the demon would only attack me if I tried to pray or fight back; thus, I resigned myself to leav­ing it alone in an attempt to find peace for myself.
… The students dared Susan to read biblical passages. She choked on certain passages and could not finish the sentence ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Over and over, she repeated ‘Jesus is L..L..LL,’ often ending in profanities.
Just as suddenly as she went into the trance, Susan suddenly reappeared and claimed ‘Jesus is Lord.’ With an almost comical smile, Susan then looked up as if awakening from a deep sleep and asked, ‘Has something happened?’

Jindal ended the piece saying the experience solidified his belief in "the reality of spirits, angels and other related phenomena."

While interesting, this story hasn't been a topic of much conversation during Jindal's political career. When he was first running for governor in 2007, liberal bloggers dug up the New Oxford Review piece. The Louisiana Democratic Party announced it would run ads attacking Jindal for some of his religious writings in college — but it would leave the apparent exorcism out of it.

The story did come up in 2009 when Jindal gave the Republican response to President Obama's address to the nation. By the time Jindal was getting talked up as a potential vice presidential pick in 2012, the New Orleans Times-Picayune asked his office about it. A spokeswoman didn't respond to specific questions but released a statement from Jindal.

“I wrote a lot of stuff in high school and college,” he said at the time. “While other kids were out partying, I was reading and writing. I'm sure some of that stuff is goofy. I just hope they don't review my grade school work.”

In all of this, it's worth emphasizing that Jindal never called the experience an “exorcism.” Also, it's important to note that the Catholic Church that Jindal and 21 percent of Americans belong to embraces the practice of exorcism.

Last year, Pope Francis officially recognized the International Association of Exorcists, a group of about 200 priests who regularly perform them. The church has an official exorcism manual. Mother Teresa had an exorcism performed on her before she died. In Britain, each Catholic diocese keeps an exorcist on hand.

Jindal's experience also jibes with the beliefs of 87 percent Catholics, who said in a 2007 Pew Religion survey that angels and demons play an active role in people's lives. But a 2011 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes suggested people's views of Satan are more abstract: 82 percent of Catholics said Satan is more “a symbol of evil” than “a living being.”

In other words, this is hardly a topic that is foreign to many Americans.

But Jindal is among a minority of Catholics who have apparently participated in an exorcism; according to a 2006 Pew Global Forum Survey, only 6 percent of Catholics reported experiencing or witnessing an exorcism.