ISR News & Events

The Many Lives of Psalm 91

October 11, 2023 @ 9:30 am – 4:30 pm
Lewis-Birkhead Lecture Hall in the Armstrong Browning Library

For over two thousand years, Jews and Christians alike have made Psalm 91 one of the most commonly used and cited parts of the Bible. Depending on the era, Psalm 91 is protective; it is triumphalist; it is messianic; it is millenarian and apocalyptic; it is therapeutic. It has shaped theories of politics and government. In different ages, it has borne many different names: the Song of Evil Spirits, the Soldier’s Psalm, and most broadly, the Protection Psalm. As the Song of Plagues, it has gained a whole new relevance in an age of global pandemic. Indeed, a biography of Psalm 91 is also a history of critical themes in Western religion.

In the New Testament, Satan himself quotes the psalm, and ever since, that text has both reflected and shaped changing concepts of evil and the demonic. It can be read as a lesson in exalted monotheistic theology, but it was and is used for magical purposes, including for exorcism and demon-fighting. As threats have evolved in various societies, so interpretations of Psalm 91 have developed to accommodate each new reality.

In this seminar, organized by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR), we will see how this one short text maps ideas about religion and the supernatural as they have developed over time. We will touch on issues of theology, biblical studies, liturgy, war, the environment, pandemics, and spiritual healing.


9:30am – 10:00am: Introduction and Themes (Philip Jenkins)

10:00am – 11:00am: ‘Middever baofel yahalokh’: Psalm 91, Pandemics, and Divine Protection (Jeff Levin)

11:00am – 11:15am: Break

11:15am – 12:15am: A Contestation of Power: The Amalgamation of Metaphor and Meaning in Psalm 91 (W. Dennis Tucker)

Lunch Break

1:30pm – 2:30pm: Under the Wings of Incarnate Wisdom: Augustine on Christ, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare (Alex Fogleman)

2:45pm – 4:00pm: How Psalm 91 Became a Global Christian Text (Philip Jenkins)

4:00pm – 4:30pm: General Discussion and Wrap-Up

About The Speakers

Alex Fogleman is a historian of early Christian theology and educational institutions, particularly catechesis. He presently serves as Research Project Manager in ISR; and as Director of the Institute for the Renewal of Christian Catechesis. His book Knowledge, Faith, and Early Christian Initiation is shortly to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Philip Jenkins is a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, where he serves in ISR. His most recent book is He Will Save You from the Deadly Pestilence: The Many Lives of Psalm 91 (Oxford University Press, 2023).

Jeff Levin holds a distinguished chair at Baylor University, where he is University Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health, Professor of Medical Humanities, and Director of the Program on Religion and Population Health at ISR. He has authored or edited nearly 250 publications, including eleven books, most recently Religion and Medicine: A History of the Encounter Between Humanity’s Two Greatest Institutions (Oxford University Press, 2020).

W. Dennis Tucker is Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary. He directs the Baylor University-Universität Münster Research Cluster on the Book of Psalms, and serves as series editor for He also serves as series editor for The Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible. He is the author of Constructing and Deconstructing Power in Psalms 107-150 (Society of Biblical Literature, 2014)