Oprah, Osteen, Gaga, or Beck? Whose Celebrity Faith Do You Relate To?

Near the end of 2011, I had heard rumors that media celebrity Oprah Winfrey was visiting the Osteen family who lead the largest church in the United States: Lakewood. Lakewood is near downtown Houston and more than 40,000 attend the worship service each Sunday which is broadcast in over 100 countries to millions. This is the megachurch of megachurches in the US (still fairly small compared to Yoido and other super-ultra-mega-churches around the world. So it makes sense that Oprah, perhaps the most influential woman of color, would spend some time to get to know what it’s like to be one of the most influential Christian figures in America today.

I watched this interview recently on Oprah’s new cable channel, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network – how cool is that for an acronym brand, no wonder she’s rich!), which emerged since she stepped down from her widely syndicated show in the spring of 2011. My sociological curiosity was piqued because Oprah herself is indirectly known for her faith which these days gets dressed up in the phrase “spirituality.” Oprah was raised in a traditional African American church and is now a fairly “inclusive Christian,” a Christian who is fairly accepting of most other religions, and sees Christianity as merely one path to an integrated spirituality (or whatever term she uses).

There was nothing that surprised me in the interview I have to say, but maybe it’s because I had read a little here and there about the Osteens and their brand of Christianity. Their messages are ones that convey [Read more...]

Those Protestant Muslims Next Door

In a previous post I talked some about the non-Christian religious diversity among Asian Americans, and I mentioned some of the research that shows that since 9/11 most white Christian Americans still know little of their non-Christian friends be they Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim. Intrepid media makers have tried to address this problem by showcasing life in one of the densely-populated Muslim American areas in the country: Dearborn, MI. The first one (which has been very helpful in the classroom) is the 30 Days experiment by Morgan Spurlock.

David Stacy in 30 Days as a Muslim

For those unfamiliar with this series, director Morgan Spurlock asked his friend David, a white evangelical Christian from West Virginia, to try to spend 30 days as a Muslim in Dearborn. His task is to 1) act according to Muslim traditions including appearance and diet, 2) study the Qur’an daily, and 3) grow a beard. [Read more...]

The Evangelical 99 Percent

A guest post by Richard Flory

Last week I spent a day at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Francisco. My entree to the event was an invitation from some colleagues who are working on an project linking theological reflection and California culture, which allowed me to get a closer look at a gathering of several hundred evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, pastors and political interlocutors–in effect, the brain trust of conservative American evangelicalism.

I went fully expecting to hear the working out of the theological and philosophical arguments that underlie the strident voices that emanate from the religious right. While there was a bit of shrill posturing (apparently some religions–one in particular–could legally be outlawed, according to one point of view), most of the sessions amounted to earnest attempts to uncover and present deeper thinking and reflection about the Christian scriptures, how Christians should live in the world and how they might have a positive influence in American culture.

I wasn’t surprised to see that most (85 percent or more) of the participants were white men. Still, there was what appeared to be a good number of blacks in attendance (in addition to a scattering of other minorities). But like the phenomenon described in the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? the non-whites gravitated toward one another in the conversations between sessions. This in itself isn’t too surprising, given the isolation that many people of color experience at evangelical colleges and seminaries, which tend to be overwhelmingly white.

Equally unsurprising was the assertion that [Read more...]

The Media and Research on Religion

Well, it looks like there is a ranking for everything. A USA today report recently ranked colleges for how well they use social media.

The report is informative, yet focused mostly on social media as outreach, rather than social media as a research tool. In the several years I  have taught undergraduate sociology of religion, I have realized that students get most of their information–including information about religion–from the internet. Although it is my job as a scholar to lead them to scholarly books and articles on religion, how can I as a scholar learn to embrace social media as a research tool for my students?  How can I teach my students about the strengths and weaknesses of using the media–including social media–as a research tool?

This year, for the first time ever, I will allow students to include newspapers, magazines, and online media in their research papers. To do so, however, they must follow several strict guidelines. First, they must only use [Read more...]


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