James K. Wellman, Jr., Katie E. Corcoran, and Kate J. Stockly
High on God
How Megachurches Won the Heart of America
Oxford University Press 2020
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Christian StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network February 13, 2020 Will Sipling
In the United States, the number of megachurches increased from 350 in 1990 to over 1,600 in 2011 with that number continuing to grow exponentially in subsequent years. By 2015, a Hartford Institute for Religion Research study showed that over five million people were attending services at a megachurch weekly which accounts for 50 percent of all American churchgoers.
High on God: How Megachurches Won the Heart of America (Oxford University Press, 2020) by James K. Wellman Jr., Katie E. Corcoran, and Kate J. Stockly, is the first book to delve into why these churches have conquered the churchgoing market of America. Based on nearly 300 transcripts of focus groups and interviews, High on God highlights a commonality in the way attendees liken their religious experiences to that of a drug addiction. Using French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s concept of homo duplex, the authors plot the structures that megachurches employ to satisfy the core human craving for personal meaning and social integration, as well as personal identity and communal solidarity.
High on God is an honest account of the positive role megachurches play on bonding people together to lead lives of integrity, community, and responsibility. This book challenges the megachurch skeptics and shares insight into the experiences attendees have had and tells the history of this church model through present-day.
Jim Wellman highlights these elements in this interview. Dr. Wellman is Professor and Chair of the Comparative Religion Program in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Wellman’s publications include an award-winning book, The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto: Christ and Culture in Mainline Protestantism and Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest; edited volumes: Belief and Bloodshed: Religion and Violence Across Time and Tradition, and Religion and Human Security: A Global Perspective.
Will Sipling is currently an independent scholar, with published research on religion and psychology, liturgical studies, and Frankfurt School social theory. He was previously a fellow of the Department of Catholic Studies and the Thomas J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) while earning a master’s degree. Will previously studied at Dallas Theological Seminary, writing a thesis on sacramental and liturgical theology. You can follow his work at williamsipling.com or at @WSipling.
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