Oprah is a compelling object for the scholarly study of religion as a contemporary phenomenon. She is mass-mediated, commercial, and famous—and spiritual, if by that we mean something that is not encompassed by the institutional structure of an organized religion, but that belongs nonetheless to the domain of the academic study of “religion.” People consume, consult, and adore Oprah on a daily basis. In a word, she’s an icon. This is the term that Kathryn Lofton uses to describe Oprah, and it’s an appropriate choice, because it simultaneously alludes to religious imagery and popular branding, to sacred economies and the commercial market of media products. And the allusions are not mutually contradictory.Read the rest of Spirituality, mediation, consumption.
David Morgan is Professor of Religion at Duke University. Author of The Lure of Images (2007), The Sacred Gaze (2005), Visual Piety (1998), and Protestants and Pictures (1999), Morgan has also edited and co-edited several volumes, including Key Words in Religion, Media, and Culture (2008) and Religious Material Culture: The Matter of Belief (2009). Morgan is an editor of the journal Material Religion and co-editor of a book series at Routledge entitled "Religion, Media, Culture." He is currently working on a book entitled The Embodied Eye. Read David Morgan's contribution to New Media and the reshaping of religious practice.
Posts by David Morgan:
American civil religion has taken several forms. One type is preoccupied with national cohesion, claiming that the bonds by which the nation coheres are strengthened through the common observance of non-sectarian devotion centered in the sacralization of the nation’s cause. Another approach focuses less on coherence than on what directs citizens to a higher aim, that is, the ideal to which the nation is dedicated. This approach asserts that civil liberties and social justice will thrive when a broadly shared, minimally coercive, and civilly invested set of practices and symbols inculcates moral self-government. God and sacred texts have played a key role in the definition of all versions of American civil religion. But in light of the growth of unbelief documented in recent social surveys, I would like to ask if, in order for any such religion to be effective, it must be grounded in the transcendence of a deity. In other words, must an American civil religion espouse a deity in order to be compelling and effective, however its purpose is conceived?Read the rest of The social body of belief.
A nation is not an indifferent condition for the happiness and social relatedness of its citizens, but serves as a kind of habitus for them, shaping and being shaped by discourse and practice. The following reflections propose that two key elements of the American project form rudimentary aspects of the national imaginary, the collective resource for the conception and practice of nationhood. These are exceptionalism and civil religion. The two are deeply interwoven. I propose to define them and to parse their relationship in the American case. To begin with a familiar claim: at the heart of the American project is the bracing promise of starting anew and the conviction that doing so is possible, that citizens are able to clean the slate of old debts, bad ideas, and the burden of inherited injustices. It would be nice if matters were that simple, but of course they are not.Read the rest of Liberty and liberty together.