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High on God

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High on God

How Megachurches Won the Heart of America

Oxford UP,

15 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Megachurches infuse American culture and politics while providing much needed social connections.

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Analytical
  • Concrete Examples


Prolific religion author and professor James Wellman Jr., and academics Katie Corcoran and Kate Stockly, all from Washington University, examined 12 American megachurches and interviewed church members. They found that even though a few charismatic church leaders have made negative headlines, most megachurches provide a warm, supportive environment. The authors report that the churches’ theatrical shows full of sound, light and energy generate an anchoring emotional impact. They explore both theology and sociology to paint an intriguing portrait which may surprise skeptics. 


Megachurches have surged in popularity because they fulfill human needs.

American megachurches exemplify how people define their religious needs and beliefs. The founder of the sociology of religion, Emile Durkheim, posited that opposing forces drive people: the search for individuality and the search for community. The success of megachurches exemplifies the concept of homo duplex, since they try to balance these two opposing elements.

In the midst of a religious experience, people generate “emotional energy” which they share with other attendees at an exhilarating service. That provides a “drug-like” experience that allows people to feel unified in a community and accepted as an individual at the same time.

Author James Wellman Jr., a professor of religion, attended all five services at a megachurch one Sunday while researching the megachurch phenomenon. Approximately 12,000 people attended the services. While the majority were “youthful,” the attendees were surprisingly racially and ethnically diverse. The church, a converted warehouse, had a professional sound and light system with huge mounted screens. ...

About the Authors

James K. Wellman Jr. chairs the Comparative Religion Program in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington where Katie Corcoran is an assistant professor of sociology and Kate J. Stockly is a candidate for a PhD in religion. Wellman also wrote Evangelical vs. Liberal, Rob Bell and a New American Christianity and Belief and Bloodshed, among other titles.

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