Friday, February 21, 2020

James Wellman Jr., Katie Corcoran, & Kate Stockly's "High on God"

James K. Wellman Jr. is Professor and Chair of the Comparative Religion Program in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

Katie E. Corcoran is Assistant Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University.

Kate J. Stockly is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Program in Religion at Boston University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, High on God: How Megachurches Won the Heart of America, and reported the following:
On page 99, we describe how individuals desire to experience joy and ecstasy and how megachurches meet that need by helping people “hack the happy” primarily through their elaborate worship services. These services are “fields of wonder that energize and synchronize human bodies and feelings with remarkable acuity.”

The 99 page test does moderately well at identifying a core argument of the book—that megachurches meet attendees’ desire for “wow” and awe. However, a desire for wow is just one of six desires that megachurches satisfy.

This book uses the concept of homo duplex—that humans seek to be individuals but know that this is only possible in communities—to understand the success of megachurches. Thus, humans struggle in integrating these two sides of their human nature. Megachurches have been enormously successful at resolving this struggle and making people feel as if they are high on God. The affective energies and emotional valences that characterize religious ecstasy are the primary focus of this study. Empirically, humans want and desire forms of what Randall Collins calls “emotional energy.” Drawing on extensive qualitative and quantitative data on 12 nationally representative megachurches, we identify six desires that megachurches evoke and meet: acceptance, awe and spiritual stimulation, reliable leadership, deliverance, purpose, and solidarity in a community of like-minded others. Megachurches satisfy these desires through co-presence—being in the presence of other desiring people—a shared mood achieved through powerful musical worship services, a mutual focus of attention on the charismatic senior pastor who acts as an emotional charging agent, transformative altar calls, service opportunities, and small group participation. This interaction ritual chain solidifies attendees’ commitment and loyalty to the group and keeps them coming back to be recharged. Megachurches also have a dark side—they are known for their highly publicized scandals often involving the malfeasance of the senior pastor. After examining both the positive and negative sides to megachurches, we conclude that they successfully meet the desire of humans to flourish as individuals and to do so in a group.
Learn more about High on God at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue