Kathryn LoftonOprah: The Gospel of an Icon

University of California Press, 2011

by Kristian Petersen on May 17, 2012

Kathryn Lofton

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In December of 2011, Oprah Winfrey appeared on The Dr. Oz Show to talk about her new big plans and her inspirations for the future. Oprah replied, “For me at this particular time in my life I recognize that everything is about moving closer to that which is God. And without a full, spiritual center — and I’m not talking about religion — I’m talking about without understanding the fullness from which you’ve come, you can’t really fulfill your supreme moment of destiny. And I think everybody has a supreme moment of destiny.” Oprah has been providing the path to achieve this (Aha!) moment for decades now through the rituals of contemporary consumer culture and spirituality that enable individuals to live their best life. Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religion at Yale University, cleverly unravels Oprah’s story within the broader context of American religiosity and the academic study of religion in her book Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon  (University of California Press, 2011). In this excellent work, Lofton contends that modern religion is not something distinct that we can analyze but should be conceived of as the interaction of various modalities, which are often bracketed off as “Spirituality,” “Commodity,” and “Corporatism.” In our interview we explore various topics, weaving in and out of the content of the book, covering politics, public policy, ritual, capitalism, 9/11, among many others. We also had time to discuss freq.uenci.es, a co-curated project funded by the Social Science Research Council, as well as the various reactions to the project from critics on The Immanent Frame. Lofton was a delight to talk to as you can tell from her engaging presence but for those who have not yet read the book be reassured that her personality and sharp insight shines throughout the text. It was a joy to read and there should be no wonder why she has received such a wide response by commentators.

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