cover image High on God: How Megachurches Won the Heart of America

High on God: How Megachurches Won the Heart of America

James Wellman Jr., Katie Corcoran, and Kate Stockly. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (344p) ISBN 978-0-19-982771-8

Religion professor Wellman Jr., sociologist Corcoran, and religion PhD candidate Stockly productively fuse several disciplines to deconstruct the success story of American megachurches in this crucial, wide-ranging work. The authors make clear from the outset that they will not be concentrating on religious belief, as many observers of religion do, but rather on human emotion and its dynamics, which megachurches successfully tap into with their song-filled worship. They then go step-by-step through features of megachurch culture, including the presence of a charismatic leader and outreach projects that “have the dual goal of serving a community need and evangelizing or saving souls.” A detailed appendix draws on brain research to look at the biochemistry behind religious ritual, which directly informs the title metaphor of being “high on God.” The authors’ analysis is complicated and won’t be easy going for general reader, but those who have familiarity with major sociological thinkers will find much to chew on. Extensive interviews with megachurch members and other detailed research strengthens the authors’ case. This pivotal book provides groundbreaking analysis of the motivating social behaviors within megachurches and will certainly ignite conversation among religion scholars. (Feb.)