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MegaChurch, and/or an Ecology of Dispossession

Internal mega-church

MegaChurch, and/or an Ecology of Dispossession?
Two lectures on Capitalism & Religiosity

Claire Blencowe (Sociology, University of Warwick)
David Stark (Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick)

Tuesday June 4, 2019 16:00 - 18:00
University of Warwick (OC 0.04)

Co-hosted by CIM and Sociology (University of Warwick)

Please join us for two lectures by David Stark and Claire Blencowe on the relations between new forms of capitalism and religiosity. Can Max's Weber's classic work on the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism help us understand the rise of new evangelical movements, or "megachurches"? Do the new forms and practices of popular Christianity point to the limits of this most classic of sociological theories? These and related questions will be addressed by the two lectures, with discussion and a reception to follow.

Revisiting the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in Oklahoma City

David Stark (Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick) with Nancy Warner

Lights dimmed, spotlights glaring, stroboscopic effects, and loud rock music. The camera on a large boom arm swings toward the audience who can now see themselves, clapping and cheering, displayed on one of the enormous screens above the stage. The warm-up act is over and the headline performer bounds onto the set amidst frenzied applause. We are at LIFE.CHURCH, one of several Oklahoma City megachurches studied for this project.

Non-denominational, evangelical megachurches are the fastest growing segment of religious affiliation in the United States. Life.Church is the largest such megachurch. For any given “experience” on a Sunday morning or evening or Saturday or Wednesday, in every one of the 27 affiliated LIFE.CHURCH “campuses,” the message on screen will be that of Pastor Craig Groeschel. Victory Church and People’s Church are simliarly multi- sited. How can one be pastoral to a flock of tens of thousands? But then why should that metaphor be meaningful in the age of agribusiness? “We don’t have a membership list,” says Pastor Dale at Victory Church, “we have a database.”

Puritanical Spirits and the Political Ecology of Dispossession

Claire Blencowe (Sociology, University of Warwick)

Weber’s Protestant work ethic thesis has gained a new traction. The explosion of charismatic Evangelical churches in recent decades has broadly paralleled a new phase in the life of capital, associated with neoliberal structural reform, global finance and the attendant intensification of inequality. At the same time, the post-secular turn in welfare and development coalesces with growing Islamophobia and denigration of African ‘tradition’ to renew old associations between Western civilisation, economic development, and Protestant Christianity. As events draw us back to foundational theories of sociology, this paper asks after the politics of the debate itself, highlighting the imbrication of Weber’s protestant work ethic thesis in Anglo-Imperialism and cultural racism. Further, the paper asks how we might re-think these questions in the present without giving further traction to Weberian cultural racism – proposing that a key strategy is to re-centre colonial dispossession and differentiation in our narratives of capitalism and religion (pace Wynter; Federici; Cooper; Venn). To this end, the paper seeks to situate the puritanical spirits of contemporary charismatic renewal within a neoliberal political ecology of ‘expanded dispossession’ (Simpson) and ‘experimental authoritarianism’ (Kapoor).




Claire Blencowe is Associate Professor in Sociology at Warwick, specialising in social theory. Her publications include work on theorising biopolitics and biopolitical racism in relation to changing structures of experience and authority - primarily set out in Biopolitical Experience: Foucault Power & Positive Critique. They also include as a series of collaborative projects and publications on contemporary forms and problematics of authority production, particularly relating to participatory methodologies, such as Authority, Experience and the Life of Power, Problems of Participation, Problems of Hope. She is currently working on the renewed political interest in religion, political spirtuality and desecularisation as these relate to colonial histories, feminist practice, and the pasts and presents of ecological destruction under racial captialism. A first publication in this area is 'Ecological Attunement in a Theological Key: Adventures in Anti-fascist Aesthetics' GeoHumanities.

David Stark is Professor of Social Science at the University of Warwick and also Professor of Sociology at Columbia University where he directs the Center on Organizational Innovation. He is the author of several books including The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life (Princeton University Press 2011). Stark has published numerous prize-winning articles in scholarly journals such as the American Journal of Sociology, and his opinion pieces for a general audience have appeared in outlets such as The New York Times. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and other awards and grants, he was born and raised in Oklahoma.

Holy spirit

Image credits: all photographs by Nancy Warner