Sacred Subdivisions

Sacred Subdivisions: The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism

Justin G. Wilford
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 233
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  • Book Info
    Sacred Subdivisions
    Book Description:

    In an era where church attendance has reached an all-time low, recent polling has shown that Americans are becoming less formally religious and more promiscuous in their religious commitments. Within both mainline and evangelical Christianity in America, it is common to hear of secularizing pressures and increasing competition from nonreligious sources. Yet there is a kind of religious institution that has enjoyed great popularity over the past thirty years: the evangelical megachurch. Evangelical megachurches not only continue to grow in number, but also in cultural, political, and economic influence. To appreciate their appeal is to understand not only how they are innovating, but more crucially, where their innovation is taking place. In this groundbreaking and interdisciplinary study, Justin G. Wilford argues that the success of the megachurch is hinged upon its use of space: its location on the postsuburban fringe of large cities, its fragmented, dispersed structure, and its focus on individualized spaces of intimacy such as small group meetings in homes, which help to interpret suburban life as religiously meaningful and create a sense of belonging. Based on original fieldwork at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, one of the largest and most influential megachurches in America, Sacred Subdivisions explains how evangelical megachurches thrive by transforming mundane secular spaces into arenas of religious significance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0830-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 Introduction Postdenominational Evangelicalism, Saddleback Church, and the Postsuburbs
    (pp. 1-20)

    Orange County, California, has a contradictory reputation. It is known simultaneously as the home of insular, conservative retirees (Richard Nixon being the most famous) and also as the setting for the shallow, plastic libertines of the reality television seriesThe Real Housewives of Orange County.It is considered to be a high-tech hub for computers, military technology, and industrial design while also a center for major global surf and skate retailers. It is as straight-laced and traditional as it is laid-back and iconoclastic.

    On many warm, sunny Sunday afternoons in south Orange County, this contradiction can be seen in the...

  7. 2 Sacred Archipelagos: Spaces of Secularization
    (pp. 21-43)

    Incorporating secularization theory into an explanation of the popularity of American evangelicalism might seem counterintuitive and hopelessly out of fashion. It is an obviously odd choice because secularization is most commonly thought to refer to the decline of religious practice. In this present study of one of the most successful and influential religious movements in the United States, secularization theory would seem to offer very little. But it is even stranger still because many observers in the social sciences believe that secularization as a historical process has been thoroughly discredited. In sociology and anthropology, secularization is démodé, while in geography...

  8. 3 Sacred Scenes: Postsuburbia and Evangelical Performance
    (pp. 44-70)

    If secularization implies a de-fused and fragmented socio-spatial environment for religious action, then what sort of analytical advantage is gained by the concept of performance? For proponents of the religious market approach, performance tells us little more than do the concepts of “marketing,” “responsiveness,” or “adaptation.” In this latter view, the relationship between suppliers and consumers of “ religious goods” is straightforward. From Roger Finke and Laurence R. Iannacone’s assertion that “a particular religious firm will flourish only if it provides a product at least as attractive as its competitors”¹ to Shayne Lee and Phillip Sinitiere’s use of the metaphors...

  9. 4 Purpose Driven Pluralities: Variety, Consumption, and Choice in Postdenominational Evangelicalism
    (pp. 71-88)

    Much has been made of Warren’s opening sentence in his mega-best-sellerPurpose Driven Life.“It’s not about you,” he writes. “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness.”¹ It is one of the first things mentioned by journalists and academics alike when writing about the book and Warren’s rise to fame.² In addition, it has spawned a cottage industry of evangelical self-help books that purport to downplay the self.³ But in fact the design of the postdenominational evangelical megachurch is carefully crafted to meet the highly differentiated,...

  10. 5 Purpose Driven Places: Small Performances in Big Churches
    (pp. 89-113)

    To know Saddleback Church is to belong to a Saddleback small group. On a warm early evening in August, I idled my car in front of a well-kept, classical suburban “snout house.” I was parked across the street, directly opposite the house’s three-car garage. The front door was tucked well behind the garage and only slightly behind a modest living room window, curtains drawn. No other cars were parked nearby, but I was sure this was the house where the small group was hosted. It was 7: 00 p. m., and the meeting should be starting now.¹

    A little after...

  11. 6 Purpose Driven Planet: The Globalization of Evangelical Postsuburbia
    (pp. 114-134)

    The evangelical performance of postsuburban space is tied to the materiality and symbolism of the home, the individual body, the mall, the office park, the freeway, and the patchwork, differentiated postsuburban landscape. But it is also tied to the symbolic materialities that undergird identity-boundary distinctions such as us/them, suburb/city, south (Orange) county/north (Orange) county, America/the world, and First-World/Third-World. Each of these binary distinctions are commonplace heuristics for Saddleback members to locate themselves within the Los Angeles metropolitan region and the world as a whole.¹

    In the various Saddleback performances of postsuburbia (in sermons, programs, literature, church websites, training courses, and...

  12. 7 Purpose Driven Politics: The Saddleback Civil Forum and the New Civility of Evangelism
    (pp. 135-161)

    Given that the previous generation of American megachurch leaders included some famously political firebrands like Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, it is curious that Warren’s cohort is largely apolitical. The names Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, and Andy Stanley have no resonance in American politics, yet are household names in American evangelicalism. How is it that, despite the nearly unbreakable bond between American political conservatism and American evangelicalism, PDE churches are so relatively unpoliticized?

    The answer can be found by looking into recent forays into American politics by Warren and Saddleback Church. What we find is not the older religious politics...

  13. 8 Conclusion: Assembling Places of Fusion, De-fusion, and Diffusion in the Postsuburban Landscape
    (pp. 162-168)

    My research project began with the assumption that the modern world has been undergoing a process of secularization for some time and that vibrant, growing and non-immigrant religious communities were bucking the trend by accessing some religious/affective energies that shrinking or stagnant religious communities could not or would not access. This is both implicitly and explicitly argued in several excellent recent analyses of American evangelicalism.¹ But as a geographer I wondered if this unique store of religious energy (produced, some argue, through a confluence of discursive and material practices) was connected to the spaces and places ordered, built, and occupied...

    (pp. 169-172)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 173-200)
    (pp. 201-216)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 217-219)
    (pp. 220-220)