Oprah Turns Rituals Into a ‘Religion’

Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 2, 2002

Sitting atop a media mountain named for her, Oprah Winfrey has become prophet, guru, and high priestess of a new kind of “religion.”

Since 1998, when Oprah — as we must surely call her — changed from the Sally-Maury-Montel brand of talk show into “Change Your Life Television,” she has dished out maxims such as “behave your way to success” and “live your best life,” ending each show with two-minute spots titled “Remember Your Spirit.”

And she has laid out a process towards spiritual enlightenment with set patterns and practices — what religion scholars call rituals, scholar Kathryn Lofton said Friday at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Salt Lake City.

The most common rituals in the religion of Oprah are reading, writing and buying, said Lofton, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Every issue of O magazine provides a calendar scrawled with inspirational quotations or earnest advice. One might, for example, practice “open” listening (no interruptions, no judgments).

The calendar gives women a road map to reclaim their lives, Lofton said, and it’s even printed with a solid line to cut it out and post on the refrigerator.

Recommended reading comes next.

Even after the decline of Oprah’s talk show book club, the magazine continues to suggest fiction and nonfiction works under the rubric, “Books That Made a Difference.”

Oprah’s Web site offers reading guides to her monthly picks, Lofton said, kind of like a Sunday school syllabus.

The site also recommends the best place, clothes and even pillows to give the “read” the maximum in “transformative power.”

“Reading is a practice, encouraged to be regular, strategic and situational,” Lofton said.

Next is journal writing, essential to awareness.

Oprah suggests that people keep six different journals: a daily journal for thoughts, a gratitude journal, the Spa Girls journal for an exercise regimen, a discovery journal, a health journal and the “create your own journal” journal.

Last comes the buying ritual.

Deluxe footwear, beauty products, gourmet snacks and containers for things you never thought needed containment (perhaps a bag for airplane slippers) are among the items Oprah recommends, Lofton said.

At the heart of Oprah practices, she said, “are self-indulgence and relaxed reflection.”

If these rituals are followed, well, religiously, Oprah promises new heights of spiritual accomplishment and self-discovery.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday November 4, 2002.
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