*For years, people have tried to figure out exactly what Oprah’s religious or spiritual beliefs are, let alone, define the kind of followers who subscribe to her philosophies.
The New York Time’s Mark Oppenheimer reported that “The Oprah Winfrey Show” ended almost two weeks ago, bringing despair to booksellers who relied on her book club, television programmers who needed her ratings, and religion scholars who for a decade have tried explaining how this child of poverty became the leader of a worldwide cult. They have worked just as hard to define that cult, which is at once Christian and pantheistic, African-American in origin but global in reach.
The scholars found conflicting sources of Ms. Winfrey’s spirituality. It began, but definitely does not end, with the black church of her youth. In her 2003 book, “Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery,” Eva Illouz, a sociologist, quotes Ms. Winfrey as saying: “Since I was three and a half, I’ve been coming up in the church speaking. I did all of the James Weldon Johnson sermons” — Mr. Johnson being the poet whose “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse” was published in 1927. “I used to do them for churches all over the city of Nashville,” Ms. Winfrey said.
Dr. Illouz, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, found that elements of the black church, like its emotionality and focus on justice, “pervade ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ which has taken on the vocation of relieving a multiplicity of forms of suffering through the use of speech infused with the rhetorical style of black preachers.”
While respecting Ms. Winfrey’s use of her Christian heritage, Dr. Illouz ultimately concluded that the talk-show host might be something of a false prophet. That is because, she said, Ms. Winfrey and her cadre of self-help experts treated suffering as something beneficial. Ms. Winfrey turned the black church’s ethos of self-reliance in the face of suffering into an exaltation of suffering itself.
Read more at Nytimes.com.