There is a miracle in your mouth: bodily dis/orientation and belief inside the American Megachurch
I excavate the site of the Evangelical megachurch, exploring how belief is cultivated, sustained and lost through its relationship to a sense of bodily orientation. I examine how the narrative of Evangelicalism is mediated through its visual and material culture to dis/orient the believing body, foregrounding the centrality of mythic narratives for how we exist as individuals and communities in the world. This research is channeled into experimental writing that performs dis/orientations, highlighting dis/belief as a bodily phenomenon.
Within the immersive space of the megachurch, defined as a church with more than 2,000 in weekly attendance but with a significant proportion globally reaching the tens and hundreds of thousands, bodily experiences range along a spectrum from fixity to a dizzying freedom. Charismatic preaching relayed over multiple screens combines with emotive music to create a charged atmosphere, enthralling vast crowds of worshippers with a message of certainty.
Taking bodily orientation as key to belief formation, I focus on the specific site of North America’s largest megachurch, Lakewood, based in Houston (Texas) to which up to 52,000 congregants gather weekly. Drawing on narratology, philosophy, history and sociological and anthropological research into the megachurch and my own experiences of past involvement in Evangelicalism, I write Evangelicalism as a grounding, consoling story that underpins a boundaried but expanding global community against a backdrop of increasing precarity. Houston is a city with high pollution rates, the world’s largest petro-chemical complex and disproportionate levels of subsidence and flooding. The propagation of a success narrative of health and wealth at Lakewood, emphasising comfort and consolation, consolidates an inherent passivity within US Evangelicalism at large towards climactic crisis. Additionally, white Evangelicalism has been historically entangled with Republicanism and is currently failing to address a growing proto-fascism, a form of Christian nationalism that intersects with its culture. Utilising a method of liquid navigations in the writing, informed by a practice of floating and new materialist thought, both analytical and performative texts cross disciplines, materialities, belief orientations and sites in order to highlight the contingency of belief on a bodily entanglement with site, and to disrupt the solidity and simplicity of the Evangelical narrative. I write the megachurch as a sentient body vulnerable to the destabilisations of extreme weather events, thinking it’s homogenous culture anew and reorienting it away from a sky-bound imaginary toward an earth-bound mysticism.
Prof. Michael Newman/ Prof. Kristen Kreider
Dr Bridget Crone