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Sacred Subdivisions

The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism

Justin Wilford

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

List of Figures

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p. ix

List of Tables

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p. xi

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p. xiii

This book would not have happened without the many different kinds of help I received. My wife, Audra, provided me encouragement, criticism, inspiration, and resources from the beginning to the end of this project. I could not have written this book without her. At the University of California–Los Angeles, Nick Entrikin, John Agnew, Nick Howe, and Tristan Sturm ...

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1. Introduction: Postdenominational Evangelicalism, Saddleback Church, and the Postsuburbs

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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 series The 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 ...

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2. Sacred Archipelagos: Spaces of Secularization

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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 ...

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3. Sacred Scenes: Postsuburbia and Evangelical Performance

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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 ...

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4. Purpose Driven Pluralities: Variety, Consumption, and Choice in Postdenominational Evangelicalism

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pp. 71-88

Much has been made of Warren’s opening sentence in his mega-best-seller Purpose 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 ...

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5. Purpose Driven Places: Small Performances in Big Churches

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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 ...

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6. Purpose Driven Planet: The Globalization of Evangelical Postsuburbia

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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 ...

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7. Purpose Driven Politics: The Saddleback Civil Forum and the New Civility of Evangelism

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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 ...

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8. Conclusion: Assembling Spaces of Fusion, De-fusion, and Diffusion in the Postsuburban Landscape

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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 ...


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pp. 169-171


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pp. 173-199


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pp. 201-215


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pp. 217-219

About the Author

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p. 220

E-ISBN-13: 9780814708309
E-ISBN-10: 081472535X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814725351
Print-ISBN-10: 081472535X

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 815281424
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sacred Subdivisions

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Church history -- 21st century.
  • Church growth -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
  • Evangelicalism -- United States -- History -- 21st century
  • Saddleback Valley Community Church (Mission Viejo, Calif.).
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