After twenty-five years of stunning triumph, Oprah Winfrey plans to end her talk show in September. For some time, Christian critics have warned that Oprah is a cultic religious figure. But Kathryn Lofton’s new book, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, helps us understand, both more broadly and more precisely, what the Oprah phenomenon says about America’s therapeutic spirituality. Lofton’s book dissects modern American society via analysis of the Oprah machine. Much of religious studies writing these days confounds the reader with purposeless jargon, but Lofton exemplifies the potential of religious studies by riffing on what the ‘O’ means in our culture, in which purchasing and consuming the right products has become inextricably spiritual, and our supposed path to the fulfilled life.

Lofton’s prose is compelling; the effect of the book is like an avalanche. In reading Oprah, I kept stumbling over sentences so carefully wrought that I needed to stop and think. This is not to say that Oprah is an easy or entertaining read. But if you read it, you won’t think about the connection between religion and consumer culture the same way again.

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