|Professor's Book Examines Balance Between Self Interest and Religion in Hollywood Church
November 07, 2008
How do Hollywood-focused churchgoers resolve the tensions between holiness and the pursuit of fame and profit? Davidson College sociologist Gerardo Marti answers that question in his new book, Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church.
|Assistant Professor Gerardo Marti|
Marti spent one year attending Oasis Christian Center, a movie house-turned church in the heart of Hollywood. A large majority of its members work in the Hollywood entertainment industry.
He conducted 50 formal and informal interviews in the course of his study and was impressed by the members’ vitality of religion. “I really wanted to see what accounted for that,” said Marti.
Marti used stories, anecdotes, and quotes from normal, everyday members in his book to illustrate how members viewed the world of entertainment.
Marti summarized his findings in his conclusion: “At Oasis, self-advancement becomes a form of community advancement, pushing forward sacred, moral imperatives… They stop seeing the entertainment industry as an avenue for personal success and see greater potential for their lives and work.”
He continued, “They see their role as ambassadors for God wherever they are; whether they’re an extra on set or a movie producer, they are actively making the world a better place through their work.”
He describes Oasis as interpersonal and interactional, a place where members are exalted as “champions of life.” It is this emphasis on the individual integrated into a vibrant moral community that Marti believes strengthens its attenders. “The sign hanging in the worship center reads ‘Welcome Home,’ and that sense is definitely there,” he said.
He emphasized that his findings at Oasis can be applied to many jobs where self-promotion is central to success. This is not only true in publishing, music, and politics but increasingly in all forms of work involving sales, expert knowledge, or creative artistry. According to Marti, “About thirty percent of the modern work force belongs to this emerging ‘creative class.’”
Marti originally planned to study how the church maintained its high levels of racial diversity, a topic he first explored at another L.A. church in his book A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church. He credits his first book with leading him to his second.
“I started to research Oasis as a black/white congregation, a rare place that bridges the racial divide. However, I couldn’t explain these happenings without first researching the congregation’s relationship with Hollywood,” he said.
Marti believes Oasis can stand as an example for other churches across America that face similar challenges of integrating self-promotion and worship.
“We live in a society where we are more and more dependent on ourselves, which forces us to reconsider how religion operates,” he said. “Religion that is ego affirming has greater resonance than narrow programming within churches.”
But, to Marti, that is not enough. He observed, “Individualism exists within a call for generosity and self-sacrifice as every person is viewed as a conduit for God to accomplish his purposes on earth. Hope for personal success is transformed in the church into an overall mission to change the world.”
Marti grew up in Southern California, and he completed his dissertation at the University of Southern California. He credits the inventive religious atmosphere of Southern California with leading him to his research interests. He cited unique religious opportunities that grew out of the area, such as the rise of several prominent mega churches as well as Campus Crusade for Christ, which was founded at UCLA and is now an international, interdenominational Christian organization. “I assumed it was normal,” he said. “In fact, it’s actually exceptional and influential for the rest of American religious life.”
His research is also facilitated by Davidson College, where he has taught since 2004. “Davidson is a wonderful environment with very bright students, intimate interaction, and kind colleagues,” said Marti.
He enjoys incorporating his research into his teaching. In fact, he worked through ideas for his book with his students in his course called “Sociology and Hollywood,” and he thanks some of his students in the book’s acknowledgements. One student took the picture that turned into the book’s cover — an image of an imitation “Hollywood star” installed at the Oasis center. It is imprinted with “Jesus Christ, Son of God,” where a celebrity’s name and occupation are printed on the real Hollywood stars.
Marti is currently on sabbatical at Rice University in Texas, where he is working on two new projects. First, he is writing a book to be published by Oxford University Press that examines how worship works in racially diverse congregations. Secondly, he is preparing for another ethnography on the formation of political identity in churches. Marti will return to Davidson this December, and will resume teaching in the fall of 2009.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz