The megachurch as a social space: a case study of exurban enclave development
London School of Economics and Political Science; Cities Pro
Last modified: June 5, 2007
Presentation date: 06/12/2007 11:45 AM in ISCTE-II B202
This paper examines contemporary social and spatial segregation through a detailed analysis of the “megachurch” as a new form of enclave development in the United States. The megachurch is presented as a major example of the segregated and enclosed spaces which characterise the exurban built environment.
Megachurches are defined as large-congregation, evangelical Christian worship centres, which, in addition to regular church services, provide their members with an extensive range of secular amenities - schooling, health and social care, sports and recreational facilities. There are currently approximately 2,000 megachurches in the United States, with a demographic profile centred on white, middle-class families. Generally located in the sprawling urban periphery of rapidly growing American cities, and housed in large multi-purpose buildings or within masterplanned campus settings, megachurches appropriate the built form of other suburban megastructures, such as shopping malls, and are largely devoid of traditional religious architecture and symbolism.
This paper suggests that the megachurch provides a Christian alternative to secular public spaces and services within a privatised civic setting, enabling exurban residents to socialise within a secure, homogenous environment. It examines the megachurch as an exclusive moral community that reinforces patterns of segregation and is furthering processes of secession and withdrawal.
Their involvement in recent Presidential elections and campaigns on conservative social issues have transformed megachurches into important political actors and, accordingly, the megachurch is also discussed as an exemplary site for the analysis of the spatial, social and political project of the American Christian Right.
The paper draws on original fieldwork conducted at two large-scale megachurch developments in the United States during 2006.