Cover image for Baring our souls : TV talk shows and the religion of recovery
Baring our souls : TV talk shows and the religion of recovery
Lowney, Kathleen S.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Aldine de Gruyter, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 159 pages ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
1200 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library PN1992.8.T3 L68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Television talk shows are a modern phenomenon, but their roots go back to the itinerant circuses and religious revivals of the nineteenth century. Circuses made their money by displaying freaks, just as talk shows emphasie only the deviant aspects of their guests lives. And like the revivalists of old, talk show hosts such as Oprah Winfrey and Montel Williams attempt to convert their guests through healing powers. Baring Our Souls probes the roots of the genre in the religion of recovery, and holds it up to the scrutiny of sociological inquiry. Lowney examines the consequences for public discourse about social problems when the media usurp the dialogue by psychologiing the social. This will be a welcome supplementary text in courses in social problems, media, and civil religion.

Author Notes

Kathleen S. Lowney is a Professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Dr. Lowney has published on kudzu, Satanism, the Unification Church, teaching about families, and social theory.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Lowney (sociology, Valdosta State Univ.) sees daytime talk shows as a highly moralistic but ultimately unsatisfactory form of religion. Based on a study of 325 shows, including Oprah Winfrey, Sally Jesse Raphael, Jerry Springer, and others, Lowney sees the "salvation" model, i.e., where victims are comforted and victimizers converted on the air, as coming to dominate the genre. Her thesis is that "modern talk shows combine elements of religious revivals and circuses, in the name of the civil religion of recovery." She sees the recovery movement as a therapeutic civil religion pervading American culture, spread especially by talk shows. Lowney argues that the movement's central premise is that one should help oneself to do what one wants and feel good about it. She finds this wholly inadequate to deal with problems that come from the social structure rather than from individual abuse. This study makes talk shows more interesting than they may first appear as subjects for religious analysis. This reviewer wished that Lowney had provided more empirical data about the audience for these shows compared to those who participate in conventional religious observance, and found her conclusions about the shows' antisocial moralism too pat. General readers; undergraduates. B. Weston; Centre College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
1 New Wine, Old Wineskins: Talk Shows as a Genrep. 1
Nervousness, Shame, and Critics: What People Are Saying about TV Talk Showsp. 3
Yes Virginia, there Is Morality on Daytime Talk Shows: Explaining the Present by Looking to the Pastp. 7
Secular Fun: The Circus as Entertainmentp. 9
Turning Away from Sin: Religious Revivals as Opportunities for Conversionp. 12
Come Watch with Me Under the Electronic Tent: TV Talk Shows as Circus and Revivalp. 15
What Kind of Morality is the Religion of Recovery?p. 19
Outline of the Bookp. 21
Notesp. 24
2 Telling Tales: Testifying to Trials and Tribulationsp. 27
Preparations: Back Stage at Talk Showsp. 28
Opening Framesp. 32
Stagingp. 36
Talk Shows and Social Problems Work: Producing Peoplep. 39
Notesp. 57
3 Breaking with the Past: The Moment of Conversionp. 61
Words of Change: Conversion Discoursep. 64
Conversion Roles: Seekers and Victimizersp. 70
Conversion Roles: Experts and Ex-esp. 80
Notesp. 86
4 Recovery Rules: The Beliefs of Recovery Religionp. 89
Freedom to be Me: Valuation of Self Over Societyp. 94
Family: The Ties That Bindp. 97
Emotional Scars Run Deepp. 102
Healing Takes Helpp. 105
Hooked On Being Hookedp. 106
Notesp. 108
5 From Whence Cometh "Salvation"? The Roots of Recovery Religionp. 111
The First Root: Medicine, Religion, and the Right to Define Deviancep. 113
The Second Root: "Medicine-Lite"--The Growth of Alcoholics Anonymous, New Practitioners and the Emergence of Codependencyp. 120
The Third Root: Turning Inward, Albeit in Many Formsp. 128
Recovery Sellsp. 133
Notesp. 134
6 Morality for Whom? Problems with Recovery Religion as Moral Code and Public Discoursep. 139
Of the Self, For the Self and By the Self: The Absence of Real Community in The Recovery Movementp. 143
Help Yourself But Not Othersp. 145
Notesp. 149
Referencesp. 151
Indexp. 157

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