Oprah is marking her 60th birthday, and she certainly has plenty to celebrate. The entertainer has built a veritable empire around her unique brand of wellness-based personal growth made famous by her self-titled talk show.
Though she rarely speaks explicitly about religion -- at least her own -- Oprah is without a doubt a spiritual figure for many. Christianity Today called Oprah a "postmodern priestess," and others have noted the spiritual influence she has had on her audience over the years.
Oprah's magnetism is no coincidence. Named after Biblical figure Orpah (though she changed the spelling to make it easier to pronounce), Oprah recited speeches at church as young as three years old. As she once described in an interview:
I would do "Jesus rose on Easter Day, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, all the angels did proclaim." And all the sisters sitting in the front row would fan themselves and turn to my grandmother and say, "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted." And I heard that enough that I started to believe it. Maybe I am.
Short of reciting Bible verses, Oprah's language is still distinctly spiritual and distinctly inspired. She has on several occasions declared her Christian faith, in one 'Lifeclass' episode reportedly saying, "I am a Christian. That is my faith." In that same episode, Winfrey pointed her favorite Bible passage: “My favorite Bible verse—because I am Christian—is Acts 17:28. It says, ‘In God I live and move and have my being’.”
For the most part, though, Oprah opts for more general language, and it's possible her audience has been as large and as enduring as it is because of such all-spiritually-encompassing values. Yale professor Kathryn Lofton wrote a book entitled "Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon," which outlines the nearly religious magnitude of Oprah's media presence, now over a quarter-century long.
"Originally our goal [with the show] was to uplift, enlighten, encourage, and entertain through the medium of television. Now our mission...is to use television to transform people's lives, to make viewers see themselves differently, and to bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment into every home. I am talking about each individual coming to the awareness that, 'I am Creation's son. I am Creation's daughter. I am more than my physical self. I am more than this job that I do. I am more than the external definitions I have given myself...Those roles are all extensions of who I define myself to be, but ultimately I am Spirit come from the greatest Spirit. I am Spirit."
These are not the words of your average talk show host.