James Wellman

James K. Wellman, Jr. is Associate Professor and Chair of the Comparative Religion Program in the Jackson School of International Studies. Teaching at the University of Washington since 2002, his areas of expertise are in American religious culture, history and politics.

Wellman’s book, Rob Bell and a New American Christianity (Abingdon Press, 2012), explores one of the most well-known and controversial evangelical ministers in America. Bell, up until 2011, led a 10,000-member megachurch, and is now pursuing media opportunities in Hollywood. Bell’s artistry as a preacher, his fearlessness in pursuing various forms of media, makes him an ideal person to examine the future horizon of American Christianity. As Wellman wrote: “In this way, Bell is a postmodern evangelist–a slam poet, Billy Graham type, who beguiles with words, images, and ideas about a beautiful Jesus, whose stories transfix and transduce words into flesh, making incarnation the arbiter of all value.”

Wellman’s other publications include an award-winning book, The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto: Christ and Culture in Mainline Protestantism (Illinois, 1999); two edited volumes: The Power of Religious Publics: Staking Claims in American Society, with Bill Swatos (Praegers, 1999), and Belief and Bloodshed: Religion and Violence Across Time and Tradition (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007). His 2008 monograph, Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford University Press), received Honorable Mention for the 2009 Distinguished Book Award by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

In 2012, Wellman completed editing a volume with Clark Lombardi, called Religion and Human Security: A Global Perspective (Oxford University Press, 2012). This volume examines case studies on the impact of religious groups on the human security of diverse global populations.

Wellman is working on multiple new projects: First, he is leading a new Initiative for Global Christian Studies. We are seeking to build an absolutely unique study of Global Christianity at the heart of a school of international studies. This does not exist anywhere else.  Over the last three years we  have brought on our UW History colleague, Prof. James Felak as a Term Professor in  Global Catholic Studies. Felak studies major figures in European Catholic thought in the twentieth century. Most recently, Prof. Hajin Jun has joined us to do path breaking research in Asian Christianity. We have major plans to develop our work and research on Christianity in the Global South.  If you are interested in GCS or in contributing to this Initiative, please get in touch with: jwellman@uw.edu. And, if you want to discover more about it, please listen here. Or, if you would like to give directly, please press this link.

Second, Wellman, working with Senior Fellow Chris Seiple, has created  and developed a new field of Cross Cultural Religious Literacy in International Studies. This is a program sponsored and funded by the Carnegie Bridging the Gap initiative. In partnership with multiple colleagues, we have developed an interdisciplinary group of scholars and global practitioners—from diplomats and military to NGOs and business people—who use and teach skill sets at the intersection of religion and realpolitik.  An edited volume on CCRL is coming out in January, 2022. If you are interested in further information, please see our website . As a precursor to this work, Wellman edited a volume with his colleague Clark Lombardi, called Religion and Human Security: A Global Perspective (Oxford University Press, 2012)  This volume examines case studies of the impact of religious groups on the human security of states in every region of the world.

Third, Wellman is working on expanding, developing, and publishing on his popular course A Life Worth Living. In this course he uses religious, philosophical, sociological, and psychological resources to help students move to the next level in their lives–not just vocationally, but in every dimension of the self in its social, psychological, spiritual, and political life. He believes that A Life Worth Living enables a person to become fully alive to all dimensions of the self in the world. In 2021, an outside team of sociologists studied the course, and verified that students found the course to be overwhelmingly successful in moving them forward in their lives. The course is offered each Spring quarter.

Wellman’s most recent book is the most up to date and comprehensive study of American megachurches on the market: High on God: How Megachurches Won a Nation was published by Oxford University Press in February, 2020. In this book he explores Durkheim’s concept of homo duplex, explaining how megachurches make meaning possible for humans by simultaneously meeting their personal and communal needs. Along with his co-authors, Katie Corcoran and Kate Stockly, we use a large data set on megachurches to show a six step process that megachurches engage to give humans the “high” of knowing that their lives have meaning in relation to a larger community.