May 26, 2011— -- Being an Oprah Winfrey fan is not just a passing fad for Miranda Clark. It has become a religion, literally.
She and three friends created Oprahology several years ago after bonding over their admiration of the day-time host. Oprahology views Winfrey as its idol and goddess, Clark said.
The group celebrates Winfrey's birthday every Jan. 29 with a sheet cake with the words "Happy Birthday, Oprah" written on the icing. The members perform an original song and dance that they wrote and choreographed especially for the megastar.
"I see her as an icon, larger than life," Clark, 30, a Detroit-based artist, said. "She's a self-made person. She's so independent and strong and brilliant."
While Clark understands that some people might find the religion strange, she said many other Winfrey fans would stand behind the religion.
"People tend to tense up with the word, 'religion,' but I know a lot of people feel this way about her," Clark said.
Before the skeptics' eyes begin to roll, some experts argue Clark is onto something,.
Yale professor Kathryn Lofton this year wrote "Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon," a book that explores the talk-show host's mantra of self-love and self-worth as a working religion.
Whenever Clark travels, she carries the paperback biography, "Oprah! Up Close and Down Home." Just like a Bible, Torah or Koran for some, Clark said the book brings her comfort and acts as a good luck charm.
Clark even sent a wedding invitation to Winfrey. While the day-time host did not RSVP, she is not offended. Clark understands that her goddess is busy, especially these days.
Winfrey's farewell show is an end of an era for many, and, while fans will still be able to catch her on her new network, OWN, her most devout followers say it won't be the same without Winfrey in their living rooms to unwind the day's events.
"It most certainly is part of their identities and will be a loss," said Dr. Jeff Brown, Harvard psychologist and co-author of "The Winner's Brain." "People wouldn't likely experience withdrawal in an addiction sense, but rather feel a bona fide absence of a significant person in their lives. "
Brown noted that Winfrey's producers have done an excellent job the past few months in emphasizing the closure between Winfrey and her audience by reviewing their lives together.
"Oprah's persona exudes hope, confidence, power and the ability to influence others for the good," Brown said. "Loyal viewers have likely lived vicariously through Oprah and will now need to find ways of making those experiences their own reality."
Dr. Martin Binks, clinical director and CEO of Binks Behavioral Health PLLC, said this will not be the first time that a part of the population might be overly attached to a television personality.
Binks called Winfrey a pseudo-fictional character. While he noted that her TV persona is likely genuine, there is always a "gray area" between the character played and the relationship idea that she shows her audience.
"People can become very emotionally attached to these types of characters on TV and the ideal version of themselves presented on TV coupled with the seemingly very personal relationship they create with viewers can lead to the formation of very strong feelings of attachment with the average person watching," Binks said.
'Live Your Best Life'
But Dr. David Blackburn, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas, said the end of Winfrey's regular show should not cause a sense of loss or withdrawal if viewers have learned anything from her show.
"Oprah probably would not want viewers to think of the ending of the show as a loss since she advocated 'living your best life,'" Blackburn said.
Rather than mourning the daily hour with Winfrey, Blackburn urged fans to use that time to follow through with the many lessons learned from her.
"The extra hour they have each day could be used to volunteer, to read, to teach, to reflect on one's life and how to live it better," Blackburn said. "It could be used to speak with God, to search the scripture, to find contentment in life."
As for Clark, she isn't too worried about Winfrey's departure from her 25-year talk show, which ended Wednesday. She knows that her idol will continue to be buzzing around, whether it is with her new network OWN, or the several charities with which she is involved.
But as a tribute to the farewell show, Clark plans to devote some time to Winfrey and her teachings.
"She's so powerful; Oprah can do whatever she wants and she does," Clark said Wednesday. "Today, I'll probably flip through some of my favorite Oprah books. Maybe today I'll write her a letter and finally tell her about Oprahology."