And Williamson is savvy about television too. It’s not just the televangelism of the likes of Joel Osteen; it’s the medium itself—an intimate, time-shaping, collective form bound up with national expressions of deep emotion. Williamson is known for her appearances on Oprah; she’s practiced enough at speaking in public to respond in full sentences, leaning on her prepared talking points. (Though a recent appearance on The View proved grilling.) She’s fluent in the language of faith, and she knows that our modes of popular art engage with faith all the time. Belief can be manufactured or cultivated, just as commercials try to convince us to believe their promises, nature documentaries tout the advances of science, and scripted shows preach the value of community. Belief has a lot of power. As I discovered, Williamson fervently hopes to harness it.

Marianne Williamson: The reactions to my candidacy range from, “She’s a total whack job,” to, “She’s the one having what is essentially the most substantive conversation.” I’ve been particularly fascinated by some of the meme activity. Pop culture today is emerging from the streets, not in the media. It almost has its own metaintelligence. I’ve seen some of the most intelligent commentary, oddly enough, on memes.

I notice, in the younger generation, a particular distaste from getting their signals from any other source than their own knowing. There is the downside to that, but there’s the also very creative upsides to that. I mean, some are just hilarious. Very few of them really malevolent.