Plenty of past clerics have obtained celebrity status: Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Graham, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (who died in 2007), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who died in 2008), and the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, just to name a few. But the past decade saw an unprecedented glut of spiritual leaders becoming media stars, releasing multiple best-selling book series, starring on reality TV shows, and attracting gaggles of celebrity devotees.
Take, for instance, self-appointed "America's Rabbi" and Beliefnet contributor, Shmuley Boteach. Boteach began earning his pop culture bona fides with "Kosher Sex" in 2000, and continued to do so by virtually churning out a book for each year of the decade, eventually earning his own TV show on TLC--"Shalom in the Home." He was even mentioned on the TV series "30 Rock" this year by Tracy Morgan's character Tracy Jordan. ("Have I lost touch with my roots? I'd better talk to Rabbi Shmuley about this.")
Meanwhile, Rick Warren, author of the best-selling "Purpose Driven Life" and pastor of California's Saddleback Christian Church, was named to Forbes' 2006 100 Most Powerful Celebrities list, coming in at a respectable number 60, even before he was asked to host a 2008 Presidential candidates' discussion on religion and give the opening prayer at President Obama's inauguration. Fellow Christian pastor Joel Osteen, best-selling author of "Your Best Life Now," was named one of the 50 most influential men under 45 by Details Magazine, thanks in part to his skills as a "pastorpreneur" and his "hot wife.”
The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, seems to have achieved celebrity status thanks to his association with so many celebrities. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times noted that the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader and statesman "comes pretty close to being the entertainment industry's unofficial spiritual guide." But the best-selling author's 2003 Central Park teaching, which attracted an estimated 65,000 people, showed that he's pretty popular with average Joes, too.