restricted access Southern Cross The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (review)
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reviews Our regular review section features some of the best new books, films, and sound recordings in southern studies. From time to time, you'll also find reviews of important new museum exhibitions and public history sites, and retrospectives on classic works that continue to shape our understanding of the region and its people. Our aim is to explore the rich diversity of southern life and the methods and approaches of those who study it. Southern Cross The Beginnings ofthe Bible Belt By Christine Leigh Heyrman Alfred A. Knopf, 1997 352 pp. Cloth, $27.50 Reviewed by Gaines M. Foster, associate professor of history at Ixmisiana State University and author of Ghosts ofthe Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence ofthe New South. The Bible Belt. Few images ofthe South have a more tenacious grip on the popular imagination. Many who use the term as shorthand for evangelicalism's centrality to southern culture assume it has always been so. The South, after all, never changes. Southern Cross should help dispel the idea of a seamless history of evangelical domination. Christine Leigh Heyrman shows how what came to be the religion of the South began as an "exotic import." Evangelicalism first entered the region, Heyrman explains,in the 1740s,brought by Scotch-Irish migrants and missionaries who helped spur revivals that led to the spread ofMethodist and Baptist churches. (Heyrman counts Presbyterians as evangelicals but writes mostly about the more numerous Methodists and Baptists .) The new evangelical denominations emphasized the inner experience of the gospel and celebrated a public, emotional spirituality, especially among women and African Americans. As a result, they gained converts primarily from slaves, females, and the young. Seeking to create a new basis for kinship, the churches insisted that their converts "subordinate family allegiance to religious duty" and marry only within the faith. To ensure proper behavior, they exercised church discipline over members. 84 By 1 8io, however, the evangelical denominations still claimed the allegiance of only 20 percent of the region's whites and ?o percent of its blacks. Evangelicalism struggled to expand in a society dominated by Episcopalians and nonchurchgoers and in a culture of"conviviality and competition" very much at odds with the evangelicals' own "aesthetic discipline" and ethos of mutuality and equality. The evangelicals' ways threatened the hierarchies that "lent stability" to the "daily lives" of southerners: "the deference of youth to age; the submission of children to parents and women to men; the loyalties of individuals to family and kin above any other group; and the rule ofreserve over emotion within each person." To win over southerners who feared their subversive ways, Heyrman contends, the evangelicals made concessions to the dominant culture. They abandoned their opposition to slavery and segregated their churches. They spoke less often of the devil's presence in the world, although sin and evil remained very real terrors for the southern evangelical mind. More ministers married, churches dropped their insistence on members marryingwithin the faith, church discipline less often intruded on the affairs of the household, and preachers began to celebrate women who confined their spirituality to the home. In sum, the evangelicals came to respect the hierarchies they had once threatened. Methodists and Baptists acknowledged male authority in the household and developed a "warrior " Christianity that allowed men to be assertive and to tangle with the godless. On the other hand, the churches continued to oppose drinking and other forms of male public camaraderie. Within the revised evangelical ethos, a man gained respect based on his public behavior and his mastery over his household. Thus transformed, evangelicalism met with greater acceptance; by the 1830s a majority of southerners had joined its churches. Previous historians have traced the rise of the evangelicals in the early South, but no one has provided as complete an account or told the story any better. In flowing, compelling prose, Heyrman weaves astute critical analysis of cultural change with fascinating vignettes of individual evangelicals. She provides an especially complex and human portrait of the Methodist circuit riders and young Baptist ministers ofthe era. Heyrman has a gift for perceptive readings ofmanuscript sources. She bolsters her qualitative analysis with quantitative data, but relegates the...


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