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The backdrop to Dalhouse's parade ofparadoxes is an impressionistic portrait of an institution interacting with the larger forces of history and theology. Dalhouse paints it clearly: though bju attempts to act against these forces, they in turn shape Bob Jones University. Judgment & Grace in Dixie Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis By Charles Reagan Wilson University of Georgia Press, 199 5 202 pp. Cloth, $29.95; paper, $14.95 Reviewed by Wayne Flynt, Distinguished University Professor, Auburn University. Flynt regularly teaches courses on Alabama and southern history. Among his ten books are two that deal with southern religion: Taking Christianity to China and Alabama Baptists. Charles Reagan Wilson has a knack for approaching a subject from an unanticipated direction. His studies ofsouthern culture often diverge from the mainstream toward the periphery of Moon Pies, Goo Goo Clusters, Elvis, and professional wrestling. Some readers find that off-putting. Others consider it fascinating. Judgment <& Grace in Dixie is vintage Wilson—witty, well written, perceptive, and sometimes a litde too large to swallow in one bite. Wilson's themes are familiar to all who have followed his career. His premise is simple: religion plays an important role in southern popular culture. He prefers to study popular religion, which operates outside formal church institutions and is transmitted through nonecclesiastical channels. The new ground Wilson breaks in this study is his attention to visual aspects of regional culture. Samuel S. Hill and others have long contended that southern religion is primarily oral, hence its preference for sermons over images, icons, symbols, and rituals. Wilson challenges this thesis, not so much from inside the church house as from the perspective of folk religion. In Part One the author covers southern civil religion—territory familiar to those who have read his earlierwritings. After the Civil War, churches became the major repositories of southern identity. A distinctively regional religion emerged, characterized by evangelicalism, moralism, fundamentalism, emotionalism, and a paradoxical race and class system that provided some biracial aspects to southern 108 Reviews religion within a framework that was mainly white or mainly black. Adopting Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson, or Jefferson Davis as quasisacred saints, the South indulged in its own variety of cult building (monuments, statues, Confederate flags, veterans' reunions). In time southerners added other saints to the sacred pantheon, even ones like Paul "Bear" Bryant, who were invested with magical, even sacred properties. (Who could doubt that "Bear" could perform such a mundane miracle as walking on water when he beat the Tennessee Volunteers so many times in the last two minutes of games?) And who better to deliver the timeless message of the ages at Dallas First Baptist Church than former Baylor football coach Grant Teaff? Religion suffused both elite and folk cultures. William Faulkner ridiculed the Calvinism, fatalism, and self-righteousness ofwhite evangelicalism even while he utilized black folk religion. At the other end of culture, folk artists such as Howard Finster developed their own religious iconography (baptismal art, road signs, signs on cars and churches, cemetery decorations). Many folk artists both black and white came from pentecostal or holiness roots, or from small, rural Baptist church backgrounds. Millennialism inspired their art even as it shaped their theology. Country music depicts unique southern attitudes toward death ("I'll Fly Away," "Farther Along We'll Know AU About It"). Even the Elvis cult contains sacred symbols (Graceland, the place ofpilgrimage) and qualities (poor but good boy who loved his mother and maintained his good manners despite fame and riches). As enjoyable and sometimes provocative as this thin volume is to read, the essays are not always convincing. Part of the problem is the origins of the essays. Some were well-researched articles in scholarly journals. Others first appeared as opinion-editorial columns in newspapers. One covers nineteen pages. Another totals only four. "The South's Torturous Search for Good Books" is an enlightening essay on why book publishing and reading never caught on in the South (thus the paradox of a region that produces so many of the nation's best writers and so few of its readers). But the connection of the essay to religion is at best problematical and only partiy explored. The same could be said for Wilson's wonderfully clever "The Cult of Beauty," about the South's fondness for beauty pageants. No doubt the cult ofsouthern womanhood figures into this. No doubt, also, that the beauty pageant belt and the Bible Belt correspond almost exacdy. But something more than religion seems to be at work here. The cause-effect relationship is at best labored: Recendy a writer for the New York Times did a similar kind of analysis on an entire country. It seems that Venezuela over the past twenty years has produced women who have won crowns in ten top international beauty pageants, a record unmatched by any country (or even by Mississippi for that matter). Four of the last eighteen Miss Universes were from Venezuela, and twice women from that Reviews 109 nation ofonly 20 million won Miss Universe and Miss World tides simultaneously , an unmatched accomplishment. In certain cultures the formal beauty contest is the kind of event that people love to ridicule, and the bbc is considering no longer broadcasting such pageants because they are so silly. Obviously they are not silly to Venezuelans, who have made a cottage industry out of them. As one Venezuelan former beauty queen explained: "It's not that women here are more beautiful, it's that we prepare harder for it." Something is going on here other than the fact that Venezuela is an overwhelmingly Catholic country. Undoubtedly southerners choose to emphasize aspects of popular culture sometimes different at least in degree from other regions (college football, stock car racing, beauty pageants, fundamentalist religion, barbecue). But why they do so is not always so easy to determine. Religion no doubt provides one answer to the question, but I have a hunch that some other factors figure large in the story as well. Wilson deserves credit for his careful and imaginative treatment of southern popular religion. No one has mined this material with better effect. Although on occasion Wilson presses too hard, this volume will inform even as it delights. 1 1 o Reviews ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 108-110
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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