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Religion in the South

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Religion in the South

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Serving Two Masters

Moravian Brethren in Germany and North Carolina, 1727-1801

Elisabeth W. Sommer

The eighteenth century was a time of significant change in the perception of marriage and family relations, the emphasis of reason over revelation, and the spread of political consciousness. The Unity of the Brethren, known in America as Moravians, experienced the resulting tensions firsthand as they organized their protective religious settlements in Germany. A group of the Brethren who later settled in Salem, North Carolina, experienced the stresses of cultural and generational conflict when its younger members came to think of themselves as Americans.

The Moravians who first immigrated to America actively maintained their connections to those who remained in Europe and gave them the authority for deciding religious, social, and governmental issues. But, as the children born in Salem became acclimated to more freedoms, particularly in the wake of the American Revolution, a series of disputes intensified the problems of transatlantic governance. While the group's leadership usually associated Enlightenment principles with rebellion and religious skepticism, the younger Brethren were drawn to its message of individual autonomy and creative expression.

Elisabeth Sommer traces the impact of this generational and cultural change among Moravians on both sides of the Atlantic and examines the resulting debate over the definition of freedom and faith.

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Southern Crossroads

Perspectives on Religion and Culture

edited by Walter H Conser and Rodger M. Payne

The South has always been one of the most distinctive regions of the United States, with its own set of traditions and a turbulent history. Although often associated with cotton, hearty food, and rich dialects, the South is also noted for its strong sense of religion, which has significantly shaped its history. Dramatic political, social, and economic events have often shaped the development of southern religion, making the nuanced dissection of the religious history of the region a difficult undertaking. For instance, segregation and the subsequent civil rights movement profoundly affected churches in the South as they sought to mesh the tenets of their faith with the prevailing culture. Editors Walter H. Conser and Rodger M. Payne and the book’s contributors place their work firmly in the trend of modern studies of southern religion that analyze cultural changes to gain a better understanding of religion’s place in southern culture now and in the future. Southern Crossroads: Perspectives on Religion and Culture takes a broad, interdisciplinary approach that explores the intersection of religion and various aspects of southern life. The volume is organized into three sections, such as “Religious Aspects of Southern Culture,” that deal with a variety of topics, including food, art, literature, violence, ritual, shrines, music, and interactions among religious groups. The authors survey many combinations of religion and culture, with discussions ranging from the effect of Elvis Presley’s music on southern spirituality to yard shrines in Miami to the archaeological record of African American slave religion. The book explores the experiences of immigrant religious groups in the South, also dealing with the reactions of native southerners to the groups arriving in the region. The authors discuss the emergence of religious and cultural acceptance, as well as some of the apparent resistance to this development, as they explore the experiences of Buddhist Americans in the South and Jewish foodways. Southern Crossroads also looks at distinct markers of religious identity and the role they play in gender, politics, ritual, and violence. The authors address issues such as the role of women in Southern Baptist churches and the religious overtones of lynching, with its themes of blood sacrifice and atonement. Southern Crossroads offers valuable insights into how southern religion is studied and how people and congregations evolve and adapt in an age of constant cultural change.

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When Slavery Was Called Freedom

Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War

John Patrick Daly

When Slavery Was Called Freedom uncovers the cultural and ideological bonds linking the combatants in the Civil War era and boldly reinterprets the intellectual foundations of secession. John Patrick Daly dissects the evangelical defense of slavery at the heart of the nineteenth century's sectional crisis. He brings a new understanding to the role of religion in the Old South and the ways in which religion was used in the Confederacy.

Southern evangelicals argued that their unique region was destined for greatness, and their rhetoric gave expression and a degree of coherence to the grassroots assumptions of the South. The North and South shared assumptions about freedom, prosperity, and morality. For a hundred years after the Civil War, politicians and historians emphasized the South's alleged departures from national ideals. Recent studies have concluded, however, that the South was firmly rooted in mainstream moral, intellectual, and socio-economic developments and sought to compete with the North in a contemporary spirit.

Daly argues that antislavery and proslavery emerged from the same evangelical roots; both Northerners and Southerners interpreted the Bible and Christian moral dictates in light of individualism and free market economics. When the abolitionist's moral critique of slavery arose after 1830, Southern evangelicals answered the charges with the strident self-assurance of recent converts. They went on to articulate how slavery fit into the "genius of the American system" and how slavery was only right as part of that system.

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William Louis Poteat

A Leader of the Progressive-Era South

Randal L. Hall

William Louis Poteat (1856-1938), the son of a conservative Baptist slaveholder, became one of the most outspoken southern liberals during his lifetime. He was a rarity in the South for openly teaching evolution beginning in the 1880s, and during his tenure as president of Wake Forest College (1905-1927) his advocacy of social Christianity stood in stark contrast to the zeal for practical training that swept through the New South's state universities.

Exceptionally frank in his support of evolution, Poteat believed it represented God at work in nature. Despite repeated attacks in the early 1920s, Poteat stood his ground on this issue while a number of other professors at southern colleges were dismissed for teaching evolution. One of the few Baptists who stressed the social duties of Christians, Poteat led numerous campaigns during the Progressive era for reform on such issues as public education, child labor, race relations, and care of the mentally ill. His convictions were grounded in a respect for high culture and learning, a belief in the need for leadership, and a deep-seated faith in God.

Poteat also embodied the struggle with the intellectual compromises that tortured contemporary social critics in the South. Though he took a liberal position on numerous issues, he was a staunch advocate for prohibition and became a strong supporter of eugenics, a position he adopted after following his beliefs in a natural hierarchy and absolute moral order to their ultimate conclusion.

Randal Hall's revisionist biography presents a nuanced portrait of Poteat, shedding new light on southern intellectual life, religious development, higher education, and politics in the region during his lifetime.

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