Religion in the South: Essays

Religion in the South: Essays

Religion in the South: Essays

Religion in the South: Essays

Excerpt

Religion has been a powerful force in creating and maintaining southern regional distinctiveness. Beginning with the frontier revivals of the early nineteenth century, evangelical Protestantism became the dominant religious impulse of the South. In the antebellum period the region's churches were the first institutions to divide from the North over the slavery issue, and the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians maintained sectionally organized, institutionally powerful denominations long after the Civil War. Studies of southern religious attitudes and behavior by sociologists and others show that the Protestant churches remain crucial to understanding the region today.

Southern religion has gained a new public prominence through certain movements within the recent evangelical resurgence. Groups like the Moral Majority, based in Virginia, have become an influential part of the New Right movement, although neither Moral Majority nor the New Right is predominantly southern. The electronic church, which is dominated by evangelists such as Pat Robertson in Virginia, Jim Bakker in North Carolina, and Jimmy Swaggart in Louisiana, is now combining modern technology and financing with its message of the "Old Time Religion." A born-again southerner was elected president in 1976 and his successor gained southern evangelical votes in 1980 and 1984, with religion prominently discussed in both campaigns. Adding another dimension in 1984 was the emergence of a southern born-and-raised black minister as a major presidential candidate, utilizing southern black churches as a primary base of support.

In spite of a general recognition of its importance, less is known about southern religious life than about political, military . . .

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