Southern Crossroads: Perspectives on Religion and Culture

Southern Crossroads: Perspectives on Religion and Culture

Southern Crossroads: Perspectives on Religion and Culture

Southern Crossroads: Perspectives on Religion and Culture


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.


Walter H. Conser Jr. and Rodger M. Payne

Crossroads are places of power and transformation. the traveler at a crossroads may suddenly change directions or transgress established boundaries; at the crossroads, different worlds come into contact, and perhaps conflict, with one another. in some religions, such as the African diasporic religion of Vodun, the guardian of the crossroads must always be first addressed and propitiated before the beneficence of the supernatural world may be accessed. Similarly, in Christianity, the cross is a powerful symbol that connects the mundane human world with the realm of the divine; but this dynamic can, however, move equally well in the opposite direction. According to a famous southern folktale, at a crossroads in the Mississippi Delta’s Bible Belt, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play the blues guitar like no other.

Never static, the crossroads is a place of energy and movement, of potency and potential. It can represent a crisis, an epiphany, or a time of decision when one is faced with the need to make a choice about which road to follow. Crossroads are also places of exchange. At the crossroads, trajectories of influence can extend outward from the center to the periphery, while new energies flow inward.

The title of this volume invokes this metaphor of crossroads to suggest the motion and potentiality contained in the study of southern religion. As a field of study, it is less than fifty years old. It emerged at a time marked by change, and the field itself has remained fluid over the years. the first scholars to focus on southern religion—as opposed to congregational or denominational histories from within the region—wrote at a time when the old order of Jim Crow segregation was dissolving with the emergence of the civil rights movement. Their concerns were often as theological as they were academic: for example, how should the “churches” respond to the rapidly changing society? Samuel S. Hill’s Southern Churches in . . .

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