Flashes of a Southern Spirit: Meanings of the Spirit in the U.S. South

Flashes of a Southern Spirit: Meanings of the Spirit in the U.S. South

Flashes of a Southern Spirit: Meanings of the Spirit in the U.S. South

Flashes of a Southern Spirit: Meanings of the Spirit in the U.S. South


Flashes of a Southern Spirit explores meanings of the spirit in the American South, including religious ecstasy and celebrations of regional character and distinctiveness.

Charles Reagan Wilson sees ideas of the spirit as central to understanding southern identity. The South nurtured a patriotic spirit expressed in the high emotions of Confederates going off to war, but the region also was the setting for a spiritual outpouring of prayer and song during the civil rights movement. Arguing for a spiritual grounding to southern identity, Wilson shows how identifications of the spirit are crucial to understanding what makes southerners invest so much meaning in their regional identity.

From the late nineteenth-century invention of southern tradition to early twenty-first-century folk artistic creativity, Wilson examines a wide range of cultural expression, including music, literature, folk art, media representations, and religious imagery. He finds new meanings in the works of such creative giants as William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Elvis Presley, while at the same time closely examining little-studied figures such as the artist/revivalist McKendree Long. Wilson proposes that southern spirituality is a neglected category of analysis in the recent flourishing of interdisciplinary studies on the South--one that opens up the cultural interaction of blacks and whites in the region.


The chapters in this book have all been previously published but in a diverse array of publications. Four of them were originally prepared for international southern studies conferences, and four more began at annual professional associations and symposia. All of those were published in volumes of essays or in journals; the remaining chapters also first appeared in journals or in collections of essays. the introduction and afterword appear for the first time here.

The essays reflect a common interest in the interdisciplinary study of the American South, with a special focus on cultural history. They reflect my graduate training in American history and American studies, and they draw from my later work in the southern studies curriculum at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. As editor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and The New Encyclope dia of Southern Culture, I became interested in a variety of theories, methodologies, genres, and perspectives; in these chapters I cite evidence from the South’s writers, musicians, folk artists, politicians, preachers, and policy makers, among others. the southern studies program at the University of Mississippi focuses typically on text and context, and this volume reflects those concerns, broadly understood. Most of the essays in this volume deal with the period from the post– Civil War era into modern times. One special concern throughout is the South’s regional identity, and the essays in part 1 trace a rough development of that from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth. a second special concern is how religion in the South has affected regional identity and cultural expression. the particular focus of this volume is on manifestations of “spirit” in the South, which include southern patriotic spirit, southern prophecy, and religious ecstasy. I argue that “southern spirit” is both constructed and performed, and the volume encourages further consideration of spirit as a dimension of a new southern studies.

In 2001, Houston Baker Jr. and Dana D. Nelson called for “a new Southern studies, an emerging collective already producing a robust . . .

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