Religion in Mississippi

Religion in Mississippi

Religion in Mississippi

Religion in Mississippi


In the 1600s Colonial French settlers brought Christianity into the lands that are now the state of Mississippi. Throughout the period of French rule and the period of Spanish dominion that followed, Roman Catholicism remained the principal religion. By the time that statehood was achieved in 1817, Mississippi was attracting Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and other Protestant evangelical faiths at a remarkable pace, and by the twentieth century, religion in Mississippi was dominantly Protestant and evangelical.

In this book Randy J. Sparks traces the roots of evangelical Christianity in the state and shows how the evangelicals became a force of cultural revolution. They embraced the poorer segments of society, welcomed high populations of both women and African Americans, and deeply influenced ritual and belief in the state's vision of Christianity. In the 1830s as the Mississippi economy boomed, so did evangelicalism. As Protestant faiths became wedded to patriarchal standards, slaveholding, and southern political tradition, seeds were sown for the war that would erupt three decades later.

Until Reconstruction many Mississippi churches comprised biracial congregations and featured women in prominent roles, but as the Civil War and the racial split cooled the evangelicals' liberal fervor and drastically changed the democratic character of their religion into archconservatism, a strong but separate black church emerged. As dominance by Protestant conservatives solidified, Jews, Catholics, and Mormons struggled to retain their religious identities while conforming to standards set by white Protestant society.

As Sparks explores the dissonance between the state's powerful evangelical voice and Mississippi's social and cultural mores, he reveals the striking irony of faith and society in conflict. By the time of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, religion, formerly a liberal force, had become one of the leading proponents of segregation, gender inequality, and ethnic animosity among whites in the Magnolia State. Among blacks, however, the churches were bastions of racial pride and resistance to the forces of oppression.

Randy J. Sparks, an associate professor of history at Tulane University, is the author of On Jordan's Stormy Banks: Evangelical Religion in Mississippi, 1773-1876.

Heritage of Mississippi Series, distributed for the Mississippi Historical Society


This book explores the symbiotic relationship between religious and secular life in Mississippi over its turbulent three-hundred-year history. Understanding how religion has shaped Mississippi’s culture and society is a complex undertaking, one made more challenging by the dramatic changes over time, by the state’s particular class divisions, and, most significantly, by the race factor, which has played such a crucial role in shaping Mississippi culture. This study looks beyond religion as a private and personal system of belief and explores religious and theological concepts in the society at large. For example, what is the relationship between the eschatological message and the social and political life in various historical periods? An exaggerated and stubborn opposition is often falsely erected between spiritual life and social life, between what religious folk actually believe and what they live by. the predominant faith in Mississippi is Christianity—particularly evangelical Christianity—which affirms the promises of God in the New Testament: freedom, peace, justice, and reconciliation. These precepts cannot be entirely individualized, internalized, and spiritualized, especially if the believer finds himself or herself in a society that negates these core values. If religious and sociocultural values conflict, as they so often do, then religious institutions and their members must either try to make their faith conform to social and cultural norms or act as critical agents for change. Religious people and institutions can take a critical attitude toward society; they can and sometimes do contest sociopolitical conditions, and occasionally these may take the form of revolutionary protest. This critical gospel stance can be a powerful force for positive social change, though its potential is often overlooked in the scramble for conformity.

This study begins at a time of remarkable religious transformation, a time when the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation were still under way. When Christianity became the faith of the Roman Empire, it helped legitimate the absolutist state of the emperors, a role that reappeared with the emergence of the great nation-states during the Renaissance when religion became closely tied with nationalism. the concept of the Christian State and the attempt on the part of European rulers to use religion . . .

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