Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Origins of Southern Evangelicalism: Religious Revivalism in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1670-1760

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Origins of Southern Evangelicalism: Religious Revivalism in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1670-1760

Article excerpt

The Origins of Southern Evangelicalism: Religious Revivalism in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1670-1760. By Thomas J. Little. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. [xvi], 280. $49.95, ISBN 978-1-61117-274-4.)

This study addresses the problem of evangelical religion in the South during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In contrast to previous work, which dated the rise of evangelical religion in the lower South to after 1750 or even after 1800, Thomas J. Little argues that evangelicalism was not an '"exotic import'" (p. ix). Evangelical religion had a long history in the colony, deriving in part from South Carolina's religious pluralism. The goal of the study is not only to unearth this previously unrecognized aspect of South Carolina's religious history but also to "move the religious history of the Lower South more fully into the mainstream of early American and Atlantic historiography" (p. x). This is a laudable goal, but the book does not fully accomplish it.

Little makes detailed use of the extant printed and manuscript sources on religion in early South Carolina. There is a wealth of information in the book, which is at times used very effectively; for example, in chapter 3 Little argues for a burst of evangelical activity in the colony in the 1720s and 1730s, the existence of which, he claims, upends much of the conventional wisdom about evangelicalism in the lower South. At times, however, the level of detail obscures the argument. For example, there is an interesting claim in the first chapter about religious culture, pluralism, and colonial institutional structures, but the reader must spend some time looking for it.

Elsewhere, additional context is needed. The discussion of Anglicanism in chapter 2, for example, demonstrates an important shift in the relative populations of Dissenters and Anglicans in the colony. Little notes that this process was shaped by broader debates about the Church of England itself and its role in the empire. The discussion of the sources implies that the nature of Anglicanism itself was being argued out in South Carolinian congregations because of the local history of religious pluralism, the distance from England, and the challenges that that distance posed for the Church of England, as well as a variety of other local circumstances, including slavery and the church's uncritical attitude toward it. …

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