From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism

Article excerpt

From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. By Darren Dochuk. (New York: Norton. 2011. Pp. xxiv, 520. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-393-06682-1.)

From Bible Belt to Sun Belt by Darren Dochuk explores more than the intersection of religion and politics in contemporary America, as its receipt of the prestigious Nivens Prize from the Society of American Historians indicates. In it, he also details the economic and cultural transformation of Southern California from the 1930s to the 1980s that led to the nationwide dissemination of the conservative views that influenced the rise of the Christian Right in American politics. As such, it is as much a regional history as it is a volume on religion and politics. Consulting myriad primary-source materials from periodicals, twenty-six personal interviews, forty-seven manuscript collections, and contemporary secondary sources that compose twelve pages, Dochuk has assembled an impressive collection of information from which to synthesize his thesis.

Beginning with the Dust Bowl migrations to Southern California, Dochuk describes marginal economic and religious outsiders who made the transition to economic and social respectability over the next thirty years. By the 1960s, thirty years of background work in conservative economic education and anticommunist activism by a number of eccentric but powerful speakers had produced significant results. Dochuk singles out three for special attention in this story. George S. Benson (president of Harding University and instrumental in its National Education Program), John Brown (founder of several educational institutions in Arkansas and California as well as of a prominent evangelical radio station in Southern California), and George Pepperdine (founder of the Western Auto nationwide chain of automotive specialty stories and Pepperdine University) created a network of media outlets, educational institutions, and evangelical Christian organizations that proved to be the catalyst for the emergence of the Religious Right in national politics.

According to Dochuk, Southern California became the financial and educational center of the New Christian Right as the upwardly mobile evangelical Christians from the South and Southwest found work in the new defense industries that dominated the region's economy. …