Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

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

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

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

Article excerpt

From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. By Darren Dochuk. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011, Pp. xxiv, 520. $35.00.)

Between the late 1930s and the late 1960s, waves of immigrants from the American South settled in southern California, ultimately transforming its religious and political life. Darren Dochuk's impressively researched study, From Bible Belt to SunBelt: Plain-folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism is a path-breaking examination of how these transplanted Southern evangelicals helped shape post-war conservatism and built the institutions that animated the religious right by the 1970s. As the author puts it: "at the same time they sought to remake postwar California's religion, southern evangelicals also set out to recast it politics. They did, at every level, and the nation felt its effects" (xix).

Dochuk begins with the movement of many young southerners to California on the eve of American entry into World War II. Encountering a very different host culture, these southerners managed to maintain their distinctive identities in close-knit communities, quickly building an alternative network of schools and churches. The plain-folk religion they brought with them may have stressed individual purity but it never assumed that Christianity should be excluded from the public square. Moreover, the wartime economy encouraged their religious leaders to stress American patriotism alongside old-fashioned piety. Leaders like fundamentalist Baptist preacher J. Frank Norris "recognized in World War II the chance for southern fundamentalism, the South, and American defense to be fused in one common mission" (47).

Southern entrepreneurs were prominent not only in ecclesiastical circles in California but also in higher education. George Pepperdine, a successful auto parts retailer of Church of Christ background, bankrolled the early stages of Pepperdine College whose curriculum and mission reflected the central ideals of the emergent movement, built upon "a comprehensive doctrine that blended Christ and capitalism" (52). By the late forties, transplanted southerners were increasingly alienated from the Democratic Party and participated in the construction of what would become a robust conservative movement both in southern California and in the nation at large. …

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