Southern Religion, Southern Culture: Essays Honoring Charles Reagan Wilson

By Rakestraw, Charity W. | The Journal of Southern History, February 2020 | Go to article overview

Southern Religion, Southern Culture: Essays Honoring Charles Reagan Wilson


Rakestraw, Charity W., The Journal of Southern History


Southern Religion, Southern Culture: Essays Honoring Charles Reagan Wilson. Edited by Darren E. Grem, Ted Ownby, and James G. Thomas Jr. The Chancellor Porter L. Fortune Symposium in Southern History Series. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2019. Pp. xx, 141. $70.00, ISBN 978-1-4968-2047-1.)

In books like Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens, Ga., 1980), Judgment and Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis (Athens, Ga., 1995), and Flashes of Southern Spirit: Meanings of the Spirit in the U.S. South (Athens, Ga., 2011), Charles Reagan Wilson reinterprets southern culture, redefines the parameters of religion, and sets forth an innovative model for exploring the complexities of the region. Wilson has developed a legacy, as he has inspired his former and current students and colleagues to push the boundaries of southern studies and expand our knowledge of regional and national culture. In this Festschrift, Southern Religion, Southern Culture: Essays Honoring Charles Reagan Wilson, editors Darren E. Grem, Ted Ownby, and James G. Thomas Jr. have compiled a collection that is appropriately diverse in its content and consistent in employing the creativity cultivated by the honoree. On topics that range from antebellum Episcopalians in politics to African American education, Holiness media innovation, football goalposts, and macabre southern relics, the essays in this volume successfully reflect the powerful impact that Wilson has had on the field of southern history.

In their introductory essays, Grem and Paul Harvey respectively situate Wilson's work in his classroom at the University of Mississippi and within the larger theoretical framework he has established for southern studies. Grem begins in the Tupelo Room at the university, where The Shroud of Memphis (a painting of Elvis Presley by artist William Dunlap) looms over the lecturer as he introduces classes to photographs of artifacts imbued with religious significance, such as "a hand-stitched quilt, a used-car dealer's leaflet, a late-model truck painted with biblical scenes" (p. xi). The scene reflects Wilson's expansion of the concept of religious culture to include church happenings as well as seemingly nonreligious rites and rituals. Harvey's carefully crafted essay further underscores this theme of religious nonreligious artifacts in Wilson's writings, specifically acknowledging the scholar's successful investigation of the Cartesian split in southern religion. Harvey explains that the feted historian used southern objects and texts (including music) to influence a new intellectual history, one that is "properly seen not as the history of thought but of the history of humans thinking creatively" (p. 6). By employing a fluid theoretical mixture of cultural and intellectual history and anthropology, Wilson exposes the mind and body dualism of the South and considers how national popular culture emerged from this heady mix.

Wilson's approach of investigating both the sacred and the secular as religious texts is reflected in the division of the collection into institutional and noninstitutional religion. In chapters devoted to institutional histories, Wilson's influence is apparent as authors make original arguments regarding church and politics, a complex but not-so-complex Lost Cause ideology, and black evangelicalism and education. Ryan L. Fletcher's study, set in antebellum Arkansas, argues that evangelicalism did not snuff out the Episcopal Church in the area because of members' control of "labor power" (read: slaves) (p. …

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