Autobiographical Reflections on Southern Religious History

By Coon, Lynda L. | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Autobiographical Reflections on Southern Religious History


Coon, Lynda L., The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Autobiographical Reflections on Southern Religious History. Edited by John B. Boles. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001. Pp. v, 272. Preface, contributors, bibliographic references. $34.95.)

When recounting his social interactions with fellow Yale divinity students in the early 1960s, noted scholar of American church history and Arkansas native E. Brooks Holifield laments that his Yale contemporaries found "something slightly comical simply about having had the misfortune to be born in a place like Arkansas" (p. 137). John Boles's edited collection, Autobiographical Reflections on Southern Religious History, uses personal narratives, such as this frank account by Holifield, as analytical tools through which to explore issues of identity, gender, and ethnicity within the largely "terra incognita of southern evangelical history" (p. 57). Most striking are the reasons cited by major scholars in the field for grappling-often in an intensely personal way-with southern religious experience. Donald G. Mathews' theological musings on the salvific power of the Cross led him to uncover a history of southern atonement. Boles set for himself a goal of becoming "a kind of poor man's Perry Miller of the South" (p. 121). For Albert J. Raboteau, the experience of receiving Holy Communion at a southern Roman Catholic church sparked a lifelong interest in racism in the Catholic church: "I remember going to receive Holy Communion. I remember the priest carrying the host; I remember him passing me by, and again passing me by, carrying the host in his hands, passing me by until he had given communion to all the white people" (p. 197). Andrew M. Manis details his journey from "the Divine Liturgy of Greek Orthodoxy to Southern Baptist Bible-thumping," as part of his scholarly pursuit of the intersection of Bible-Belt culture and Greek-American religiosity (p. 222). Clearly, these kinds of autobiographical musings shed light on little-documented aspects of southern Christianity, particularly the religious dynamics of those groups that were "suspended somewhere between the evangelical center and the marginalized" (p. 250).

The essays are most useful when they provide the reader with a clear sense ofthe historiographical rhythms of this increasingly prominent field. Samuel S. Hill, who describes himself as an "accidental pioneer" in southern evangelical history, admits that when he began his graduate career in 1963, there was no academic field at all (p. …

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