SOUTHERN CROSS: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt by Christine Leigh Heyrman
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SOUTHERN CROSS: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An eloquent piece of narrative history that seeks to clarify one of American religion's most enduring puzzles: How did the South, once a culture highly resistant to evangelical revivalism, become the ""buckle"" of the Bible Belt? Historian Heyrman (Univ. of Delaware) has crafted a meticulous portrait of the early South in the era of the Second Great Awakening, roughly around the turn of the 19th century. She demonstrates that evangelical religion and southern culture were at first rigidly incompatible--young itinerant Methodist and Baptist preachers threatened the authority of middle-aged southern planters, while women and slaves who found outlets as evangelical exhorters challenged white male power. Evangelicalism could only triumph in the South when its evangelists were willing to make themselves over in the image of the southern male gentry. This meant that preachers had to become older, more settled, and more aggressively masculine, while women ceased to exercise public spiritual authority, retreating instead to the domestic realm. Evangelical religion, which had once demanded that its adherents sever all ties with unbelieving family members, reinvented itself as the force which held the southern family together. The South's ""family religion"" continues to this day; in the epilogue, Heyrman briefly explores the contemporary legacy of this evangelical male transformation in groups like the Promise Keepers. This is an outstanding book, impressively saturated with primary sources, beautifully written, and spiced with pervasive wit. Heyrman offers a novelist's sensitivity to the many colorful characters of her tale, with each anecdote illuminating the overall evolution of southern evangelicalism. One might wish only for more attention to slave religion, and the interplay between white and black evangelicalism. But in all, this is a remarkable book that will set a high standard for future studies of religion in the antebellum South.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1997
ISBN: 080784716X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf