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FROM BIBLE BELT TO SUNBELT by Darren Dochuk Kirkus Star


Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism

by Darren Dochuk

Pub Date: Dec. 13th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-393-06682-1
Publisher: Norton

A lucid history of how California, land of fruits and nuts and be-here-nowness, became a bastion of fundamentalist reaction. The manuscript won the 2006 Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians.

Blame it on the Arkansas-Texas-Oklahoma borderlands, a region that, writes Dochuk (History/Purdue Univ.), “produced a distinctive hybrid culture that combined the steely persistence and principles of the South with the rugged impatience and pragmatism of the West.” This backwater might have remained so were it not for the upheaval of the Depression, when it tilted sideways and poured its population into Southern California. So thorough was the transformation that by 1969 and the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan, California had more Southerners in its population than did Arkansas. This “hybrid culture” valued preachers over political leaders and kept a clannish distance from its neighbors. With the rise of crusading evangelicals, Billy Graham being just one example, transplanted Californians took their values and votes into the streets, establishing such bastions of conservatism as Pepperdine University and, well, Knott’s Berry Farm, and putting into law such legislation as Prop 13. Dochuk is a careful explainer of odd historical events, though his historian’s objectivity allows a few subtleties to slip by that he might have pounced on—not least how the Bible Belt rhetoric of California circa 1966 is the rhetoric of the entire nation in 2010, with its immigrant-bashing, thinly disguised segregationism and disregard for the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. Yet the author takes pains to chart how California's activist fundamentalism, once scorned by none other than Jerry Falwell, spread across the country, turning the whole place into an Ozark backwater, with music by Pat Boone.

Well-written and -documented, a supremely helpful guide in sorting out how we arrived at that odd state of affairs.