ROUGH COUNTRY by Robert Wuthnow


How Texas Became America's Most Powerful Bible-Belt State
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A distinguished Princeton social sciences professor studies the fraught intersection of race, religion and ethnicity in Texas since Reconstruction.

Long considered the “buckle” of the Bible Belt, Texas has a history that is unique but that also speaks to the religious, racial and political dynamics “that have decidedly shaped America.” In this brilliantly detailed book, Wuthnow (Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland, 2011, etc.) draws on newspapers, eyewitness accounts and archival material as well as sociological theory, showing how notions of self and other emerged through institution-building practices that helped define Texan (and ultimately, national) identity. In the beginning, the Texas frontier challenged settlers with “droughts, floods, weather-borne illnesses” and hostile natives. To survive, frontiersmen erected churches and schools that were themselves built on narratives that featured “heroes and villains about whom stories [could be] told and who serve[d] as positive or negative role models for future generations.” But these predominantly white organizations were impacted by complex, often contradictory attitudes toward race (a legacy of slavery), ethnicity (a legacy of Mexican domination) and, later, gender and sexual orientation. The Christian fundamentalism that emerged in the 1920s revealed the essentially conservative nature of religion and culture in Texas. Forty years later, it also became a major political force that helped determine the outcome of presidential elections and played major roles in debates on abortion and same-sex marriage. By the turn of the century, the evangelical Protestantism that had come to dominate the Texas religious scene promulgated “compassionate conservatism,” an ideology most notably espoused by George W. Bush. Promoting private, faith-based charitable institutions—many of which receive government funding—at the national level may be laudable. But as Wuthnow suggests, doing so may also give rise to ideas that reinforce the various forms of inequality that continue to beleaguer Texas, the South and American society as a whole.

Impeccably researched but likely too dense for general readers.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-691-15989-8
Page count: 662pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2014


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