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.