An Island in the Lake of Fire: Bob Jones University, Fundamentalism, and the Separatist Movement

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The Religious Right's most dogmatic and resolute faction has its roots in three generations of the Bob Jones family of Greenville, South Carolina. An Island in the Lake of Fire is the first in-depth history of this militantly separatist, ultrafundamentalist dynasty to be written by an "outsider" with the Joneses' cooperation. Mark Taylor Dalhouse focuses on Bob Jones University (BJU) and the three colorful, charismatic Jones patriarchs, who, in succession, have led the school.

Founded in 1927, BJU has a student population of five thousand; in addition, it boasts thousands more loyal, well-placed alumni not only in pulpits and Christian day schools across the country but also in elective offices and major corporations. Through their BJU network, and by their vigilance as self-appointed theological watchdogs, the Joneses have, since the 1950s, played a pivotal role in defining the extreme limits of American religious and cultural conservatism. Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell (whom Bob Jones Jr. labeled the "most dangerous man in America") are among the leading figures who have not measured up to BJU's fundamentalist standards.

The defining doctrine at BJU, says Dalhouse, is separation from secularism in the modern world. Drawing on interviews with Bob Jones Jr., Bob Jones III, and others at BJU, as well as on hitherto inaccessible archival sources at the school, Dalhouse discusses the school's separatism in light of such factors as its refusal to seek accreditation and the stringent codes of dress, conduct, and even thought to which BJU students submit themselves.

Attuned to the ironies and contradictions of the Joneses' separatist enterprise, Dalhouse points to the high proportion of accounting and finance degrees awarded at BJU, the school's widely admired cinema department (which has a Cannes Film Festival award to its name), and its nationally acclaimed Baroque and Renaissance art gallery. Dalhouse also challenges some widely held impressions about BJU that have circulated among its detractors, including assumptions about the regional makeup of the student body, and about the prospects of BJU students to gain entry into graduate programs at other schools.

Filled with insights into the attitudes and personalities of the Joneses, An Island in the Lake of Fire offers a unique window into their influential, yet generally unrecognized, place in right-wing Christianity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fair and objective account of the roles of the Bob Joneses and Bob Jones University in the history of twentieth-century American fundamentalism. A blend of narrative and analysis, the book focuses on the theme of separatism as the distinguishing mark for the school. . . . Dalhouse has done a solid job in treating this facet of the history of fundamentalism. This is the first history of the school by an outsider, and he is to be commended for taking his subject seriously."—History: Review of New Books

“A journey into the heart of American fundamentalism . . . An instructive reminder that within the house of fundamentalism there are many mansions, the residents of which do not always like or trust one another any more than outsiders do.”—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

“A clear, relevant and contributory work on an unusual South Carolina family and institution.”—Post and Courier

“A fascinating look at a still vital fundamentalist institution.”—Publishers Weekly

“Dalhouse does an excellent job of telling this fascinating story without ever falling into a tone of condescension.”—Journal of Church and State

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., the Christianity preached by religious right figures such as Jerry Falwell is rejectedbecase it is too liberal. Three generations of Bob Joneses have run this militantly fundamentalist and separatist institution, passing the role of university president from father to son. Dalhouse, who teaches history at Truman State University (formerly Northeast Missouri State University), draws on extensive primary sources to tell the story of BJU, and then places this story in the broader context of American evangelicalism and fundamentalism. He highlights the curiosities of the school (strict parietals for students, including bans on kissing and holding hands; an honorary doctorate awarded to segregationist Alabama governor George C. Wallace) along with its achievements (students' acceptance rate into recognized graduate schools and their success in business careers; a film production program that can claim a Cannes Film Festival award). He also shows how BJU has promoted a strict doctrine of separatism from theological liberalism, and has attacked even attempts by conservative Protestants to make common cause with conservative Catholics and Jews. The only great flaw is that the book is so shortthere is clearly much more to say about BJU and its place as the self-anointed guardian of U.S. fundamentalism. (Sept.)
Library Journal
University officials granted Dalhouse (Truman State Univ.) unprecedented access to their resources. The resulting work approaches its subject in a dispassionate, neutral manner. It is as much a portrait of the ultra-fundamentalist patriarchs Bob Jones Sr., Jr., and III as of their institution. They insist on total separation from almost all other Christians, including Jerry Falwell and former student Billy Graham, both of whom collaborate with Mormons and conservative Catholics. School discipline approaches "in loco parentis in extremis." The Greenville, South Carolina-based university has strong programs in cinema, education, and business but refuses to submit itself to the accreditation review by outsiders. Evolution cannot be taught, but Dalhouse does not discuss the school's approach to other sciences equally troubling to biblical literalists, such as cosmology or paleontology. In a straightforward, unremarkable work, Dalhouse offers a useful discussion of a little-known subject. Recommeded for specialized library collections.Richard S. Watts, San Bernardino Cty. Lib., Cal.
Kirkus Reviews
A competent history of Bob Jones University, in Greensville, S.C., and its extreme brand of Christian fundamentalism.

Founded in 1927 by the patriarchal Bob Jones Sr., the eponymous university's self-described mission was and still remains to do combat with "all atheistic, agnostic, pagan . . . adulterations of the Gospel." From an ongoing refusal to accept accreditation, to a general discouragement of independent thinking, to an infamous ban on interracial dating (on the theory that it could lead to satanic one-worldism), this hyperliteralist view of the Bible has wrought a university quite unlike any other. As university presidents, all three Bob Joneses, from Sr. to III, have also had a strong effect on shaping the school in their respective images. Dalhouse (History/Truman State Univ.) believes this accounts for some of the school's more paradoxical elements. For example, despite an insularity so relentless that interscholastic athletics are forbidden, students are pushed to succeed in the secular world. Then there is the world-class art collection, the well-known opera program and performance series, and the award- winning filmmaking program (although students are forbidden to go to the movies). In other words, the Joneses have freely accepted secularism when it suited their individual temperaments. Where they've refused almost any compromise is with fellow evangelicals and fundamentalists. Thus the Reverend Billy Graham is routinely demonized, and the Reverend Jerry Falwell was once characterized as "the most dangerous man in America." It's all too easy to dismiss the Joneses as crackpot, cultish fanatics, but Dalhouse largely avoids the temptation as he tries to understand what makes them tick. His account is both evenhanded and fair, tracing in fine detail how the Joneses' beliefs and their university evolved.

Though encumbered by frequent repetitions and structural awkwardness, this is a discerning narrative.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820318158
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.85 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Taylor Dalhouse is an assistant dean and director of the Office of Active Citizenship and Service, Faculty Head of House in the University Commons, and lecturer in history at Vanderbilt University.
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