Evangelizing the South: A Social History of Church and State in Early America

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Although many refer to the American South as the "Bible Belt", the region was not always characterized by a powerful religious culture. In the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, religion-in terms both of church membership and personal piety-was virtually absent from southern culture. The late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, however, witnessed the astonishingly rapid rise of evangelical religion in the Upper South. Within just a few years, evangelicals had spread their beliefs and their fervor, gaining converts and building churches throughout Virginia and North Carolina and into the western regions. But what was it that made evangelicalism so attractive to a region previously uninterested in religion?

Monica Najar argues that early evangelicals successfully negotiated the various challenges of the eighteenth-century landscape by creating churches that functioned as civil as well as religious bodies. The evangelical church of the late eighteenth century was the cornerstone of its community, regulating marriages, monitoring prices, arbitrating business, and settling disputes. As the era experienced substantial rifts in the relationship between church and state, the disestablishment of colonial churches paved the way for new formulations of church-state relations. The evangelical churches were well-positioned to provide guidance in uncertain times, and their multiple functions allowed them to reshape many of the central elements of authority in southern society. They assisted in reformulating the lines between the "religious" and "secular" realms, with significant consequences for both religion and the emerging nation-state.

Touching on the creation of a distinctive southern culture, the position of women in the private and public arenas, family life in the Old South, the relationship between religion and slavery, and the political culture of the early republic, Najar reveals the history behind a religious heritage that remains a distinguishing mark of American society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Evangelizing the South is thoughtfully researched, carefully and convincingly argued, and engagingly written. Through close study of dozens of congregational and associational records and almost four thousand disciplinary cases, Monica Najar demonstrates that the Baptist "transformation" of the South was well under way by 1815. Equally important, it clarifies the process whereby the South's "transformation" of the Baptists left few congregations willing to challenge the morality of slave-owning. This is an accomplished piece of scholarship that will inform and enlighten scholars in religious and church-state history, gender history, and the history of the Revolutionary and Early Republic eras." —Anne M. Boylan, Professor of History at the University of Delaware, author of The Origins of Women's Activism

"In this thoughtful and impressively researched book, Monica Najar relates the evolution and expansion of Baptist congregations to the larger themes of westward migration, economic development, and American political identity. Gender and race assume center stage in Najar's important and nuanced portrait of a religious community committed to the equality of souls and church supremacy over secular authority—until a divided denomination ceded power to the state over the seemingly irresolvable issue of slavery." —Cynthia A. Kierner, author of Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America

"Monica Najar's Evangelizing the South provides a persuasive account of how gender and religion intersected in the early southern Baptist movement. Her book carries the story of evangelical Southern culture into the post-revolutionary period, and her treatment of evangelical religion in this era is the most successful I have seen. Unlike other accounts, Najar effectively explains how this religious movement came to dominate and suffuse southern culture. She shows how Baptists worked to separate the church from the state but also to bring the functions of the state into the church. Her insight illuminates a source of the under-development of Southern state infrastructure at the same time that it helps us to understand the origins of a distinctive southern religious style. This is a great book, essential reading for those interested in religion, gender or the south." —Carla Pestana, author of The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

"The author's decision to examine four states of teh upper South gives the book uncommon reach and highlights the distinctiveness of the West. The discussion of Baptists and gender marks an important revision in the field. This book also raises some compelling questions that do not have ready answers. ...[T]his book will inspire a next generation of scholarship along these lines."

—Journal of Southern History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195309003
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/22/2008
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Monica Najar is an Associate Professor of History at Lehigh University. She specializes in the histories of gender, religion, and the South

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Table of Contents

Introduction     3
The Manly Voice of Orthodoxy     13
We, the Male and Female     35
Our Domestic Peace     65
On a Scale of Justice     89
Unusual Strugglings of Mind     115
The Equity of Hereditary Slavery     137
Conclusion     163
Appendix     169
Notes     181
Selected Bibliography     223
Index     245

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