Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South / Edition 1

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The centrality of religion in the life of the Old South, the strongly religious nature of the sectional controversy over slavery, and the close affinity between religion and antebellum American nationalism all point toward the need to explore the role of religion in the development of southern sectionalism. In Gospel of Disunion Mitchell Snay examines the various ways in which religion adapted to and influenced the development of a distinctive southern culture and politics before the Civil War, adding depth and form to the movement that culminated in secession. From the abolitionist crisis of 1835 through the formation of the Confederacy in 1861, Snay shows how religion worked as an active agent in translating the sectional conflict into a struggle of the highest moral significance. At the same time, the slavery controversy sectionalized southern religion, creating separate institutions and driving theology further toward orthodoxy. By establishing a biblical sanction for slavery, developing a slaveholding ethic for Christian masters, and demonstrating the viability of separation from the North through the denominational schisms of the 1830s and 1840s, religion reinforced central elements in southern political culture and contributed to a moral consensus that made secession possible.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a significant contribution to the comprehension of factors that led to the Civil War... The strength of Snay's work lies in his tremendous research, including both northern and southern newpapers, periodicals, and many denominational records." West Virginia History

"Mitchell Snay's book exemplifies the interpretative gain offered by a close reading of the religious sources related to slavery and the secession controversy in the Old South....Snay utilizes a broad range of primary sources to portray and analyze the religious dimension of this momentuous rupture in the political landscape of the nation, and he does so with analytical precision....Snay's convincing interpretation is also written in clear, uncluttered prose, refreshingly free of jargon and the nearly impenetrable clutter of modern literary criticism. The result is a work of interest and importance to most southern historians, not just to specialists in religion." John B. Boles, Georgia Historical Quarterly

"...an impressive exposition of the subtle ways in which southern churchmen advanced a sense of southern self-consciousness, handled the delicate, constitutional problem of church-state separation, departed from disapproving northern colleagues in the national denominations, and sharpened Biblical and natural-law rhetorical defenses of slavery....Snay's extensive research in newspapers, minutes of church assemblies, and sermon collections is most striking, giving an unusual depth to his analysis. Gospel of Disunion brings together all the recent scholarship in a most accessible and congenial synthesis. More important, the author has invested his own intelligence and interpretive skill to give the study a vital spirit of its own." Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Reviews in American History

"Mitchell Snay is the first to focus on the relationship between religious ideology and the development of southern separatism...[his] contribution is significant." Curtis D. Johnson, The Journal of American History

"Mitchell Snay has crafted an insightful and informative study of the critical role that Southern religion played in formatting a distinctive sectional identity during the three decades before the Civil War....Those seeking as complete an understanding as possible of those forces that drove a nation into bloody civil war will want to add this book to their reading list. The writing is clear and concise, and it is enlivened with numerous quotes and examples illustrating the author's points. Well written, this book may appeal to the casual reader, but will certainly be of great interest to serious students of the antebellum era." Paul D. Haynie, The Historian

"Much of the book recapitulates earlier arguments by Donald Mathews, C. C. Goen, John McCardell, and Drew Faust. After extensive research in denominational minutes, newspapers, and sermons, Mitchell Snay has synthesized threads of their arguments and added his won to produce a more refined analysis of religion's role in the formation of a southern sectional identity." Daniel Kilbride, Florida Historical Quarterly

"[Snay's] findings are highly informative and should interest all scholars of American history, religion, and culture...his work is a welcome addition to cultural studies generally, and especially to the literature of American civil religion." Harry L. Watson, Journal of Church and State

"Gospel of Disunion is a well-researched, thoroughly documented, and concisely presented history of what was essentially the conventional wisdom about the relationship between religion and slavery--particularly in the Old South--from the days of the abolitionists to the 1960s." Larry E. Tise, The North Carolina Historical Review

"The book reflects the insights from recent work on antebellum southern religion but goes beyond existing studies in its comprehensive consideration of the sources and expressions of antebellum southern religious nationalism. The book offers an interpretive framework, is organized with unusual clarity, and is well documented....a major contribution to clarifying what increasingly seems like a fundamental cause of the war: the differing ideologies, North and South, with religious values playing a key part in providing moral meanings to both sides in a sectional struggle that would lead to war." Charles Reagan Wilson, American Historical Review

"...Snay has written a work that is now indispensable in understanding Southern religion." A.V. Huff, Jr., Church History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807846872
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/29/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 0.63 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mitchell Snay is associate professor of history at Denison University.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments Introcution: Religion and the search for Southern distinctiveness

Part One: Religion and Sectional Politics
1. The abolitionist crisis of 1835: The issues defined

Part Two: Religion and Slavery
2. Slavery defended: The morality of slavery and the infidelity of abolitionism
3. Slavery sanctified: The slaveholding ethic and the religious mission to the slaves

Part Three: Religion and Separatism
4. Harbingers of disunion: The denominational schisms
5. The religious logic of secession
6. Religion and the formation of a Southern national ideology

Conclusion: Religion, the origins of Southern nationalism, and the coming of the Civil War

Bibliography Index

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