Redeeming the Southern Family: Evangelical Women and Domestic Devotion in the Antebellum South

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2008 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 304 p. Audience: General/trade.

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In the years leading up to the Civil War, southern evangelical denominations moved from the fringes to the mainstream of the American South. Scott Stephan argues that female Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians played a crucial role in this transformation. While other scholars have pursued studies of southern evangelicalism in the context of churches, meetinghouses, and revivals, Stephan looks at the domestic rituals over which southern women had increasing authority-from consecrating newborns to God's care to ushering dying kin through life's final stages. Laymen and clergymen alike celebrated the contributions of these pious women to the experience and expansion of evangelicalism across the South.

This acknowledged domestic authority allowed some women to take on more public roles in the conversion and education of southern youth within churches and academies, although always in the name of family and always cloaked in the language of Christian self-abnegation. At the same time, however, women's work in the name of domestic devotion often put them at odds with slaves, children, or husbands in their households who failed to meet their religious expectations and thereby jeopardized evangelical hopes of heavenly reunification of the family.

Stephan uses the journals and correspondence of evangelical women from across the South to understand the interconnectedness of women's personal, family, and public piety. Rather than seeing evangelical women as entirely oppressed or resigned to the limits of their position in a patriarchal slave society, Stephan seeks to capture a sense of what agency was available to women through their moral authority.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Stephan's valuable contribution to the literature on southern religion is his connection between religion and ordinary life experiences . . . This fine book deserves attention by those interested in gender, southern religion, and the culture of the antebellum South.” –Journal of Church History

"This book's in-depth look at women and domestic devotion makes a valuable contribution to the study of women's history and southern religion. . . . The work accomplishes multiple tasks while remaining accessible and interesting."—Journal of Southern Religion

"Stephan's book is an intriguing study of southern evangelical women and their unrelenting efforts to ensure that faith and grace defined their own and their families' lives. . . . Stephan has produced a thoughtful, informative examination of a group of southern wives and mothers who yearned to lead lives free of sin and to ensure, albeit with mixed results, that their husbands and children did the same. In Redeeming the Southern Family, Stephan adds a fresh new voice to the many historians who sense the profound contribution of white women to a religious South."—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Stephan has provided an excellent look into the spiritual responsibility and ownership of the home assumed by evangelical women of the antebellum South. Scholars would do well to follow Stephan's example in attempting to re-create the actual religiosity of the individuals he examined. Anyone interested in the spiritual undercurrents of daily life in the antebellum evangelical South would benefit greatly from reading Scott Stephan’s contribution."—Journal of the Early Republic

"In Redeeming the Southern Family, Scott Stephan offers an intimate portrayal of the ways in which women took on these spiritual challenges. Stephan, with his focus on domestic devotion, helps to explain why so many white Southern women frequented congregations in which the male leadership preached about the importance of retaining racial and gender hierarchies. In this way, he contributes to the flowering of scholarship in response to Ann Braude's insistence that in order 'to understand the history of religion in America,' where most adherents across traditions have historically been female, 'one must ask what made each [religious] group's teachings and practices meaningful to its female members.'"—Reviews in American History

"Stephan’s graceful writing style and deep research in particular case studies enable him to present the ways in which women’s religious authority enhanced yet also complicated their family relationships and their lives. This book is an important contribution and among the first to focus solely on evangelical women across denominational lines."—Cynthia A. Kierner, author of Beyond the Household: Women’s Place in the Early South, 1700–1835

“Stephan's book represents an important contribution to our understanding of southern evangelical women's religious lives. Like the other historians who have studied domestic religion, such as Colleen McDannell, Stephan reminds us that the home as well as the church has served as a crucial locus of religious meaning.”—Journal of the Civil War Era

"This freshly researched and well-written book offers a nuanced interpretation of the ways in which evangelicalism both empowered and constrained elite white women in the Old South."—Anya Jabour, author of Scarlett's Sisters: Young Women in the Old South

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820332222
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott Stephan is an associate professor of history at Ball State University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction. From Cane Ridge to the Bible Belt: Evangelicalism, Gender, and the Southern Household in the Antebellum Era
Chapter 1. Taming the Second Great Awakening: Evangelical Identity and Worship Patterns in the Antebellum South
Chapter 2. Courting Women, Courting God: Strenuous Courtships and Holy Unions
Chapter 3. Improvising on the Ideal: Evangelical Marriages in the Antebellum South
Chapter 4. "Unto Whom Much Is Given": Childbirth, Child Rearing, and Coming of Age in the Evangelical Home
Chapter 5. Authoring the Good Death: Illness, Deathbed Narratives, and Women's Authority
Epilogue. "We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight": Evangelicals and the Civil War-Era South
Appendix. Principal Families
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