Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt / Edition 1

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Revealing a surprising paradox at the heart of America's "Bible Belt," Christine Leigh Heyrman examines how the conservative religious traditions so strongly associated with the South evolved out of an evangelical Protestantism that began with very different social and political attitudes.
Although the American Revolution swept away the institutional structures of the Anglican Church in the South, the itinerant evangelical preachers who subsequently flooded the region at first encountered resistance from southern whites, who were affronted by their opposition to slaveholding and traditional ideals of masculinity, their lack of respect for generational hierarchy, their encouragement of women's public involvement in church affairs, and their allowance for spiritual intimacy with blacks. As Heyrman shows, these evangelicals achieved dominance in the region over the course of a century by deliberately changing their own "traditional values" and assimilating the conventional southern understandings of family relationships, masculine prerogatives, classic patriotism, and martial honor. In so doing, religious groups earlier associated with nonviolence and antislavery activity came to the defense of slavery and secession and the holy cause of upholding both by force of arms—and adopted the values we now associate with the "Bible Belt."

In an astonishing history, a work of strikingly original research and interpretation, Heyman shows how the evangelical Protestants of the late-18th century affronted the Southern Baptist majority of the day, not only by their opposition to slaveholding, war, and class privilege, but also by their espousal of the rights of the poor and their encouragement of women's public involvement in the church. 352 pp. 6,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An extraordinarily rich exploration of the first hundred years of evangelical faith in the South.

Charles B. Dew, New York Times Book Review

This is an outstanding book, impressively saturated with primary sources, beautifully written, and spiced with pervasive wit.

Kirkus Reviews

Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt has narrative power, unusually combining incisiveness with humanity.

Times Literary Supplement

Indispensable for the study of Southern religion.

Religious Studies Review

[F]or tackling the history of the evangelical mainstream in an innovative way, this book represents an important contribution.


Library Journal
Heyrman (history, Univ. of Delaware) traces the development of evangelical Christianity in early Southern history, from Colonial days to the early 19th century. The author shows how the primarily Methodist and Baptist evangelicals were able to overcome strong resistance to become a predominant force in Southern culture. Young and inspired preachers, fear of the devil, signs and wonders, and an appeal to the most disadvantaged members of society brought initial success. Later, a movement toward patriarchal church and family structures and racial separatism helped the radical movement establish a permanent niche for itself. Both strands of this heritage continue to have influence. The author points out the importance of understanding this powerful heritage when analyzing modern trends in conservative Protestantism. A fascinating work; recommended for public and academic libraries.C. Robert Nixon, Lafayette, Ind.
Reprint of the 1997 Kuopfedition, winner of the 1998 Bancroft Prize (and well reviewed by Kirkus, LJ, Booklist, Choice). Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Charles B. Dew
An extraordinarily rich exploration of the first hundred years of evangelical faith in the South. -- Charles B. Dew, The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An eloquent piece of narrative history that seeks to clarify one of American religion's most enduring puzzles: How did the South, once a culture highly resistant to evangelical revivalism, become the "buckle" of the Bible Belt?

Historian Heyrman (Univ. of Delaware) has crafted a meticulous portrait of the early South in the era of the Second Great Awakening, roughly around the turn of the 19th century. She demonstrates that evangelical religion and southern culture were at first rigidly incompatible—young itinerant Methodist and Baptist preachers threatened the authority of middle-aged southern planters, while women and slaves who found outlets as evangelical exhorters challenged white male power. Evangelicalism could only triumph in the South when its evangelists were willing to make themselves over in the image of the southern male gentry. This meant that preachers had to become older, more settled, and more aggressively masculine, while women ceased to exercise public spiritual authority, retreating instead to the domestic realm. Evangelical religion, which had once demanded that its adherents sever all ties with unbelieving family members, reinvented itself as the force which held the southern family together. The South's "family religion" continues to this day; in the epilogue, Heyrman briefly explores the contemporary legacy of this evangelical male transformation in groups like the Promise Keepers. This is an outstanding book, impressively saturated with primary sources, beautifully written, and spiced with pervasive wit. Heyrman offers a novelist's sensitivity to the many colorful characters of her tale, with each anecdote illuminating the overall evolution of southern evangelicalism. One might wish only for more attention to slave religion, and the interplay between white and black evangelicalism.

But in all, this is a remarkable book that will set a high standard for future studies of religion in the antebellum South.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807847169
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 4/27/1998
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,114,261
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christine Leigh Heyrman is professor of history at the University of Delaware.

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Table of Contents


Prologue: Canaan's Language

1. Raising the Devil
2. The Season of Youth
3. Family Values
4. Mothers and Others in Israel
5. Mastery


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