The Roots of Appalachian Christianity: The Life and Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns

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More About This Textbook


" Winner of the Chaffin Award 2004 for Celebration of Appalachian Writings Appalachia's distinctive brand of Christianity has always been something of a puzzle to mainline American congregations. Often treated as pagan and unchurched, native Appalachian sects are labeled as ultraconservative, primitive, and fatalistic, and the actions of minority sub-groups such as "snake handlers" are associated with all worshippers in the region. Yet these churches that many regard as being outside the mainstream are living examples of America's own religious heritage. The emotional and experience-based religion that still thrives in Appalachia is very much at the heart of American worship. The lack of a recognizable "father figure" like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox compounds the mystery of Appalachia's religious origins. Ordained minister John Sparks determined that such a person must have existed, and his search turned up a man less literate, urbane, and well-known than Luther, Calvin, and Knox -- but no less charismatic and influential. Shubal Stearns, a New England Baptist minister, led a group of sixteen Baptists -- now dubbed "The Old Brethren" by Old School Baptists churches in Appalachia -- from New England to North Carolina in the mid-eighteenth century. His musical "barking" preaching is still popular, and the association of churches that he established gave birth to many of the disparate denominations prospering in the region today. A man lacking in the scholarship of his peers but endowed with the eccentricities that would make their mark on Appalachian faith, Stearns has long been an object of shame among most Baptist historians. In The Roots of Appalachian Christianity, Sparks depicts an important religious figure in a new light. Poring over pages of out-of-print and little-used histories, Sparks discovered the complexity of Stearns's character and his impact on Appalachian Christianity. The result is a history not just of this leader but of the roots of a religious movement.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A must for those interested in church history." -- Kentucky Living

"The author's keen sense of well-researched detail is evident throughout." -- Kentucky Monthly

"Brings to light an individual and religious movement that influenced a major segment of American religious life." -- Lexington Herald-Leader

"A significant contribution to scholarship in the field of religion, particularly Appalachian religion, and more especially because it comes from one who is daily involved in the lives of an Appalachian congregation." -- Loyal Jones

"Sparks' lively discussion investigates the unique preaching and singing styles of the region and explores the disputes, theologies, and personalities that pushed Stearns to the forefront of Appalachian religion." -- McCormick (SC) Messenger

"Shubal Stearns might be the greatest evangelist you've never heard of." -- Nashville Tennessean

"Sparks' lively discussion traces the cultural path of the uniquely rhythmic preaching and singing styles of the region and explores the disputes, theologies, and personalities that led to Stearns' position at the forefront of Appalachian religion." -- Northern Kentucky Heritage

"A fascinating and extremely thorough examination of the rise of the Separate Baptists of North Carolina and their continuing influence of the distinctive mountain denominations of Central Appalachia." -- Now & Then

"Sparks has made a clear case that Stearns should not be disregarded and that he played a pivotal role in bringing enthusiastic Baptist religion to the mountain South." -- Ohio Valley History

"A fascinating study of the evolution of religion in our own area." -- Paintsville Herald

"Argues for the importance of the 18th-century traveling preacher in establishing Appalachian Christianity as a distinctive, populist movement.... Well-told." -- Publishers Weekly

"Those readers seeking to learn more about the history and the flavor of mountain churches, their dogma and rituals, will come away with a greater understanding of how they came to be." -- The Modern Mountain Magazine

"Meticulously researched and well conceived, Sparks' biography of Elder Shubal Stearns is a history of the beginnings of the distinctive form of Christianity practiced in the Appalachian region and seeks to defend this often misunderstood and dismissed branch of American Protestantism." -- Virginia Quarterly Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813191287
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Series: Religion in the South Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 939,605
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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