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Strangers Below: Primitive Baptists and American Culture

Strangers Below: Primitive Baptists and American Culture

by Joshua Guthman

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Before the Bible Belt fastened itself across the South, competing factions of evangelicals fought over their faith's future, and a contrarian sect, self-named the Primitive Baptists, made its stand. Joshua Guthman here tells the story of how a band of antimissionary and antirevivalistic Baptists defended Calvinism, America's oldest Protestant creed, from what they feared were the unbridled forces of evangelical greed and power. In their harrowing confessions of faith and in the quavering uncertainty of their singing, Guthman finds the emotional catalyst of the Primitives' early nineteenth-century movement: a searing experience of doubt that motivated believers rather than paralyzed them.

But Primitives' old orthodoxies proved startlingly flexible. After the Civil War, African American Primitives elevated a renewed Calvinism coursing with freedom's energies. Tracing the faith into the twentieth century, Guthman demonstrates how a Primitive Baptist spirit, unmoored from its original theological underpinnings, seeped into the music of renowned southern artists such as Roscoe Holcomb and Ralph Stanley, whose "high lonesome sound" appealed to popular audiences searching for meaning in the drift of postwar American life. In an account that weaves together religious, emotional, and musical histories, Strangers Below demonstrates the unlikely but enduring influence of Primitive Baptists on American religious and cultural life.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469624877
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 09/28/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 232
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Joshua Guthman is assistant professor of history at Berea College.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Beautifully and evocatively written, Guthman's Strangers Below pulls a small group of persevering Calvinists out of the shadows of southern evangelical culture and thereby undercuts the image of the Bible Belt as a united front, revealing anew the religious frictions that abraded that Protestant consensus from within. At the same time, Guthman displays a fine feel for the emotional register and lingering cultural influence of this Calvinist sensibility.—Leigh E. Schmidt, author of Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality

There is no history of the Primitive Baptists like this and certainly none that argues for the group's emotional relevance to American musical culture.—John Corrigan, author of Emptiness: Feeling Christian in America

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