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The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South Hardcover – January 31, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0674026728 ISBN-10: 0674026721 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (January 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674026721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674026728
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,011,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


In this careful and detailed study, Stephens chronicles the rise of Holiness and Pentecostal movements in the American South in the late 19th century, discusses their eventual split and quarrels about theology and culture, and then recounts the gradual mainstreaming of both movements in the late 20th century. (Publishers Weekly 2007-10-29)

Boisterous Pentecostal worship has excited the scorn of skeptics, while apocalyptic Pentecostal theology has scandalized the orthodox. But Stephens limns a pattern of phenomenal growth for this revolutionary faith, now curiously central to the conservatism of the Religious Right. A balanced work of cultural scholarship. (Bryce Christensen Booklist)

Stephens's masterful account of how the South nurtured and altered a once-marginalized religious movement--and how that religion influenced the region--is the most fluent and authoritative synthesis of a complex and controversial subject. (The Atlantic 2008-05-01)

This study is an important addition to the growing field of pentecostal studies. Stephens’s emphasis on regional identity complements the previous works of historians like Grant Wacker and Edith Blumhofer. His ability to make sense of the complex theological features of pentecostalism makes The Fire Spreads accessible to a wide audience composed of lay adult readers, college students, pentecostal practitioners, and professional historians. Furthermore, there is something to be said for a book that is both deeply intelligent and highly readable...Anyone interested in the history of religion in the United States—and specifically as it relates to region, race, and politics—must read Stephens’s The Fire Spreads. (Michael Pasquier H-Pentecostalism 2008-04-01)

Crisply written, analytically clear, and full of colorful personalities, The Fire Spreads is the most significant study of Pentecostal origins since Grant Wacker‘s Heaven Below...Randall Stephens offers a rich portrait of Christians in the American South who embraced perfectionist teachings. Mining untapped pamphlets, periodicals, diaries, and church records, he presents a lucid chronological and regional study of the holiness and Pentecostal movements that eventually dominated the national perception of southern religion. Himself the grandson of a “barnstorming holiness preacher,” Stephens chronicles the many ironies that led to this unexpected triumph. (John G. Turner Books & Culture 2008-05-01)

The growth of the holiness and Pentecostal movements in the late-19th and early-20th-century South is the focus of this engaging work, the most extensive such treatment to date. (W. B. Bedford Choice 2008-08-01)

In The Fire Spreads Randall J. Stephens gives a historical account of the genesis of Pentecostalism in the USA, which treads delicately through the contradictions. He provides a strikingly imaginative account of riotous religious competition, above all in the American South. (David Martin Times Literary Supplement 2008-09-17)

In The Fire Spreads Randall Stephens puts the Pentecostal tradition in the South in a broad historical perspective in a masterfully researched and well-written book. (Hans Krabbendam Church History and Religious Culture 2008-10-01)


Stephens reveals the pentecostal and holiness movement's 'restless visionaries' to be complicated religious figures pressing at the margins of southern society, undeterred by frequent scandals and internecine disputes, traveling constantly, delighting in acts of persecution, and testing the boundaries of religious ecstasies. An essential book for anyone interested in twentieth-century religious history. (Paul Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs)

More About the Author

Randall J. Stephens is a Reader in American Studies and History at Northumbria University. Editor of Historically Speaking and associate editor of Fides et Historia, Stephens is the author of The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South (Harvard University Press, 2008). In 2011 the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press published his book on conservative evangelical experts, co-authored with Karl Giberson. In 2008 Stephens was named a Top Young Historian by George Mason University's History New Network. He was a Fulbright Roving Scholar in American Studies (Norway) in spring 2012. Since 2013 he has been an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer. Stephens has also written for the New York Times, Christian Century, Wilson Quarterly, Chronicle of Higher Education, Religion Dispatches, Books and Culture, and the Atlantic blog.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Thoughtful Reader on June 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is that rare scholarly book and is engaging and lively. The author has clearly taken unusual pains to write the story, as well as communicate the facts. The book is also authoritative and is taking its place as the definitiave source on this topic.
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