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From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism Hardcover – December 13, 2010
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"An exhaustive history brimming with lively characters."
--Amy Sullivan, Time
"Detailed and closely argued.... Dochuk...well understands the pivotal role religion plays in shaping America's cultural self-image, and...breaks with a long tradition of historical writing that has monolithically depicted evangelical believers as backward-looking prophets of cultural reaction."
--Chris Lehmann, The Nation
"[Dochuk] skillfully traces a continuous narrative stretching from the Dust Bowl to Ronald Reagan, and demonstrates with prodigious research how this narrative fits into a much broader canvas of...political change. A superbly researched study of grassroots mobilization.... An important book."
--Mark A. Noll, The New Republic
"Very impressive.... From Bible Belt to Sunbelt is the product of prodigious research."
--Randall Balmer, Christian Century
"Dochuk excels in his profiles of early 'plain-folk' settlers and their world, and the tangled personal, institutional, and doctrinal motives of the ministry that served them.... [A] fascinating portrait of the early Christian Right."
--Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly
“Darren Dochuk has painted a vista from which unfolds the creation of Reagan’s nation, as the California dreams of Southern evangelicals become the American dreams of Sunbelt conservatives. Through the guiding telescope of Dochuk’s prose, we meet a fascinating cast of characters destined to be staples in future tellings of this important story. This much anticipated book is well worth the wait.”
- Steven P. Miller, author of Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South
“The nation is today color-coded into red and blue. In this tour de force of research, narrative, and analysis, a brilliant young historian chronicles how Southern California served as the matrix for this enduring bifurcation. Beneath the sunshine and the palm trees, uprooted evangelicals experienced a Great Awakening that transformed American politics in our era.”
- Kevin Starr, University of Southern California
“With narrative authority and sparkling insight, Darren Dochuk explains how and why Southern California became the crucible of the Christian Right. Anyone who wants to understand the history of modern American conservatism should read this book.”
- Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
About the Author
Darren Dochuk is Associate Professor in the Humanities at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and other venues.
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Top customer reviews
Mr. Dekok focuses on the change and finds a major explanation for it in the transformations in evangelical Christianity in Southern California from the 1930s to 1980.
The migrants he discusses are the people from the western south (Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana & thereabouts) who settled in the Los Angeles area. They had much more opportunity to find work there than the perhaps more famous Dust Bowl refugees who ended up as migrant farmworkers, a group that Americans will associate with the Joads of John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath."
As the title suggests, it traces the transformation of "plain-folk" evangelical Protestantism, whose followers were accepting of the New Deal, to a form of evangelical Protestantism whose followers supported the USA's military buildup after World War II, an aggressive Cold War stance, a very free-market form of capitalism, and conservative moral values.
The author makes fascinating observations, which had never occurred to me, about just how many southern people were settled in Southern California in this period -- the number of southern-born people in the environs of Los Angeles actually exceeded the population of some southern states. The largest percentage of these folks were white, which of course has an influence on their history.
The author writes that generally, these folks had always had a vision of America that centered on Jesus and Jefferson -- the Thomas Jefferson who saw the best future for America in small farmers and small businesspeople, unhampered by government interference.
Of course, like all political visions, there are many contradictions in that political vision, and some folks would see a contradiction between Christianity and that vision. How the political ideas and religous ideas interacted in the development of evangelical conservatism in California is what the book is about.
He focuses on individuals active in the western south and California, and the institutions they created -- for example, churches and church organizations, and colleges and universities, from John Brown University to perhaps the epitome of the evangelical conservative university, Pepperdine.
We read about unusual developments, such as the revival of the populist "Ham and Eggs" movement after World War II, and unusual people, such as evangelist/educator John Brown. NB: This John Brown is NOT the John Brown whose body lies a mouldering in the grave.
The author did a huge amount of research over many years, so of course his arguments are well-documented. The book is also engrossing -- I couldn't put it down, and couldn't stop talking about it.
The author's own political and religious beliefs are not stated in the book -- it is a work of scholarship.
But you don't have to be a professional historian to learn from the book, or to enjoy reading it.
I strongly recommend it to people interested in US politics, US history, religion in the US,and the history of California.
Minor point: I've seen other books on the rise of convervativism in Southern California. If I could ask the author a question, I would ask him "What about the many new Californians who did not go to church?"
The book documents the amalgamation of politics and religion instituted by transplanted southern evangelicals rising through the ranks of the new evangelical empire established on the soil of southern California during the period of the 1930s-1950s. Transplanted southerners from the western South (OKlahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Kansas) instituted their brand of evangelicalism into the culture of southern California - particularly in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Southern preachers and evangelical businessmen merged religion into politics, thereby laying the foundation for the Christian Right and the Republican Southern Strategy, while making evangelicals the solid core of the Republican Party. Southern California would become a bastion ofright wing politics - enabling the national rise of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Anti-communist, anti-union, anti-liberal anti-United Nations, these right wing preachers and businessmen saw the New Deal as statism or communism in an embryonic state. Also staunchly anti-New Deal, they considered Roosevelt a threat to capitalism and freedom, when in reality it was Roosevelt's New Deal that had saved capitalism and preserved the privileged class of capitalists. In southern California, working class southerners became middle class Californians as they found economic sustenance in the armament factories. On appeals from their preachers and businessmen, they shifted from Neal Deal democrats to hard-right republicans. This phenomenon accomplished three things within the social-political-economic sphere; a retreat from the moderate republicanism of President Eisenhower to embrace Reagan-styled right wing republicanism; the rise of a national evangelicalism (Christian Right) and the third great awakening which seeded the emergence of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat Robertson's Christian business empire that evolved into prosperity theology.
Closely aligned with the defense industry, this part of the Republican base nourished the ascension of the military industrial complex, bloated defense budgests, and military interventionism (wars), especially those supposedly bringing about Armageddon and the Rapture. This faction, while being staunch anti-regulation and anti-environmentalism, now stands against any remedial addressment of global warming and environmental degradation. Southern evangelicals, especially those who migrated to southern California and joined the ranks of the middle class, had embraced New Dealism during the 1930s, but by the 1950s had repudiated it once becoming prosperous while under the sway of right-wing evangelical preachers who provided a stringest dose of propaganda under the cloak of conservative political ideology.
A major objective of these southern preachers and capitalists was to end the New Deal and destroy Roosevelt's legacy. An entire systematic framework of ideological implantation had sprung up to inculcate acceptable ways of thinking and seeing the world. Plain folk gospel spurred the popularity of Billy Graham and other evangelicals that gave rise to the Christian Right and the political careers of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. The movement helped Reagan win the governorship in California in 1966, while Nixon took advantage of the rise of evangelicalism to enact his Southern strategy and win the South in 1972. Evangelicals were in the forefront of Reagan's bid to win the presidency in 1980.
This book documents the rise and ascendancy of the evangelical Christian right in southern California, which has had a profound effect on the nature of today's Republican Party with its courtship of evangelicals by politicians like Cruz and Santorum. This movement has profoundly shaped American society, economics, foreign policy, and politics since the 1960s. Those Okies we assumed had vanished into the central valley hinterland of blissful sunny California took root in the urban metropolis of Los Angeles-Orange County, prospered, and became ultra-conservative in their political ideology - supporting Cold War military budgets and virtually all military interventions, including the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. There legacy is also the legacy of the Republican Party.
This book is highly recommended for those wishing to learn about the enculturation of southern evangelicals in California and their impact on the modern world.