The Religious Right's most dogmatic and resolute faction has its roots in three generations of the Bob Jones family of Greenville, South Carolina. An Island in the Lake of Fire is the first in-depth history of this militantly separatist, ultrafundamentalist dynasty to be written by an "outsider" with the Joneses' cooperation. Mark Taylor Dalhouse focuses on Bob Jones University (BJU) and the three colorful, charismatic Jones patriarchs, who, in succession, have led the school.
Founded in 1927, BJU has a student population of five thousand; in addition, it boasts thousands more loyal, well-placed alumni not only in pulpits and Christian day schools across the country but also in elective offices and major corporations. Through their BJU network, and by their vigilance as self-appointed theological watchdogs, the Joneses have, since the 1950s, played a pivotal role in defining the extreme limits of American religious and cultural conservatism. Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell (whom Bob Jones Jr. labeled the "most dangerous man in America") are among the leading figures who have not measured up to BJU's fundamentalist standards.
The defining doctrine at BJU, says Dalhouse, is separation from secularism in the modern world. Drawing on interviews with Bob Jones Jr., Bob Jones III, and others at BJU, as well as on hitherto inaccessible archival sources at the school, Dalhouse discusses the school's separatism in light of such factors as its refusal to seek accreditation and the stringent codes of dress, conduct, and even thought to which BJU students submit themselves.
Attuned to the ironies and contradictions of the Joneses' separatist enterprise, Dalhouse points to the high proportion of accounting and finance degrees awarded at BJU, the school's widely admired cinema department (which has a Cannes Film Festival award to its name), and its nationally acclaimed Baroque and Renaissance art gallery. Dalhouse also challenges some widely held impressions about BJU that have circulated among its detractors, including assumptions about the regional makeup of the student body, and about the prospects of BJU students to gain entry into graduate programs at other schools.
Filled with insights into the attitudes and personalities of the Joneses, An Island in the Lake of Fire offers a unique window into their influential, yet generally unrecognized, place in right-wing Christianity.