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Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt Paperback – April 27, 1998

3.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It seems almost a given in the South these days that Christian conservatism is the rule rather than the exception. This part of the United States is, after all, the "buckle" of the Bible Belt. In her surprising history, Southern Cross, Professor Christine Leigh Heyrman shows that Evangelical Christianity was not always as popular in the South as it is today. In fact, the whole face of Evangelicalism has changed radically since its introduction in the 18th century. For example, early teaching and practice resoundingly opposed slavery, class privilege, and the traditional roles of men and women. Evangelicals encouraged women's involvement in church affairs and--even worse--spiritual intimacy with other races. These unpopular political and social stands combined with their unbending view of hellfire and damnation placed Evangelicals on the margins of Southern religious practice until they themselves were "converted" to a different set of traditional values.

Heyrman's book traces the evolution of Southern Evangelism from fringe movement to possessor of the Southern soul. In the span of a century, Evangelicalism began adopting Southern values, and a sect that had earlier preached against slavery and violence began defending both slaveholding and succession from the Union and the use of force in these ends, if necessary. The story of Christianity in the South is a fascinating one, and Southern Cross tells it well. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Heyrman (history, Univ. of Delaware) traces the development of evangelical Christianity in early Southern history, from Colonial days to the early 19th century. The author shows how the primarily Methodist and Baptist evangelicals were able to overcome strong resistance to become a predominant force in Southern culture. Young and inspired preachers, fear of the devil, signs and wonders, and an appeal to the most disadvantaged members of society brought initial success. Later, a movement toward patriarchal church and family structures and racial separatism helped the radical movement establish a permanent niche for itself. Both strands of this heritage continue to have influence. The author points out the importance of understanding this powerful heritage when analyzing modern trends in conservative Protestantism. A fascinating work; recommended for public and academic libraries.?C. Robert Nixon, Lafayette, Ind.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1st New edition edition (April 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080784716X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807847169
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt, Christine Heyrman traces the difficulties encountered by 18th century evangelicals in spreading Baptist and Methodist beliefs to the South, and discusses the remedies they employed to make their faith more acceptable within southern culture. Heyrman argues that in philosophy and modes of worship, the evangelical message was often at odds with prevailing cultural norms in the South. To win converts, sects had to modify their message, in some ways rejecting important theological underpinnings in order to gain membership. While evangelical religion is now seen as one of the bastions of conservative southern values, Heyrman asserts that this was not always the case, and that only in the 19th century did the evangelicals take on the characteristics we now associate with them. To support her argument, Heyrman relies primarily on church records, the diaries and letters of itinerant preachers, and a number of secondary studies of southern culture.
Heyrman believes that a number of factors accounted for the slow growth of evangelicalism in the 18th century South, among them an unwillingness among the lower classes to upset the gentry by adopting preachers who publicly spoke out against slavery, fear of upsetting the social hierarchy, and a cultural unwillingness to accept such a deeply personal and introspective conversion process. Many potential converts were unwilling to submit to such a demanding moralism, or feared being overcome by the despondency that struck some converts. The evangelicals�use of young and tactless itinerant preachers in a culture that placed value upon maturity and deference also contributed to their unpopularity.
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Format: Paperback
I remember reading this book some years ago, though I have no idea how I even got it. I say that because this is not the kind of book that would normally appeal to me. But it was really a well researched and thoughtful treatment of the subject (as one writer states, how the south got religion), I thought. It has been a long time but I vividly remember the impression I got from the book as a Southern Evangelical Christian, that I may not necessarily be the person I thought I was. It helped me to see that I was, as we all truly are, a product of the generations that have gone before (a simple observation but still mind-blowing every time you realize how much it applies to yourself). Some parts of the text were uncomfortable for me to read but I got through without feeling overly mocked or molested and can say I enjoyed the book and have thought of it often over the years (especially as a leveraging point for self-reflection). Very readable. Very interesting. The reason I don't give 5 stars is because a couple of times I wondered whether the author had truly experienced, from the inside, what it meant to be 1)southern and 2)an evangelical Christian! History isn't just about setting dates and events, it is sometimes a fragile weaving of culture and individual perspectives that you just have to experience. Anyhow I liked it 'n I s'pect that's all I gotta say!
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Format: Paperback
How would you feel if a visiting preacher came along and told you that the way you had been "doing church" all your life was wrong and would be radically changed? Your reaction would probably be similar to that of many whose calm and quiet lives were caught up in the frenzy of the evangelical awakenings and revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this book Christine Heyrman, a Professor of History at the University of Delaware, looks with a somewhat jaundiced eye at "the beginnings of the Bible belt" in the South of the early 1800's. The legacy of the Awakenings there was a population, many of whom had made a transition from the old, established Episcopal Church into the Baptist Church. No sooner had the effects of this jolt subsided when the region was overrun with itinerant Methodist circuit riders who raged against cards, guns, dancing, and Calvinism; in short, everything which had made the South that bastion of macho chivalraic leisure which, among the upper classes, it had become. For good measure, a smattering of Scottish Presbyterianism is thrown in to complicate the mixture. As they usually do, the flames of revival had spawned a certain amount of hysteria and superstition as people sometimes fainted, raved, and saw unearthly visions when they came under conviction of sin. Church growth outstripped oversight and discipline as new, unshepherded converts often headed for the Quaker or Shaker communities or into bizarre churches of their own devising. Heyrman's main point, however, is to show how the Southern mindset and lifestyle of today were molded and shaped by the synthesis of pre-Revival Southern mores and the evangelical preaching and style of the revivalists, especially the Methodist circuit riders.Read more ›
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First the good: I think this is a well written, well researched academic book that is informative, insightful and deserving of "landmark" status as academic critiques of American religion go.

The not so good: Well after what seemed like a great start, the book basically digresses into a critique of gender roles, use of military and manly imagery by the clergy to "market" their religion to white males and (to a lesser degree) compromise on opposition to slavery.

Fair enough. But aside from a very few interesting anecdotes, this book trails off and meanders in a detached and eventually condescending tone which to me is . . . well . . boring.

Finally in the epilogue the author essentially confides that southern evangelicals would not even merit serious study if it weren't for the growing political influence they possess today.

So why should I (um, ok - - I'm a B B B Baptist . . . ) be annoyed by this book? Well its kind like music reviews to me. If you don't even like the music in the first place, why are you writing a review? Or if you don't like Soul music - - just don't even bother writing about Al Green.

The trouble with a "secular humanist" writing a critique of religion to me is not that they can't (as in this book) do a good job of talking about the religion (or 'Song of Canaan" as called here) . . . its that they don't like the music . . . and can't seem to fathom why we sing.
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