From Mounds to Megachurches

Paul Harvey

Since I'm in the South today, here's an appropriately southern-themed blog entry, on a new work from the University of Georgia Press, From Mounds to Megachurches. In this short work, centered on Georgia, David Williams take us through the remarkably diverse history of religious practices, institutions, and groups in the Peach State. The book reminds me of Walter Conser's recent work A Coat of Many Colors: Religion and Society Along the Cape Fear River of North Carolina, in the sense of taking the largest themes of southern religious history and following them in a very specific locales over a broad expanse of time. The result is a picture of religion in the region that is at once more diverse and expansive, and at the same time more dependent on place and locale, than we get from stories (including my own work) that feature the evangelical synthesis as the defining principle of southern religious history. Good stuff from good senior scholars deeply immersed in the histories of their own regions. Here's a description from the UGA webpage for the work.

From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage, by David S. Williams

In From Mounds to Megachurches David S. Williams offers a sweeping overview of the role religion has played in Georgia's history, from precolonial days to the modern era.

Williams shows that colonial Georgia was a remarkably diverse place, populated by mainline colonial congregations that included Anglicans, Roman Catholics, German- and Spanish-speaking Jews, Salzburg Lutherans, and Scottish Presbyterians. It wasn't until much later that evangelicalism triumphed and Baptists became the overwhelmingly dominant denomination. Williams uses the stories of such important figures as Tomochichi, John Wesley, Jesse Mercer, Henry McNeal Turner, Lillian Smith, Martin Luther King Jr., and Clarence Jordan to portray larger historical narratives and denominational battles.
Race and religion were intertwined not only in such key movements as abolition and civil rights but also throughout Georgia's history. "In order to fully grasp the religious heritage of Georgia," Williams says, "we must return again and again to racial matters." Recently, Georgians have seen racial, ethnic, and religious diversity grow as Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha'i, and other communities have settled in the state. Williams explores how Georgians have dealt with contemporary issues of tolerance and how, at times, the state has taken center stage in our nation's culture wars.

Firmly rooting religious history in a social, cultural, and political context, Williams presents a representative and balanced account of Georgia's religious heritage. From Mounds to Megachurches sheds new light on what it means to be a Georgian by exploring an issue that remains central to life in the Sunbelt South.

David S. Williams is director of the Honors Program and Meigs Professor of Religion at the University of Georgia, where he has taught since 1989. He is the author of two previous books in religious studies.
October 2008

ISBN 0820331759 cloth • $26.95240 pp. • 6 x 9 in. • 16 b&w photos

"I know no other book that covers such a range of material, with such chronological sweep, in such short compass, for any southern state. Georgia and its citizens will be privileged to have such an accessible survey of their religious heritage available."—John Boles, William P. Hobby Professor of History, Rice University, and author of The Great Revival: Beginnings of the Bible Belt

"David Williams has written a masterful and remarkably concise synthesis of Georgia's religious odyssey. His title is no mere artifice of alliteration, for he does indeed take us from thousand-year old moundbuilders to modern megachurches, and from Moravians to Muslims as well, reminding us of a persistent strain of religious diversity while placing the emergence and evolution of a Protestant evangelical ethos at the center of Georgia's historical experience."—James C. Cobb, author of Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity


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