It's a happy coincidence that I got my brand-spanking-new paperback copy of Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt, on the very day that I learned that the book (which as a dissertation won the Allan Nevins Prize, and as a book previously won the AHA's Dunning Prize -- biggies, both) was just awarded the Ellis Hawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians. Some high honors indeed for the former volleyball star from the Great Plains of Socialist Canada.
The coincidence reminded me it's a good time periodically to revisit some of our older blog classics, one of which was the interview we conducted last year with Darren and printed here. So, without further adieu, in honor of the book's success and newly being made available for your course use in paperback, here is Part I of our interview from last year below; and from there you can click on the link for Part two here (or just follow the link below). Congratulations again to Darren.
PH: Darren, how does a volleyball star like you from the Great Plains of Socialist Canada end up studying and writing this massive book about conservative southern evangelicals in twentieth-century California? Take us through some of your professional trajectory that got you to this book.
DD: The Great Plains, Socialist Canada, and volleyball may have had something to do with my obsessions. As a kid growing up in Alberta, I had a warped fascination with all things American; I read more about George Washington than John A. Macdonald, I loved U.S. college football, and my family’s annual vacation usually took us south (Edmontonians don’t drive north unless ice fishing or moose hunting are in order). South meant Southern California, a place where we could escape the Great Plains tundra for beaches and Disneyland. It wasn’t uncommon for us to use some of the 30 hours of driving time to debate why Americans hate government so much and Canadians don’t think it’s so bad. Then, while playing university volleyball, I had the chance to compete against California programs I followed as a high schooler. I had the best match of my career against the Pepperdine Waves, despite being heckled by some brutally tough fans. So perhaps the book can be boiled down to catharsis—some subconscious attempt to reclaim (or maybe purge) a familiar past…but I’ll leave that up to my sister psychologist to figure out.
The “professional trajectory” can be summed up more simply. While struggling to find a Ph.D. dissertation topic, I read (and loved) Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors and thought more could be done to explain Southern California conservatism, so I set out to do it. My goal was to write a book that embedded evangelicalism in the larger story of post-1930s politics by teasing out its connections to suburbanization, political economy, race relations, and the politics of labor, education, housing, and business. I wanted to thread evangelicalism into mainstream narratives of U.S. political history, which still tend to paint evangelicalism as a sideshow.
Part II of the interview is here.