Religion and the Early South


The weather outside is not all that frightful, actually, but inside, I'm looking at the monstrous pile of stacked-up unread journals, papers, manuscripts, books to review, reports, letters of recommendation, tenure files to review, and stuff I can't even remember anymore.

But at least I finally to the special issue of the Journal of Southern History devoted to short, pointed historiographical and thematic issues on The Colonial South. So put this on your reading shopping list:

Jon Sensbach, "Religion and the Early South in an Age of Atlantic Empire," Journal of Southern History. August 2007, 631-42.

Sensbach briefly and expertly outlines the complex, polyglot religious world of the South before the "evangelical ascendancy": one in which Catholicism was central (see: Florida prior to the Indian raids on the missions in the early eighteenth century, which in fact were more destructive and probably far-reaching than the much better-known ones on Deerfield and other Puritan outposts around the same time), and one in which, according to scholar Thomas Little, Anglican reforms possibly empowered revivalism that we normally associate with the evangelical Great Awakening. At no other time in southern history, Sensbach makes clear, was there such a heterogeneous mix of peoples "espousing such a medley of religious beliefs," making all our comfortable notions of what constitutes "southern religion" irrelevant.

For a fuller explication of colonial southern religious history as seen by Sensbach, see his piece "Before the Bible Belt: Indians, Africans, and the New Synthesis of Eighteenth-Century Southern Religious History," in Beth Schweiger and Don Mathews, ed., Religion in the American South: Protestants and Others in History and Culture (UNC Press).

In short, good reading to reorient your thinking. While you're at it, check out Julianna Barr, "How do You Get from Jamestown to Santa Fe: A Colonial Sun Belt," pp. 553-567 in the same Journal of Southern History issue -- not as explicitly about religion as Sensbach's, but illuminating on themes of religious history nonetheless.


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