From Prize-Winning Dissertation to...

Today I received a copy of Darren Dochuk's long-awaited From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (Norton).

The book's release date is December 13, just in time to find its places under the Christmas trees of RiAH blog readers.

Winner of the Allan Nevins Prize as a dissertation, Darren's book is an erudite and persuasive account of how southern evangelical migrants transformed California's culture and politics.

"Rather than an invention of Falwell and Robertson's Religious Right," he argues, "evangelicalism's politicization was a product of an earlier time made possible by an earlier generation, a generation that came of age on the West Coast during Roosevelt's time, not Reagan's." Until recent years, historians have paid relatively little attention to what one might call the pre-history of the Religious Right. That, however, is no longer the case, as books ranging from Lisa McGirr's Suburban Warriors, Dan Williams's God's Own Party to Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Wal-Mart all provide careful analysis of how evangelicals gradually came to embrace conservative politics and free-market capitalism. Darren's book is a thorough culmination of this trend.

From Bible Belt to Sunbelt explores the religious and political interchange between the South and Southern California from the 1930s through 1980. "Jeffersonian Democratic" migrants quickly opposed California's version of the New Deal Coalition, constructed their own subculture of schools and organizations, and eventually helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency.

Several aspects of Darren's book thoroughly impress me. First, he very sensitively -- without a trace of scholarly condescension -- includes the voices of "plain folk," many of whom he interviewed for the book. Second, Darren mines untapped and rich veins of archival sources. Few historians have visited both the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Pat Boone Headquarters. He also gained access to the private records of many southern California churches. Finally, the book benefits greatly from Darren's clear and eloquent prose. Both specialists and students will find From Bible Belt to Sunbelt engaging and thought-provoking.

Buy it, read it, assign it.


Paul Harvey said…
Buy it! Read it! Assign it! This is the book of the year, no question; using in my grad. class this spring.
Randall said…
Paul: Just got the hard copy as well in the mail today. I like the pictures as well which were not in the advance copy.

Great book for courses!
These are all wonderful and I can't wait to get the new book (advance readers are so lucky!). I'd like to add another very excellent book to this list, though, which also deals with how religious conservatives came to embrace free market capitalism in the 60s, 70s/80s. Nelson Lichtenstein's _The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Created a Brave New World of Business_. As the title suggests, the book focuses on the retail revolution of this era, but to me this is the absolutely necessary context for these other books. And Lichtenstein does begin to explore the way "rural conservatism" has been exploited. Works really well alongside Moreton and McGirr (and likely Dochuk).
Tom Van Dyke said…

The 51st Annual Allan Nevins Dissertation Prize, 2011

Prize: A certificate, 1,000 dollars, publication, and consideration for adoption in the History Book Club. A certificate will be presented to the dissertation sponsor. The prize will be awarded at the annual meeting of the society in May, 2011.

1,000 dollars! And a certificate from sub-literates too!

I'm just having some fun with y'all, but this is the sort of thing that's mocked on this blog.

I'm sure it's a good book. It might win the Sarah Palin-Walmart Award too. They'll probably dig it. And I bet it'll pay more than 1,000 dollars, too.

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