Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt
By Christine Leigh Heyrman
Alfred A. Knopf
336 pp.; $27.50, hardcover
Univ. of North Carolina Press, $16.95 paper

Evangelical Christianity seems as natural to Southern culture as grits, stock-car racing, and tobacco farming. But in this sweeping reinterpretation of the origins and growth of evangelical religion in the land of cotton, University of Delaware historian Christine Heyrman persuasively argues that things have not always been that way. Indeed, evangelicalism proved a latecomer to Southern life, not gaining a firm foothold until nearly the middle third of the nineteenth century.

Evangelical shock troops, mostly Methodists and Baptists, arrived in Dixie in the mideighteenth century. Though they should have been well poised to scavenge marooned Anglicans after the Revolutionary War, plus the very large number of "worldlings" lacking any semblance of a church affiliation, they nonetheless faced an uphill battle all the way. So the question is, Why did they have such a hard time for so long?

Heyrman contends that the majority of Southerners found evangelicals too countercultural, too subversive of conventional mores—in a word, too odd—to take seriously. For one thing, in the beginning evangelicals seemed excessively introspective, overly concerned to chart the slightest variations in the temperature of their souls. Their propensity toward extreme emotion—weeping, fainting, prostration, and the like—offended the natural reserve of common folk whose hardscrabble lives offered little room for such luxuries. And evangelicals seemed to many to spend entirely too much time worrying about the meaning of dreams, apparitions, natural portents, and the ...

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