I grew up in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s. During my childhood, Texas was a purple state. Both major parties represented us in the Senate, and the governorship oscillated between Democrats and Republicans. Things have changed quite a bit.
In November 2014, Republicans swept the mid-term elections throughout the United States. In Texas, the margin of victory was surreal, with Republican Governor-Elect Greg Abbott defeating Democratic Candidate Wendy Davis by more than 20 points. Yet how did Texas, which in the 100 years between the end of Reconstruction (1877) and the inauguration of Jimmy Carter (1977) sent only one Republican to the Senate and none to the governor’s mansion, become the geographic locus of the Republican Party? In Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State, Princeton Sociologist Robert Wuthnow contends that religion played a major role in that transformation, reaching all the way back to the founding of the Republic of Texas (1836) in order to investigate the grassroots causes of the shift in voter alignment in the Lone Star State.
Texas Turns Purple
Prior to the Civil War, as natural disasters, disease, and potential attack by Native Americans threatened white families that settled Texas, religion brought hope and comfort. It also shaped civilization in the “rough country.” As historian Sidney Mead has persuasively argued, the lack of an established church left America without a central authority empowered to teach virtue to the populace. Instead, various denominations cooperated to shape a generally Protestant public morality.
In the Republic of Texas, they did the same. Over time, schools and communal organizations, informed by Protestantism, ...1