Editor's Column

Rodger M. Payne / Louisiana State University

      Welcome to the cyberpages of the Journal of Southern Religion. JSR is a fully peer-reviewed journal that seeks to combine the highest standards of traditional scholarship with the tremendous capabilities of the World Wide Web to make available new research and to facilitate better communication between scholars, students, and the general public. With this our inaugural "issue," JSR joins a growing list of academic journals dedicated to establishing and maintaining critical and objective scholarship in this still emerging electronic medium. As we begin this venture, allow me to take this opportunity to share some of the background and personalities behind JSR and to answer some of the questions that we have already encountered during our many months of preparation.

      JSR actually began during a phone conversation between Briane Turley and myself concerning the ways that we could better incorporate the advantages of the World Wide Web in our classes at West Virginia University and Louisiana State University, respectively. Turley serves as managing editor and is responsible for both the planning and the execution of the journal's design. Due to Turley's diligence and dedication, JSR is the first online academic journal to receive a four-star rating for access by individuals with disabilities from the Center for Applied Special Technology. Beth Barton Schweiger joined as our book review editor, and she has done a superb job in organizing both the books and the reviewers for this issue. She will continue to work both on reviews and review forums such as the discussion of Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt which appears in this issue. John Corrigan, Professor of American Studies at Arizona State University West, has been a valuable colleague, and serves as the principal advisor of JSR. Finally, to Sam Hill, one of the pioneers of southern religious history, we owe a special debt of appreciation and gratitude. Although "officially" retired, Dr. Hill has lent his formidable support to JSR, and we are very pleased to present an essay by him as our first online offering. Our respect for his work is evidenced by the Sam Hill Award which will be presented annually to best student essay appearing in JSR.

      Beyond these key individuals, JSR has been a cooperative endeavor that has taken many hours of work by many devoted supporters to bring to fruition. Our editorial board reflects the diversity and interdisciplinary nature of the field of Southern religious studies, and apart from their review of submissions, individual members of the board will be serving as guest editors for future issues that will be dedicated to specific areas of research. The first such issue, on Native American religions in the Southeast, is scheduled to go online later this year with Joel Martin of Franklin and Marshall College serving as guest editor. Still in the planning stages are issues on topics such as Southern religion since the Civil Rights Movement; Asian religions in the South; and religion, food, and dining rituals in the South. We will, of course, continue to accept submissions on any topic related to Southern religion, and urge prospective authors to browse our editorial policies for further information.

      In order to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the study of Southern religion, JSR seeks submissions from historians, religionists, anthropologists, ethnographers, sociologists, and other interested scholars whose research is broadly humanistic (rather than quantitative). As the only publication of any type (print or electronic) dedicated exclusively to the study of religion in the South, we anticipate that JSR will serve as an easily accessible resource for scholars and students and as a resource to facilitate research in this field on the World Wide Web. Two questions, however, need to be further addressed: (1) Why publish JSR only as an electronic journal? and (2) How does JSR define its role within the field of Southern religious studies? Allow me to address these issues briefly for the benefit of those who might be unfamiliar with one or both of these areas of concern.

1. JSR and electronic publication

      Cyberpublishing is still in its infancy, but

"By employing the same standards of peer review that scholars have come to expect in print journals, there is no reason why electronic publication should not carry the same academic imprimatur as publication in print journals. . . ."

it has already begun to present both challenges and opportunities for scholarship. Perhaps the most significant challenge, as James Adair noted in a recent article, involves the "skepticism from established scholars" who either disparage "the ephemeral nature of much of the material on the Web," or argue "that the quality of scholarship [in electronic journals] is not as high as in traditional print journals." 1 As Adair goes on to explain , however, such apprehension is clearly misguided. By employing the same standards of peer review that scholars have come to expect in print journals, there is no reason why electronic publication should not carry the same academic imprimatur as publication in print journals, nor any reason why publication in such "e-journals" should not have the full endorsement of promotion and tenure committees.

      Indeed, electronic publication offers many advantages over publication in equivalent print journals. The most important advantage has to do with what Adair terms the difference between "print time" and "electronic time." Typically, the time between submitting a research article or a review to a print journal and the time that the submission actually appears in print (after review, revision, editing, etc.) now ranges from one to two years in most humanities journals. In an electronic journal, this time period–even with a correspondingly rigorous review process–can be reduced to a matter of months. With no need to typeset pages, electronic publication eliminates a lengthy part of the printing process. Further, electronic publication is not driven by quarterly or biannual deadlines: final drafts can be posted online as soon as the final copyediting has been completed. Electronic journals thus possess the ability to make new research available much more rapidly than can comparable print journals. Not only does this capability mean that original research can now be made available to other scholars in less time, but, as Adair comments, "[t]he short publication cycle possible with an online journal is especially important in book reviews" which can now be posted within months after the book itself has been published.

      There is little doubt that electronic publication will eventually redefine the field of academic publishing. Terms that we have come to associate with print media–pages, issues, volumes–will have to redefined in cyberpublication. The form of academic citation and documentation will likewise undergo a revolution. With nothing that actually corresponds to pages in the print use of the term, footnotes will have no place and will be replaced with endnotes that can be "targeted" and linked within the text. Further, citations to other documents on the Web can be "hyperlinked" in the text, providing instant access to the cited documents. Adair argues that this is "[t]he most obvious technological feature" of electronic publication while noting that the attempt to combine original text with successive scholarly commentaries can be traced to the marginal glosses of the Talmud.
3 What the rabbis conceived has thus been given birth by computer technology.

      Still, the print media offer a tangibility that is lacking on the Web, and this presents a problem for a progressive and sequential craft such as academic research which depends upon continuous access to original and secondary materials. Scholars who publish their materials online must be assured that their work will continue to be available for future challenge, confirmation, or revision. Electronic academic journals must therefore be "archived" for subsequent access, and this will take the cooperation of journals and universities alike since most academic journals "exist" on servers located at universities. We plan to archive JSR by volume (all postings during a calendar year comprising a single volume) and anticipate that previous volumes will always be available at our website. JSR will seek to take full advantage of other means of preservation as they are developed.

      As with print journals, publishing original research will remain the primary function of electronic academic journals. But online journals can and should offer more than just traditional research articles and reviews of scholarly literature. While electronic publication is rapidly changing the field of scholarship and research, the equally revolutionary potential of the Web to integrate teaching and service–two other traditional responsibilities of academia–into the benefits of cyberscholarship remains largely untested. Pedagogically, electronic publication offers students not only ease of access to articles and reviews, but it offers teachers the possibility to make available to their students online course syllabi, current bibliographies, and even cyberlectures by leading scholars or complete cybercourses. The editorial staff at JSR will seek ways to place the journal at the center of such pedagogical innovations. Further, effective scholarship cannot be, indeed must not be, restricted to the academy. While there will always be a need for specifically focused research, there is a growing need for synthetic research that consciously endeavors to address the larger public. Too many issues are too complex to be reduced to "expert sound bites" in the public media. Substantial and sustained public dialogue about issues such as religious faith and social boundaries, "legitimate" and "illegitimate" religious forms, and the role of religion itself in the public square should be the responsibility of academics who have been trained to investigate, analyze, interpret, and present these issues. The accessibility and "democratic" nature of the Web certainly makes it possible for journals such as JSR to participate in such "public scholarship" as part of the responsibilities of academic service, and there can be little doubt that academic e- journals will play an increasingly important role in the sphere of public scholarship in the years to come.

      Finally, electronic journals will never displace print journals in academic publishing, but they may prove to be its salvation. As the cost of print journals has escalated over recent years, subscription rates have consumed an ever-increasing share of library budgets. The cost of journals in the humanities has not kept pace with that of journals in the sciences and engineering, but the higher expense of journals in these fields have often meant shrinking acquisitions budgets, and new journals – even if reasonably priced – struggle to obtain a sufficient number of institutional subscriptions. Often, only those journals that are broadly focused in terms of their subject matter can gain adequate subscriptions. The more narrowly focused the target audience, the greater the chance of economic failure. Electronic publishing can generally avoid this problem. Most academic cyberjournals are offered free on the World Wide Web, and even if and when it becomes necessary to require subscription fees (as some non- academic "webzines" already do), startup and maintenance costs are substantially lower than they would be for an equivalent print journal. Lower costs also means that journals dedicated to specific areas of research and study become economically feasible.

      In short, the probability of our introducing a journal devoted to the study of Southern religion would be quite small if not for the opportunities made available by electronic publication on the World Wide Web. But bringing the advantages of electronic publication to Southern religious studies is not the only goal we have for JSR. The editors hope that this journal will prove to be a respected and essential resource for anyone interested in the study of religion and its role in the culture of the American South.

2. JSR and the study of Southern religion

      Like many other e-journals, JSR is targeted toward a specific audience: scholars, students, and others who are engaged in or interested in the study of Southern religion and culture. This said, however, neither the audience nor the subject matter are as provincial as they might at first sound. The functional and geographic variety of institutions represented on our editorial board indicate the degree to which the study of Southern religion is no longer the domain of a small group of champions (either regional or religious) working at Southern universities and divinity schools. Important studies date from at least the 1930s when "church historians" such as Wesley Gewehr or filiopietists such as Walter B. Posey wrote works which are still highly regarded. As an academic field, however, the study of Southern religion came into its own only in the 1960s when pioneers such as Sam Hill and Kenneth K. Bailey produced their studies of Southern churches "in crisis" (to borrow from the title of one of Hill's works). These were followed in the 1970s by the works of John B. Boles, H. Shelton Smith, Albert J. Raboteau, Dickson D. Bruce, Donald G. Mathews, and E. Brooks Holifield, to name only a few of the scholars whose works on antebellum religion (especially evangelicalism), "slave religion," and both popular and elite forms of religious thought and practice established the paradigms still employed by many in the field.

      Boles, in a seminal historiographic essay published in 1982, noted the shift in perspective and methodology that some of these works presaged, a shift that became more pronounced in the 1980s with the publication of books such as Charles Reagan Wilson's Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920.
5. Wilson's book, Boles noted, was "informed by aptly utilized anthropological and sociological insights" that successfully demonstrated the close relationship–indeed, the almost total synthesis–between cultural and religious forms in the South. 6 Similarly, in Rhys Isaacs's book, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 , Southern religion and culture defy easy separation. 7 Although "denominational" religious forms–Anglicanism and the evangelicalism of Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists–were significant in Isaacs's study, his extensive use of architectural studies, his attention to the configuration of social relationships, and his examinations of other aspects of the personal and material realms of colonial Virginia, reconstructed the way in which Virginians created meaning in their world and indicated that religion could not be understood only in the limited sense of what happened in the churches or in the minds and lives of believers.

      It is this expanded view of both what religion is and how it is to be studied that informs the orientation of JSR. Even a brief purview of our general areas of focus (itemized in our editorial policies) reveals the very broad definition that we have assumed regarding "religion." Obviously, denominational and institutional structures have been significant shapers of the Southern religious experience; one need only to think of the increasingly misnomered "Southern Baptist Convention" to glimpse the cultural power that even decentralized denominational forms have exercised in the South. But to understand religion from the perspective of theologian Paul Tillich as one's "ultimate concern," or from Clifford Geertz's insight that religion is a type of "cultural system," means that such institutional structures need not be regarded the only components that comprise Southern religion.
8 Behaviors, cuisines, music, literature, and other cultural phenomena, according to Geertz's definition, constitute the functional religion of any society; and clearly these have been among the components for which the South has gained the attention of Southerners and non-Southerners alike.

      But in the same way that we have not attempted a guiding definition of religion for our contributors, we

"More recently, Edward L. Ayers has cautioned that even 'cultural' definitions of the South prove to be as equally problematic as geographical ones. "

have refrained from attempting any definition of what we mean by "the South." Although it sounds geographically determinative, the "South" is a generalization that dissolves upon closer examination. Joel Garreau, in his book The Nine Nations of North America , redrew the boundaries of what he termed "Dixie" to include southern Indiana and southern Illinois, but not south Florida, Dallas but not Ft. Worth, Indianapolis but not Miami. Ultimately, however, Garreau admitted that even this idiosyncratic attempt to offer a geographical definition of the South was unsuccessful. "Dixie," Garreau wrote, "is the classic example of a place that eludes definition by conventional political geography" because its boundaries are "defined more by emotion than any other" of his nine "nations."
9 More recently, Edward L. Ayers has cautioned that even "cultural" definitions of the South prove to be as equally problematic as geographical ones. To identify something as a culture, Ayers notes, is to "essentialize" what is more often than not a multivalent ethos that exists only by way of the tendency of its proponents to "exoticize" competing cultures even while they "totalize" their own. The sectional crisis and the Civil War, Ayers suggests, led Southerners to create "the South" as something different from "the North"; but even the "Old South" that the Confederacy fought to preserve was in fact created by the Confederacy itself, much in the same way that the Confederacy today is created by many contemporary Southerners as "a potent symbol, its potency coming from its ambiguity and instability of meaning." 10 Denied an essential geography and culture by Garreau and Ayers, it might seem that to talk about the South is really to talk about nothing at all.

      Of course, we do talk about–and write about and think about–the South, realizing all the while that this generality obscures the numerous subregions and marginal areas where clear geographic and cultural boundaries–as well as religious ones–break down. The "Deep South," with its evangelical Protestant majority, has generally been used as the interpretive model for the entire region, but the inadequacy of this paradigm is readily apparent when one begins to include the religious variety to be found in south Florida, along the Gulf Coast, and in southern Appalachia, to say nothing of rapidly changing urban areas like Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Orlando. Further, the increasing mobility of contemporary American society means that Southern life, culture, and religion are no longer restricted to the area south of Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi as though mere geography marked something as Southern. Is a Byzantine Catholic parish on Florida's gulf coast more "Southern" than a Southern Baptist congregation in Massachusetts? The study of Southern religion is limited neither to the eleven states of the old Confederacy nor the evangelical denominations that have loomed so large in Southern life. By consciously avoiding any constrictive definitions of "the South" or "Southern," JSR seeks to encourage the investigation of religion within these various subregions and cultural domains both within and beyond the traditionally conceived geographic South.

3. Conclusion

      In a "Peanuts" cartoon, Peppermint Patty moans when she receives a failing grade on a paper. Her friend Marcie looks at Patty's report and points out that is still just a blank sheet of paper. True, Peppermint Patty admits, but then she exclaims "But just think of the potential!"

      With this issue, JSR is no longer "blank" although our beginning is modest. I hope that as you read through our offerings, you will gain a sense of the potential that exists here in our still unfilled spaces. If your interest in JSR is due to your own research or teaching in this field, I urge you to consider becoming a regular reader and even a contributor. If your interest is more casual, I hope that you will continue to return to our "pages" and that you will always find them both informative and stimulating.


James Adair, "A Modern Experiment in Studying the Ancients," Journal of Electronic Publishing. Adair is the founding editor of the online Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism.

2.Ibid. Return

3. Ibid. Return

4. On some of the issues surrounding public scholarship, see the American Academy of Religion, "Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion," . Return

5. John B. Boles, "Religion in the South: A Tradition Recovered," Maryland Historical Magazine 77 (1982): 388-401; Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1980). Return

6. Boles, "Religion in the South," 398. Return

7. Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1982). Return

8. Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System," in Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 87-125. Return

9. Joel Garreau, The Nine Nations of North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), 131 and 132. Return

10. Edward L. Ayers, "What We Talk about When We Talk about the South," in Edward L. Ayers, Patricia Nelson Limerick, Stephen Nissenbaum, and Peter S. Onuf, All Over the Map: Rethinking American Regions (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996), 65 and 79. Return

© 1998 by The Journal of Southern Religion. All rights reserved. ISSN 1094-5234

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