Christine Leigh Heyrman. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Pp. xi + 336.

      Heyrman's book begins with the observation that almost a century elapsed before evangelical Christianity "won the attention, if not the allegiance, of a majority of southern whites"(6). In Southern Cross, Heyrman attempts to recreate the period when evangelicalism was struggling to establish itself by focusing on the contestations and accommodations that took place in five arenas in which evangelicalism challenged the mores of the white South: evangelical supernaturalism, the youth and inexperience of Baptist and Methodist preachers, evangelicalism's challenge to the family, its empowerment of female religious "virtuosos," and the threat it posed to "southern manhood." The book is intended for both historians of the American (U.S.) South and American (U.S.) religion and a wider public interested in evangelicalism. The author's style is extremely engaging and the more technical discussions are relegated to the footnotes and an appendix.

         Heyrman argues that evangelicalism gained acceptance in the South through accommodating itself, at least in part, to Southern mores in each of the five arenas. Evangelicals, she argues, "toned down" their supernaturalism and became "notably more circumspect in weighing the import of dreams, portents, and visions" (73). They, Methodists in particular, relaxed strictures against marrying and increased salaries, so that young preachers might "mature in the ministry" while supporting a family. They modified their initial emphasis on the church as an alternative to the family by importing the "cult of domesticity" from the North and thereby sanctifying the home and patriarchal southern slave-owning family. They provided a place for the expression of female religious virtuosity--through testifying, praying, and exhorting--but they increasingly turned their attention toward "husbands and fathers as the force to be reckoned with in their campaign to evangelize the South" (204). In the face of southern white men who associated the rigors of the evangelical conversion experience with the "loss of self-mastery" and thus of "manhood," evangelical preachers used the language of "spiritual warfare," especially in the context of the camp meeting, to convince them that conversion would leave them no less masculine and masterful.

         Heyrman's goal is to recover a world "marooned from living memory in which

"The possibilities of her approach are, in my view, most fully realized in her chapters on youthful preachers and the evangelical challenge to the family."

evangelicals, far from dominating the South, were viewed by most whites as odd at best and subversive at worst" (6). Her focus on contestations achieves this brilliantly. The possibilities of her approach are, in my view, most fully realized in her chapters on youthful preachers and the evangelical challenge to the family. In the latter, she is able to use the wealth of material left by preacher Stith Mead, both published and unpublished, to particularly good effect, exploring the traumatic impact of his conversion on his extended family, the discrepancies between his public and private accounts of his family's response, and his professions of love ("I dream of Embracing you, in the fond arms of Nuptual love . . . I am Married to you. . . ."), presumably spiritual, for another Methodist itinerant (146-47).

         Heyrman's emphasis on the process whereby evangelicals accommodated to southern mores, however, obscures (1) the formation of this odder and more subversive form of evangelicalism (an intermingling of New England Separatist, English Methodist, and African traditions) in the context of late eighteenth-century inter-racial revivals in the Chesapeake Bay region, (2) its spread and survival both within and beyond the South, and (3) the role of factors other than regionalism in accounting for the accommodations that did and did not take place. Attention to these aspects of the process suggest a need to nuance certain of Heyrman's conclusions with respect to gender, particularly in her last two chapters.

         First, I would want to qualify her claim that "women were more visible as religious virtuosos in the South" because of the forms of evangelicalism that predominated there in contrast to the North (194). Such a statement is at best misleading and should be nuanced with more sustained attention to the primary sources on the early 18th century revivals in New England and the Middle Colonies, the new religious movements in the North in the post-Revolutionary period, and Methodists and Baptists in the North. It should be noted, parenthetically, that her boundary between North and South is, to say the least, rather fluid. Thus, Benjamin Abbott, an exemplary old-time Methodist preacher, whom Heyrman cites frequently, grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He spent most of his ministerial career as a local preacher based in New Jersey, itinerating from 1789-1896 on circuits in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, with occasional visits to St. George's in Philadelphia. Moreover, Heyrman's data on membership in the major southern evangelical denominations in 1835 includes Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois because, she argues, those states were settled principally by southerners (264).

         Second, I would suggest that the motif of "spiritual warfare" was not so much a product of the accommodation to southern mores as a deeply embedded motif within the odder and more subversive form of evangelicalism that emerged in the late 18th century. The "language of Canaan," which as Heyrman argues structured the evangelical conversion experience, infused both the late 18th century Chesapeake revivals and the early 19th century camp-meetings in both the North and the South. The language of Canaan, however, is quite literally the language of warfare and conquest, that is, of the Israelites' conquest of Canaan. The Old Testament provided the imagery (i.e. the images of Israelites camped in the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, the holy land as Zion, and the building of the temple in Jerusalem) that undergirded evangelical supernaturalism (i.e., their emphasis on the presence of God), their sense of themselves as a people (kin, family), and their structuring of sacred space (quarterly conferences and later camp meetings). The motif of spiritual warfare, while "manly," is not exactly evangelicalism at its most accommodationist. I think a case could be made that the motif of spiritual warfare was introduced into the South by the early Methodists and Baptists and was only fully embraced by white southerners as they increasingly differentiated themselves (even to the point of war) from those in the North.

Ann Taves, Princeton University

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

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