Moving mountains : Southern Appalachia and the faith of the nation, 1730-1835

Jones, William Brent, Department of History, University of Virginia
Ayers, Edward L., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Kett, Joseph, Department of History, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter, Department of History, University of Virginia
Warren, Heather, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Early residents of southern Appalachia practiced faith in a unique geographical environment that mitigated the dominance of evangelicals, which resulted in a mountain religious ecology that harbored more diversity than other areas of the South. The topography of Appalachia created a region that was too uniform demographically and too diverse economically to facilitate the rampant success of southern biracial evangelicalism. Therefore, six major traditions of piety competed on more equal footing in the mountain South: formalists, enthusiasts, nonconformists, rationalists, evangelicals, and ecclesialists.

Southern Appalachia's religious history is distinctive only as a regional variant of a larger southern narrative, yet this also variant also reveals how religious rivalries provided the primary context for the emergence of nineteenth century evangelicalism in the first place. Evangelicals forged a faith that represented, in their minds, a cleverly negotiated piety resisting the heterodox extremes that characterized so many of the early republic's liturgical, theological, and ecclesiological options. This centrist piety was imagined broadly enough to entice adherents from backgrounds as disparate as Baptist enthusiasm, Episcopalian formalism, Deist rationalism, and Anabaptist nonconformity.

But evangelicals' negotiated piety required constant monitoring in order to please a diverse constituency and keep their devotional tendencies in tension. Mountain evangelicals never found it easy to supervise their spirituality in a region as geographically complex as their own. Appalachia's internal religious differences appeared in stark relief after 1835, when conflict with abolitionists generated mutual affection among most white Protestants in the South. Proslavery sentiment, sectional antagonism, and the mission to the slaves never bolstered biracial evangelicalism in southern Appalachia as much as elsewhere. In fact, the uneven presence of highland blacks and their relative paucity in many areas ensured that highland evangelicals could not rely on such developments to maintain the harmony of their churches and regional religious bodies. Thus highlanders continued to worship in a pluralistic church context, one that made it hard to establish an Appalachian consensus on social and political issues like slavery that had obvious implications for piety.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: