Over at Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore reviews Darren Dochuck’s book From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (Norton, 2010).
Dochuk’s book is based on his Nevin’s Prize winning dissertation at Notre Dame. It has been getting a lot of attention lately as the new definitive treatment of the origins of the Christian Right.
Here is a taste of Kilgore’s review:
In his new book, From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, Purdue University history professor Darren Dochuk tells the tale of southern migrants (mainly from the freewheeling states of the “western South” such as Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma) who flooded into the Los Angeles area before and after World War II. They brought with them a distinctive brand of institutionally adaptive but theologically rigid evangelical Protestantism, which eventually served as a crucial vanguard for the conservative movement that mobilized behind Barry Goldwater and reached the promised land via California’s own Ronald Reagan.
Dochuk excels in his profiles of early “plain-folk” settlers and their world, and the tangled personal, institutional, and doctrinal motives of the ministry that served them. He describes the evangelizing and church-building activities of “tent-makers and prophets”—essentially religious entrepreneurs—like Bob Shuler, Jonathan Perkins, and Robert Lackey, and the educational efforts of John Brown (whose John Brown University in Arkansas pioneered evangelical championship of capitalism) and George Pepperdine (whose eponymous university in Los Angeles, originally affiliated with the Churches of Christ, became one of the flagship conservative schools in the country). All of these leaders contributed to the politicalization of Southern California evangelicals and built a close alliance between churches and wealthy conservative ideologues.
Most of these settlers, battered by the Dust Bowl, were drawn to the Los Angeles area by the jobs that came with the massive defense spending that accompanied and followed World War II, and were soon inhabiting America’s first major “sprawl” community. Neighborhood churches became a focal point for political activism, and a militant anticommunism become a near-universal creed.
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