Paul Harvey on Religion in the American South
Date: January 1st, 2017

“The South” is commonly referred to as the Bible Belt in the United States today, and despite New England having a more explicit Christian identity during colonial times, the region from Virginia down to Florida and out to Texas has been shaped by religious dynamics from its most early days.  Prof. Paul Harvey, professor of history at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, takes us on a grand tour of this region and the history of Christianity there.  After sorting through Prof. Harvey’s own intellectual trajectory to this topic, we define what is meant by “The South,” an identity-based term that really doesn’t become defined until roughly the Civil War era and shortly thereafter.  Histories of religion in The South often begin with the arrival of the British in Jamestown and the Anglican influence there, but Paul reminds us that Florida was a northern outpost for the Spanish Empire and Catholicism came to the region during the 16th century.  He discusses attempts by the Spaniards to missionize the indigenous populations and how the presence of the Spanish put pressure on the British to colonize up the coast.  We then walk through the colonial period, through the First Great Awakening, the Revolutionary era, and then into to the Second Great Awakening discussing how Christianity factored into the socio-demographic environment of those two centuries.  We focus on the role of Christianity with respect to slavery, touching upon the issues of whether to missionize slaves and how the Christian message was received, including mention of Charles Jones (“apostle to the slaves”) and the Stono Rebellion.  Paul points out that the Great Awakenings had an impact on these marginalized groups and there was even a religious “Awakening” amongst the Indian population.  Our discussion moves next to the Antebellum period, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, where religion plays a role in shaping the identify of the South, both amongst the White “evangelical” population and among former African-American slaves.  Paul plays out these themes noting a period of segregation that occurs in religion after the Civil War.  Journeying into the 20th century, we explore some of the themes we’ve visited in previous podcasts (e.g., Lerone Martin – see below) and how modern technology shaped the religious landscape, with an emphasis on phonograph religion and how that, in turn, influenced the musical trends of Americana, country music, and even Elvis Presley.  Paul points out an interesting paradox in Southern culture in this time that juxtaposes an immense amount of racial violence and poverty with an enormous outpouring of artistic creativity, not only in music, but in literature as reflected in the works of individuals such as William Faulkner.  We finish with a discussion of the role of religion in the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century, the rise of the Religious Right, and how interesting it has been to see the growth of the “prosperity gospel” message in the past few decades.  Paul further notes the changing religious landscape as an influx of Latinos are adding to the pluralism of the region, not only in terms of Catholicism, but a new flavor of evangelical Protestantism as well.  Prof. Harvey ends with a few reflections on where he sees religious and social trends moving in the future, offering up both some pessimistic concerns and optimistic hopes for the future.  Recorded: December 23, 2016.


Prof. Paul Harvey’s personal website and bio at the Dept. of History at UC-Colorado Springs.

Christianity and Race in the American South, by Paul Harvey.

Bounds of their Habitation: Religion and Race in American History, by Paul Harvey.

Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity, by Paul Harvey.

Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865-1925, by Paul Harvey.

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in American History, by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey.

Religion in American History (a fascinating blog on religious history with several historians).

Religion Dispatches.


Lerone Martin on Preaching on Wax and Phonographic Religion.

David Dixon on Religious Rhetoric and the Civil Rights Movement.

Darin Mather on Evangelicals and Racial Attitudes.

Bradley Wright on Religion, Race, and Discrimination.

James Patterson on MLK, Fulton Sheen, & Jerry Falwell.

Merissa Davis on Bill Cosby, Religion, and African American Churches.

John Wilsey on American Exceptionalism & Civil Religion.

David Mislin on Embracing Religious Pluralism.

Joseph Castleberry on the New Pilgrims.

Hunter Baker on the Past and Future of the Religious Right.

Paul Sinitiere on the Osteens and Lakewood Church.

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