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Throughout such changes, religious organizations remained central institutions of southern life. Religion in the colonial period was considerably different from that in 1830, and subsequent generations experienced dramatic social changes that would affect religion.Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, ca. Evangelicalism came to dominate the religious life of southerners, in ways distinctive to the nation.Evangelical dominance developed at the same time as sectional political consciousness crystallized in the early nineteenth century, and religious groups, both culturally dominant ones and dissenters, lived within a society constrained by the orthodoxies of a sectional society often at odds with national expectations.Religious groups in the South sometimes used sectional identification to define themselves against outsiders—especially northerners—who used their own religious language and ideas to condemn the immorality of the South.Roman Catholics have dominated in south Louisiana, dating from sixteenth and seventeenth century French settlement, creating a unique landscape in the South, but Catholics also heavily influenced life in Hispanic south Texas, Cuban areas of Florida, and along the Gulf Coast with its early French and Spanish settlement. John's is the oldest English-speaking parish in continuous existence in the United States.Catholics were also a historic presence in Maryland and Kentucky, even nurturing there a prominent twentieth-century spiritual presence in Thomas Merton. Attention to the historical development of religion in the South underscores dramatic changes and ways in which religion has entered into the ideology and experience of southerners.Religious traditions that are outside the predominant evangelical Protestantism have special significance within particular places in the South.Ethnic groups planted and sustained religious traditions in regional enclaves outside the evangelical Protestant hegemony.
Ministers were peculiarly positioned to interpret sectional experience as divinely sanctioned when under attack, and they repeatedly did so.Photographs of Southeast Tennessee Religious Heritage Trail sign and North Cleveland Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee, September 30, 2010. The mountains of east Tennessee were an important hearth for white Pentecostalism, giving birth to the Church of God, while the Deep South of Mississippi and nearby Memphis nurtured black Pentecostalism through the Church of God in Christ.The Churches of Christ, a theologically conservative and morally strict group that grew out of the Presbyterians, are often one of the numerically largest and culturally powerful religious groups from middle Tennessee, down through north Mississippi, Arkansas, and into central and west Texas, but the group is hardly known in other parts of the South."The South" has included such specific regions as the Atlantic Coast Tidewater, the Piedmont, the Black Belt, the Mississippi Delta, the Piney Woods, Acadian Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast.
The long predominance of evangelical Protestantism in the South has been a crucial backdrop for religious development, but that religious tradition includes many specific groups, often with regional meanings within the broader South. Creative Commons license CC BY-NC 2.0 The Baptists, for example, represent the largest religious denomination in most counties of the South; but their greatest strength reaches from southern Appalachia, into the Deep South states of Georgia, Alabama,and Mississippi, into northern Louisiana and east Texas, and into southern Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma—creating a Baptist domain within the US South, which is itself characterized within the national context as more Baptist than anything else.
(Eighmy, 1972) Often theologically and socially conservative, religion in the South also provided the rationale and organization for progressive reform. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, loc.gov/pictures/resource/pga.03643/.