Year of Publication

2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Alan Nadel

Abstract

This project explores the ways in which key literary texts reproduce, undermine, or otherwise engage with cultural narratives of the so-called Bible Belt. Noting that the evangelicalism that dominated the South by the turn of the twentieth century was, for much of the antebellum period, a relatively marginal and sometimes subversive movement in a comparatively irreligious region, I argue that widely disseminated images and narratives instilled a false sense of nostalgia for an incomplete version of the South’s religious heritage. My introductory chapter demonstrates how the South’s commemorated “Old Time” religion was not especially old, and how this modernist construct of an idealized past helped galvanize Southern evangelicalism into a religion that more readily accommodated racial hegemony in the present. The following three chapters examine Faulkner’s Light in August, O’Connor’s Wise Blood, and Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Moses, Man of the Mountain. I find that each of these novels embeds traces of forgotten religious dissidence. The modern nostalgia for a purer old-time religion, my readings suggest, says less about the history of religion in the South than it does about New-South efforts to merge evangelical and “Southern” values, thereby suppressing any residual opposition between them.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

http://dx.doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2016.116