Religion in Mississippi
Religion in Mississippi, by Randy J. Sparks, associate professor of history at Tulane University, was published in 2001. This second volume of the Heritage of Mississippi Series traces the roots of the state’s most powerful religious movement, evangelical Christianity, and shows how it became a force of cultural revolution.
In the 1600s Colonial French settlers brought Christianity to the region, and for more than a century Roman Catholicism remained the principal religion. But by the time Mississippi became a state in 1817, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and other Protestant evangelical faiths were emigrating at a remarkable pace. By the twentieth century, religion in Mississippi was predominantly Protestant and evangelical.
Evangelicals embraced the poorer segments of society, welcomed high populations of both women and African Americans, and deeply influenced ritual and belief in the state’s vision of Christianity. Until Reconstruction many Mississippi churches were biracial and featured women in prominent roles, but as the Civil War and the racial split cooled the evangelicals’ liberal fervor, a strong but separate black church emerged. As dominance by Protestant conservatives solidified, Jews, Catholics, and Mormons struggled to retain their religious identities while conforming to standards set by white Protestant society.
As Sparks explores the dissonance between the state’s powerful evangelical voice and Mississippi’s social and cultural mores, he reveals the striking irony of faith and society in conflict. By the time of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, religion, formerly a liberal force, had become one of the leading proponents of segregation, gender inequality, and ethnic animosity among whites in the Magnolia State. Among blacks, however, the churches were bastions of racial pride and resistance to the forces of oppression.
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