Southern Cross

The Beginnings of the Bible Belt

By Christine Leigh Heyrman

Southern Cross

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 tables, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4716-9
    Published: April 1998

Buy this Book

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

1998 Bancroft Prize, Columbia University

Revealing a surprising paradox at the heart of America's "Bible Belt," Christine Leigh Heyrman examines how the conservative religious traditions so strongly associated with the South evolved out of an evangelical Protestantism that began with very different social and political attitudes.

Although the American Revolution swept away the institutional structures of the Anglican Church in the South, the itinerant evangelical preachers who subsequently flooded the region at first encountered resistance from southern whites, who were affronted by their opposition to slaveholding and traditional ideals of masculinity, their lack of respect for generational hierarchy, their encouragement of women's public involvement in church affairs, and their allowance for spiritual intimacy with blacks. As Heyrman shows, these evangelicals achieved dominance in the region over the course of a century by deliberately changing their own "traditional values" and assimilating the conventional southern understandings of family relationships, masculine prerogatives, classic patriotism, and martial honor. In so doing, religious groups earlier associated with nonviolence and antislavery activity came to the defense of slavery and secession and the holy cause of upholding both by force of arms--and adopted the values we now associate with the "Bible Belt."

About the Author

Christine Leigh Heyrman is professor of history at the University of Delaware.
For more information about Christine Leigh Heyrman, visit the Author Page.


"An extraordinarily rich exploration of the first hundred years of evangelical faith in the South. . . . Heyrman has given us a great deal to think about in this wonderfully told and beautifully written story. In the end, we are left to ponder what the South, and indeed the United States, might look like today if those 18th-century evangelical firebrands with their message of freedom for slaves and recognition for women had managed to carry the day."--Charles B. Dew, New York Times Book Review

"An eloquent piece of narrative history. . . . This is an outstanding book, impressively saturated with primary sources, beautifully written, and spiced with pervasive wit. Heyrman offers a novelist's sensitivity to the many colorful characters in her tale. . . . A remarkable book that will set a high standard for future studies of religion in the antebellum South."--Kirkus Reviews

"Heyrman provides an elegant and evocative portrait of the early estrangements. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt has narrative power, unusually combining incisiveness with humanity. . . . It is hard to see that her book has a serious competitor."--Times Literary Supplement

"Indispensable for the study of Southern religion."--Religious Studies Review

"[Describes] in vivid and convincing detail, the ways in which Southern evangelicals remade their faith to fit more easily into their society. For that accomplishment, and for tackling the history of the evangelical mainstream in an innovative way, this book represents an important contribution."--Koinonia

"Undoubtedly one of the most important, and most impressive, works on southern religion to appear this decade."--Atlanta History