Pilgrims of Paradox

Calvinism and Experience among the Primitive Baptists of the Blue Ridge

By James L. Peacock, Ruel Tyson

Pilgrims of Paradox

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 halftones, 1 maps, 1 tables, appends., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3517-0
    Published: January 1989

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Distributed for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Retired Faculty Association

The Mountain District Primitive Baptist Association enfolds churches in four counties in the Blue Ridge Mountains--North Carolina’s Ashe and Allegheny counties and Virginia’s Grayson and Carroll counties. Primitive Baptists are found throughout the United States and are related to the Strict and Particular Baptists of the United Kingdom. They are Calvinists, adhering to the theologies of John Calvin, John Bunyan, and British theologians such as Henry Philpott. As Calvinists, they teach predestination--that before the creation of the Earth, God chose who would be saved and damned. No one knows who is which and no one can change this destiny.

Originally published in 1989, Pilgrims of Paradox is based on extensive fieldwork conducted in the 1980s. Despite what may seem a fatalistic doctrine, Peacock and Tyson show that the Primitive Baptists of this region live vigorous, sturdy lives marked by self-sufficiency and caring for their community. They also inspire others in the area with the beauty of their hymns and “discourses” and by accomplishments bounded by humility.

About the Authors

James Peacock is professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was director of the Center for International Studies and chair of the faculty of UNC.
For more information about James L. Peacock, visit the Author Page.

Ruel Tyson is professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is founder and former director of the Institute of Arts and Humanities.
For more information about Ruel Tyson, visit the Author Page.


“This is among the most significant sociological studies of Calvinism since Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Peacock and Tyson present an engaging analysis of doctrine, history, and religious experience among southern Primitive Baptists, who are strict Calvinists with theological and historical roots in the English separatist tradition. … In sum, this book is a strong critique of Durkheimian and Weberian traditions in symbolic anthropology, as well as an elegantly crafted case study. It is certain to spark interest and controversy in disciplines ranging from theology to sociology and it makes a cogent argument for the development of closer ties between cultural anthropology and religious studies.”--Mark R. Woodward, American Anthropologist

“For the folklorist, the treatment of fieldwork is one of the most pleasant aspects of Pilgrims of Paradox. Peacock and Tyson speak not of informants but of hosts. And it was as guests, good guests, that they did their fieldwork. … This willingness to learn, not only about others but about themselves, is surely one of the major elements contributing to the success of these authors in their translation from academia to the field and in their translation of the field to academia.”--William Bernard McCarthy, Journal of American Folklore