Books: Regional Background


There are not many books that focus specifically on Appalachian religion(s). The typical model for books on the region prescribes only a chapter or two on this topic. The following section addresses this dearth of scholarship by presenting contexts within which Appalachian religion(s) may be studied. This section will present 1) a historical, geographical, social, and economic background of the region, including folklore sources; 2) an outline of important sources for the study of the Holiness-Pentecostal movement in the United States; and 3) books which have been written specifically on the topic of Appalachian religion(s).

These books are not necessarily related to religion. Rather, they provide insight into the Appalachian cultural context. Appalachians are most definitely "other." Thus an adequate familiarity with their culture, language, and history is imperative before any field study should be done. The books listed here illustrate some of the region's complexities, related through folklore and personal narrative. However, a much fuller understanding may be achieved by spending time in regional libraries and bookstores, and at arts and crafts fairs, revival fairs, and music festivals.

Barker, Garry. Notes from a Native Son: Essays on the Appalachian Experience. University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, TN. 1995.

Barker self-identifies as "half hillbilly, half yuppie, and half redneck activist." His book is a collection of opinion essays written in the 1980's and early 1990's. They describe his experience growing up in eastern Kentucky during the 1940's and 50's. The issues Barker touches upon in his writings have been relevant throughout the region's history and remain so today. His work is divided into four sections that reflect his experience of Appalachian life. These are "Learning," "Working," "Laughing," and "Looking." In these chapters Barker confronts the inadequacy of popular stereotypes and paints a picture of regional folklife.

Batteau, Allen W. The Invention of Appalachia. University of Arizona Press. Tucson, AZ. 1990.

Beaver, Patricia Duane. Rural Community in the Appalachian South. University of Kentucky Press. Lexington, KY. 1986.

Bodnar, John. The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America. Indiana University Press. Bloomington, IN. 1985.

Borman, Kathryn M. and Obermiller, Phillip J. eds. From Mountain to Metropolis: Appalachian Migrants in American Cities. Bergen and Garvey Publishers. Westport, CT and London. 1994.

This book describes the consequences of migration. Since the 1940s Appalachians have migrated to urban centers in search of employment. The preservation of cultural identity in these cities is an issue with which transplanted Appalachians continue to struggle. The book outlines migration patterns, demographics, "cultural perseverance," and health and environmental issues. It describes the tension between economic and social assimilation in rural and urban lifestyles of modern America.

Campbell, John C. The Southern Highlander and His Homeland. Russell Sage Foundation. New York. 1921.

This book is classic in the field and is cited in almost every work on Appalachian life. Campbell gives one of the earliest full descriptions of the Southern Highland region. The book is the outcome of the author's twenty five years of life and experience in the mountain country of the South. Campbell was an educator, serving as president of Piedmont College and later as the Secretary of the Southern highland Division of the Russell Sage Foundation. This book presents a detailed description of Campbell's view of the Appalachian region. It contains chapters on ancestry, pioneer routes, living conditions, religious life, and denominational. A must read for anyone entering this area of study.

Caudill, Harry M. Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area. Little, Brown and Co. Boston, MA and Toronto, Canada. 1962.

Caudill's book tells the ugly story of resource mismanagement in the Cumberland Valley of Kentucky. The work does not address religion at all, but this era's legacy of social and economic crisis is the context within which Appalachian religion should be viewed. Caudill's book is a classic tale of Appalachia: a story about abused coalminers and land. What he says about the Kentucky coalfields can be applied to the entire coal-producing Appalachian region.

Cunningham, Rodger. Apples on the Flood: the Southern Mountain Experience. University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, TN. 1987.

In this work Cunningham asserts that the Appalachian people share a "Celtic" or "Scotch-Irish" heritage which can be traced and compared with the experience of Celtic peoples in Western Europe. He claims that "the core of Appalachian people was essentially formed by events which took place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries." The historical roots which Appalachian and Celtic peoples share date back to the first agricultural settlements in Britain, around 3000 B.C. Cunningham wants to place the Appalachian experience in a deep historical, international context. He even goes so far as to posit a "psychological heredity," passed down from English immigrants to modern day mountaineers. Such an analysis, however, seems to posit a uniform Appalachian ethnicity, when, in fact, "Appalachia's" ethnic diversity encompasses much more than descendants of Scotch-Irish and Celtic immigrants. See W.K. McNeil, Loyal Jones, and Henry Shapiro for more on this idea.

Dickens, Roy S. Jr. Cherokee Prehistory: The Pisgah Phase in the Appalachian Summit Region. University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, TN. 1976.

In fairly technical detail, Dickens describes two archaeological digs conducted in the Summit region of the Appalachian Mountains. The book includes a profile of academic research into Cherokee and pre-Cherokee culture in the region. Dickens states that the book is meant to provide information about a "late prehistorical phase," called the Pisgah. Although the technical jargon is useless for the scholar of Appalachian religion(s), this book remains valuable because of the insight it gives into the cultures that lived in the mountains before the European immigrants.

Farwell Jr., Harold F. And J. Karl Nicholas eds. Smoky Mountain Voices: A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech based on the Research of Horace Kephart. University Press of Kentucky. Lexington, KY. 1993.

An extensive glossary of "special words" used among the rural people in the Great Smoky Mountain region. Compiled by Horace Kephart, author of Our Southern Highlanders, this enormous collection presents the Smokies dialect in its "classical" period. The speech patterns, phrases, and words described in this book date to the period immediately following WWI, a time before the cultural intrusions of radio, missionaries, and settlement schools. The lexicon is useful for academic work because it provides a window into a relatively inaccessible past. For example, the scholar can use Kephart's definition of "holy tonin'" to understand something about preaching style in the pre-WWII period.

Ford, Thomas R. ed. The Southern Appalachian Region: A Survey. University of Kentucky Press. Lexington, KY. 1962.

A large collection of essays presenting an overview of the region. Essays are divided into the following subject categories: population statistics, economy, society, folk arts, and transition. I have encountered citations of this book in many of the sources on Appalachian religion. It is a classic survey book that is used in many aspects of Appalachian Studies.

Garber, Aubrey. Mountain-ese: Basic Grammar for Appalachia. Commonwealth Press, Inc. Radford, VA. 1976.

An alphabetically arranged glossary of words and phrases, containing such jewels as "aggervatinest." Ex: "John has the most aggervatinest wife in the Newnited States."

Gilfillan, Merrill. Burnt House to Paw Paw: Appalachian Notes. Hard Press Inc. West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. 1997.

Gilfillan has been described as the "Appalachian heir to the gifts of Basho and Thoreau." This book is an autobiographical sketch of thoughts, stories, and poems about Appalachia. This tiny, entertaining book makes terrific toilet reading.

Jones, Loyal and Billy Edd Wheeler. Laughter in Appalachia: A Festival of Southern Mountain Humor. August House Publishers. Little Rock, AR. 1987.

A compilation of jokes an humorous stories from the mountains. The most popular of Loyal Jones' books, it has sold more than 70,000 copies since its publication in 1987. Jones' foreword to the book discusses the importance of laughter in an area accustomed to economic, social, and environmental hardship. My family has owned this book for years, and I never deemed it worthy of academia until "Approaches." But now it seems that this book is an excellent example of ways in which people overcome the absurdity of human existence. The book is divided into subject categories: Religion, Doctors and Lawyers, Schools and Book Learning, Politics, farming, Alcohol, Longevity, and Dogs and Hunting. In short, the chapters describe aspects of Appalachian life.

Jones, Loyal. Appalachian Values. The Jesse Stuart Foundation. 1994.

One of Jones' most popular works, this book is a compilation of Jones' sayings and photographs by Warren Brunner. Brunner has photographed Appalachian life for over forty years, and this book was a result of his retirement and Jones' investigation of his basement archives. The book confronts the construction of Appalachia in modern scholarship and attempts to present "Appalachian Values" in a more positive light. The book is not academic, in fact it is intended to be a children's book, but its popularity and Jones' style reveals the taste and feel of Appalachian life in a way few academic works have emulated.

Kephart, Horace. Our Southern Highlanders. Outing Publishing Company. New York. 1913.

Horace Kephart lived alone for three years on the Little Fork of Sugar Fork of Hazel Creek near Bryson City, North Carolina. He was well-educated, but suffered from alcoholism and depression. He sought the North Carolina mountains as a cure for his mid-life crisis. A librarian before the move, Kephart continued his literary tendencies, writing about outdoor survival and compiling stories and notes about the region. This book, his most popular is a collection of his thoughts and stories about people and events with which he was familiar. It is important to the field because it represents Appalachia life before WWII, a time referred to as the "classic" period. It is also interesting because Kephart's is one of the first "outsider" field study of Appalachia.

Maurer, B.B., ed. Mountain Heritage. Mountain State art and Craft Fair. Cedar Lakes, Ripley, West Virginia. 1974.

A collection of ten pieces written by persons who have "lived, loved, and taught in the confines of our hills"(vii). Topics include language, culture, religion, arts and crafts, black culture, music, and dance. An excellent scholarly resource and a good example of preservative revivalism.

Miles, Emma Bell. The Spirit of the Mountains. University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, TN. 1975.

Emma Bell Miles was an Appalachian writer and poet living at the turn of the century. This compilation of her writings was first published with little fanfare in October 1905. The work is a unique collection of early mountain folklore, written by an educated, bicultural woman. Bell's life was marked by rapid change and travel, taking her from places like Rabbit Hash, Kentucky to the literary circles of St. Louis. She collected mountain folklore, proverbs, superstitions, and music, and related these in her writings to a much broader cultural issue, that of encounter with a hostile environment. She pays special attention to performance and storytelling styles, showing how these relate to the mountaineers' experience. The work is written from an "insider perspective," which caused political activists in the late 1960's to refer to it as "Appalachian nationalism."

Ogburn, Charlton. The Southern Appalachians: A Wilderness Quest. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York. 1975.

This book is a history of the exploration of the Appalachian Mountain range. The work provides a strong sense of the geographical context of Appalachian studies. It focuses on the land, mountains, forests, and animal life. Ogburn claims that, for most Americans, the Alps, Pyrenees, and Rockies are more familiar than the Appalachians. He describes the mountains as the "Range of Shadow" (a play on John Muir's description of the Sierra Nevada as the "Range Of Light"). The Appalachians are presented here as a land of mystery, poverty, and tragedy as Ogburn delineates the history of their exploration.

Raine, James Watt. The Land of Saddle-bags: A Study of the Mountain People of Appalachia. Council of Women for Home Missions and Missionary Education Movement of the United States and Canada. 1924. Foreword to the 1997 edition by Dwight Billings. University of Kentucky Press. Lexington, KY 1997.

This classic work is an early first-hand documentary constructing images of Appalachian life which continue to endure. Raine taught at Berea College, a legendary center for Appalachian Studies, from 1906 - 1939. His presentation of the region helped to create what Henry Shapiro has called the "myth of Appalachia." In the foreword to this book Dwight Billings relates the idea of "Appalachianism" to Edward Said's "Orientalism." Raine's book presents a study of the people of the region, but it is geographically biased in favor of the remote mountain areas of eastern Kentucky. The piece is classic in that it is one of the earliest scholarly works on the region. It is also interesting because it demonstrates Berea College's role in the early formation of the field.

Shackleford, Laurel and Weinberg, Bill eds. Our Appalachia: An Oral History. Appalachian Oral History Project. 1977.

This "social history of Central Appalachia" is divided into three sections. The first, "A Simpler Time," deals with the history of the region prior to industrialization. It relates the early mountaineers' struggle for survival in a region isolated from urban centers. The second section, "A Culture Under Attack," presents the radical social and economic changes induced by the coal industry, the Great Depression, union wars, and out-migration. The short third section, "Digging In," discusses the struggle of Appalachians to remain in the region despite excessive poverty and unemployment. Urbanization remains a serious problem for Appalachian culture, as more and more mountaineers migrate to the cities in search of jobs. This book presents itself as a critique of "bad sociology" in the region, and it is intended, at least in part, to counteract the stereotypes found in comic strips and on television. The editors parallel the Appalachian struggle for cultural survival with the Civil Rights Movement and with contemporary movements toward multiculturalism. "Ironically, as the country began to appreciate racial, ethnic, and regional differences, the pressure to obliterate these differences became even more intense. Nowhere is this more true than in Central Appalachia." (from the introduction)

Thomas, Roy Edwin ed. Southern Appalachia: 1885 - 1915: Oral Histories of Residents of the State Corner Area of N. Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. McFarland and Co., Inc. Jefferson, NC, and London. 1991.

In this work Thomas traces the history of the "folk dialect" through the oral stories he collected from old folks born before 1900. These narratives illuminate Appalachian life before the socio-economic changes wrought by World War Two. The dialect in which the stories are told provides a glimpse into Appalachian language and the traditional style of regional raconteurship. In an appendix entitled "Mountain Folk Dialects," Thomas tracks the development of specific phrases found in the rural highlands to their roots in Old English (Chaucer, rural England).

Turner, William H. and Edward J. Cabbell, eds. Blacks in Appalachia. University Press of Kentucky. Lexington, KY. 1985.

A compilation of essays about the black experience in Appalachia. The essays focus mainly on socio-economic issues and race relations. They do not explicitly address religion. Yet I included this work because it is one of the few that addresses African-Americans in the region.

Weller, Jack E. Yesterday's People: Life in Contemporary Appalachia. University of Kentucky Press. Lexington, KY. 1965.

Weller's book gives a general overview of mountain life. He describes poverty, discovery and rediscovery, psychology, family and society structure, and organized religion. Only chapter seven is specifically about religion, but the rest of the book provides the necessary context within which religion should be viewed. This kind of generality, however, tends to reduce Appalachia to a monolithic culture and people, and ignores the region's diversity and incongruities. The book was published in the 1960's when Appalachian scholarship was just beginning to examine its vast cultural and religious resources. This book is a classic because it is one of the earlier examples of the typical book on Appalachia. It describes the geographical and social context, introduces the "mountaineer," throws in a chapter about churches, then discusses the possibility for economic liberation. Weller's book is typical in that this liberation implies assimilation into the dominant mainstream American culture.


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