Before Scopes
Evangelicalism, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870–1925

Charles A. Israel

A timely look at the origins of today's antievolution debates


"Before Scopes is a worthy contribution to southern history. I am very impressed with Israel's research, scholarship, and sophisticated arguments. This should become a standard reference point in works on southern religious and cultural history, standing with recent works by Ted Ownby and Beth Schweiger, among others."
—Paul Harvey, author of Freedom's Coming: How Religious Culture Shaped the South from Civil War through Civil Rights

"Through a nuanced historical study of the attitudes of Tennessee Evangelicals to the place of religion in public education, Before Scopes sheds new light on the local context for the state's legendary 1925 antievolution law and the resulting trial of John Scopes. Many of the historical tensions chronicled in this book continue to strain American society and public education today."
—Edward J. Larson, author of Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion

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The 1925 Tennessee v. John Scopes case—the Scopes Monkey Trial—is one of America's most famous courtroom battles. Until now, however, no one has considered at length why the sensational, divisive trial of a public high school science teacher indicted for teaching evolution took place where, and when, it did.

This study ranges over the fifty years preceding the trial to examine intertwined attitudes toward schooling and faith held by Tennessee's politically dominant white evangelical Protestants. Those decades saw accelerating social and economic change in the South, writes Charles A. Israel. Education, long the province of family and community, grew ever more centralized, professionalized, and isolated from the local values that first underpinned it. As Israel tells how parents and church, civic, and political leaders at first opposed public education, then endorsed it, and finally fought to control it, he reveals their deep ambivalence about the intangible costs of progress.

Lessons that Evangelicals took away from failed adult temperance campaigns also prompted them to reexert control over who and what influenced their children. Evangelicals rallied behind a 1915 bill requiring the Bible to be read daily in public schools. The 1925 Butler bill criminalized the teaching of evolution, which had come to symbolize all that was threatening about theological liberalism and materialistic science. The stage for the Scopes trial had been set. Delving deeply into the collective mind of a people in an age of uncertainty, Before Scopes sheds new light on religious belief, ideology, and expression.

Page count: 264 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $29.95

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Charles A. Israel is an associate professor of history and Chair of the History Department at Auburn University. His current research addresses religion and social reform in the nineteenth and twentieth century American South.