"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
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.
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