Southern Civil Religions
Imagining the Good Society in the Post-Reconstruction Era

Arthur Remillard

Revealing the many voices of southern civil religion


"By focusing on a diverse set of characters, in a relatively understudied sub-region, through the lens of people talking about a 'good society,' and using a number of vivid examples, this book makes a significant contribution to post-Civil War southern history."
—Paul Harvey, author of Freedom's Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era

"An exciting, revisionist study that is clear in argument. Anyone wanting to understand how a variety of people in the South have understood its spiritual and moral meanings will like this book."
—Charles Reagan Wilson, author of Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920

"Carefully researched and gracefully written, this study transforms our understanding of the post-Reconstruction Wiregrass South. Not the monolith often assumed, the region nurtured a rich diversity. Remillard demonstrates that competing and sometimes conflicting views of the good society—of civil religion—brought white southern Protestants, northerners, African Americans, Catholics, Jews, nativists, and others into lively, contested conversation. He shows how the views of each faction shaped and modified the image of the good society fashioned by the others, resulting in a variety of civil religious understandings. Essential reading for anyone hoping to understand the complex spirit of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Wiregrass South."
—Charles H. Lippy, coeditor, Encyclopedia of Religion in the South

"Remillard attempts to pull together the sundry strands and competing visions of the Wiregrass Gulf South—upper Florida, southern Georgia, and lower Alabama—by examining the moral vision of not only elite whites who perpetrated the Lost Cause mythology, but also the politically, socially and economically disadvantaged groups who suggested what society ought to be. . . .His work expands the dialogue and scholarly borders in analyzing the post-Reconstruction South and brings new life to southern voices long ignored."

"It is a rare treat to study the construction of southern identity from the perspective of so many different groups interacting with each other steadily over time. In this regard, Southern Civil Religions can be a model for future histories of the post-Reconstruction South."
—John M Giggie, American Historical Review

"[A]ttention to the competing visions of civil religion is the most important contribution of the book. . . . What makes Southern Civil Religions worth a broader consideration is Remillard's attention to how these competing visions were each tied to different claims about the placement of civic boundaries—about inclusion and exclusion."
—Joseph Gerteis, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Remillard writes with admirable clarity and brevity. He utilizes a wide range of primary materials that present a variety of perspectives. . . . [The] book reminds us that even a society as locked down as the 'solid South' failed to keep down courageous, alternative visions of the good society."
—Gavin James Campbell, Journal of American History

"This portrayal of the New South is humane and affirming, clear-eyed and yet refusing cynicism. In Remillard's hands, civil religion becomes not a smothering uniformity but a vocabulary in which people of all backgrounds, even in the repressive South, claimed a place for their vision of a just America. This book is itself an example of the benefits of a broader and more inclusive vision of what civil religion might mean."
—Edward L. Ayers, Journal of Southern Religion

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In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Lost Cause gave white southerners a new collective identity anchored in the stories, symbols, and rituals of the defeated Confederacy. Historians have used the idea of civil religion to explain how this powerful memory gave the white South a unique sense of national meaning, purpose, and destiny. The civil religious perspectives of everyone else, meanwhile, have gone unnoticed.

Arthur Remillard fills this void by investigating the civil religious dis­courses of a wide array of people and groups—blacks and whites, men and women, northerners and southerners, Democrats and Republicans, as well as Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. Focusing on the Wiregrass Gulf South region—an area covering north Florida, southwest Georgia, and southeast Alabama—Remillard argues that the Lost Cause was but one civil religious topic among many. Even within the white majority, civil religious language influenced a range of issues, such as progress, race, gender, and religious tolerance. Moreover, minority groups developed sacred values and beliefs that competed for space in the civil religious landscape.

The New Southern Studies

Page count: 248 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Arthur Remillard is an assistant professor of religious studies at Saint Francis University. He has served as the managing editor and book review editor for the Journal of Southern Religion since 2002.