Flashes of a Southern Spirit
Meanings of the Spirit in the U.S. South

Charles Reagan Wilson

From Cherokee religious ritual to the music of Al Green


“Wilson has been one of the founders, promoters, and premier practitioners of southern studies. . . . Collected here under the umbrella of what he terms ‘southern spirit’ are some of his best essays, with discussions of southerners both famous and forgotten, gospel music, high literature, and self-taught art, all connected through Wilson’s deft understanding of the complicated role of religious experience in shaping and being shaped by southern culture.”
—Charles A. Israel, author of Before Scopes: Evangelicalism, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870–1925

"This well-composed and gracefully written volume addresses the cultural history of the American South, especially in its expressions of a distinctive 'southern spirit.' The essays collected here are a testament to a compelling vision of that spirit . . . No one has done more to define and promote cultural studies of the American South than Charles Reagan Wilson."
Journal of Southern Religion

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Flashes of a Southern Spirit explores meanings of the spirit in the American South, including religious ecstasy and celebrations of regional character and distinctiveness.

Charles Reagan Wilson sees ideas of the spirit as central to understanding southern identity. The South nurtured a patriotic spirit expressed in the high emotions of Confederates going off to war, but the region also was the setting for a spiritual outpouring of prayer and song during the civil rights movement. Arguing for a spiritual grounding to southern identity, Wilson shows how identifications of the spirit are crucial to understanding what makes southerners invest so much meaning in their regional identity.

From the late nineteenth-century invention of southern tradition to early twenty-first-century folk artistic creativity, Wilson examines a wide range of cultural expression, including music, literature, folk art, media representations, and religious imagery. He finds new meanings in the works of such creative giants as William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Elvis Presley, while at the same time closely examining little-studied figures such as the artist/revivalist McKendree Long. Wilson proposes that southern spirituality is a neglected category of analysis in the recent flourishing of interdisciplinary studies on the South—one that opens up the cultural interaction of blacks and whites in the region.

Page count: 260 pp.
15 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Charles Reagan Wilson is Kelly Gene Cook, Sr., Chair in History and Professor of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of Judgment and Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis and Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920 (both Georgia) and general editor of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.