Bill J. Leonard's Response to the West Virginia University Graduate Student Roundtable Review of Christianity in Appalachia


First of all, I really see no need to argue with critical assessments of some specific essays. I think that they are insightful at points and reflect the difficulty of publishing an anthology rather than a monograph. In organizing Christianity in Appalachia, we literally paid our money and made our choices. One essay was unacceptable for what we hoped to accomplish, so we decided not to publish it. Thus we did not simply publish all of the essays we received.

With respect to observations about Appalachian stereotypes and non-stereotypes, I offer a brief response that may, or may not, satisfy critics. We sought--I did particularly--to remind readers that the region is more pluralistic than snake handlers and other marginal groups. I think we generally reflected this approach in the essays. However, just because groups are often caricatured or stereotyped certainly does not mean that we should not study or discuss them. Janet Welsh's essay may be problematic in this respect (as certain reviewers pointed out). At best, we might observe that her survey does illustrate the presence of certain segments of the population in the region. I might have put an editorial qualifier in the introduction to her chapter that pointed this out, and I probably should have.

Another point that I should broach relates to one reviewer's observations about missionary work in the region. Simply because there is historical debate about the "indigenous" churches and the mission movement does not mean that the mission movement is not important. The Roman Catholics came into the region; that is a given. Clearly this is an important historical fact, even if their methods in the region are problematic for some.

I hope the book illustrates, though it may not specifically address--that would have been another kind of book--, the diverse hermeneutical and methodical ways of "interpreting" the region. Jones, McCauley, et. al. represent one way of doing that, and the Catholic and Presbyterian essays, among others, illustrate alternative methods. The divisions between historians and other Appalachian scholars are deep and strong. We tried to stay away from those battles, and survey the diverse ways of getting at Christian communions present.

I hope we might do another volume on "religions" in the region. Students might see my recent article in the Journal of Religion and Culture in America on spirituality, which begins with a description of a street festival in Asheville, North Carolina and examines the pluralism of religious groups evident in that "Baptist infested" town. Asheville provides a superb case study for religious pluralism in the region.

Bill J. Leonard, Wake Forest University


homeReturn to the American Religious Experience Main Page