Samuel S. Hill and Charles H. Lippy, eds.  Charles Reagan Wilson, consulting ed.  Encyclopedia of Religion in the South.  Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005.  853 pp.  978-0-86554-758-2. Reviewed by Randy J. Sparks, for the Journal of Southern Religion.

Scholars and general readers alike will be excited and enlightened by the second edition of this influential reference work, still the only encyclopedia of religion in the South.  After more than twenty years, during which the scholarship on southern religion has proliferated dramatically, the encyclopedia has been expanded and updated.  Samuel S. Hill, the dean of southern religious historians, continues as editor, ably assisted by two other prominent scholars in the field, Charles H. Lippy as co-editor and Charles Reagan Wilson as consulting editor.  Each article has been updated, and over sixty new articles have been added on topics ranging from Elvis Presley and Jerry Falwell to sports and religion.  Overall, the volume contains over 600 articles on individuals, institutions, places, and ideas. 

One of the great strengths of the volume is the choice of contributors.  


One of the great strengths of the volume is the choice of contributors.  Who better than Albert J. Raboteau to write on the “Invisible Institution”?  Or Donald Mathews on “Evangelicalism,” John Boles on “The Great Revival,” David Garrow on “Black Ministerial Protest Leadership,” E. Brooks Holifield on “Justification,” or Nancy Hardesty on “Healing”?  These longer entries by such noted scholars are always informative and skillfully presented.  Shorter entries are less consistent, but the overall quality remains high.  Biographies make up a substantial number of the entries, and the subjects not only include prominent white men, but also women and African Americans (there are no Native Americans represented as individuals).  The breadth of the coverage is both impressive and daunting ranging from the colonial period to the present.  While most of the entries are brief, they include bibliographies so that interested readers can easily find additional information.  Indeed, updating the bibliographies alone would be reason enough to revise the work.

The choice of topics is not entirely clear.  For example, most “southern” presidents including Clinton, LBJ and Truman are included, but their entries lack any substantive religious content.  Even the entry on Jimmy Carter overlooks his sister Ruth, whose career as an evangelist attracted considerable media coverage, as did attempts by African Americans to integrate Carter's home church in Plains.  Even the controversy surrounding his born-again evangelicalism doesn't rate a mention.  Why do a handful of cities like Charleston, Nashville, and even Springfield, Mo. have entries while most cities do not?  Why an entry for the University of the South, for instance, but not for most other denominational colleges and universities or even seminaries?  The entry on Mary Chesnut makes no mention of religion at all.  Denmark Vesey merits an entry, but Nat Turner does not.  And here are a few of the other topics I would deem worthy of entries: the Gullah, the Ursuline Convent, Tammy Faye Bakker, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Ralph Abernathy, and the Marie Laveaus.  And one final nit to pick, is it really necessary to refer to the Grimke sisters as “somewhat homely” (361), when that description fits any number of male religious figures just as well?           

No reference work as ambitious and wide-ranging as this one can please every reader (and grumbling about the content of such a reference work is one of the pleasures of reading it), but no one can leave this work without expanding their understanding of religion in the South.  All of us with an interest in the topic owe a debt of gratitude to the editors, to the army of contributors, and to Mercer University Press for bringing us this handsome and indispensable volume (and that despite the fact that Mercer University didn't rate an entry either!).    

Randy J. Sparks, Tulane University


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