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"There can be no education without religion": Tennessee evangelicals and education, 1875--1925

By Charles Alan Israel

Abstract

As host to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, Tennessee has an obvious history of conflict over religion and education. By examining white Tennessee Baptists and Methodists in the half-century leading up to the showdown in Dayton, this dissertation argues that Tennessee's 1925 anti-evolution law and the resulting Scopes trial were less about the truth or falsehood of evolution and more about the important question of the place of parents, churches, and religious belief in New South public education. Furthermore, this investigation of religious attitudes about public schools---the laboratories in which many different forces hoped to shape the future of society---reveals a systematic southern evangelical interest in earthly social relations rarely recognized by previous scholars. From an early opposition to state funded public education as necessarily "godless," Tennessee evangelicals gradually acquiesced, assuming that the schools would reflect the values of their predominantly Protestant local communities. Further, they believed that the home, Sunday school, and denominational college would provide any additional moral leavening necessary for their vision of a religious New South. But as Progressive era school reforms increasingly removed control of education from the hands of parents, local school boards, and church communities---all of whom would presumably guarantee a role for religion---evangelicals feared they would lose the schools and the rising generation. Further trepidation over the supposed secularization of higher education---symbolized most poignantly for Tennessee evangelicals in the separation of Vanderbilt University from the southern Methodist church---led many evangelical leaders to advocate a more explicit respect for Christianity in the public schools. The logical extension of this changed attitude appears most clearly in the first decades of the twentieth century with the 1915 enactment of a state-wide law requiring the Bible to be read every morning in the schools and the more infamous Butler law of 1925 that criminalized the teaching of evolution. Symbolic conceptions of the South as a distinctively religious society led many Tennessee evangelicals to break taboos about mixing religion and politics and support the Butler anti-evolution bill

Topics: Religion, Church history, American history, History of education
Year: 2001
OAI identifier: oai:scholarship.rice.edu:1911/18057
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