Southern Strategies: Narrative Negotiation in the Evangelical South

Michael Odom, University of South Carolina - Columbia


"Southern Strategies: Narrative Negotiation in the Evangelical South" explores the narrative strategies southern writers employ to resist, satirize, and creatively negotiate evangelical communities. Concerned with the interplay between evangelical religion and southern culture, my research examines white writers in the twentieth century who grew up in the South and eventually turned a critical and imaginative eye toward the region's evangelical orientation. Part one, narrative resistance, studies nonfiction from W.J. Cash and Lillian Smith (ca. 1940s) that depicts evangelical religion as authoritarian and oppressive, casting evangelical community as a threat to intellectual, social, artistic, and political development. Part two, narrative satire, probes the fiction of Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy (ca. 1950s -1980s), who despite sympathies with evangelical faith, wrote sharp satires directed at the cultural accommodations and coalitions in evangelicalism's emergence into the cultural mainstream. Part three, narrative negotiation, appraises southern literature from Dennis Covington and Doris Betts (ca. 1990s), who engage evangelicalism more openly by exploring how its values might serve to revitalize the dissatisfaction and materialism of late capitalist America.