Before Scopes
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Before Scopes

Evangelicalism, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870-1925

Title Details

Pages: 264

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 12/01/2004

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2646-7

List Price: $34.95

Before Scopes

Evangelicalism, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870-1925

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The 1925 Tennessee v. John Scopes case—the Scopes Monkey Trial—is one of America's most famous courtroom battles. Until now, however, no one has considered at length why the sensational, divisive trial of a public high school science teacher indicted for teaching evolution took place where, and when, it did.

This study ranges over the fifty years preceding the trial to examine intertwined attitudes toward schooling and faith held by Tennessee's politically dominant white evangelical Protestants. Those decades saw accelerating social and economic change in the South, writes Charles A. Israel. Education, long the province of family and community, grew ever more centralized, professionalized, and isolated from the local values that first underpinned it. As Israel tells how parents and church, civic, and political leaders at first opposed public education, then endorsed it, and finally fought to control it, he reveals their deep ambivalence about the intangible costs of progress.

Lessons that Evangelicals took away from failed adult temperance campaigns also prompted them to reexert control over who and what influenced their children. Evangelicals rallied behind a 1915 bill requiring the Bible to be read daily in public schools. The 1925 Butler bill criminalized the teaching of evolution, which had come to symbolize all that was threatening about theological liberalism and materialistic science. The stage for the Scopes trial had been set. Delving deeply into the collective mind of a people in an age of uncertainty, Before Scopes sheds new light on religious belief, ideology, and expression.

Before Scopes is a worthy contribution to southern history. I am very impressed with Israel's research, scholarship, and sophisticated arguments. This should become a standard reference point in works on southern religious and cultural history, standing with recent works by Ted Ownby and Beth Schweiger, among others.

—Paul Harvey, author of Freedom's Coming: How Religious Culture Shaped the South from Civil War through Civil Rights

Through a nuanced historical study of the attitudes of Tennessee Evangelicals to the place of religion in public education, Before Scopes sheds new light on the local context for the state's legendary 1925 antievolution law and the resulting trial of John Scopes. Many of the historical tensions chronicled in this book continue to strain American society and public education today.

—Edward J. Larson, author of Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion

Before Scopes is gracefully written and thoroughly researched. . . . This study deserves the attention of all who are interested in the role of religion in public education.

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

With the resurgence of evangelicalism in today’s society and its concomitant influence on education, politics, and mores, Before Scopes has relevance to current differences and their repercussions.

Midwest Book Review

Israel skillfully contexualizes the Scopes trial and, without neglecting the intellectual conflict involved, clearly demonstrates that the broader and more significant issue was control of public education in a democratic society. Before Scopes complements the growing literature that undermines the portrayal of southern religion as individualistic and otherworldly. It also demonstrates that future studies on fundamentalism in the South would benefits from the type of contextual labor invested in by Israel.

Journal of Southern History

Studies such as Israel’s contribute an important historical perspective. . . . While most examinations of the famous Scopes ‘monkey trial’ trace the consequences of that event, Israel has gone back in time to expose social, cultural, religious, and political roots of the Tennessee antievolution law that set the table for the highly publicized legal battles. . . . The author brings a refreshing and much-needed understanding of southern religion to his work.

Register of Kentucky Historical Society

Helps illuminate the issues that give the Scopes trial such lasting historiographical value: marjoritarianism, Southern distinctiveness, the rise of fundamentalism, and schooling in a pluralistic society.

History: Reviews of New Books

Offers an intriguing look at how a certain set of evangelicals in one southern state conceived of their own path of modernity.

Southern Historian


Tennessee History Book Award, Tennessee Library Assoc. and Tennessee Hist. Commission

About the Author/Editor

CHARLES A. ISRAEL is an assistant professor of history at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.