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Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields: Subject to Dust - Religion in North America (Hardback)
  • Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields: Subject to Dust - Religion in North America (Hardback)

Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields: Subject to Dust - Religion in North America (Hardback)

Hardback 280 Pages / Published: 20/11/2008
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Exploring themes of work and labor in everyday life, Richard J. Callahan, Jr., offers a history of how coal miners and their families lived their religion in eastern Kentucky's coal fields during the early 20th century. Callahan follows coal miners and their families from subsistence farming to industrial coal mining as they draw upon religious idioms to negotiate changing patterns of life and work. He traces innovation and continuity in religious expression that emerged from the specific experiences of coal mining, including the spaces and social structures of coal towns, the working bodies of miners, the anxieties of their families, and the struggle toward organized labor. Building on oral histories, folklore, folksongs, and vernacular forms of spirituality, this rich and engaging narrative recovers a social history of ordinary working people through religion.

Publisher: Indiana University Press
ISBN: 9780253352378
Number of pages: 280
Weight: 590 g
Dimensions: 235 x 155 x 23 mm


Callahan (religion, Univ. of Missouri-Columbia) provides a multidisciplinary study of the religious culture that developed when coal mining replaced subsistence farming as the economic base of eastern Kentucky life starting in the late 19th century. He first sketches traditional Appalachian mountain religion, rightly rejecting interpretations that see it as a fatalism rooted in deprivation. Rather, a profound sense of the supernatural was key to this religious style associated with independent Baptists and Old Regular Baptists. Companies often subsidized churches representing mainline denominations, but white miners preferred newer Holiness-Pentecostal groups. They bridged mountain religion and the industrially oriented mines. Mistreated by mining executives, mining families found in the Holiness-Pentecostal churches ways to resist oppression and give the life of work meaning. For those sometimes attracted to unions (even the communist-backed National Miners' Union), unions became extensions of the church, for they also spoke to issues of meaning and values. Callahan shows the profound connections between work and religion that those who study each separately often overlook. This volume will interest undergraduates and others who work in southern and Appalachian religion and culture, American studies, and labor studies. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. -Choice

-- C. H. Lippy, formerly, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

"Coal miners' experiences-of routinely facing injury or death in this dangerous form of employment, of excessively long work schedules that impacted family life, and economic hardship and exploitation-led them to reflect on their spiritual beliefs and practices. This intersection between labor and lived religion is the focus of Richard Callahan's book, 'Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields'... Callahan's account of religion and labor in the oppressive coal mining industry documents an important part of American religious history.sept. 2010"


"... In this graceful portrayal, Richard Callahan wipes away some of... [the] soot. Through oral history, songs, folklore, and social scientific reportage, 'Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields' tackles a region (Appalachia) and a mode (work) often neglected by scholars of U.S. religious history.... Callahan's book pays attention to the relationship between religion and labor practices, showing how the work of miners informed their religious ideas, and how their religious lives molded their working choices. The study of religion is, in Callahan's rendering, the study of a 'kind of work,' a work that can be discerned in everyday life, in the sensual body, and in the political decisions of lay believers.May 11, 2009"

-- Kathryn Lofton * Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University *

"[T]his fine study should inspire more attention to the rich but oft-neglected intersection of religion and labor in American life. Vol. 13"

* The Journal of Southern Religion *

"Callahan's hard labour has excavated some rich analytical mines and cut a path into subterranean but vital dimensions of religious experience in America.Vol. 61/2, April 2010"

* Journal of Ecclesiastical History *

"Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields certainly advances the study of Appalachian pentecostalism; it also provides an excellent framework for further exploration.... If it is the nature of good history to answer important questions while raising even more, by this standard Richard Callahan has delivered good history."

* Pneuma Jrnl Society for Pentecostal Studies *

"This is an important study that contributes to the scholarship of Appalachia, labor and religious history, and to social science generally. Callahan's respect for Appalachian people is vividly clear throughout the book. He lets people speak, sometimes without finding the most articulate quotation, but one that rings true."

* Appalachian Journal *

"... outstanding study of work and faith.... For Kentucky's coal miners and their families, religion functioned as a counterweight to the industrial capitalism that came with coalmining. It served sometimes as a form of resistance to evil company powers, sometimes as an account of a better life or as an explanation of brushes with death, and sometimes as a source of hope and comfort in the midst of tragedy. For recovering their story we are indebted to Richard Callahan's first-rate history.Vol. 96. 3 December 2009"

-- James Hudnut-Beumler * Vanderbilt University *

"Callahan shows the profound connections between work and religion that those who study each separately often overlook.... Recommended.June 2009"

* Choice *

"... an excellent study that will benefit anyone interested in coal culture throughout the Appalachian mining regions because life within any society can hardly be understood apart from its religion.Vol. 106.2 Spring 2008"

-- Doug Cantrell * Elizabethtown Community and Technical College *

"Work and Faith in the Kentucky coal Fields is an outstanding book. Building on the excellent scholarship of Deborah Vansau McCauley, Dwight B. Billings, and Alessandro Portelli and weaving in theoretical insights from James C. Scott, Robert A. Orsi, and Raymond Williams, Callahan gives us a sophisticated reading of religion as it was lived and felt in the everyday world.Vol. 76, No. 3, August 2010"

* The Journal of Southern History *

"[The author's] analysis of the spread of Holiness... is a nuanced, careful interpretation with suggestive ideas for other contexts. He argues that miners joined the Holiness movement as a way to preserve, and intensify, precisely the elements of older rural religion that were under attack by the emissaries of 'railroad religion.' Holiness took the older belief in visions and omens and made it tangible.... Callahan skillfully links industrial transformation to Holiness as an intensified resistance movement.... He goes further and shows that this active engagement with the new context made Holiness believers ripe for unionization when national organizations came into the coal fields in the early 1930s. August 2009"

-- John Hayes * Wake Forest University *

"[A] commendable piece of scholarship, completing the link between cultural theory, religious studies, and history.Vol 41.1, Summer 2010"

-- Robert S. Weise * Eastern Kentucky University *

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