Long overlooked by scholars of culture and religion, southern (white) gospel music occupies a special place within evangelicalism. The dynamic interaction of lyrics, music, and religious experience in southern gospel music comprises a cultural discourse evangelicals use, not to diminish experience in this world as is commonly argued in southern gospel studies, but to understand better Protestant theological doctrines in, and to make useable meaning out of, the vicissitudes of conservative Christian life. This approach treats southern gospel as a network of interconnected rhetorics and signifying practices that serve a multitude of public and private needs among its performers and fans——needs that are not otherwise met in evangelical culture. Particularly, southern gospel music allows those who participate in it to explore a broader and deeper range of psychospiritual feelings and experiences. The study of southern gospel reveals the importance of private conflicts and tensions in defining the contours of conservative Protestant religious living, individually and collectively. For the millions of evangelicals today who turn regularly and eagerly to southern gospel, their identity as a covenanted elect emerges from within the struggle to manage and resolve spiritual disquietude through the experience of white gospel music.
- ©© 2008 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture