Hard, Hard Religion

Interracial Faith in the Poor South

By John Hayes

250 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3532-3
    Published: October 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3531-6
    Published: October 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3533-0
    Published: September 2017

New Directions in Southern Studies

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In his captivating study of faith and class, John Hayes examines the ways folk religion in the early twentieth century allowed the South’s poor--both white and black--to listen, borrow, and learn from each other about what it meant to live as Christians in a world of severe struggle. Beneath the well-documented religious forms of the New South, people caught in the region’s poverty crafted a distinct folk Christianity that spoke from the margins of capitalist development, giving voice to modern phenomena like alienation and disenchantment. Through haunting songs of death, mystical tales of conversion, grassroots sacramental displays, and an ethic of neighborliness, impoverished folk Christians looked for the sacred in their midst and affirmed the value of this life in this world.

From Tom Watson and W. E. B. Du Bois over a century ago to political commentators today, many have ruminated on how, despite material commonalities, the poor of the South have been perennially divided by racism. Through his excavation of a folk Christianity of the poor, which fused strands of African and European tradition into a new synthesis, John Hayes recovers a historically contingent moment of interracial exchange generated in hardship.

About the Author

John Hayes is associate professor of history at Augusta University.
For more information about John Hayes, visit the Author Page.


"Hard, Hard Religion is a powerfully epic evocation and analysis of the biracial religious world of ordinary southerners who encountered and struggled with God, life, and death through visions, dreams, oral poetry, and song more than they did in formal religious institutions. It's a beautiful work, and a landmark in the field of American religious studies."--Paul Harvey, author of Christianity and Race in the American South: A History​

"Offering much-needed insight into social class and poverty in the religious world of the early twentieth-century South, John Hayes’s fine study of folk religion reveals the rich emotional and aesthetic lives of its subjects. A fascinating book."--Fred Hobson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"John Hayes offers a fresh view of the New South that engages history, musicology, folklore, and material culture. This is an immensely rewarding piece of work from an original and skilled voice."-–Beth Barton Schweiger, author of The Gospel Working Up: Progress and the Pulpit in Nineteenth-Century Virginia