Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation interrogates the so-called myth of Southern hospitality. I review the historical origins of hospitality on antebellum plantations and engage with theoretical distinctions that have been made between hospitality as discourse and hospitality as practice. Given decades of social and political change in the region, I ask, how is Southern hospitality practiced today, and what are the consequences?
I draw on ethnographic and interview data from a community study in Rockdale County, Georgia to explore how the culture of Southern hospitality became manifested as a set of religious practices through which residents determined who did and did not belong in their local community. Originally a mostly-white farming community, Rockdale had witnessed decades of dramatic population growth and diversification during Metro Atlanta’s rapid expansion. I explain how changes like the arrival of immigrants and growth of non-white populations made the community a fitting place for observing how Southern hospitality, with its ethos of gracious hosts and warm welcomes, was actually put into practice.
My findings reveal that for Rockdale’s non-Hispanic black and white Christians, the majority group who occupied countless positions of power and influence, hospitality was understood as a prominent feature of Southern history and culture as well as a central tenet of Christian belief and practice. Through joint worship services, fellowship activities, evangelic efforts, and service projects, black and white Christians constructed reciprocal patterns of hospitality aimed at achieving racial reconciliation, and in doing so they sought to improve upon the South’s shameful reputation for race-based discrimination. At the same time however, this group also came under scrutiny for their decidedly inhospitable or even hostile treatment of others, including sexual, racial-ethnic, and religious minorities.
I conclude that Southern hospitality was manifested as lived religion through practices which ultimately (re)produced social inequality in the community. By illustrating the rituals through which various types of people were either welcomed or neglected, brought into the fold or turned away, I argue that Southern hospitality may indeed take on mythic proportions but nonetheless continues to be practiced in , consequential ways.
Garner, Betsie, "The Hospitable South: Religion, Politics, And Belonging In A Southern Community" (2017). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2299.