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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences




Women, Music, and Faith in Central Appalachia by Heather Ann Ackley Bean (Studies in Women and Religion, 40: Edwin Mellen) From Introduction: Several problems give rise to the need for an Appalachian woman's theodicy. Some are distinctly Appalachian problems, while others have a broader context. Among these more general concerns, the most pressing is the problem of grounding theological speculation in human reality, making theodicy not only logical (self‑consistent) but meaningful. Thus I have constructed an empirical theology with a historical, rather than the usual sociological, twist. My purpose in so doing is to make theodicy relevant and accessible not only in seminary classrooms but in homes and churches where it can bring solace to the bereaved and those struggling with their faith. To this end, I have grounded a powerful contemporary theodicy‑‑that proposed by process theologians‑‑in a specific historical and cultural context that includes many complexly related experiences of suffering, that of women migrants from Central Appalachia into the urban midwest. Such a project contributes to scholarship an ethnographic model for constructing theology in hopes it will be useful to address theological concerns of specific cultures. It also adds an empirical dimension to metaphysical theology.

Foremost among the particular Appalachian problems that impelled me to explore this topic is the sense of shame over Appalachian identity that makes Appalachians prone to divisiveness, especially after migration. Further, the increasingly complex problems created by strip-mining in Central Appalachia require problem‑solving and community action rather than traditional Appalachian patterns of self‑blame and reliance on kin. Central Appalachia, devastated by the coal industry, is the site of problems too great for any individual or extended family to struggle with alone. My hope is that through religious education in churches with Appalachian congregations, a theology based on Appalachian history (a better history for women and African Americans than in most regions of the United States) will ameliorate present tensions by providing an alternative basis for identity and group solidarity among all Appalachians regardless of race, gender, or denomination. A sense of belonging to a group who face similar struggles may help people of Appalachian descent, especially those generations removed from the mountains, to feel less overwhelmed and provide an alternative to traditional self-­blame and fatalism. To my knowledge, no scholar has yet attempted to construct an Appalachian theology though several have pointed to the need.

This theological construction is not intended to present a monolithic view of Appalachian women, their descendants in cities, their religion, their experiences, nor their art. It is personal and confessional as well as constructive. I researched and wrote this theology while living and working in southern California, at a very safe distance from the social stigma of identifying oneself as Appalachian that I would have experienced in my native Ohio. From southern California, Appalachia has an almost exotic mystique that intrigues my scholarly colleagues. However, in regions where Appalachians and their descendants are less unusual, Appalachian culture is not valued as a theological resource, but rather ignored because of the social stigma attached to it or because of overfamiliarity with it. Despite proximity to, or even descent from, Appalachian migrants, most urban midwestemers are unaware of recent scholarship demonstrating the many demographic traits that subsequent generations of Appalachian migrants share.

Although the research of scholars demonstrating the existence of distinctive forms of Appalachian culture and religion will be my starting point, I must also acknowledge the diversity among Appalachians, both those in the mountains and those in cities. For example, my own story shares many events in common with that of many other urban descendants of Appalachian migrants. First and foremost, no one in my family identifies themselves as an urban Appalachian or descendant of Appalachians. This is common both due to the social stigma attached to such self‑identification and due to the fact that the terms "Appalachian" and "urban Appalachian" are used only by scholars. Lay people of the region tend to use the terms "hillbilly" or "poor white trash" to describe white Appalachian migrants and their descendants, terms no one would want to use to

identify themselves except perhaps jokingly in very intimate and safe settings. Black Appalachian migrants are generally not identified as Appalachians by their neighbors after the first generation.

Like many urban Appalachians (black or white), I grew up is urban poverty with a disproportionate amount of family conflict (multiple marriages alcoholism and drug abuse, and even incest), but very close relationships with my sister and extended family in a more rural area meliorated some of those problems. My religious upbringing also coincides with that of many descendants of Appalachian migrants in that I was almost equally influenced by my Parents' unchurched autonomy of spiritual practice and my other kin's evangelical beliefs and practice. I even attended charismatic holiness churches with both of my aunts and participated fully in ecstatic worship. However, my experience departs radically from that of many Appalachians and urban Appalachians in that, due to government programs then providing poor adolescents access to higher education (many of these programs have now been drastically cut), I have had professional training and education. Indeed, both sides of my family have been deeply involved with education for generations. My paternal great‑grandfather left Appalachia because his mother insisted he attend college. She moved with him, anonymously working as the cleaning lady at the boardinghouse where he roomed. (Neither of them publicly admitted their mother‑son relationship for fear of the stigma that might have prevented his academic and professional success.)

Although this theological construction is in many ways deeply personal. it has broader application. Other women of Appalachian background have responded to this project with nothing but unconditional support, relief, and gratitude that I would even undertake such a task. Despite arguments with non-Appalachian scholars about certain theological issues‑‑primarily my reconstruction of the doctrine of divine omnibenevolence, the men and women Appalachian background who have heard and read this work in progress have encouraged my theological conclusions and constructions, intuiting more tan articulating an agreement with the direction I take. Most importantly, I hope this work will simply be a first step toward including the voices of working‑class people, Appalachians and Appalachian women in particular, in theological discourse.


BEAVER ISLAND HOUSE PARTY by Laurie Kay Sommers (Michigan State University Press: $19.95, paper; 86 pages; Music CD; notes, bibliography, discography

Through discussions of past and present musical contexts, repertoires, collectors, and musicians, Beaver Island House Party provides a survey of the unparalleled musical inheritance of Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan. The accompanying CD includes eleven historic field recordings previously only available in archives and fourteen contemporary studio recordings. Settled by Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century, Beaver Island remains 35% Irish inheritance. The immigrant repertoire of Irish ballads, jigs, and reels has been supplanted over time by local songs, country western, and square and round dance tunes. The island's musical past has been preserved in field recordings by the late Ivan Walton, professor of English at the University of Michigan, and the prolific collector of American folk music, Alan Lomax, then with the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress. The late Helen Collar, a summer visitor who studied the history of the Beaver Island Irish, also gathered extensive documentation. Few recordings of Michigan traditional music exist, and fewer still have book-length treatment of the musicians who created and played the tunes and the collectors who documented and preserved them. Beaver Island House Party offers a rare chance to examine the musical culture of a fascinating and distinctive island community of music. The volume illustrates how pockets of music developed into regional music that has become both country and popular music.

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