Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Mob: Violence against Religious Outsiders in the U.S. South, 1865-1910

Doctoral Dissertation


Studies of violence in the late nineteenth-century South focus almost exclusively on racial and political violence against African Americans. While this emphasis is both understandable and appropriate, what has been largely neglected is the violence committed against religious outsiders, and more generally their overall treatment in what was essentially a hegemonic culture of evangelical Protestantism. In addition to the many instances of violence against African American churches and ministers in the South, there were also dozens of episodes of anti-Jewish violence and literally hundreds of cases of anti-Mormon violence from 1865 to 1910. Acknowledging and understanding this relatively hidden chapter in American history provides us with unique insights into postbellum southern culture and the sometimes violent side of the American experiment in religious pluralism.

This dissertation adds to the growing body of scholarship exploring the relationships between religion and violence in southern history and American history more broadly by making three primary contributions. First, it uncovers numerous untold narratives of violence against southern religious outsiders. Second, it examines the interrelationships between minority religious groups and the dominant evangelical Protestant culture in the South. Third, it explores the various ways in which religious identity and religious motivations, whether explicit or implicit, informed the attitudes, actions, and reactions of the perpetrators as well as the victims of the violence. The four groups treated herein" black Christians, Mormons, Jews, and Catholics" were the groups most commonly seen (and treated) by contemporaries as providing substantial challenges to the cultural, racial, and religious orthodoxies of southern Anglo-Saxon Protestantism.

In short, this dissertation is a study of the multiple religious dimensions of violence in the postbellum South. Although some episodes treated herein qualify as overt religious violence, in most of the cases religion was one among a number of variables that shaped and triggered violent interactions, including race, gender, family structure, politics, class, economics, and ethnicity. As a set of sacred doctrines and practices, a cultural category, or an analytical lens, religion played different roles in the ways that black Christians, Mormons, Jews, and Catholics precipitated, experienced, and responded to southern violence as religious outsiders.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-07182005-134920

Author Patrick Q Mason
Advisor R. Scott Appleby
Contributor George Marsden, Committee Member
Contributor Richard Pierce, Committee Member
Contributor John McGreevy, Committee Member
Contributor R. Scott Appleby, Committee Chair
Contributor Gail Bederman, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2005-07-06

Submission Date 2005-07-18
  • United States of America

  • southern history

  • Latter-day Saints

  • U.S. history

  • Jews

  • religious outsiders

  • Mormons

  • religion and violence

  • African Americans

  • violence

  • Catholics

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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