Ancestors in the Laying-By Time: Revival of the Living and the Dead at Shingleroof Camp Meeting Open Access

Mote, Donna Susan (2012)

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Shingleroof Camp Meeting in Henry County, Georgia, founded in the 1820s, endures in the early twenty-first century as a distinctive and distinguishable religious culture in which ancestors play prominent roles. This multimedia ethnography and cultural history explores the relationships between the living and the dead at Shingleroof, analyzing the camp meeting as a cult of ancestor veneration and embodied collective remembering while maintaining a focus on the interplay of bodies and memory, practices and place.

From the starting point of an explicit ancestor-venerating religious culture, Obon, the Japanese Buddhist festival of the dead, as observed in rural northern Hiroshima, as comparand, the dissertation identifies Shingleroof as a religious culture in which ancestor veneration, while more implicit, is constitutive of the camp meeting's particular ethos. Reasons for the lack of attention to ancestors in the study of North American religions generally are surveyed as well as reasons behind the obscurity of camp meetings in US culture today despite the many and diverse cultural forms that descend from them. A history of the camp meeting form argues against the dominant narrative, locating the Southeast as its birth region, and a history of the camp meeting movement, roughly 1800-1840, examines the key role of ecumenism and other characteristics of the early meetings. A narrative history of Shingleroof reveals it as an exemplar of the meetings founded during the movement with a distinctive story of its own. Shingleroof's religious places and practices are analyzed separately in writing and together through a series of nine observational films.

This project is the first monograph-length study of a single camp meeting that provides analysis of practices and places in addition to an examination of history, the first camp meeting insider ethnography, and the first study of one camp meeting as a particular and peculiar religious culture in its own right. In addition, it is the first Emory doctoral dissertation in the Graduate Division of Religion to include original ethnographic film and other original media as part of the analysis and one of the two first Emory doctoral dissertations in any area to do so.

Table of Contents


Sounds and Images from Shingleroof Camp Meeting                                                 1


Shingleroof Camp Meeting as a Religious Culture of the Living and the Dead     3

           Research Problem and Questions                                                                      5

Background and Context                                                                                   6

Categories and Terms                                                                                     14

Approach and Methods                                                                                     32

           Organization of the Dissertation                                                                     36

Significance of the Project                                                                               39


Descendant and Ancestor: The Camp Meeting in US Culture and Scholarship  42

Changes in US Culture That Have Obscured Camp Meetings                            43

The Diffusion of Camp Meetings into Numerous Religious and Cultural Forms  43

The Absence of Historic or Contemporary Camp Meeting Networks        45

Ways in Which Scholars and Scholarship Have Obscured Camp Meetings         46         

The Dominance of the “Frontier Thesis” in Scholarly Work on Camp Meetings    46

Popular and Scholarly Misconceptions of Camp Meetings                     52

Competing Theories of Camp Meeting Origins                                      55

The Nature and Scope of Camp Meeting Scholarship Up to the Present              62


A Distinctive American Religious Form: The Birth and Rise of the Camp Meeting    68

           The Earliest Known Camp Meetings, 1786-1800                                              73

The Great Revival and the Early Years of the Camp Meeting Movement, 1800-1805    78

The Camp Meeting Movement After the Great Revival, 1805-1840                    94                       


A Great Cloud of Witnesses: The Generations of Shingleroof                             113

           Shingleroof’s Beginners                                                                               115

Shingleroof’s Beginnings and Early Architecture                                            119

Shingleroof’s Remarkable Continuity                                                            130

Shingleroof Discontinuities                                                                            145

           The First Abandonment, 1864-1872                                                   146

           The Second Abandonment, 1893-1901                                                147

           The Great Fire of 1937                                                                      155  


One Hundred Acres with a Past: The Places of Shingleroof                             161

           Defining Place                                                                                             163

           Theorizing Place and Religious Place                                                       168

The Religious Place of the Campground                                                        176

           The Religious Places of Shingleroof                                                         192

Tabernacle                                                                                       192

Tents                                                                                               199

Porches                                                                                           204

The Big Spring                                                                                 207

           The Religious Place of Shingleroof as a Memory Site                          210


Memory Lives in Bodies:                                                                                            

Aural and Visual Analysis of Shingleroof Places and Practices                    214                                                 

           Porch Soundscape                                                                                       216

           A Trip to the Spring                                                                                   217

Making Biscuits                                                                                           218

Softball                                                                                                        219

Family Photo                                                                                               220

Preserving Memories                                                                                   221

Tee Shirts                                                                                                    222

New Swing                                                                                                   223

Tabernacle Soundscape                                                                               224


We Are the People Who Keep Camp Meeting: Shingleroof Practices as Ancestor Veneration   225

The Work of Re-enactment and Remembering                                            226

Commemorative Ceremonies                                                                      229

Bodily Practices: Inscribing and Incorporating                                           234

Inscribing Practices of Shingleroof                                                                 239

Incorporating Practices of Shingleroof                                                           244

Incorporating Practices of the Campground                                                   247

Incorporating Practices of the Tabernacle                                                       252

Incorporating Practices of the Tents                                                                  256

Incorporating Practices of the Porches                                                              259

Incorporating Practices of the Spring                                                                 263

The Religious Modes of Asceticism and Anamnesis                                       267

                 Asceticism                                                                                               267

                 Anamnesis                                                                                               271

Concluding Remarks                                                                                               273

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