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Religion, Education, and Louisiana's Cultural Boundary, 1880-1940

by James G. Dauphine

This is a study of the relationship between cultural change and the persistence of cultural identities in two distinct sections of Louisiana in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the early nineteenth century, Louisiana was culturally divided between northern and southern regions. North Louisiana, whose white population descended from Anglo-Protestants, became culturally separate from the French Triangle parishes of South Louisiana—composed primarily of Catholics who are culturally indebted to the French, Spanish, and French Canadian heritages of the region. 

The social dichotomy in Louisiana between Protestantism and Catholicism, already statistically apparent by religious census data in 1890, remained apparent into the twentieth century. By 1936, the date of the United States government's fifth and last religious census, North and South Louisiana had become more firmly differentiated by religious affiliation than in 1890, when the first government religious census was taken. From the beginning of Louisiana's settlement by different ethnic and national populations, religion was the primary social institution that reinforced ethnic, linguistic, economic, and other differences of custom, allowing cultural identities, once formed, to persist even once other cultural boundary-maintaining mechanisms weakened or disappeared. 

Louisiana's cultural dichotomy perpetuated itself throughout the period of rapid social change between Reconstruction and World War II, largely through the survival of different cultural identities associated with Catholicism and with evangelical Protestantism. During the twentieth century, Catholics and Protestants alike used Louisiana's developing public school system not only to maintain and strengthen their own influence in those geographic areas where they were dominant, but they also used public education to help preserve the cultural boundary between the northern and southern sections of the Pelican State.

A Question of Inheritance is the most important study to date of the deep and enduring cultural and religious differences between North and South Louisiana. 
Hardcover, 198 pages, ©1993
ISBN: 0940984792


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