The region of Appalachia has a long and rich history, this region was America’s first frontier. This region has seen many different changes come and go over its long lifetime. Many of these changes came in the early 20th century. The Appalachian region was very isolated and without much change until this time, and once we saw industrialization we saw many new changes affect the region in a religious sense. Some of the industrialization that had the greatest effect on our area was the building of large railroads in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
These railroads connected the nation to the rich coal fields and virgin timber stands of the Appalachian Mountains. Although the influence of industry changed the landscape of Appalachia, it changed the religious landscape more. Appalachia had kept its old time traditions by isolation. When the industrial boom hit the region we had numerous people coming into the area that practiced many different religions. As part of this boom we saw key industrial cities grow, even more than their already large size. This is one reason we see the most religious diversity in key cities such as; Knoxville, TN and Asheville, NC.
This change was not limited to Southern Appalachia. Western Pennsylvania also saw in influx of immigrants and outsiders coming in droves to work the factories, which also affected their local customs and landscape. The Manufacturing boom lasted from about 1890 until 1930. Once conservationist and other groups began to realize the damage industry was doing to the region it was shut down and almost drove out. There are still many groups who are trying to outlaw strip mining. With industry fading and agriculture as good as gone, many people were looking for ways to survive.
Many of these people including my ancestors decided that since they could no longer harvest coal or trees, they should focus on other sources of currency. Areas around the National Parks and State Parks began promoting tourism to their areas to show the wild and natural beauty of the area. One of the more successful areas was Gatlinburg, TN. Gatlinburg was successful because it is surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains and the mystique of the Appalachian People. The industry has since grown to be a huge part of the state’s income.
We began seeing corporations from all over the nation buy resort property and bring people in to run their interest. This combined with the tourist traffic helped to build the Gatlinburg areas religious landscape. There are many different religions there or close by to facilitate the people on vacation or business. Today, of the different religions we see some are very small, and others are quiet large. Protestantism is the most dominant denomination in the region. Protestants deny the universal authority of the Pope, and depend on their faith and the bible to create moral laws.
Protestantism is one of the oldest religions here in Appalachia and can be found wide spread today. Catholicism is also a religion that can be easily found in Appalachia. I have seen Catholic churches in areas that are very rural, which usually would be Methodist, Protestant, or Baptist based communities. I find that Catholics are accepted more easily than some other faiths. This is because it is still a sect of Christianity, but never the less Catholicism has seen diminishing numbers in Southern Appalachia.
The Baptist faith has always had a strong hold in Appalachia. There are different kinds of Baptist; some are very strict such as the United Baptist and Primitive Baptist, and others are looser like Southern Baptist or Regular Baptist. There have been several significant changes to the traditions of Baptist, and other Christian faiths. Practices such as foot washing, and river baptism have been disappearing for some time, and now are almost extinct. Islam is a growing movement across America, and that does not exclude Appalachia.
There are growing Islam communities in the metropolitan settings such as the afore mentioned Knoxville, TN and Asheville, NC. Some other hot spots for growing religious diversity are college towns. This again plays to the isolation key. When a school recruits for sports or academics it may pull a few students from different religious backgrounds. If the students arrive and have nowhere to worship they may form a congregation, or group. From that seed, these students could grow into a legitimate worship organization.
For this reason we see places like Johnson City, TN having a very diverse religious landscape. Nothing can stay the same when you have an introduction to diversity. Anytime we see people from different backgrounds, we will see a difference in culture. Over a period of time these cultures will merge and we will see new faith from this. As long as we continue to be a relevant place where people want to come and settle, we will see these changes. I am proud to be from a place that can accept these changes peacefully.