An Overview of the Religion in Eastern Kentucky
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In the spring of 1978, I spent three months living and working at Buckhorn Children's Center located in the heart of the beautiful hills and valleys of Eastern Kentucky. It was there that my interest in the religion of Appalachia first began. As a result, I returned to Buckhorn in the fall of 1979 to once again live and work at the children's center as well as conduct an in-depth study of religion in the area. The religion in Appalachia is not manifested as much in the institutional church as it is in the general thought, values, and beliefs of the culture. Therefore, the most important part of my research was conducted simply by living in Eastern Kentucky, making close observations, and striking up conversations concerning religion with the inhabitants of the area. I often found that my most valuable conversations were held following an interview after the intimidating tape recorder had been turned off. Much of my outside research was literature that was concerned with the entire Southern Appalachian region of which Kentucky is a significant portion. This is a relatively homogenous region, therefore, many studies of West Virginia, for example, are highly applicable to Eastern Kentucky too. Hence during my paper, I will occasionally speak of Appalachia although my research was concentrated in Eastern Kentucky. Finally, it is important to note that while this paper is an overview of Eastern Kentucky religion, Perry, Breathitt, and Owsley Counties were where the majority of the research actually was conducted. Almost all of the specific examples contained in this paper have been drawn from this region. Research has shown, however, that the experiences in these three counties are generalizable to those everywhere in Eastern Kentucky.