Appalachian history gives new perspective of how workers view jobs

Feb 23, 2009

A preacher addresses a group of men in a town church in eastern Kentucky, but this gathering is not to hear a sermon. Instead, it is a meeting of a coal miners' union. By studying coal miners and farmers during the early 20th century, a University of Missouri researcher has discovered that religion greatly influenced coal miners' and farmers' lives. The miners used religion to negotiate their surroundings, and many of the resulting traditions exist today.

Richard Callahan, assistant professor of religious studies in the MU College of Arts and Science, studied the transition that Appalachian families made from subsistence farming to industrial coal mining in the early 1900s and discovered the key role religion played in their development as a coal mining society. Many of the practices and attitudes of early miners persist today. For example, during the 2006 Sago Mine disaster, the families gathered in churches, not only to pray, but to determine a plan of action. Callahan's research provides a new historical context for modern habits.

"You can see how religion is so deeply intertwined with life," Callahan said. "You can't pull it out from the everyday lives of people. It's a case study of how work also has been about religion. This is a recovery of a history that is untold."

In his research, Callahan focused on how coal miners used religion to interpret their circumstances, particularly the unsafe work place. For instance, when coal companies underpaid miners or if a man was injured in the mines, the miners were put in a difficult moral position. They were working hard to provide for their families, but the work conditions hindered their ability succeed in that goal. In some cases, they argued that the company was forcing them to steal to fulfill the religious obligation of providing for their families, Callahan said.

"In that society and time period, preaching wasn't a paid job, so the preachers were also coal miners," Callahan said. "So, you have coal miners who are preachers looking at the union with the same ideas. In the unions, they are using stories from Exodus and talking about being led out of slavery as a way of showing what the union can do for them. Unfair labor practices were defined in religious terms."

Nearly a century later, that perspective still exists. Callahan said that many of the same philosophies and religious reasoning are still used when developing work policies that have survived nearly 100 years later.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Explore further: Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Jaws' lived in Doncaster according to fossil record

Sep 15, 2014

(Phys.org) —Sharks, swamps and a tropical rainforest teeming with life – it's not what comes to mind when you think of Yorkshire. But for the first time evidence of Doncaster's 310-million-year-old past, ...

New species of titanosaurian dinosaur found in Tanzania

Sep 08, 2014

Ohio University paleontologists have identified a new species of titanosaurian, a member of the large-bodied sauropods that thrived during the final period of the dinosaur age, in Tanzania. Although many ...

Humans leaving a permanent mark on deep Earth

Aug 05, 2014

Human forays deep underground, such as boreholes, mines and nuclear bomb tests, are leaving a mark on the planet's geology that will last for hundreds of millions of years, say scientists.

Recommended for you

Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

Sep 19, 2014

There's some truth to the effectiveness of folk remedies and old wives' tales when it comes to serious medical issues, according to findings by a team from Detroit Medical Center.

History books spark latest Texas classroom battle

Sep 16, 2014

As Texas mulls new history textbooks for its 5-plus million public school students, some academics are decrying lessons they say exaggerate the influence of Christian values on America's Founding Fathers.

Flatow, 'Science Friday' settle claims over grant

Sep 16, 2014

Federal prosecutors say radio host Ira Flatow and his "Science Friday" show that airs on many National Public Radio stations have settled civil claims that they misused money from a nearly $1 million federal ...

User comments : 0