Although outlawed in many states, serpent handling remains an active religious practice—and one that is far more stereotyped than understood. Ralph W. Hood, Jr. and W. Paul Williamson have spent fifteen years touring serpent-handling churches in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and West Virginia, conducting scores of interviews with serpent handlers, and witnessing hundreds of serpent-handling services. In this illuminating book they present the most in-depth, comprehensive study of serpent handling to date. Them That Believe not only explores facets of this religious practice—including handling, preaching, and the near-death experiences of individuals who were bitten but survived—but also provides a rich analysis of this phenomenon from historical, social, religious, and psychological perspectives.
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1. "They Shall Take up Serpents"
2. The History of Pentecostalism Absent the Serpent
3. The Media and the Man: George Went Hensley
4. Serpent Handling Endorsed by the Church of God
5. The Serpent: Sign and Symbol
6. Trance States: Tongues Speaking and the Anointing
7. Extemporaneous Sermons in the Serpent-Handling Tradition
8. The Experience of Handling Serpents
9. The Experience of the Anointing
10. Near-Death Experience from Serpent Bites in Religious Settings
11. Music among Serpent-Handling Churches
12. Serpent Handling and the Law: History and Empirical Studies
Ralph W. Hood, Jr. is Professor of Psychology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. W. Paul Williamson is Associate Professor of Psychology at Henderson State University. Hood and Williamson are coauthors, with Peter C. Hill, of The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism.
"There is no competing work that matches Them That Believe; it is both original and stimulating. The scholarship is superior, and reflects well the 15 years the authors have worked on this project. This is an outstanding work."—Margaret Poloma, author of Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism
"This book provides one of the most comprehensive and thoroughly researched reports on serpent handling Christians ever written. The use of multiple methodological lenses (e.g., sociology, ethnographic participant-observation, phenomenological psychology) adds a depth and richness not seen in other works. The book is very well written and arranged, and the scholarship is excellent."—Stephen Parker, author of Led by the Spirit: Toward a Practical Theology of Pentecostal Discernment and Decision Making