Dr. Michael Stoltzfus

Dr. Michael Stoltzfus is a professor of religious studies at Valdosta State University. He became a Pluralism Project affiliate in 2006 with his research “Pluralism in the ‘Bible Belt’: Mapping the Religious Diversity of South Georgia.”

More about “Pluralism in the Bible Belt”

Although the Deep South is commonly characterized as the “Bible Belt,” closer analysis suggests that the region’s religious landscape is considerably more complex and fluid. The aims of this project were to document historic changes in the region’s religious demographics and to explore some of the challenges faced by minority religious communities. Much of the research was conducted by Religious Studies students at Valdosta State University in Georgia.

The city of Valdosta is located in the southernmost region of the state, near the Florida border. Although it is situated in a predominately rural part of the country, Valdosta is experiencing a significant growth in population. Major employers in the area—including Moody Air Force Base, the South Georgia Regional Medical Center, and Valdosta State University—have helped to draw new residents from other parts of the country as well as from overseas, and in 2003 Lowndes County was designated a metropolitan area. In addition, the region’s agricultural base continues to rely heavily on migrant labor from Latin America.

With this new growth comes an increasing diversity, which is reflected in the region’s changing religious landscape. To the already vibrant religious life of the city—as evidenced by its many churches and a Jewish community which recently celebrated its centennial—new communities of Muslims, Hindus, Korean Protestants, Latino Catholics, and others have recently been added. This new diversity brings both new opportunities and new challenges.

2006 researchers - Stoltzfus

 

Spring 2006 student researchers. From left to right (front row): Erica McDonald, Anita Nair, Reed Drury, Geoff Hall, Lainey Drummond and (back row): Ryan Powell, Patrick Spurlock, Nick Pumphrey, Jeremy Baker, Jason Adams, and Michael Jeffers.

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