From its founding in 1871, Birmingham, Alabama, grew like “magic” at the junction of two railroads. In terms of religion, Birmingham is best known as a center of the Bible Belt and for its role in the mid-twentieth-century civil rights movement. The city’s airport is even named for a Baptist preacher, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a Baptist preacher and civil rights leader.
But Birmigham’s religious life is about more than evangelicalism and civil rights. Its world famous leaders include not only Martin Luther King Jr., but also Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network. Today its religious citizens include Catholics as well as Protestants, Buddhists as well as Muslims, the unaffiliated as well as churchgoers.
From fall 2019 to spring 2021, 130 Samford University students have joined Dr. David R. Bains, the creator and editor this project, have authored ninety-one essays for this site and an annotated map of seventy-seven religious sites in the Avondale neighborhood. In spring 2021 students used online recordings to explore how Christians worshiped amid the Covid-19 pandemic. In fall 2020, when in-person observations were also restricted, students in a freshman seminar studied nineteen religious images in Birmingham. They built upon the work of spring 2020 students who examined prominent Birmingham images of Jesus Christ in dialogue with The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey. Students began writing essays for this site in fall 2019. Religion majors explored the greater Avondale neighborhood. Students in Introduction to World Religions examined eleven communities in fall 2019 and ten more in fall 2021 throughout the metropolitan area representing Birmingham’s contemporary diversity.
In fall 2022, a dozen students explored the religious history of the Woodlawn neighborhood, and in spring 2023, fifteen more are writing about Christian worship services in the city. Magic City Religion continues to grow.