Religious Life of Elvis

Dr. Jim Goff, a leading historian of Southern Gospel music and Southern culture, has authored an important addition to Elvis scholarship. The article, “Conflicted by the Spirit: The Religious Life of Elvis Presley,” is featured in the 2008 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine. Goff’s sympathetic treatment of Elvis’ religious confliction portrayed a gifted individual with human frailties, with whom many readers will be able to identify.

Goff provided an overview of the subject and demonstrated his warm and engaging prose in the article’s introduction:

“In life and in death, Elvis Presley holds a fascination far beyond that of even the most successful singers and movie personalities. Worldwide, thirty years after his death, millions upon millions recognize him by his first name alone, the mention of which conjures up a surfeit of sight, sound, and memory. Less known is the real man, and especially the religious yearnings and conflicts that alternately soothed and convicted him. Ever enamored by gospel music, Presley was likewise influenced—and perhaps haunted—by the religious strictures of his youth. This early religious training was decidedly evangelical and Pentecostal in its orientation. Ultimately, it served as a religious umbrella under which the entertainer sought refuge in times of turmoil.”

Assemblies of God members have often felt mixed feelings toward Elvis. Many liked his music and were proud that he once sat in the Sunday school at Memphis First Assembly of God. At the same time, Elvis’ all-too public struggles caused concern and, at times, consternation.

The Assemblies of God does not claim Elvis as its own, but Elvis was impacted by the Assemblies of God and the broader evangelical and Pentecostal movements. This article does not aim to narrowly identify Elvis with a particular denomination, but offers a careful assessment of his background and religious proclivities.

This is the first published treatment of Elvis by an official publication of the Assemblies of God. Assemblies of God Heritage is published by the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC), which is the denominational archives and museum of the Assemblies of God. The article may be viewed on the FPHC website: www.iFPHC.org.

Jim Goff is the I. G. Greer Distinguished Professor of History at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He is researching a book-length manuscript on the religious background and cultural ramifications of the Elvis Presley phenomenon and would appreciate any personal reflections that readers might share of having interacted with Presley in a religious environment. Please send these reflections to goffjr@appstate.edu.

Goff’s article has caused a stir in the blogosphere. See the following blog discussions: Averyfineline: Criticism and commentary on southern gospel music and culture ; and SGBogNews.

The 2008 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage is available for $8 on the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center website.

This blog post was adapted from an article by Darrin J. Rodgers, Director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center and editor of Assemblies of God Heritage. Rodgers’ article was first published in Elvis Insiders, the official newsletter of Elvis Presley Enterprises. Reposted with permission.

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Posted by Darrin Rodgers

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