Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Gregory V. Button

Committee Members

Bertin M. Louis, Rosalind I. J. Hackett


In the last year, the traditional practice of handling venomous snakes in Pentecostal church services has returned to the forefront of popular media attention. With the death of renowned handler Randy “Mack” Wolford in West Virginia in May, the news has been rife with stories of the century-old tradition. New, younger groups of handlers have also been instrumental in raising attention to the practice. One congregation in particular has been a key focus for media outlets around the nation. The Cobb Creek Church of God has been featured in The Tennessean, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Geographic in only a six month period. This twenty-one year old pastor has displayed his serpent-handling on social media outlets, been accommodating of any news or documentary team that wants to visit, and has even stood before the County Commissioner, pleading against the ban on the practice. In a tradition that has historically been much more closed off to this is a significant digression from the norm. This ethnographic study explores the ways in which this new congregation is taking up the banner of an older tradition, shaping it to exist in the modern era. While still largely holding to tradition, Cobb Creek Church of God has already defied many of the stereotypes associated with serpent-handlers. Their willingness to accept outsiders as well as their openness via social media outlets and local politics already sets them apart from many serpent-handling groups. I examine how a group of recent converts to the tradition are shaping the tradition to fit their current needs. This study examines the way in which this young group has laid claim to an older tradition, yet managed to shape it to fit their generation, helping to ensure its survival into the future.

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