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J Prev Interv Community. 2015;43(3):186-98. doi: 10.1080/10852352.2014.973278.

Religious Serpent Handling and Community Relations.

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a Department of Psychology , Henderson State University , Arkadelphia , Arkansas , USA.


Christian serpent handling sects of Appalachia comprise a community that has long been mischaracterized and marginalized by the larger communities surrounding them. To explore this dynamic, this article traces the emergence of serpent handling in Appalachia and the emergence of anti-serpent-handling state laws, which eventually failed to curb the practice, as local communities gave serpent handling groups support. We present two studies to consider for improving community relations with serpent handling sects. In study 1, we present data relating the incidence of reported serpent-bite deaths with the rise of anti-serpent-handling laws and their eventual abatement, based on increasing acceptance of serpent handlers by the larger community. Study 2 presents interview data on serpent bites and death that provide explanations for these events from the cultural and religious perspective. We conclude that first-hand knowledge about serpent handlers, and other marginalized groups, helps to lessen suspicion and allows them to be seen as not much different, which are tendencies that are important for promoting inter-community harmony.


community; religion and law; religious sects; serpent handling; snakebite

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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