Great Awakening

The Great Awakening was a religious movement among American colonial Protestants in the 1730s and 1740s. It began with Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts preacher who sought to return to the Pilgrims' strict Calvinist roots and to reawaken the fear of God. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is perhaps his most famous sermon. Edwards was a powerful speaker and attracted a large following. The English preacher George Whitefield continued the movement, travelling across the colonies and preaching in a dramatic and emotional style, accepting Christians as his audience.

Those attracted to his message and that of the itinerant preachers who sprang up across the colonies called themselves the "New Lights," and those who did not were called the "Old Lights." One manifestation of the conflict between the two sides was the establishment of a number of universities, now counted among the Ivy League, including Kings College (now Columbia University) and Princeton University. The Great Awakening was perhaps the first truly "American" event, and as such represented at least a small step towards the unification of the colonies.

The Great Awakening may also be interpreted as the last major expression of the religious ideals on which the New England colonies were founded. Religiosity had been declining for decades, in part due to the negative publicity resulting from the Salem witch trials. After the Great Awakening, it subsided again, although later American history abounds with revival movements (most notably the Second Great Awakening. The forces driving the colonies' history for the next eighty years would be overwhelmingly secular, although America would remain (and many parts of the nation remain to this day) a deeply religious nation.

See also: Second Great Awakening


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