- Great Awakening
- The term Great Awakening has been applied to two periods of enthusiastic religious revival: in the American colonies of the 1740s and on the frontier of the United States in the early decades of the 19th century. Both were periods of religious ferment, creativity, and initiative and gave birth to new churches and to changes in existing denominations.In the 1720s, voices were heard decrying the state of religion in the American colonies. It was difficult for the churches to keep up with the population as it moved westward. Established churches had grown weak, and ministers seemed unable to perpetuate traditional patterns of church participation - the population was fleeing from the churches.The first effort at revival is usually traced to Theodore Jacob Frelinghausen (1691-1720), who came from Holland to begin work among the Dutch settlers of New Jersey. As revivals broke out under his ministry, he influenced Scotch-Irish Presbyterian Gilbert Tennent (1703-64), who soon discovered that revivals were spreading to his people as well. In 1737, Massachusetts Congregational minister Jonathan Edwards published an influential account of a revival that broke out in his Northampton ministry in the winter of 1734-35.All this activity prepared the way for George Whitefield's travels through America, which began in 1735. One of the great orators of the century, he preached from Charleston to Boston; at every stop crowds gathered, people were converted, and revival followed. A wave of religious concern swept the American colonies through the early 1740s and to a lesser extent in the following decades. This first Great Awakening revived the sagging faith of many and converted many others, and it had a marked effect in creating an American national consciousness. Whitefield was the major connecting point between the American revival and similar events in Europe, which together constitute what is generally termed the Evangelical Awakening.A second wave of religious enthusiasm began as settlers began pushing across the Allegheny Mountains early in the 19th century. New groups, primarily Methodists and Baptists, set about the task of churching the West. They developed two very successful tools: camp meetings, where farmers could take a religious vacation when farm work was least demanding, and protracted meetings, where evangelists would keep a revival going in a particular location as long as need and interest persisted.This second Great Awakening made the Methodists and Baptists the largest religious communities in the country and spawned several new denominations - the Cumberland Presbyterians and the churches of the Restoration movement - whose founders had left the more slow-moving denominations behind.The second Great Awakening received a new boost in the 1830s from Charles G. Finney, who refined the revivals and camp meetings even more. Finney carried the evangelistic activity of the frontier churches through the 1850s and fed the development of the new urban evangelism that would characterize the decades after the Civil War.See also revivalism.Further reading:■ Richard L. Bushman, ed., The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-1745 (New York: Atheneum, 1970)■ Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994)■ Frank Lambert, Inventing the Great Awakening (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999)■ William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakening, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607 to 1977 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978)■ Darrett B. Rutman, Great Awakening: Event and Exegesis (New York: John Wiley, 1970).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.