Digital History

18th Century

The Great Awakening Previous Next
Digital History ID 3591



The Great Awakening, the most important event in American religion during the eighteenth century, was a series of emotional religious revivals that spread across the American colonies in the late 1730s and 1740s. The mid-eighteenth century witnessed a wave of evangelism without precedent in America, England, Scotland, and Germany. In England, this wave would culminate in the Methodist revivals led by John Wesley (1703-1791), while in Germany, the revivals would give rise to a movement known as Pietism. In colonial America, in contrast to England and Germany, the revivals tended to cross class lines and to take place in urban as well as rural areas.

In New England, in particular, the Great Awakening represented a reaction against the growing formality and the dampening of religious fervor in the Congregational churches. Elsewhere in the colonies, the Anglican church, indeed no single church, was able to satisfy the population's spiritual and emotional needs.

The Great Awakening carried profound consequences for the future. It was the first experience shared by large numbers of people throughout all the American colonies, and therefore contributed to the growth of a common American identity. It also produced a deepened consciousness of sin within the existing social order and aroused a faith that Americans stood within reach of Christ's second coming.

Even though the Great Awakening contributed to a splintering of American Protestantism, as supporters of the revivalists known as New Lights and their opponents, known as Old Lights, established separate congregations, it also sent a powerful spiritual message: that God works directly through the people, rather than through churches or other public institutions.

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