Great Awakening

Great Awakening, series of religious revivals that swept over the American colonies about the middle of the 18th cent. It resulted in doctrinal changes and influenced social and political thought. In New England it was started (1734) by the rousing preaching of Jonathan Edwards. Although there were early local stirrings in New Jersey in the 1720s under the evangelical preaching of Theodorus Frelinghuysen of the Dutch Reformed Church, the revival in the Middle Colonies actually began in New Jersey largely among the Presbyterians trained under William Tennent. His son Gilbert Tennent became the leading figure of the Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies. Other preachers followed, and with the tour (1739–41) of the famous Methodist preacher George Whitefield, the isolated currents of revivalism united and flowed into all the colonies. The revival reached the South with the preaching (1748–59) of Samuel Davies among the Presbyterians of Virginia, with the great success of the Baptists in North Carolina in the 1760s, and with the rapid spread of Methodism shortly before the American Revolution.

In New England the movement died out rapidly, leaving behind bitter doctrinal disputes between the "New Lights" and the "Old Lights," the latter led by Charles Chauncy, a Boston clergyman, who opposed the revivalist movement as extravagant and impermanent. The theology of the "New Lights," a slightly modified Calvinism, crystallized into the Edwardian, or New England, theology that became dominant in W New England, whereas the liberal doctrines of the "Old Lights," strong in Boston and the vicinity, were destined to develop into the Universalist or Unitarian positions. A similar division between "New Sides" and "Old Sides" took place in the Middle Colonies, causing a schism (1741–58) in the Presbyterian Church.

The Great Awakening also resulted in an outburst of missionary activity among Native Americans by such men as David Brainerd, Eleazar Wheelock, and Samuel Kirkland; in the first movement of importance against slavery; and in various other humanitarian undertakings. It led to the founding of a number of academies and colleges, notably Princeton, Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth. It served to build up interests that were intercolonial in character, to increase opposition to the Anglican Church and the royal officials who supported it, and to encourage a democratic spirit in religion.

See A. E. Heimert and P. Miller, ed., Great Awakening: Documents Illustrating the Crisis and Its Consequences (1967). J. Tracy, A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield (1845, repr. 1969); C. H. Maxson, The Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies (1920, repr. 1958); W. M. Gewehr, The Great Awakening in Virginia (1930, repr. 1965); E. S. Gaustad, The Great Awakening in New England (1957, repr. 1965); R. L. Bushman, ed., The Great Awakening (1969, repr. 1989); D. B. Rutman, The Great Awakening (1970); C. L. Heyrman, Southern Cross (1997).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Great Awakening: Selected full-text books and articles

A Wonderful Work of God: Puritanism and the Great Awakening By Robert W. Brockway Lehigh University Press, 2003
Events That Changed America in the Eighteenth Century By John E. Findling; Frank W. Thackeray Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "The Great Awakening, c. 1730s-1760"
The Puritan Mind By Herbert Wallace Schneider University of Michigan Press, 1958
Librarian's tip: Chap. IV "The Great Awakening"
Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America By Patricia U. Bonomi Oxford University Press, 1988
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "The Hosannas of the Multitude: The Great Awakening in America"
Doctrine and Experience: Essays in American Philosophy By Vincent G. Potter Fordham University Press, 1988
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening"
Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture By Joseph A. Conforti University of North Carolina Press, 1995
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Inventing the Great Awakening: Edwardsian Revivalistic Tradition from the New Divinity to New Measures"
Tenacious of Their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial Massachusetts By James F. Cooper Jr Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 10 "The Great Awakening and the Privitization of Piety"
From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820 By Ralph Ketcham Macmillan, 1974
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "The Great Awakening and Colonial Loyalties"
Jonathan Edwards: The Fiery Puritan By Henry Bamford Parkes Minton, Balch, 1930
The Writings of Jonathan Edwards: Theme, Motif, and Style By William J. Scheick Texas A&M University Press, 1975
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Affections and the Self: Writings During The Great Awakening"
Puritan Rhetoric: The Issue of Emotion in Religion By Eugene E. White Southern Illinois University Press, 1972
Librarian's tip: "The Great Awakening: Emotions in Crisis and Conflict" begins on p. 48
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