There are many factors that triggered the religious revivals known as the Great Awakenings. These awakenings encouraged citizens to partake in religious ceremonies and activities. Some agreed and joined the bandwagon, some refused. The awakenings had aspects that resulted in great long term benefits in government, education, and society.
During the 1730s it was apparent that most colonies had established their own religions. Some strict churches preached that we are all sinful and that only a faithful few would be saved. The increase in production and manufacturing of goods increased colonial wealth, but led most colonists astray from their religion and influenced their temptation to live less godly lives. That is when the Great Awakening began. The Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival movement that taught “rebirth” and that God was forgiving. Churches became amplified, preaching the need to become a new and better person of faith, which was said to be the ultimate religious experience. Preachers said that followers should accept that they are sinners and ask for salvation. Many religious men contributed to the Great Awakening.
Two of the religious men were George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. Whitefield was a young Anglican preacher, everywhere he went he brought an ample amount of people and converted them. Whitefield claimed that God was lenient and forgiving, rather than telling people they were all going to hell because they were sinners. Edwards was the beginning of the revival, he emphasized the power of an extant and intimate religious experience. Like Whitefield, Edwards attracted large crowds with his powerful sermons.
The Awakening was divided into two major groups called the “Old Lights” and the “New Lights.” The “New Lights” were one of the religious groups that grew as a result of the Great Awakening, they were Baptist. The “Old Lights” challenged authority and hierarchy and were a make-up of Congregationalists and Anglicans. With these new groups came religious diversity, but helped colonists become more aware of life beyond their town or church.
In the 1790s, during a great migration west, the Second Great Awakening began. This revival saw converts in the thousands. It sparked numerous reform and social movements, as Christians began working to perfect society and bring fair treatment for all. One of the major influential religious leaders was Charles Finney. Finney was known as “The Father of Modern Revivalism,” he made significant innovations in preaching and religious meetings. Finney tended to be very outspoken and a hardcore criticizer of other Christian teachings. Another influential religious leader was James McGready. McGready became significant in sparking the Second Great Awakening. He hosted loose organized church meetings called frontier camps, which were meetings where preachers delivered informal sermons to large congregations.
There was a major site where the largest Protestant revival movements happened, it was called Cane Ridge. At the Cane Ridge Revival a Presbyterian preacher named Barton Stone led the conferences. Stone wasn’t always the only speaker, at any given time 3 or 4 preachers would be delivering sermons. Also men weren’t the only ones that could participate in the Second Great Awakening revival. Due to women’s’ complete exclusion from politics, women jumped at the chance to participate in Christian work. Women became exceedingly important in the spreading of the religious teachings. Some other effects of the Second Great Awakening would include Crusaders fighting for women’s rights, abolition of slavery, temperance, education reform, etc.
Although these two religious revivals seemed virtually the same, there are many key differences between the two Great Awakenings. One major difference would be the fact that the Second Great Awakening influenced social reform. Crusaders, who were just citizens, fought for the rights of not only women, but rights for blacks too in the Second Great Awakening. The first Great Awakening influenced more of a personal reform for ones’ self. Allowing colonists to see that there was light beyond their darkness.
One similarity the two shared would be the emphasis of morality and religious teachings. Another difference would be that George Whitefield, a significant leader from the very first Great Awakening, tried to prevent slaves from attending religious teachings, while the Crusaders, a group of rebels fighting for social reform for women and slaves, wanted to include slaves and women in not only the religious ceremonies, but introduce them more in society also. One more similarity they shared was the influence of new Protestant based divisions including: Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Presbyterianism, Methodism, and more.
Both of the Great Awakenings were influential in many different ways, but the Second Great Awakening provided more diversity within society. The Second Great Awakening made people question government and society and inspired groups like the Crusaders to fight for peoples’ rights. The Crusaders fought deeply for the rights of enslaved black men and women and white women. They also fought for temperance and education reform. Alcohol became a major problem in the 1800s. People were getting drunk and wreaking havoc in the streets and causing disruption. That’s when the Temperance Movement began, the goal of this movement was to teach the evils of drinking, and ultimately get rid of drinking or limit it, but that all depended on the government and if the citizens would choose not to drink.
In conclusion the historical legacy of these two movements paved the way for open-minded thinking and multiple reforms that shaped the way the nation is now. From the blacks being able to mingle with the whites, to the women of our nation being able to vote and drive. The Great Awakening left different footprints on all of the colonial religions and divisions. Its legacy was an urgent concern with individual salvation and faith, defining religious beliefs for oneself rather than accepting them from government authorities, selecting a minister for his charisma and preaching style rather than for his wealth and social status, and accepting those who shared a similar style and concerns no matter what the religion.
Women became more influential in many congregations which believed that, if females were converted, they would lead their children and husbands to salvation. Responsibility for multiple congregations became more common among the smaller congregations that resulted from the divisions in churches. Both the Old and New persuasions formed intercolonial and interdenominational networks that helped to break down brutality and confinement, and prepared Americans for accepting the religious diversity that was on the horizon.
Courtney from Study Moose
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