The Great Awakening was a religious revitalization movement that influences the Atlantic world and mainly the American colonies during the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a lasting impact on American religion (Lambert 2009). Taking away from ritual and ceremony, that movement made religion deeply personal to individuals by promotion a great sense of spiritual guilt and redemption, and by encouraging introspection and a dedication to a new set of individual morality.
Even though the idea of a “great awakening” has been proclaimed by Butler (1982) as unclear and overstated, it is obvious that the period was an era of increased religious activity. The First Great Awakening brought changes in Americans’ understanding of God, themselves, and their world. In the Middle and Southern colonies, particularly in the “back country” regions, the Great Awakening was powerful among Presbyterians. In the southern Tidewater and Low Country, northern Baptist and Methodist preachers transformed both whites and blacks, enslaved and free. The Baptists mainly welcomed blacks into dynamic roles in congregations, making them preachers (Sharp 2007).
So, the Great Awakening was a religious movement that swept New England in the 2nd quarter of the 18th century. At the head of the Great Awakening was the Congregational pastor in Northampton, Jonathan Edwards, who supported Calvinist theology. He ardently defended the doctrine of double predestination and preaching salvation “only by faith in Jesus Christ”. Against the ecstatic manifestations of “contentious feelings” were other Calvinists – Anglican conservatives, led by Boston pastor Charles Chauncy. As a result of that controversy, many communities spitted.
In the 1739-1740 a lot of noise in the colonies was done by the tour of one of the founders of Methodism, George Whitfield, who also supported the Calvinist theology. He brought listeners of his sermons to a genuine frenzy. Since no church could accommodate people who wanted to listen to him, Whitfield preached in the open field. Like Edwards, he warned against the temptations of dissent (Kidd 2007).
The Great Awakening was an important period in the history of colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. It emphasized the importance of church doctrine and in its place put a greater meaning on people and their spiritual experience. That period unified the American colonies as it spread through various preachers and revivals. That unification was greater than had ever been achieved until that time in the colonies.
Kidd, T.S. (2007). The great awakening: the roots of evangelical Christianity in colonial America. p. 135.
Lambert, F. (June 2009). The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. English Historical Review, 124(508), 714-716.
Sharp, M. (2007). The Great Awakening. p. 48.