Great Awakening

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The term Great Awakening can refer to several periods of religious revival in American religious history. Historians and theologians identify three or four waves of increased religious enthusiasm occurring between the early 18th century and the late 19th century. Each of these "Great Awakenings" was characterized by widespread revivals led by evangelical Protestant ministers, a sharp increase of interest in religion, a profound sense of conviction and redemption on the part of those affected, an increase in evangelical church membership, and the formation of new religious movements and denominations.

First Great Awakening[edit]

Main article: First Great Awakening

The First Great Awakening began in the 1730s and lasted to about 1743, though pockets of revivalism had occurred in years prior, especially amongst the ministry of Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards's grandfather.[1] Edwards's congregation was involved in a revival later called the "Frontier Revivals" in the mid-1730s, though this was on the wane by 1737.[2] But as American religious historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom noted the Great Awakening "was still to come, ushered in by the Grand Itinerant",[2] the great British Evangelist George Whitefield. Whitefield arrived in Georgia in 1738, and returned in 1739 for a second visit of the Colonies, making a "triumphant campaign north from Philadelphia to New York, and back to the South."[2] In 1740, he visited New England, and "at every place he visited, the consequences were large and tumultuous." Ministers from various evangelical Protestant denominations supported the Great Awakening.[3] In the middle colonies, he influenced not only the British churches, but the Dutch and Germans.[4]

Additionally, pastoral styles began to change. In the late colonial period, most pastors read their sermons, which were theologically dense and advanced a particular theological argument or interpretation. The leaders of the Great Awakening, such as James Davenport, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent and George Whitefield, had little interest in merely engaging parishioners' intellects; rather, they sought a strong emotional response from their congregations that might yield the workings and experiential evidence of saving grace. Joseph Tracy, the minister, historian, and preacher who gave this religious phenomenon its name in his influential 1842 book The Great Awakening, saw the First Great Awakening as a precursor to the American Revolution. The evangelical movement of the 1740s played a key role in the development of democratic thought, as well as the belief of the free press and the belief that information should be shared and completely unbiased and uncontrolled. These concepts ushered in the period of the American Revolution. This contributed to create a demand for religious freedom.[5] Although the Great Awakening represented the first time African Americans embraced Christianity in large numbers, Anglican missionaries had long sought to convert blacks, again with the printed as well as the spoken word.[6]

In the later part of the 1700's the Revival came to the English colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.[citation needed]

Second Great Awakening[edit]

The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival that occurred in the United States beginning in the late eighteenth century and lasting until the middle of the nineteenth century. While it occurred in all parts of the United States, it was especially strong in the Northeast and the Midwest. This awakening was unique in that it moved beyond the educated elite of New England to those who were less wealthy and less educated. The center of revivalism was the so-called Burned-over district in western New York. Named for its overabundance of hellfire-and-damnation preaching, the region produced dozens of new denominations, communal societies, and reform.

In addition to a religious movement, other reform movements such as temperance, abolition, and women's rights also grew in antebellum America. The temperance movement encouraged people to abstain from consuming alcoholic drinks in order to preserve family order. The abolition movement fought to abolish slavery in the United States. The women's rights movement grew from female abolitionists who realized that they too could fight for their own political rights. In addition to these causes, reforms touched nearly every aspect of daily life, such as restricting the use of tobacco and dietary and dress reforms. The abolition movement emerged in the North from the wider Second Great Awakening 1800-1840.

Third Great Awakening[edit]

Main article: Third Great Awakening

The Third Great Awakening in the 1850s–1900s was characterized by new denominations, active missionary work, Chautauquas, and the Social Gospel approach to social issues.[7] The Y.M.C.A. (founded in 1844) played a major role in fostering revivals in the cities in the 1858 Awakening and after. The revival of 1858 produced the leadership, such as that of Dwight L. Moody, out of which came religious work carried on in the armies during the civil war. The Christian and Sanitary Commissions and numerous Freedmen's Societies were also formed in the midst of the War.

Fourth Great Awakening[edit]

The Fourth Great Awakening is a debated concept that has not received the acceptance of the first three. Advocates such as economist Robert Fogel say it happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[citation needed] Others[who?] call this time the Charismatic Movement. Some of the ministers of the Charismatic Movement were Kenneth Hagin, Chuck Smith, John Wimber, and Kathryn Kuhlman. The Vineyard Movement and Calvary Chapel emerged during this movement. Both these movements still exist. Expository teaching along with the Signs and Wonders movement emerged in the 1970s and 1980s.[citation needed] Mainline Protestant denominations weakened sharply in both membership and influence while the most conservative religious denominations (such as the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans) grew rapidly in numbers, spread across the United States, had grave internal theological battles and schisms, and became politically powerful. Most of these organizations still stand today.

Fifth Great Awakening[edit]

Main article: Toronto Blessing
Main article: Brownsville Revival

This Awakening Consisted of Two Major Revivals: The Toronto Blessing and The Brownsville Revival.

The Toronto Blessing, a term coined by British newspapers, describes the revival and resulting phenomena that began in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard church, now the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF), a neocharismatic evangelical Christian church located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[1] Participants in the conferences and meetings sponsored by TACF have reported healings, incidents of personal transformation and a greater awareness of God's love. It has also been referred to as the Father's blessing, the Anointing, the Awakening, the Renewal, the River and the Fire. The blessing has become known for ecstatic worship, including what is known as falling or resting in the Spirit, laughter, shaking, and crying.[1] "Holy laughter" was a hallmark manifestation, and there were also instances of participants roaring like lions.[2] Another "manifestation of the spirit" encountered at these meetings was a gesture commonly called "crunching" consisting of a vomit-like heaving as a reaction to inviting God to "cleanse" one's emotions or releasing forgiveness to those involved in past negative experiences. Leaders and participants claim that these are physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit's presence and power. One TACF teaching, the Golden Sword prophecy, has been spreading among charismatic churches.

The Brownsville Revival (also known as the Pensacola Outpouring) was a widely reported Christian revival within the Pentecostal Movement that began on Father's Day June 18, 1995, at Brownsville Assembly of God (a church in the Assemblies of God) in Pensacola, Florida. [1] Characteristics of the Brownsville Revival movement, as with other Christian religious revivals, included acts of repentance by parishioners and a call to holiness, said to be inspired by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Some of the occurrences in this revival fit the description of moments of religious ecstasy. More than four million people are reported to have attended the revival meetings from its beginnings in 1995 to around 2000.


The idea of an "awakening" implies a slumber or passivity during secular or less religious times. Awakening is a term which originates from and is embraced often and primarily by evangelical Christians.[8] In recent times, the idea of "awakenings" in US history has been put forth by conservative US evangelicals.[9]


  1. ^ Curtis, A. Kenneth (1991). The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Fleming H. Revell. p. 135. ISBN 0-8007-5644-4. 
  2. ^ a b c Ahlstrom, Sydney E., A Religious History of the American People, Yale University Press, 1972, p. 283
  3. ^ Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007)
  4. ^ Ahlstrom, p. 285
  5. ^ Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (1967)
  6. ^ Frank Lambert, "I Saw the Book Talk: Slave Readings Of the Great Awakening."
  7. ^ Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (1972)
  8. ^ Lambert, Leslie. Inventing the Great Awakening, Princeton University Press, 1999.
  9. ^ "Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'" Washington Post, Sept. 12 2006.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People (1972) the standard history
  • Butler, Jon. "Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretative Fiction." Journal of American History 69 (1982): 305-25. in JSTOR, influential article
  • Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. (1999). excerpt and text search
  • Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity (1989). excerpt and text search
  • Heimert, Alan. Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution (1966) online in ACLS e-books
  • Lambert, Frank. Inventing the Great Awakening Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
  • Kelleter, Frank. Amerikanische Aufklärung: Sprachen der Rationalität im Zeitalter der Revolution (2014)
  • Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007), 412pp excerpt and text search
  • Lambert, Frank. Pedlar in Divinity: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994
  • William G. McLoughlin; Revivals, Awakenings and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977 (1978)
  • Najar, Monica. Evangelizing the South: A Social History of Church and State in Early America. (2008). 252 pp.
  • Tracy, Joseph. The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield, 1997, Banner of Truth, ISBN 0-85151-712-9. This is a reprint of the original work published in 1842.
  • Stout, Harry. The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism; Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 2069
  • For the influence of the Great Awakening on Eighteenth-century Canada see Henry Alline.

Primary sources[edit]