The Great Awakening v. The Enlightenment

Two broad sets of ideas largely determined the worldview in 18th
century America prior to the American Revolution. While it is true
that the Enlightenment more thoroughly influenced the Colonial
elite, and the Great Awakening was most influential amongst
common people, both found their nexus in America.
Puritanism dominant early in New England,
but other Protestant churches start to form
The Anglican Church is rooted in the South
Catholics and Jews are few, but distrusted
Some religious leaders are concerned with the
decline in piety and religion
The Great Awakening is one of the first events
to unify the colonies
Series of religious revivals beginning in
1720s, peaking between 1740 & 1755,
which was centered in America.
Was an American phenomenon, 1st mass
social movement in US—arguably the first
to provide some common experience
amongst all Colonies.
#1 Enthusiasm--emotional manifestations (weeping,
fainting, physical movements) in contrast to staid and
formal Anglican and Congregational worship.
#2 Itinerancy--preachers roamed rural and urban areas
and held meetings
#3 Democratic religious movement
- insisted that all should have the religious experience
- Stirred impulse towards independence among
- Broke down strong denominational ties
- Challenged religious authority. Baptists in the South
preached to slaves and against the ostentatious wealth of
the planter class
Old Lights -- orthodox and liberal clergymen
deeply skeptical of emotionalism and
theatrical antics of the revivalists. Believed
emotionalism threatened their usefulness and
spiritual authority
New Lights -- Supported the Awakening for
revitalizing American religion and used
emotionalism to move followers.
Famous preacher of “Sinners in the Hands of
an Angry God”
Most famous and influential preacher of the
Great Awakening (also very scary)
Famous open air preacher of the revival- spoke
to crowds as high as 30,000
Preached about the religious power of the
common man, founded Methodism in GA and
Split denominations and created
competitiveness among churches (e.g. Baptists)
Brought religion to those who had lost it
New Lights v. Old Lights
Converted many women, gave women more
Encouraged missionary work with slaves and
Helped create the “revolutionary mindset”
Led to the creation of new light colleges:
Dartmouth, Brown, Rutgers, College of New
Jersey (Princeton), King’s College (Columbia),
Began in 1690s, peak between 1720-1780
Central tenet: the power of human reason to
understand laws of nature, society,
government, etc., and to direct progress in
those areas.
The Enlightenment also worked to undermine
and challenge traditional authority
His enlightenment ideas were very important
in challenging British authority
The right to rebel and the social contract theory
of government
“We give up our right to
ourselves exact retribution for
crimes in return for impartial
justice backed by overwhelming
force. We retain the right to life
and liberty, and gain the right to
just, impartial protection of our
More focus on Education
Technological and medical advancements in
Contributed to important principles in our
founding documents (Declaration,
They help to create the attitude necessary for
the Revolution
Challenging Authority
Help the colonists to create their own unique
societies and character