The Great Awakening of the Early 18th Century

All About the First Great Religious Revival

Jonathan Edwards - Colonial Preacher of the Great Awakening
Jonathan Edwards - Colonial Preacher of the Great Awakening. Public Domain

What was the Great Awakening? 

The Great Awakening was a period of great revivalism that spread throughout the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. It de-emphasized the importance of church doctrine and instead put a greater importance on the individual and their spiritual experience. 

Why did the Great Awakening Occur? 

The Great Awakening arose at a time when man in Europe and the American colonies were questioning the role of the individual in religion and society.

It began at the same time as the Enlightenment which emphasized logic and reason and stressed the power of the individual to understand the universe based on scientific laws. Similarly, individuals grew to rely more on a personal approach to salvation than church dogma and doctrine. There was a feeling among believers that established religion had become complacent. This movement emphasized an emotional, spiritual and personal relationship with God. 

Who was Jonathan Edwards? 

Jonathan Edwards was a key American revivalist during the Great Awakening who preached for close to ten years in New England. He emphasized a personal approach to religion. He also bucked the puritan tradition and called for unity among all Christians as opposed to intolerance. His most famous sermon was "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," delivered in 1741. In this sermon he explained that salvation was a direct result from God and could not be attained by human works as the Puritans preached.

Who was George Whitefield?

A second important figure during the Great Awakening was George Whitefield. Unlike Edwards, Whitefield was a British minister who moved to colonial America. He was known as the "Great Itinerant" because he traveled and preached all around North American and Europe between 1740 and 1770.

His revivals led to many conversions, and the Great Awakening spread from North America to the European continent.

What is the Significance of the Great Awakening? 

Following are significant facts to remember about the Great Awakening:

  • It pushed individual religious experience over established church doctrine, thereby decreasing the importance and weight of the clergy and the church in many instances.
  • New denominations arose or grew in numbers as a result of the emphasis on individual faith and salvation.
  • It unified the American colonies as it spread through numerous preachers and revivals. This unification was greater than had ever been achieved previously in the colonies.
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Kelly, Martin. "The Great Awakening of the Early 18th Century." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, Kelly, Martin. (2017, March 3). The Great Awakening of the Early 18th Century. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "The Great Awakening of the Early 18th Century." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2018).