Religion Colonial Society Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

religion shaped development of colonial society in 1740s New England, Chesapeake, and the Mid-Atlantic. Religion shaped development in these areas in a wide variety of ways, and the most important religious development during this time was the "Great Awakening." The "Great Awakening" was an important event in American history and religious history. It was the first real step away from the organized, strict religions that had followed the settlers here from England.

The "father" of the Great Awakening was Jonathan Edwards. He wrote a sermon called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which became very famous. A religious historian writes, "In that sermon he used the image of a spider dangling by a web over a hot fire to describe the human predicament. His point was that at any moment, our hold on life could break and we'd be plunged into fires of eternal damnation" (Matthews). While many people were critical of his sermons, others began to listen to him and to attend his church. They also began to "convert" to Edward's church because they were disappointed with their own Puritan churches and a lack of piety they saw in many people. Another religious historian notes, "The 'time of extraordinary dullness in religion' which Jonathan Edwards bemoaned during his early years at Northampton came to an end with the 'great and general awakening' which aroused all New England in 1740 -42" (Goen 8). Edwards believed in piety and in God's wrath against sinners, and people started to listen closely to his words. They also started to leave the powerful Anglican and Puritan churches as they discovered a religion that was more modern and fit their needs and beliefs better.

As Edwards popularity increased, others began to preach in the same way, and more people began to listen. However, eventually his preaching began to fall from favor....
...A real evangelist, George Whitefield, replaced him in popularity with the people. His preaching reached all throughout New England, the Chesapeake, and Mid-Atlantic, and his popularity ensured the success of revivalism and new religious beliefs. Historian Goen continues, "The tremendous response he [Whitefield] received on his first barnstorming tour may be attributed to many causes, not the least of which was the sheer novelty of it. Neither ministers nor people had ever seen anything like it before" (Goen 9). Puritans did not believe that just anyone could be a minister. Puritan ministers were ordained and they had to adhere to many standards. Whitefield preached as an itinerant preacher with no church behind him, and so the Puritans did not accept him, but many other people did. Goen states, "Under this kind of thinking, pastors might exchange pulpits occasionally by mutual agreement, or one might assist another in response to an express invitation, but New England knew nothing of an itinerant ministry of the sort exhibited by Whitefield" (Goen 9). This meant more freedom in religion and in religious beliefs. Americans had come to this country to escape religious persecution in England, but they continued many of the same practices here. When the Great Awakening began, it created new outlets for religious belief, but it also gave Americans more choices in religion, and helped make Americans more adaptable and understanding of others.

As more people converted to these men's ideas, the conversions spread to other areas and other churches. This has been called a time of revivalism in American religion. Denominations like Calvinist, Puritan, and Congregationalist began to be replaced by a general acceptance of Christianity and Christians. Many preachers maintained that there were no denominations in Heaven, just believers who believed in Jesus (Matthews). This was a radical change from the more formal religions of Puritanism and Calvinism that were the foundation of early American society. As this new type of religion spread, it became increasingly popular in many areas of the country, including New England and…

Sources Used in Documents:


Goen, C.C. Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962.

Matthews, Terry. "The Great Awakening." Wake Forest University. 1996. 20 Sept. 2005.

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