The Social, Political, and Religious Implications of the First Great Awakening in North America

Essay by juicymangoHigh School, 10th gradeA+, July 2004

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The Great Awakening of the 1730's and 1740's that took place in the English Colonies in America changed the face of American religion and at the same time led the way for improvement of the educational and political systems of Colonial America. The Great Awakening took place just as the seeds of the Industrial Revolution were being sown on both the European and American continents. It brought a new theatrical aspect to previously stark and often boring church ceremonies, sometimes reminiscent of the performances of religious leaders in ancient civilizations. Preachers who had in earlier years spoken only of predetermination now spoke of it in conjunction with hellfire and the revenge of an angry God, played off the emotions of parishioners, and routinely brought forth confessions from the most practiced sinners. At an early point of the European Age of Enlightenment, a new wave of religious devotion swept the New World.

The religious interest of the pilgrims had so waned since the original settlements at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony that the rhetoric skills of a few talented men were enough to send tremors of faith throughout the colonies.

In the decades preceding the Great Awakening, the focus of daily life in the colonies shifted from religion to more pressing and aesthetic pursuits. The pilgrims who had come for freedom of worship had found it, and now they could afford to let their attention wander. Members of the clergy still held much power, but they were not omnipotent by any means. The colonists, having seen what ills came from allowing a religiously motivated monarch to rule England, decided to prevent the same fate from befalling their newly founded religious haven. Thus, New England clergy members were not allowed to hold political positions in the community. Yet another danger to the...