Early American Religious Movements

Topics: 19th century, First Great Awakening, Christianity Pages: 5 (1452 words) Published: May 14, 2013
Religion in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Religion in the 18th and 19th Centuries
Religion the early years of America was changing rapidly. From the Puritans that landed on Plymouth Rock to the early colonies spreading across the Atlantic, each group had their own unique take on God, the Church, the family, and their community. During the 18th and 19th centuries, specifically, many religious movements took place that dramatically changed and shaped the America we know today. From 1700 to 1899, a great many changes occurred within the spiritual world. Of the many that came to pass, those that will be discussed in the following essay are the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and finally the Anti-Catholic Sentiments and Nativism.

In the early 1700s, religious ardor was reaching a fever pitch: a new style of preaching was spreading across Pennsylvania and New Jersey and was attracting immense crowds searching for religious enlightenment. The key aspect of these meetings was impassioned, heartfelt preaching that would bring sinners to experience evangelical conversion with bursts of emotion: weeping, shouting, and fist-waving. One of the first propagators of this movement (now known as the First Great Awakening) is George Whitefield, an English preacher who traveled across America and delivered fiery speeches to immense crowds. The message was fairly similar to traditional Calvinists beliefs (men and women were totally dependent on the mercy of an omnipotent God in order to be saved) but the delivery was more of a theatrical performance than mere preaching. In addition to the impressive and intriguing delivery, people were attracted to this boisterous and emotional revival because of social circumstances: many people in society felt as though Americans were straying from their religious roots and focusing on the material. Johnathan Edwards, a Yale minister, was aggravated at the lax approach to religion and focus on wealth that was spreading across America. He was one of the original advocates of a need to return to the Calvinist ideals; as an early proponent of the Great Awakening, he delivered furious speeches that proclaimed, “God was an angry judge, and humans were sinners!" (ushistory.org, 2012). Awakening preachers sought to renew God's covenant with America and to reject the materialistic, corrupt world of an affluent society. That said, Americans too were desperate for solace: finding salvation through God was akin to finding a safe haven “...from all the evils afflicting ordinary people—as islands of disciplined stability and Christian charity in a churning sea of social chaos and cultural confusion” (Heyrman, 2008). However, while it invigorated certain segments of religious America, it also divided them: the supporters of the Awakening and its evangelical thrust (Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists) became the largest American Protestant denominations by the first decades of the nineteenth century. Those who criticized the Awakening, however (Anglicans, Quakers, and Congregationalists) splintered off into fringe groups or were left behind completely (Library of Congress, 2010).

Once into the 19th century, the First Great Awakening eventually transformed into what is now referred to as the Second Great Awakening. Because many groups splintered over the First Great Awakening, the early 19th century was riddled with a variety of different sects, each of whom held different values and beliefs. Further, the American Revolution was “a largely secular affair” (ushistory.org, 2012) – as such, religious control was out of the hands of political leaders, and a great many grassroots revivals began to spread across the country. A sense of evangelicalism pervaded these revivals, which ultimately turned into large, outdoor “camp meetings” filled with enthusiastic and emphatic preaching and crowds that were physically moved within the presence of God's word. An upsurge in...

References: Byrne, J. (2000). Roman catholics and immigration in nineteenth-century america. Retrieved from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nineteen/nkeyinfo/nromcath.htm
Haynes, C. (1990). Religion in American history : what to teach and how. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. and http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/score_lessons/nativism/pages/historical_bg.html
Heyrman, Christine L. (2008). “The First Great Awakening.” Divining America, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center. Retrieved from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/grawaken.htm>
Library of Congress. (2010). Religion in 18th-century america. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel02.html
Scott, D. (2000). Evangelicalism, revivalism, and the second great awakening. Retrieved from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nineteen/nkeyinfo/nevanrev.htm
ushistory.org. (2012). The great awakening. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/us/7b.asp
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