The Great Awakening

Essential Question

What were the effects of the Great Awakening?

What was the Great Awakening?

During the early 1700s, Christianity in America and Europe was not very popular. Church attendance was low, and people were not happy with any churches or religious leaders. However, this all changed during the 1730s, and 1740 were when The Great Awakening occurred. The Great Awakening was a religious renewal that occurred all over America and Europe. New spiritual leaders like George Whitefield and Johnathan Edwards crossed over to the American Colonies and brought people back to Christianity. They were very popular preachers who gave powerful sermons. When they spoke, thousands of people would come from miles to hear them talk. They inspired people to examine their lives and commit themselves to God, or they would be sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Whitefield preaching. 1857 engraving

Whitefield and Edwards stressed that people had their own moral choices to make, and they needed to express their emotions to feel closer to God. They taught people that a personal relationship with God was more important than a relationship with a church or other religious group. The Great Awakening also altered the way people think about themselves. The preachers taught that the person was more important than the authority figure. People then began to discuss and dwell on moral issues openly. These changes opened Americans' minds to new ideas about religion, society, and politics. The colonists began to question the authority of their churches. Once they started doubting the power of the church, challenging the power of their government (which was thousands of miles and an ocean away) was a logical next step.

This video has a great Introduction to Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and a short excerpt of America's most famous Sermon.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the Great Awakening?

  • How would you describe the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?"

  • What was Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" trying to convince you of? How does that connect to the Great Awakening?

Effects of the Great Awakening

Historians agree that even though the Colonists had different religious beliefs, the ideas and discussions that happened during the Great Awakening shaped American culture. It opened the American colonist up to the idea of becoming an independent country, gaining freedom from British control, and eventually lead to the American Revolution.

One of the ways the Great Awakening caused the American revolution was by inspiring people to be bold when confronting authority. If churches were not living up to the believers’ expectations, the people left the church and form new ones. Colonists realized that spiritual power was in their own hands, rather than in the hands of the Church of England, or any other religious group. However, this questioning was not limited to just religion. New ideas were openly discussed and debated – ideas about moral choices, such as what is absolutely right or entirely wrong? Colonists also started the question of the laws of the king. The king claimed he had the right to rule because God chose him to be the ruler. Colonists then started to question whether God did pick the king? Did they have to obey the king? Americans realized that since they could decide how they worship, they could choose how they are governed.

The Great Awakening also caused a rise in church membership in America and brought people of all faiths together to discuss ideas. The freedom to question religious leaders gave people the bravery to start new churches with different beliefs. New denominations (religious groups) appeared such as the Baptists and Methodists and are still around today. Furthermore, because of the many new churches that started all over America, the colonist became more tolerant of other religions. The Great Awakening also inspired the start of many new schools to train new ministers. Several colleges were founded like King’s College and Princeton. Before the Great Awakening, women, Native Americans, and African Americans were not welcome in churches, but because of the Great Awakening, the churches began to welcome women, Native Americans, and African Americans as members. Lastly, the movement inspired colonists to help those in need, and many new orphanages, schools, and mission projects were created across the U.S.


Discussion Questions

  • How was the Great Awakening a cause of the American Revolution?

  • What were the other effects of the Great Awakening?

Activity 1: Primary Source-On Unlimited Submission to rulers by Jonathan Mayhew

Define any vocabulary words, read the primary source excerpt, and answer the text-dependent questions. Be sure to highlight your evidence.

Primary Source-On Unlimited Submission to Rulers

Activity 2: What were the effects of the Great Awakening?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities

NEWSELA: The Great Awakening: A religious revival in the American colonies

NEWSELA: The Protestant Reformation and its role in the American colonies

NEWSELA: Primary Sources: Colonial voices on religious diversity