What Was the Great Awakening?

The YMCA played a large role in the Third Great Awakening in the US. Editorial credit: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com
The YMCA played a large role in the Third Great Awakening in the US. Editorial credit: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com

There have been a series of Christian and religious revival in the history of the American Church. The period of these revivals is what is referred to as the Great Awakening. There are four recognized periods of Great Awakening, all of which occurred between the 18th and the 20th century. The Awakenings happened in American colonies and were championed by the Evangelical Protestant ministers. The term ‘‘awakening’’ refers to moving from slumber, periods that were characterized by a lot of secular lifestyles with minimal Christian values.

Overview of the Great Awakening

During the four Great Awakening periods, Christians were observed to be aggressive and more enthusiastic in upholding Christian values and doctrines. There was also a widespread development of new religious movements and denominations. The individuals from the regions developed an acute interest in religion. The evangelical Protestant ministers were responsible for the widespread revivals. The four Great Awakenings are as discused below.

The First Great Awakening

The First Great Awakening took place between 1730 and 1743. However, there were signs of religious revival a few years before it kicked off, especially among the ministry of Solomon Stoddard. The First Awakening was characterized by distinct changes in pastoral and preaching styles. The pastors mainly read their sermons to the congregations. The sermons were theologically complex and advanced to interpret. George Whitefield, a British evangelist who left for Georgia in 1738, carried out campaigns focusing on revivalism. On his second return, he organized campaigns in Philadelphia to New York. The results of his campaigns were the initiation of large masses of people into revivalism. He had a direct effect on British, Dutch, and German churches. The first Great Awakening was responsible for the conception of the American ‘rhetoric of the revival’ as argued by Michal Choinski.

The Second Great Awakening

The second Great Awakening took place in the United States. It started in the final years of the 18th century and lasted up to mid 19th century. Despite being more intense in the northeastern and the Midwest regions, it occurred all over the United States. This Awakening was not only for the rich and the elite class, it also affected the poor and the less educated. Burned-Over District, located in New York, was the center of the Second Great Awakening. The Awakening was characterized by the formation of new denominations and communal societies. Pushing for women’s rights was also at its peak during the Second Great Awakening. During this period, the temperance movements, which sought to encourage people to quit drinking alcohol was also at its peak. Abolition movements, which were focusing on the abolition of slavery, were also common.

The Third Great Awakening

The Third Great Awakening lasted from the 1850s to 1900s. The period was characterized by the formation of new denominations, active missionary work, and a social gospel to help tackle social issues. The YMCA, a movement founded in 1844, played a significant role in the spread of the revival during and after the Third Great Awakening.

The Fourth Great Awakening

The Fourth Great Awakening took place from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. This Awakening is not given the recognition as the first three Awakenings. A group of historians and theologians argue that it did not happen. This awakening was characterized by widespread upholding of the Christian doctrines and development of new religious systems.


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