Assess the impact of the Great Awakening and Enlightenment on the life of the colonies.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the challenge in assessing the impact of the First Great Awakening and the Enlightenment in colonial life is that it is almost paradoxical.  On one hand, the Enlightenment asserted a sense of human promise and possibility in the Colonies.  The people who lived in the Colonies felt empowered by the Enlightenment and what it represented.  In leaving England, there was a sense of hope in all that could be done.  They did not feel that they were held in check by the belief of religious constructions of eternal condemnation or that they could not advance to where they wished to be.  In figures like Ben Franklin, the Colonists realized that they could aspire to whatever they wished to and that all they needed was a realm of human freedom to do so.  The Enlightenment impacted life in the colonies by stressing the idea that human freedom can be synonymous with greatness, promise, and possibility.

On the other hand, the impact of the First Great Awakening was almost the opposite on colonial life.  In this paradigm, colonists were told that their actions, presumably embracing freedom and possibility, were in line of God's anger and the wrath of the divine.  This impacts the life in the colonies because individuals feared what their actions could result.  In this, one sees how the First Great Awakening impacts life in the colonies in making individuals fearful and uncertain of the consequences of their actions.  In both paradigms, there is a paradigm of embracing the promises and possibilities of fredom and the condition in which individuals are fearful of the divine.