Compare and contrast the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening. How did they influence the American colonies?

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The Enlightenment's focus on individual rights and empirical science strongly influenced currents of political and economic development in both Europe and the American colonies. Enlightenment thinking treated the existence of both proper science and natural rights as objective facts that could be grasped by any rational person with a proper education.

The Enlightenment's focus on individualized natural rights and the power of reasoned persuasion created the conditions for the British colonists to see themselves as individuals who had the right to self-govern. The work of philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu was particularly influential. In his Second Treatise, Locke made the case for life, liberty, and property as natural rights. He also argued that a government that did not respect citizens' natural rights could justifiably be overthrown.

The Enlightenment understanding of natural rights and the right to revolution is present in a number of colonial constitutions and treaties as well as the Declaration of Independence.

Empiricism and experimentation in all realms of physical science were also encouraged during the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment's embrace of something more akin to a modern scientific method laid the groundwork for a number of important inventions, like the cotton gin and steamboat engine, that revolutionized economic production and laid the groundwork for the American industrial revolution in the 19th century.

Historians have found that there are commonly reactions against profound political and economic changes, like the ones brought on by the Enlightenment. Most scholars believe both Great Awakenings (the first was in the 1730s and 40s and the second was in the early 19th century) were, in part, reactions to the revolutionary ideas and massive changes of the Enlightenment period.

The First Great Awakening emphasized the importance of subjective and emotional experiences. Faith and passion--which were contrary to the Enlightenment credo of rationality--were prized during these religious revivals. Preachers like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards gave spellbinding sermons that used highly charged rhetoric to paint pictures of ecstatic heavenly bliss or incomprehensibly terrifying damnation. (It is important to note that Edwards was also critical of some of the more excessive zealotry.)

The conflict that arose between the "New Lights," who preferred a subjective, emotional orientation in their sermons, and the "Old Lights," who used a more reason-based, analytic approach to religion, is arguably the ancestor of the current conflict between Evangelical and Mainline Protestants.

Another important thing about the First Great Awakening is that it provided some opportunities for women and slaves. The preachers of the Great Awakening took special care to reach out to slaves and promised slaves that they were equal before God (even if they weren't equal on earth). We know that the Black Christian Church was an extremely important force in the civil rights movement, which means the work that preachers like Whitefield did to convert slaves during the time of the Great Awakening had an extremely important historical impact. The Greak Awakening's focus on emotions also gave increased power and legitimacy to women, and more women were able to express themselves via literature and poetry.

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