The Enlightenment was a movement founded on reason and science over superstition and tradition. Begun in Europe, the Enlightenment witnessed an improvement in science, a belief in the importance of experiments, and an awareness of natural law. In addition, many philosophes (or French philosophers) such as Voltaire applied these ideas to government, and they argued that reason and laws should govern the way rulers led their people. In America, many of the Founding Fathers, such as Jefferson, were followers of Enlightenment ideals. While many were raised in the Anglican Church (the Church of England), they began to turn to Deism. This is essentially the idea that God exists, but that God created the universe, as a watchmaker would, and then let people run the world themselves. This belief system allowed religion to co-exist with a belief in science. Deism also began to threaten or at least question the beliefs of the Bible and established religion.
There were two Great Awakenings in America. The first, which occurred in the 1730s and 1740s, returned to a belief in predestination, or the idea that one's fate was decided before birth, and it swept over New England. Many traditional preachers and teachings were abandoned in favor of a more spiritual approach to religion, and the Methodist, Baptist, and other religions gained popularity in the New World. The Second Great Awakening, which took place around 1800, featured an emphasis on good works, and led to the popularization of church revivals as well as reform movements such as abolitionism. Preachers began to try to include everyone in their revivals, whatever their background, race, or gender. As a result, many women became adherents in these new, more spiritual forms of religion, as did slaves and freed African-Americans. As a result, religion became more democratized, as these religions afforded a more powerful role to formerly marginalized groups.