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The First Great Awakening, which took place in the 1730s and 1740s in colonial America (most intensely in New England), sought to reinvigorate parishioners' personal sense of connection with Jesus Christ and to reinforce people's need for salvation. The movement brought preachers with an evangelical style of preaching, such as Jonathan Edwards, to prominence. Edwards emphasized people's personal connection with God and their need to accept Jesus Christ to save themselves from immediate damnation.
The First Great Awakening created a sense in the colonies that the old religious hierarchy was not all powerful. The movement brought New Lights, such as Edwards, into conflict with the Old Lights, who made up the hierarchy of Puritan ministers in Boston and elsewhere. The New Lights were more active on what was then the frontier, including the Connecticut River Valley and western Massachusetts. The movement had the effect of challenging authority, leading colonists to feel that power structures could be attacked.
In addition, sermons by another Great Awakening preacher, Anglican George Whitefield, drew enthusiastic crowds who reacted to the messages he delivered during his itinerant preaching about the merciful qualities of God. His message of egalitarianism converted many slaves to Christianity for the first time (though they unfortunately remained enslaved). Whitefield's message of equality had an effect on his listeners, both black and white. The religious life of the colonies was infected with the idea of equality--an idea that would bear fruit over time.
The Great Awakening affected the colonies in at least three ways.
First, the Great Awakening affected the colonies by changing many people’s attitudes towards religion. Before this revival, religious piety and fervor had been waning in the colonies. The Great Awakening reversed this process and increased the degree to which people felt that religion was important in their lives.
Second, the Great Awakening affected the colonies by creating rifts among members of religious denominations. When the Great Awakening happened, some people’s beliefs changed while others’ stayed the same. This meant that splits developed between the “Old Lights” and the “New Lights” within various denominations. This reduced solidarity among members of religions and, in some cases, created rifts based on class as well as on religious belief.
Finally, the Great Awakening is credited with helping to pave the way for the American Revolution. The Great Awakening encouraged people to think about religion for themselves. It told them that they did not need highly educated pastors to tell them what God wanted. By doing these things, it made people have more democratic ideas. It led them to be less deferential to authority and more inclined to believe in ideas that came from common people. This helped create the kind of thinking that made rebellion against England more likely.
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