The Great Awakening was a religous movement that occurred in the colonies in the 1740's. Created largely by two fundamental, orthodox Protestants, the Great Awakening touched aspects of every day life in each of the colonies. In comparison, these guys make today's televangelists such as Pat Robertson
, Oral Roberts
, and Jim Baker
look like amatuers.
The first of these preachers was American born - Jonathon Edwards, pastor of a church in Northampton, Massachusetts. He became famous mostly because of his fire and brimstone/pit of hell sermons that provoked hysteria among his parishioners. This was a result of the softening of religious attitudes that was starting to occur in the colonies. Basically, as the colonies started to prosper, less and less time was being spent in observing the Sabbath and more and more time was being observed in such earthly pusuits such as real estate, the slave trade and other profitable ventures. One of Edwards more famous sermon's -Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God likened his parishioners to a spider hung over a flame. After losing much of his popularity, Edwards became a missionary to the Indians and was later appointed president of Princeton. He never assumed the post though -he died before taking office.
The second of these was one George Whitefield - an Oxford trained, Anglican minister. His outdoor meetings attracted thousands of people at a time. His sermons were mostly noted for both chastizing his listeners and then bringing them the promise of salvation. Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying that anyone who heard Whitefield speak would be moved.
Both Edwards and Whitefield influence went beyond religion. Most of their followers tended to be lower and middle class, with little or no education and very little influence in the community. On the other hand, the ruling class in America, the most powerful and elite, preferred the more traditional forms of worship. The differences between the two views threatened to turn radical.
Even though the Great Awakening eventually ran its course, it did have a considerable impact on America. Since the various factions were split, the Great Awakening encouraged the foundation of many new colleges, Princeton, Brown University, Rutgers, and Dartmouth among them. From a political point of view, the Awakening contributed to a new spirit of tolerance. The Puritans no longer held complete control over church and political matters. The new forces of religion brought about the loosening of ties between church and state. This spirit of separation between church and state was later written and (hopefully) embedded in the Constitution.