Ep. 7: The Great Awakening

Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Mark Boonshoft discuss the Great Awakening, including its historiography, its relationship to the American Revolution, and its contemporary significance.


The Great Awakening is a term used to describe a series of religious revivals amongst Protestants in British North America in the 1730s and 1740s. Spurred on by itinerant preachers––most notably, George Whitefield––and influential clergymen like Jonathan Edwards and Gilbert Tennent, the revivalists returned to a more hardline Calvinist approach to Protestant spirituality. Revivalists gave priority to salvation and revelation. This focus on the importance of one’s personal relationship with God challenged the organized and hierarchical structure of the colonies’ varied denominations of Protestantism, especially the Anglican, Congregationalist, and Presbyterian churches. Less decentralized and less hierarchical denominations arose in this period, most notably Baptists and Methodists. Some historians have argued that this challenge to authority in the religious sphere had an impact on the challenge the imperial authority in the 1760s and 1770s that resulted in the American Revolution. More recently, historians have questioned whether the Great Awakening should be talked about as a coherent phenomenon and have pointed out similar, concurrent spiritual developments both amongst Native Americans and native Britons.


  • What was the “Great Awakening?”
  • Why do we refer to revivals of the 1730s and 1740s as the “First Great Awakening?”
  • How have historians interpreted the significance of the Great Awakening differently?
  • Why did religious revivalism hold such appeal in the mid-eighteenth century?
  • What was the relationship between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution?
  • What is the continuing contemporary relevance of the Great Awakening?


Mark Boonshoft is a PhD candidate at The Ohio State University. He focuses primarily on early American political and social history. His dissertation examines the development of educational and cultural institutions in the mid-Atlantic and upper South from the First Great Awakening to the early nineteenth century. He is a member of The Junto and a repeat guest on The JuntoCast.


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Andrews, Dee. The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760-1800: The Shaping of an Evangelical Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.

———. “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretative Fiction.” Journal of American History 69, no. 2 (1982): 305-325.

Fisher, Linford D. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Goff, Philip. “Revivals and Revolution: Historiographic Turns since Alan Heimert’s ‘Religion and the American Mind.’” Church History 67, no. 4 (1998): 695–721.

Heimert, Alan. Religion and the American Mind, from the Great Awakening to the Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966.

Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Lambert, Frank. Inventing the “Great Awakening.” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Murrin, John. “No Awakening, No Revolution? More Counterfactual Speculations.”Reviews in American History 11 (1983): 161–171.

Stout, Harry S. The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Seeman, Erik R. Pious Persuasions: Laity and Clergy in Eighteenth-Century New England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

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