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First and Second Great Awakening

Most major religious movements reflect significant shifts in religious beliefs and produce important social changes. Apply this generalization to TWO of the following: 17th century Puritanism, the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, the Social Gospel Movement

The First and the Second Great Awakening reflected significant shifts in religious beliefs and produced social changes: both were responses to the weakening and liberalizing of the Calvinist teachings, and ministers of both awakenings preached different beliefs from the past and their liberal present; both awakenings increased religious fervour in the American society, which resulted in various social changes.

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Both awakenings were responses to the weakening and liberalizing of the religion of its time period. Before the First Great Awakening, people were becoming less enthusiastic and committed to religion, as too many, the sermons of the orthodox clergymen, also known as the “Old Lights,” who emphasized erudite preaching, were tedious. In addition, many moved farther away from the churches, which decreased church membership. The religious fervour decreased to the extent that the Puritan ministers relied on the Half-Way Covenant in order to attract people to the churches, and many, such as the Arminians, preached that individual free will and good works determined salvation, and challenged the Puritan idea of predestination. Similarly, before the Second Great Awakening, religion became more liberal: many people, such as Jefferson and Franklin supported Deism, which embraced rationalism and thus supported science over the Bible and reason over revelation. Not only that, many rejected the Calvinist teachings of the original sin and denied Christ’s divinity, such as the Unitarian Church. These time periods when the Calvinist fervour began to decrease, which reflected a shift in religious belief, were when the First and Second Great Awakening took place in response to such liberalization.

The two awakenings, in response to the liberalization, emphasized beliefs different from the past and the liberal present. The First Great Awakening, led by Jonathan Edwards and Gilbert Tennet, reflected a shift in religious beliefs, and the ministers became to be known as the “New Lights” while the orthodox clergymen were the “Old Lights.” The New Lights emphasized emotionalism, in which they encouraged religious experience “from the heart than the head,” while the Old Lights emphasized the opposite. Thus, the sermons of the New Lights were full of enthusiasm and emotion, unlike the Old Lights’. Not only that, the New Lights believed in individual religious experience and that individuals didn’t need the Church ministers as a mediator, but only needed the Bible, unlike the Old Lights. In addition, the New Lights declared that salvation through good works (the beliefs of the followers of the liberalized religions) was foolish, as individuals had to completely depend on God’s grace.

This idea can be reflected in Edward’s most famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire.” By contrast, in the Second Great Awakening, led by Charles Finney and Peter Cartwright, the ministers believed that free will did play a role in the “road” towards salvation. For example, Finney preached that through faith and hard work, everyone could be saved. This reflected a shift away from the strong Calvinist teachings of predestination of the past. Not only that, the awakening reflected a shift away from the liberalized “environment”: with the fire-and-brimstone sermons observable in the first awakening, the preachers converted, with new methods such as anxious benches, thousands of people deemed sinners (for example, those who denied the divinity of the Christ and rejected the Bible). Indeed, the two reflected changes in beliefs.

The two awakenings also increased religious fervour in American society, which resulted in numerous social changes. Due to the First Great Awakening, church participation increased and so did missionary works among Indians and some Blacks. Also, it led to the emergence of new religious “New Lights” sects, such as the Methodists and the Baptists, and new “New Light” educational centers, such as Princeton, Brown, and Dartmouth. In addition, for the first time in US history, the people participated in a spontaneous mass movement, which decreased sectionalism.

After the Second Great Awakening, church participation and missionary work increased. For example, the American Bible Society was established. Also, it led to the emergence of new religious sects, such as the Adventists and the Mormons, and the division between the Northern Methodists with their Southern counterpart. Most importantly, the second awakening led to significant social reforms, such as women’s rights, temperance, and abolition. These reforms were at many times headed by important females, whose participation in religion increased due to the awakening (Finney encouraged it), and gradually so did their participation in society: the females tried to save society from sins. Without a doubt, the two awakenings resulted in significant social changes.

The two Great Awakenings similarly reflected the shifts in religious beliefs, as the ministers preached those different from the past and their liberal present, in order to bring about significant social changes, mainly caused by the increase of religious fervour in America.

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