In the eighteenth century, a religious crisis struck the English colonies in North America and a revivalist movement called the Great Awakening brought a number of colonists back to the law of the Church. The Awakening had a great impact on American values and culture. The movement challenged traditional intellectualism, divided the world into two groups without respect to gender, race, or orientation, and challenged the emotional lack in American society.

The movement was a monumental event in New England that challenged established authority and incited rancor and division between old traditionalists who insisted on the continuing importance of ritual and doctrine, and the new revivalists, who encouraged emotional involvement and personal commitment. The new style of sermons and the way people practiced their faith breathed new life into religion in America. Participants became passionately and emotionally involved in their religion, rather than passively listening to intellectual discourse in a detached manner. The Awakening played a major role in the lives of women, especially, though rarely were they allowed to preach or take public roles.

The Great Awakening divided the world into groups. Worried that their slaves considered Christianity a step toward freedom, masters feared that baptism would encourage resentment and resistance. Revivalists, however longed to convert everyone, regardless of his or her race or lowly status in this world. Many slaves attended the revivals, to the considerable dismay of the Anglican clergy and magistrates. Only the Quakers tried to fulfill the radical racial implications of the revivals by challenging the twin injustices most fundamental to colonial society: Indian war and African slavery. The Great Awakening also revived the long-dormant efforts by colonial Protestants to convert the Indians.

Religion remained central to eighteenth-century American life. Sermons, theological treatises, and copies of...

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