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The Second Great Awakening - Timeline Event

Time Period

1790 - 1840

Description

The Second Great Awakening was a diverse bundle of revivals affecting a broad swathe of American religious, political, and public life. Two major events after the turn of the century are often given as the starting point for the Second Great Awakening.

At Cane Ridge, Kentucky, preacher Barton Stone organized a massive week-long revival, which proponents called the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost. A simultaneous revival occurred at Yale College in Connecticut where a third of the student body underwent conversion experiences.

The Second Great Awakening benefited from the decline of state-sponsored churches as upstart religious groups competing with older denominations on a more level playing field. Methodism dramatically expanded during this period to become the single largest denomination in the country. Many American Protestants left the older Calvinist tradition for theologies that emphasized human free will in choosing salvation, personal piety, and social reform.

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Narrative

Even more than the First Great Awakening, it is a misnomer to refer to a single Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening was a diverse bundle of revivals affecting a broad swathe of American religious, political, and public life. The revivals first stirred during the 1790s, but two major events after the turn of the century are often given as the starting point for the Second Great Awakening.

At Cane Ridge, Kentucky, Presbyterian preacher Barton Stone organized a massive week-long revival. Estimates vary, but attendance swelled to as many as 25,000, an impressive figure given that the population of Lexington was barely 2,000 at the time. Proponents of the revival called the meetings the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost. Critics disparaged the emotionalism of the converts, many of whom went into laughing, barking, dancing, and jerking spells.

While the Cane Ridge revivals stirred interest on the frontier, a simultaneous revival was happening at Yale College in Connecticut. College President Timothy Dwight was an ardent evangelical and had been contesting the rationalist spirit that predominated at the school. Even he was surprised by the student-led revival that broke out in 1801 during which a third of the student body underwent conversion experiences.

The Second Great Awakening benefited from the decline of state-sponsored churches. Disestablishment leveled the playing field for upstart religious groups competing with older denominations. Methodism, although it had been around since the First Great Awakening, greatly expanded during this period through the use of innovative techniques like itinerant, circuit-riding preachers. By 1844, it was the single largest denomination in the country.

Charles Finney, although not a Methodist, popularized revival techniques like the come-forward invitation and the anxious bench. New groups also formed. Christian Restorationists (Alexander Campbell) offered a return to a purer, primitive form of Christianity. Adventists (William Miller) looked for the imminent return of Christ to earth. Mormons (Joseph Smith) and Swedenborgians promised additional revelation from inspired teachers. Others, like the Shakers and John Humphrey Noyes, experimented in communal living.

The Second Great Awakening marked a decisive shift among a preponderance of American Protestants away from the older Calvinist theology toward theologies that emphasized human free will in choosing salvation, personal piety, and social reform. New agencies were formed to advance missions, distribute Bibles, end slavery, and promote temperance.

Religious Groups

Timeline Entries for the same religious group: Adventist Family
Adventist Family: Other ARDA Links
Adventist Family: Religious Family Tree
Baptist Family: Other ARDA Links
Baptist Family: Religious Family Tree
Timeline Entries for the same religious group: Latter-day Saints Family (Mormonism)
Latter-day Saints Family (Mormonism): Other ARDA Links
Latter-day Saints Family (Mormonism): Religious Family Tree
Methodist/Pietist Family: Other ARDA Links
Methodist/Pietist Family: Religious Family Tree
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Religious Family Tree
Timeline Entries for the same religious group: Restoration Movement
Restoration Movement: Other ARDA Links
Restoration Movement: Religious Family Tree

Biographies

Beecher, Lyman
Campbell, Alexander
Noyes, John Humphrey
Channing, William Ellery
Barton, David
Dow, Lorenzo
Cartwright, Peter
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
Finney, Charles
Hodge, Charles
Judson, Adoniram
Miller, William
Smith, Joseph

Movements

Missionary Movement
Temperance Movement
The Fourth Great Awakening
The Third Great Awakening

Related Dictionary Terms

Christianity, Holy Spirit, Salvation, Theology

Photographs

Methodist Camp Meeting- Wikimedia Commons
Methodist Camp Meeting- Wikimedia Commons

Circuit rider- Internet Archive- from The Heart of Asbury's Journal
Circuit rider- Internet Archive- from The Heart of Asbury's Journal

Camp Meeting- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-030915
Camp Meeting- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-030915

Lorenzo Dow preaching- Internet Archive- from Recollections of a Lifetime by S. G. Goodrich
Lorenzo Dow preaching- Internet Archive- from Recollections of a Lifetime by S. G. Goodrich

Book/Journal Source(s)

Ahlstrom, Sydney, 2004. A Religious History of the American People New Haven: Yale University Press.

Web Page Contributor

Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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