LeaderTimothy H. Breen
William S. Mason Professor of American History
National Humanities Center Fellow
About the SeminarLooking back on American independence, John Adams wrote that the Revolution involved a radical change in religious sentiments before it eroded old political loyalties. That prior change came in the First Great Awakening, energized by the preaching of the Reverend George Whitefield. He sparked an evangelical movement that swept through the colonies between the 1730s and 1770s and permanently transformed the character of popular religion in the United States.
Many who embraced the evangelical fervor of the Awakening proclaimed a New Birth, demanded that ministers speak from the heart, and welcomed mass revivals. The challenge to traditional authority encouraged ordinary people to demand a voice in politics as well as religion. This seminar will examine how a spiritual awakening influenced revolutionary politics.
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- George Whitefield, Journals, 1740 (excerpt)
- “The Spiritual Travels of Nathan Cole” (excerpt)
- Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (excerpt)
- The Life and Times of the Reverend Jesse Lee (excerpt)
- Charles Chauncy, "A Letter to Mr. George Whisart", 1742 (excerpts)