The Great Awakening: A Secondary School Guide
During the mid 18th century, America witnessed a Christian revitalization movement, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. The First Great Awakening, known simply as the Great Awakening, swept across New England and the American Colonies giving “new birth” to crowds of believers by powerful preachers. It also showed effort to reach out to African-Americans and Native Americans by European colonialists. The following information, lessons and resources will provide readers with a thorough understanding of the ideas expressed as a result of the First Great Awakening.
The Great Awakening was not produced by a single individual or group, but by a series of preachers who wished to teach of religious experiences inspired by the word of God. A “new birth” could be achieved by individuals if they rejected their sinful past and devoted their life to Christianity. Enthusiastic faith rose in the Protestant cultures of Scotland, England and Germany as a result of rationalism during that period. During the Great Awakening, lead preachers included Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William and Gilbert Tennent and Theodore Freylinghuysen.
Jonathan Edwards was the son in a large family consisting of eleven children. In 1728, he became a church pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Edwards published “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God” in 1737, his experience of the religious revival that started in his own church in 1734. In 1746, Edwards introduced his initial major treatise known as “Religious Affections,” in which he defended the events of the Great Awakening. Edwards was let go from his position as Northampton pastor in 1750. He went on to supervise Indian boys at a boarding school while completing several theological works. Edwards died in 1758 from smallpox soon after becoming president of Princeton University. He is thought to be one of America’s most important philosophical theologians.
George Whitefield was a well-known evangelist during the Great Awakening. Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England in 1714 as the son of innkeepers. He left to Georgia in 1738 for the first of seven total trips. In 1739, Whitefield returned to London and became a minister at the Church of England before returning to Philadelphia. His farewell sermon was seen by an audience of more than 30,000 people. Whitefield spoke out in his sermons against established churches and encouraged colonists to seek Puritanism. He also encouraged slave owners to provide spiritual freedom to their slaves. Whitefield traveled throughout America, delivering more than 18,000 sermons during his lifetime. In 1770, George Whitefield died in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Activity 1: Introduction to Jonathan Edwards
The first activity will help readers obtain background information on lead preacher of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards. Analyze a sermon written by Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and determine the primary themes from the text.
Read background information on the First Great Awakening, as well as on Jonathan Edwards. Follow with a reading of the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Keep in mind that the sermon may contain material that is contrary to your beliefs.
Keep the following questions in mind when reading through the mentioned material:
1. At what place and time, and in what context, did Edwards give the sermon?
2. What type of audience would Edwards’ sermon have reached?
3. What message did Edwards convey to his audience in the sermon?
4. What reactions did Edwards’ sermon attempt to evoke?
5. Did the sermon contain vocabulary unfamiliar to you? If so, look up the unfamiliar terms in a dictionary.
Complete this chart asking you to identify major images conveyed in Edwards’ sermon and what the images conveyed. Compare and contrast answers from the chart with other students to determine the significance of the sermon.
Activity 2: Introduction to George Whitefield
The second activity will provide a background on another lead preacher of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. This activity will give an understanding of how colonial Americans reacted to preachers of the time. Analyze a diary account of a colonial farmer who will describe his reaction to the news of Whitefield approaching his hometown in Connecticut.
Read a primary document, “Great Awakening Comes to Weathersfield,” from the point of view of a Connecticut farmer reacting to his encounter with preacher George Whitefield.
Take the time to conduct background research on George Whitefield and his involvement in the Great Awakening.
Complete this chart for activity 2 and respond to the following questions:
1. Why do you feel that farmers, such as Nathaniel Cole, took the time to travel far distances to hear George Whitefield speak?
2. From reading the document, what can you conclude about beliefs and religious practices that occurred during the time of the Great Awakening?
Activity 3: Introduction to Samsom Occom
This activity will provide a look at a brief autobiography of Indian Minister, Samsom Occom and the indecent treatment that he suffered due to religious establishment. Occom (also spelled Occum) is one of the most significant Native American men of the Great Awakening. Occom met Eleazar Wheelock in 1740. He went to live with Wheelock, a Congregational preacher and missionary, at age twenty. Four years later, Occom began work as a Christian missionary to New England Indians. In 1759, he became an official Presbyterian minister. In 1769, Wheelock began Dartmouth College with help financially from Occom. The initial charter of the college declared its primary purpose to be an education of young Indian Tribes, English youth and others.
Read the preface to Samsom Occom’s autobiography titled “I Am a Poor Indian.”
Categorize the autobiography according to Major Events, Religious Influences and Occom’s Personal Reflections. Compete this chart for activity 3 to better aid in the understanding of the three primary time periods discussed in the autobiography:
1. Birth until Christian Religion
2. Time of Reformation until departure from Mr. Wheelocks
3. Departure from Mr. Wheelocks to Europe
Answer the following questions about Samsom Occom and his involvement in the Great Awakening:
1. What are some questions that you would ask Occom about his professional and personal experiences?
2. What information would help you better understanding Occam’s religious practices compared to other ministers of the time?
3. Do you think that Occam’s status as a “poor Indian” poorly influenced religious superiors and the general Indian population? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
4. Many would agree that Occom is a historic figure in the religious movement as few Native Americans turned to Christianity. What do you think the reason for this is?
Discuss the significance of Jonathan Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Provide answers to the following questions: Why did people listen to sermons given by Edwards? Why do you feel his preaching got such powerful responses?
To help better understand the thought process of Nathan Cole and his reaction to the approach of George Whitefield to Connecticut, consider setting up a role-playing exercise. Students should separate into groups of two. One member of the group will take on the role of Nathan Cole while the other takes the role as the farmer who did not hear the sermon given by Whitefield. Conduct a conversation in which Cole tries to convince the farmer to attend the sermon.
The Great Awakening brought everlasting changes. It left a legacy between its divisions, “New Lights” and their opponents, “Old Lights.” The spirit of the Great Awakening was spread to the southern colonies in the 1760s and the Methodist and Baptist churches were among its products.
|Most Frequent Searches|