The Great Awakening was a movement that changed the way religion was practiced in America. American society was greatly influenced by changes that took place during the Great Awakening (the 1730s and 1740s). These were the decades in which the first Great Awakening took place.
The 1800s was the period of the second Great Awakening. The first one is usually given a greater importance; this is because it was a direct opposition to the established customs, practices, and rituals, while the second iteration was more about reaching out and spreading awareness.
What Was It About?
Signs of the Great Awakening were observed when scientific theories began to influence the society. With scientific developments taking place at a rapid place, people believed less in destiny and more in their own ability to make a difference to their lives.
With the publication of Newton's 'Principia Mathematica' and other influential scientific theories, people began to realize that their 'destiny' was in their own hands, and not controlled by any other entity.
First Great Awakening
The period of First Great Awakening spanned between 1734 and 1750. George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards were the prominent personalities in bringing about this change. The modernists proved the futility of rituals imposed on the society by traditionalists.
African slaves were allowed to practice religion, and there was an air of equality that changed the face of American society. It was a beginning that led the society towards liberalism and personal freedom. Initially, people were divided into revivalists and traditionalists over this change.
George Whitefield: Whitefield attracted large crowds in his meetings. According to him, one should repent his/her sins and shed the fear of damnation. He believed that God was merciful, and therefore, one should not live life under constant fear. His oratory techniques were copied by many people for the purpose of preaching.
Jonathan Edwards: He played an important role in initiating the process of revival. Edwards was a Congregationalist minister from Northampton, Massachusetts. He promoted the importance of personal and immediate religious experience.
Second Great Awakening
Arminianism is the base core of the ideology which brought about the Second Great Awakening. The peak of this awakening came in the early 19th century. One of the important tenets of Arminianism states that salvation is possible only by God's grace. John Wesley and Hugo Grotius were amongst those who contributed to the development of Arminian theology.
This period was significant in American history, owing to the major sociopolitical changes that were brought about due to it. The importance of church and clergies was reduced by a great extent, and individual religious practice was given greater importance. All these changes played an important part in uniting the American colonies.