Introduction-Tensions in colonial society grew in the eighteen hundreds as different views on religion spread. The “old” views of religion were focused primarily on the Bible and a personal God that governed the lives of almost all colonists. New thoughts emerged; these were collected into a movement called Enlightenment. Followers of the Enlightenment believed in the importance of science and human reason, and downplayed the “old” ideals of the importance of faith and a strict moral code in hopes of achieving salvation. Enlightenment thinkers believed people had poThe-Great-Awakening-And-Enlightenment-In-Colonial-America.jpgwer over themselves and society, God did not.
Religious Diversity in the Colonies -The Church of England was established as the official faith in Virginia, Maryland, New York, the Carolinas, and Georgia, although most states loosely enforced this (Virginia and Maryland were strict). In the once extremely Puritan colonies of New England, different congregations began to affiliate with diverse denominations. The merchant Dutch were Calvinists (believers in predestination). Baptists; a sect in Calvinism that believe when maturity is reached rebaptism must occur, usually by total immersion, began to believe in salvation by free will, while some Baptists remained Calvinists.
Although Protestants extended toleration to different sects in their religion, Roman Catholics were viewed as commercial and military rivals and dangerous agents of Rome. In many places however, Roman Catholics were not very populous, and therefore did not cause much social strain. They did receive a lot of persecution in Maryland though, where their population reached around 3,000, in 1691 their political rights were taken away and they were forbidden to hold religious services in anywhere but in private homes. Another minority religion in the colonies was the Jews. They numbered around 2,000, living mostly in New York. They could not vote or hold office, and they were only allowed to practice their religion openly in Rhode Island.

Causes of Declining Piety-The westward movement and the wide scattering of settlements caused many communities to lose touch with organized religion. The rise of commercial prosperity created a more secular outlook in urban areas. The progress of science and free thought also caused colonists to doubt traditional religious beliefs.
As early as the 1660’s, Ministers preached sermons of despair (known as “jeremiads”), condemning waning piety. The once remarkably strong Puritan faith remained strong, but deeply troubled the very religious New England (which led to the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials ).

The Great Awakening-The belief that religion practices and beliefs were declining led to the Great Awakening. Beginning in the 1730’s and reaching its highest point in the 1740’s. The Great Awakening effected most people but it was especially influenced by women and young men who stood to inherit the least land and who faced the most uncertain futures. It emphasized the potential for every person to break away from the constraints of the past and start again in his or her relationship with God- reflecting the want for young people to break away from their families and start their own lives.
The Awakening occurred in England as well. People who preached about the Great Awakening and followed its philosophies were Evangelists. John and Charles Wesley (the founders of Methodism) and George Whitefield from England mad powerful speeches through out the colonies and were well known Evangelists. Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards from Massachusetts preached the traditional Puritan ideas of the absolute sovereignty of God, predestination, and salvation by God’s grace alone- his vivid descriptions of hell terrified his listeners.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Great Awakening divided Congressionalist’s into “New Light” (revivalists) and “Old Light” (traditionalist) believers. The Great Awakening also influenced some to denounce intellectual strife saying that it hindered salvation, while others developed schools to teach the Ministers of the Great Awakening. With that said, the Great Awakening was a movement that revitalized and spurred religion not education.

The Enlightenment-Englightenment Ideas in early 17th century America were borrowed largely from Europe, from thinkers like Francis Bacon and John Locke of England, Baruch Spinoza of Amsterdam, and René Descartes of France. Later, American thinkers like Benjamin Franklin , Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison become known.
The Enlightenment was the result of the grand scientific and intellectual discoveries in Europe in the seventeenth century. These discoveries revealed the “natural laws”-the laws that regulated the workings of nature. This new scientific knowledge encouraged many thinkers to celebrate the power of human reason and argue that rational thought, not just religious faith, could help progress and advance the knowledge in the world.
The Enlightenment heartened men and women to use their own minds for guidance as to how to live their lives and shape their societies, and to step away from governing their lives on religious beliefs. The Enlightenment helped produce a growing interest in education, politics and government.