The Second Great Awakening
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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
Adventist Family: Other Timeline Entries

Adventist Family: Other ARDA Links

Baptist Family: Other Timeline Event Entries
Baptist Family: Other Timeline Biography Entries

Baptist Family: Other ARDA Links

Latter-day Saints Family (Mormonism): Other Timeline Entries

Latter-day Saints Family (Mormonism): Other ARDA Links

Methodist/Pietist Family: Other Timeline Event Entries
Methodist/Pietist Family: Other Timeline Biography Entries

Methodist/Pietist Family: Other ARDA Links

Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other Timeline Event Entries
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other Timeline Biography Entries

Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links

Timeline Entries for the same religious group Restoration Movement

Biographies
Beecher, Lyman
Campbell, Alexander
Dow, Lorenzo
Noyes, John Humphrey
Barton, David
Finney, Charles
Smith, Joseph
Miller, William
Judson, Adoniram
Hodge, Charles
Cartwright, Peter
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
Channing, William Ellery
Movements
Missionary Movement
Temperance Movement
The Third Great Awakening
The Fourth Great Awakening
Abolitionism
Photographs

Methodist Camp Meeting- Wikimedia Commons

Circut Rider- Internet Archive

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

Lorenzo Dow preaching- Internet Archive
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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