The Great Awakening of 1735-1745 was a reaction to a decline in piety and a carelessness of morals within the Congregational Churches of New England. Although the Great Awakening stimulated dramatic conversions and an increase in church membership, it also provoked conflicts and divisions within the established church. This striking revival of religious piety and its emphasis on salvation ultimately transformed the religious order of Connecticut. The decline in piety among the second generation of Puritans, which stemmed from economic changes, political transformations, and Enlightenment rationalism, was the primary cause of the Great Awakening.
During the eighteenth century, political uncertainty and economic instability characterized colonial life and diverted devout Puritans from religious obligations.
Individual morals declined as Puritans within the community turned increasingly to Arminianism, the belief that preparation for heaven was easily managed and therefore less important, to justify their participation in secular affairs. The supporters of the Awakening pointed to the apparent collapse of Puritan values to explain the need for revival.
Nomadic preachers succeeded in converting hundreds of unregenerate Puritans and increasing church membership throughout the colony. The Great Awakening witnessed a revival of outward conversions which occurred in three stages: the recognition of sin accompanied by fear, distress, or anxiety, a further dependence upon God's mercy, and, finally, a relief from distress characterized by euphoric emotion.
Influenced by Enlightenment Rationalism, critics of the revival argued for a rational interpretation of the Bible. One of the underlying issues of the Awakening was whether or not conversions were indeed a manifestation of the Holy Spirit upon God's chosen people or whether the emotional outbursts were merely expressions of deep human sentiment. Because the Congregational Church dominated all aspects of colonial life during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the formation of separate churches posed a tremendous threat to the...