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Enlightenment vs. Great Awakening
I. Background:
In the early colonies, the Church played a key role in social life. However, by the mid 18th century,
membership and participation suffered because people often lived great distances from church. In addition,
concern for survival often exceeded concern for theological issues; this gave birth to the Enlightenment
movement: an intellectual movement that challenged old ways of thinking about science, religion, and
government. Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton advocated the concept of tabula
rosa – the idea that no person was born inherently good or bad, but that all people were born with blank slates.
This notion directly challenged the Puritan belief in predestination. Ben Franklin encouraged people to use
reason to solve problems facing society rather than relying on divine intervention, which gave people an optimistic
view on their lives. Enlightenment thinkers pushed for a government ruled by the educated elite that could
protect the life, liberty, and property of all people.
Many of these Enlightenment ideas undermined the long held values of the Church. In order to increase
Church membership, evangelical preachers traveled from town to town delivering revivalist emotion-packed
sermons in a movement known as the Great Awakening. Preachers argued that the personal religious
experience of the common man was more important in seeking God’s salvation than formal church rites.
Followers rejected predestination and the idea of a chosen few, believing that all were equal in the eyes of the
Lord; these preachers also rejected tabula rosa and argued instead that all people were born with original sin and
needed to seek god’s forgiveness to attain salvation. Preachers like Jonathan Edwards encouraged the common
man to take control of his spiritual life by relying on faith. As more colonists rejected the Church’s control by the
educated ministry, they also came to question government’s control by the educated elite.
II. Compare & Contrast the Enlightenment and Great Awakening & Draw in faces of the key
characters of each movement (Give at least 3 items for each part of the Venn-diagram)
Great Awakening