In the 1700s the English colonies encountered ‘revivalism’, part of a larger evangelical movement in Britain, known as the ‘Great Awakening’. The first revival was in 1734 in Northampton, Massachusetts, when a clergyman, Jonathan Edwards, disillusioned with the established church, rejected congregationalism, wanting his parishioners to be re-awakened and filled with God’s grace. He introduced mass conversions where Christians were ‘born again’. This created a ripple effect and spread throughout the British colonies in North America. At the same time the Log College (founded c. 1726 in Pennsylvania) sent out Presbyterian graduates, who adopted the ‘new side’, which favoured the freedoms and passions of the Awakening. When George Whitefield, a charismatic English evangelist, travelled to America in 1739 and spoke from his portable pulpit to crowds of thousands, the Awakening became a fully established movement, attracting people from all denominations, with no class, ethnic or gender barriers. It is thought that the Great Awakening fostered the American emphasis on individualism, which is enshrined in its Constitution.
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