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Revivalism

Revivalism

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Origins. Revivalism has been an important aspect of American religious life since the middle of the eighteenth century, when dozens of townsfirst in New England, then in the Middle Atlantic and Southexperienced a sudden surge in religious fervor and a rash of conversions collectively known as the Great Awakening. Since then the nation has been touched intermittently by times of religious revival, but perhaps none of such enduring significance as the period between about 1800 and 1835, referred to as the Second Great Awakening. Beginning with an enormous camp meeting at which hundreds were converted at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, revivalistic fervor spread both north an south, taking hold in the colleges of New England in the first decade of the century and reaching many of the urban centers of the Northeast by the 1820s. The efforts of skillful preachers brought new converts pouring into the ranks of the evangelical denominations, primarily the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, and spurred many on to participation in missionary work and social reform movements. The revivals were led by a diverse group of ministers (and some lay exhorters) with a range of opinions about theology and religious experience. But there were some opinions most held in common, including an optimistic belief in the ability of man to turn his will to God and faith in the moral and civil progress of human society.

A New Vision. During the Great Awakening of the 1740s most people agreed with esteemed theologian and revivalist Jonathan Edwards that the revivals were the surprising work of God. They were unpredictable events that occurred according to a divine plan unaffected by human efforts. A minister might pray for a revival and might preach with all his heart, but souls would be converted only if it was Gods will. During the early nineteenth century, however, there were two significant shifts in popular beliefs about the nature of religious conversion. The first emerged with the idea that every individual has the ability to hear the gospel and then accept or reject it of his or her own free will rather than according to the predetermined plan of God. Following from this belief was the assumption that if evangelists used the proper techniques under the right conditions, if they presented the gospel in a truly compelling manner, they could ensure that a revival would occur and that souls would be saved.

Charles Grandison Finney. The leading proponent of this new, action-oriented vision of revival and conversion was Charles Grandison Finney. Born in 1792 and raised in western New York, Finney began his career as a lawyer. Concerned with the state of his soul, he engaged in systematic study of the Bible and in 1821 came to the conclusion that God would save him if he had faith and the desire to be saved. This realization evoked in him a spiritual experience similar to that described by many who were later converted under his guidance: The Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. The following day Finney abandoned the legal profession to become an evangelist. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1824, and over the following decade he traveled throughout the Northeastern United States, sparking revivals as he went. His language was simple, direct, and popular, his manner of speaking energetic and filled with a sense of personal concern for the souls of his listeners. Over six feet tall with piercing eyes, Finney had a commanding presence in the pulpit, and in part his success can be attributed to personal charisma. But equally important was his belief that a revival is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means.

THE BURNED-OVER DISTRICT

The Burned-Over District was a popular nineteenth-century term for western New York State, a region unusually prone to religious enthusiasm and innovation. The name, first used by evangelical preacher Charles Grandison Finney, derived from the fact that the area had been repeatedly swept by the flames of religious revival Revivals occurred in 17991800, 18071808, and 18181819 and reached a peak between 1825 and 1837 as people flocked to the area for jobs created by the newly opened Erie Canal, Many of these people were converted in the great Rochester revivals of 18301831, others by the Methodist itinerants who circled the rural areas holding frequent camp meetings. Novel religious movements also found an open door in western New York. Several utopian communities that had been persecuted elsewhere settled there, including John Humphrey Noyess Oneida Community and Anne Jemima Wilkinsons New Jerusalem. Adventist preacher William Miller, who declared that Christ would return in 1843, lived in the Burned-Over District, as did many of his followers. Mormon prophet Joseph Smith founded his church in the area, and the national passion for Spiritualism (communication with the dead) also began in Rochester.

Source: Whitney Cross, The Burned Over District (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1950).

The New Measures. For Finney and others who followed him, right use of the constituted means meant the application of a set of revival techniques known as the new measures that were highly effective in bringing audiences to a heightened sense of concern for their souls and a desire to accept the truth of the Christian message. These methods were not in fact new but rather an adoption of some informal techniques of frontier revivalists (primarily Methodists) for systematic

use in an urban setting. The most common element of this style of revival was the use of protracted religious gatherings held over the course of several days or evenings. The steady flow of preaching and exhorting at such meetings served to reduce listeners gradually to a state of despair over their sinful lives until they eventually broke down and committed themselves to Christ. Another effective tool was the anxious bench, a seat at the front of the room (or tent) where those wrestling with the decision to convert would sit under the direct scrutiny of the preacher and the crowd, often encouraged in their struggles by personal appeals for their souls. Finney also urged women to pray and testify in public, and employed both men and women as assistants who would circulate in the crowd as he preached, urging sinners to respond to his calls.

Opposition. Revivalists who employed these new measures often evoked dramatic physical results that were common enough on the frontier but startled and offended many Easterners. People who believed themselves under the influence of the Holy Spirit might experience uncontrollable jerking or twitching, or might weep, laugh, moan, or even faint. While Finney and many Western ministers argued that such manifestations bespoke the vitality and effectiveness of the revivals, many Eastern clergymen found such displays excessively emotional, indecorous, and of dubious religious significance. Some critics argued that these strange behaviors demonstrated that the revivals were, as Finney himself said, the work of man and not God, and that Finneys converts had simply been swept up in the excitement of the moment. They had not truly become Christians and would soon revert to their former sinful lives. While some converts did revert as predicted, most did not, and a large number went on to show their dedication to the Christian life through participation in benevolent societies and moral reform movements. The enduring success of Finneys techniques made them the norm rather than the exception, providing a model for generations of evangelists and making revivals an enduring facet of the American religious experience.

Sources

Paul Johnson, A Shopkeepers Millennium. Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 18151837 (New York: Hill ScWang, 1978);

William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America 16071977 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978);

Timothy Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).

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Religious Revivals

Religious Revivals


Since the pioneering work of William J. McLoughlin, historians have tended to isolate four periods when revivalsor mass religious meetings for prayer, preaching, song, and conversionwere especially prominent features of American cultural history. The first, the so-called Great Awakening of 1735 to 1745, featured what Jonathan Edwards called "surprising conversions" across New England and the Middle Colonies. Among the most surprising of these conversions were many among children and youth. Child converts were accorded special status because supporters of the revivals saw in them evidence of the miraculous character of the events, while detractors used the prominence of children in the revivals to dismiss them as irrational "enthusiasm." Later observers, noting how both the ritual performances of children and the reports on the revivals by elders followed some definable patterns, have emphasized a wide range of potential social and political causes for them. Most explanations imply that the presence of children as public converts signified the appearance of a more malleable conception of the self and life-course in America, at least in contrast to typical Calvinist understandings. That this malleable self was still under severe social strictures, as Philip Greven has pointed out, goes without saying. As converts, however, children asserted themselves as agents in history. They did so under the cover of a transcendent God, and within the boundaries of an ecclesiastical ritual, but their assertion of agency gained attention not least because it was consistent with the need for both producers and consumers in emerging market economies.

The link between markets, revivals, and children and youth is solidified when historians turn to the second period of revivals, which dominated the first half of the nineteenth-century and culminated in a series of "businessmen's revivals" across the Northeast in 1857 to 1858. Some historians have identified a "Great Revival" in the South from 1800 to 1805, through which Baptists and Methodists gained their enduring foothold in the region, and their predominance in the African-American community. Southern revivals featured charismatic lay leadership over educated clergy, thus providing spiritual (and economic) leadership opportunities to enterprising young men (and, on occasion, young women). At such meetings, which quickly spread North and West, flashing especially at Cane Ridge in Kentucky, inter-generational events held in the open air were free from the constraints of local social hierarchies, and provided for what anthropologists have called experiences of ecstatic communitas, and what has since been called entertainment. The young were quick to capitalize on the spiritual, as well as the social, opportunities, further "democratizing" Christianity in the process, and opening up a social space for the agency of young women, who sometimes joined young boys as child preachers. By the time a series of revivals swept across upstate New York in the 1830s, the most famous evangelist of the day, Charles Grandison Finney, had developed the technique of calling both young men and women to come before him to the "anxious bench" to consider their salvation. Finney also, in company with his wife, Elizabeth, furthered the revivalist emphasis on the malleable self, arguing that revivals were not only the result of a miracle, but also "the right use of the constituted means," or what has come to be called marketing. Such an emphasis on technique led theologians such as Horace Bushnell, who advocated for less dramatic Christian nurture for children, such as the Sunday school, to dub revivalism a form of child abuse. Nevertheless, entrepreneurial revivalism led directly to new evangelical bible schools and colleges, such as Oberlin, which quickly filled the market niche abandoned by "rationalist" schools like Harvard and Yale. Evangelical schools then provided seedbeds for youthful activism in causes of social reform, notably abolitionism, although white Baptists and Methodists for obvious reasons preferred to promote temperance in the South. By the time of the businessmen's revivals of 1857 and 1858, young men were especially prominent, although female leaders like Phoebe Palmer also began to assert themselves. Such a public presence of young male converts as a cohort in an urban venue fostered a distinct "boy culture," according to John Corrigan, which both coincided with and promoted the growth of the earliest youth ministries in the United States.

A third series of revivals marked the years from 1890 to 1925, now largely in urban areas, and drawing extensively on the existence of cadres of young men devoted to the YMCA's "muscular Christianity." The leading evangelistsDwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Aimee Semple McPhersondeveloped Finney's rationalized techniques by holding separate meetings in large tents or "tabernacles" for young men and women, featuring swing-tinged "gospel" music. Such meetings sanctioned both an emerging popular culture for youth and a separate-spheres ideology defined along agelines. This segregation of youth coincided well with G. Stanley Hall's popular identification of adolescence as a particular stage of life marked by such attributes as piety and turbulence. Both attributes were amply in evidence in the tabernacle meetings, where sexual energy was sublimated into passionate prayer and turbulence given vent in dramatic conversions and upbeat music. Now, though, the converts were expected to follow conventions of behavior that accorded with carefully cultivated civic values, rather than the spontaneous communitas of frontier revivals. The public presence of youthful converts, once the sign of a malleable self, was now becoming a defined market niche. At the same time, some of the social reforms sought by revivalists for the good of youth, namely Prohibition, came to fruition. This "success" ironically led to scorn among cultural elites such as H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis and scrutiny of the links between adolescence and conversion in the emerging social scientific disciplines. In reaction to such reductionism, the anti-intellectual elements in revivalism, always significant in particular communities, came further to the fore as revivalists became allied with the fundamentalist movement, and began to feel like a besieged minority.

A fourth period of revivals can be traced to the founding of Youth for Christ during World War II, led by Billy Graham, with fruition in the so-called new Christian right, represented by leaders such as James Dobson, and in movements like the "Promise Keepers." Such movements owe much to the links between Christian conversion, commerce, and cultural change, now also associated with nationalist politics. At the same time, however, contemporary revivalism no longer promotes a malleable life course. Now, revivalists seek to contain children and youth, rendering them subject to various state, church, and family projects (such as homeschooling), all marketed through the most current technologies.

See also: Protestant Reformation.

bibliography

Blumhofer, Edith L. and Randall Balmer, ed. 1993. Modern Christian Revivals. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Carpenter, Joel A. 1997. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Corrigan, John. 2002. Business of the Heart: Religion and Emotion in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Greven, Philip. 1977. The Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child-Rearing, Religious Experience, and the Self in Early America. New York: Knopf.

Hardesty, Nancy. 1999. Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth-Century. 2nd ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Long, Kathryn Teresa. 1998. The Revival of 1857-58: Interpreting an American Religious Awakening. New York: Oxford University Press.

McLoughlin, William G. 1978. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Putney, Clifford. 2001. Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Thomas, George M. 1989. Revivalism and Cultural Change: Christianity, Nation Building, and the Market in the Nineteenth-Century United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jon Pahl

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revival, religious

religious revival, renewal of attention to religious faith and service in a church or community, usually following a period of comparative inactivity and frequently marked by intense fervor. As applied to the Christian religion, the phrase belongs to modern times, dating from the 18th cent.; but such experience is described in scriptural accounts. The development of the Protestant movements in the 14th, 15th, and 16th cent. was in the nature of a series of revivals under the leadership of John Wyclif, Jan Huss, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldreich Zwingli, and others. But revivals, so called, began (c.1737) in Europe with the evangelical awakening in England under John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. Under their direction an army of itinerant and local workers and of missionaries spread the spirit of Methodist evangelism with amazing rapidity over Great Britain, into Ireland, and across the seas. Almost simultaneously with the Methodist movement, the Great Awakening began in America; given stimulus by Whitefield, revivals were started in 1720 by Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and in 1734 by Jonathan Edwards of Massachusetts. The newer settlements in the South and West experienced a wave of religious animation characterized by emotional excitement and physical manifestations. The movement was developed c.1797 in Kentucky under the preaching of James McGready. From these meetings held in the open developed the camp meeting. Professional revivalists were Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, Lyman Beecher, Asahel Nettleton, and Charles Grandison Finney. The preeminent figure in 19th cent. revivalistic history in the United States and Great Britain was Dwight L. Moody, who, with the singing evangelist Ira D. Sankey, moved vast audiences for more than 25 years. Revival campaigns in the postwar period, which should be distinguished from those of practitioners of faith healing, have been conducted by B. Fay Mills, Sam Jones, J. Wilbur Chapman, R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, Gipsy Smith, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham. Pentecostalism in its older and newer forms is sometimes interpreteted as a continuous revival in the Church. Modern revivalism has made use of television to greatly expand its audience. Missionary efforts have sparked revivals in countries such as Korea, Indonesia, and more recently, throughout South America.

See B. A. Weisberger, They Gathered at the River (1958, repr. 1966); W. G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform (1978); S. S. Sizer, Gospel Hymns and Social Religion (1978); E. E. Cairns, An Endless Line of Splendor (1986).

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religious revival

religious revival A term applied to mass movements which are based upon intense religious excitement. Periodic religious revivals, which seek to restore commitment and attachment to the group, are a regular sociological feature of religious traditions. The evangelical revival of the eighteenth century included the Moravians and the Methodists. Revivalism has been a common phenomenon in the United States. See also EVANGELICAL; SECT.

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revivalism

re·viv·al·ism / riˈvīvəˌlizəm/ • n. belief in or the promotion of a revival of religious fervor. ∎  a tendency or desire to revive a former custom or practice: French rococo revivalism. DERIVATIVES: re·viv·al·ist n. & adj. re·viv·al·is·tic / -ˌvīvəˈlistik/ adj.

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Revivalism

REVIVALISM

REVIVALISM. SeeEvangelicalism and Revivalism .

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