The religious revival that defined New England -- and eventually American -- culture.
GREAT AWAKENING, the popular name of a great and tenacious “revival” in New England, 1740-45, under the influence of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Edwards had created a similar excitement in Northampton five years before, the embers of which were still glowing, but on Whitefield's visiting him in the fall of 1740, and preaching his thrilling sermons in addition to Edwards', the wave spread all through New England, involving over 150 towns, and rising almost to frenzy. It was marked by the extremest accompaniments of bodily seizures, convulsions, hysteria, etc., and aimed especially to bring young children under its control.
Edwards was rightly considered its author and was fiercely denounced for its irrationality and evil effects on public worship, as well as the temporary ruin of calm and fruitful work; he defended it for some time, but its results at last came to be deplored even by its champions, and by 1742 it was threatening not only tne peace but the life of the churches. So bad were its effects that to the reaction has been attributed the religious deadness of the country for the next 60 or 70 years. The separation of the “converted” into an arrogant clique who often seceded in separate churches, the upspringing of a horde of ignorant lay preachers making physical effects the touchstone of religion, the indecent rivalry in “manifestations,” the denunciation of all the trained ministry as lacking divine grace, were only a part of its demoralizing outcomes.
The faculties of Yale and Harvard colleges pronounced against it, as did the leading divines; the Massachusetts General Convention of 1743 added its testimony, and in Connecticut an effort was made to enforce the Saybrook Platform against the independence of congregations.
Encyclopedia Americana, 1920