By: Lori A Scientific Understanding of God Two eighteenth century movements, the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening, changed American colonists' views on reason and wisdom. The Enlightenment, led by philosophers such as John Locke, emphasized abstract thought to acquire knowledge. The European and American thinkers' research led to a greater understanding of scientific phenomena and the questioning of the government's rule. Similar to the Enlightenment, the Great Awakening changed colonists' mode of thought through the concentration of emotion rather than wisdom. Reverend Jonathan Edwards, a Great Awakening revivalist, emphasized seeking salvation by recognizing one's own moral corruption and surrendering to God's will. Although the Great Awakening challenged religious, social and political orthodoxy, the Enlightenment had a greater impact on colonial America and vastly influenced future decisions.
The Great Awakening reached a large quantity of people because of the traveling orators that preached the evangelical word. Although Enlightenment learning was limited to the wealthy, educated colonists, the movement's influence was still stronger because the well-to-do ruled the land. Enlightenment philosophers began questioning corrupt governments and the combination of church and state. John Locke claimed that because the people created a government, then civilians could change the run of the government. This belief, perhaps, was the most influential to colonial society. Educated and powerful political leaders began questioning their government under British rule, therefore, igniting dreams of independence.
The Enlightenment theory added to the oppression of British rule led to a revolution. Although not as significant as the Enlightenment, the Great Awakening still had a deep impact on colonial society. Primarily, the conflict that arose between the religious revivalists and ultimately ended in a split in the evangelical group changed the face of religion in the British colonies. The New Light revivalists spawned such denominations as Baptist and Methodist, which differed in the old lights beliefs in doctrine and matters of faith. These new sects resulted in a stronger tolerance toward religious diversity.
Also, because revivalists preached mainly to backcountry people who had no religious affiliation, the emphasis on emotion rather than wisdom gave less-educated people a feeling of self-worth. These new freethinking converts gained the strength to begin questioning social and political order. The movements of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening mainly produced a new mode of thought for American colonists. Because these two movements were easily accepted throughout society proved the American wish of freedom from corrupt governments and aristocrats.
The use of abstract thinking to disprove religious beliefs suggests also a dream of an absence of church independence. Overall, the successful sweep of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening predicted the American colonists' movements toward revolution and absolute independence. Bibliography Norton, Mary Beth, et al. 'A People and a Nation: A History of the United States.' 5 th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999 Word Count: 439.