“Darkness Fall on the Land of Light, Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England” By Douglas L. Winiarski
I am reading this book. At first I thought it would be a daunting read but it has turned out to gather my interest quite easily. Winiarski researched letters, diaries and journals from the mid 18th century in New England to understand the religious awakening which began in about 1741. This awakening was lead by a minister called George Whitefield. Whitefield rejected the conventional norms of Congregationalists, and began giving emotionally driven sermons around New England. Other riding ministers emerged, and thousands of converts ascribed to the idea that it wasn’t enough to go to church weekly, and read the bible to be saved. One had to personally and individually surrender their body and soul to God. The movement encouraged the documentation of these experiences and consequently a wealth of material survived. Winiarski describes the emergence of ‘a pluralistic religious culture’ that shook the communities in the 1700’s. This First Awakening was a precursor to the Second Awakening which gripped the population in the early 1800’s, and which traveled with people that migrated to new frontiers. In reading this book, I can better understand the presence of the religious fervor Americans have in the 21st century, and the tendency to be swept up by a culture in a desperation to understand their existence. These are beliefs that serve to validate a person’s sense of morality as familiar wisdom within a community, and which are totally unfounded in scientific inquiry. We see it exaggerated on the nation’s political scene. In fact, the power and dynamism of the fairy tales that George Whitefield adopted to captivate people reminded me so much of the rallies performed by Donald Trump. I am on Part Three called “Exercised Bodies, Impulsive Bibles.”
My simple explanation here doesn’t do justice to the complexity of Winiarski’s book but at least shows my interest in the topics of this deeply researched book, published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 2017.