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American Civilization - Curs 3 (outline)

Prof.dr.Rodica Mihaila

The Decline of Puritanism; The Enlightenment and the Great Awakening


The term used to describe a literary and philosophical movement in Europe bet. c.1660
and c.1770. In England known as The Age of Reason. The age of rationalism and neo-
A period characterized by
-profound faith in human reason, the scientific method and mans ability
to perfect himself and his society.
-devotion to clarity of thought, to harmony, proportion and balance.
An outgrowth of a number of 17th c. attainments and currents:
1. The rationalism of Descartes (1596-1650)- philosopher,
mathematician, essayst- father of modern philosophy
-attempts to apply the rational, inductive methods of science,
and particularly mathematics, to philosophy. His method described in Discours de la
Methode (Discourse on Method): Cogito Ergo Sum
2. Sir Isaac Newtons rationalism (1642-1747), philosopher and
-In 1687 he explained how universal gravitation ruled the
universe.(formulator of the law of gravitation)
-He demonstrated the harmony of natural laws (the universe is a
harmonious system operating by unchanging laws)
-He stimulated others to search for rational principles in
medicine, law, psychology, and government.
3. The empiricism of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and John Locke
(1632-1704) and Lockes theory of government
-Bacons The Advancement of Learning. The current state of
knowledge and the means of advancing it.
-Lockes Essay Concerning Human Understanding - an inquiry
into the nature of human understanding. He develops an empirical theory: our ideas
derive from experience via sensation or reflection upon experience. There is nothing
in the mind that hasnt been in the senses.
-Lockes Two Treatises on Government (1690)- a justification of
the Glorious Revolution. Principles of govenrment: a struggle by Parliament to
preserve life, liberty, and property against royal tyranny. Natural rights and democracy.
4.Rousseaus and Abbe Raynals primitivism - noble savage
Major champions of its beliefs:
-the French philosophes: Diderot (The Encyclopedie epitomized the
doctrines of the Enlightenment.The word civilization first used by Mirabeau in 1756
in his treatise Ami des hommes included in Encyclopedie). Voltaire(1694-778),
Montesquieu, Buffon, Rousseau (1712-1778):
Their main beliefs: a)agreed on faith in mans rationality and the existence of
discoverable and universally valid principles governing man, nature, and society.

b)opposed intolerance, restraint, spiritual authority, c)considered the state an

instrument of progress. d)revealed religion (they were Deists)
-in Germany: Lessing, Herder, Kant.
-in England: Addison, Steele, Swift, Pope, Hume, Adam Smith, Jeremy
-in America: Franklin, Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson (influenced by the
The Enlightenment was the intellectual ferment out of which the French
Revolution came, and it gave philosophical shape to the American Revolution, and
the two basic documents of the US: The Declaration of Ind. and The Constitution.
Deism-the rational religion of the Enlightenment:
-the existence of a transcendant God operating by natural law rather
than by providential intervention
-a benevolent God
-God revealed in nature (harmony and order of nature) not in the Bible.
-Freedom of the will
-all men are created equal
-evil is the result of corrupted institutions, not of mans natural
depravity -man is perfected by education.

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The Decline of Puritanism

Sacvan Bercovitch in The American Jeremiad (1978)

[Jeremiad= a lamentation, a mournful complaint. From the book of
the Bible bearing the name of prophet Jeremiah (6th-7thc.B.C.)]
- analysis of the Puritan rhetoric of mission. A change in rhetoric marks the existence
of two main stages:
1. 1630-1690:in 1630 (A Model of Christian Charity): A City upon the Hill .
Rhetoric imbued with the confident sense of mission:
the cultivation of practical virtues such as: diligence, industry, frugality, -
part of a life-long plan of regeneration, of thriving for success to please God and
achieve a glorious purpose, to secure a prosperous place in society. The release of
energy necessary to build the City of God. The purposefulness of the Puritan Ethics.
(mixture of sacred and profane)
2. After 1690 - the decline of Congregationalism. Puritanism eroded :
by the ideas of the Enlightenment (the ideas of Lock and Newton
reached America)
by the sins committed by an industrious and ambitious community, a
new society on the move, confident in the pursuit of happiness here on earth (vezi The
Declaration of Independence : life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)
-The Americanization of the Jeremiad: the puritan virtues of diligence, industry,
frugality are now seen as sins leading to loss of faith and strong individualism. In fact
the loss of purposefulness.
-The Enlightenment ideals resurrect the mission. Ex. Franklin in The Art of
Virtue - develops a kind of utilitarian, businessman ethics which are the old puritan
practical virtues which lost their theological coloring. The final goal is no longer divine
grace but success and happiness.
- Examples of tensions in New England
The Witchcraft Crisis in Salem = An early indication of the tensions in colonial New
England. (vezi povestirea p.141 Tindal and Shy) Explanations: - a contagious
exercise in adolescent imagination (yet adults pressed the formal charges)
- long-festering feuds and property disputes
- feminist interpretation: most of the accused were women who
defied the traditional roles of women (they engaged in business
transactions, some did not attend church), most were spinsters,
middle-age or older, without sons or brothers> stood to inherit
property and become independent women.the hysteria reflected
the peculiar social dynamics at Salem
See Arthur Miller: The Crucible, Sartre: The Witches of Salem

The Great Awakening (1734-1750)

By 1740 Enlightened Americans looked upon their time as an era of

progressive reasonableness, and considered fanaticism and bigotry associated with
bygone early Puritanism (Enduring Vision, p.119). This belief shattered by
The Great Awakening= The series of religious revivals among Protestants
in the American colonies, esp. in New England, lasting from about 1725 to
1770. A quickening of religious fervor and a series of religious revivals. A
revival movement that developed into a religious frenzy

Revivalism = an awakening of the interest in religion. Revival of evangelicalism =

protestant doctrine which stresses the importance of personal experience of guilt for sin, and
of reconciliation to God through Christ - emphasizes the teachings of the New Testament in
opposition to the institutional authority of the church

-Religion becomes a matter of emotional commitment. The individual denies

church authority
-Makes religion the direct concern and experience of the individuals emotional
religious experience (instrument of individualism ; democratizes religion)

Causes: - The loss of the original Puritan ideal held by the founding
members of a congregation. Reaction against a religion whose ministers
spoke from authority. Inadequacy of reason to move their hearts
-anxiety among ordinary people about sin. They were longing for
salvation. (Ex. In 1737, 38,- an epidemic of diphteria killed every tenth child under
16 )
-a challenge to the existing assumption about the relationship between
the governors and the governed. By asserting the right of the people to speak for
themselves the Great Awadening helped the transition from medieval authoritarianism
to participatory democracy
Forms of Revivalism Religion became a matter of emotional
-outburst of religious fervor when ministers depicted in sermons: the
emptiness of material confort; the utter corruption of human nature; the fury of the
divine wrath; the need for repentance.
-listening to the sermon the people would yell, shriek, and roll in the
aisles.(longing for individual salvation)
The most proeminent voices of the Great Awakening:
1) Johathan Edwards (1703-58)
The greatest colonial mind. Americas greatest metaphysician and theologian.
Clergyman and logician.
-His books: Concerned wity defining the true nature of religious experience
-Read Lock at Yale - the necessity of knowing religious ideas experiantially
(importance of the test of experience).
-With him the American imagination responded to the natural and human world
actually around.
Images or Shadows of Divine Things (publ. 1948) 212 notebook entries not
designed for publication - (the natural world =symbols of divine things)
--Edwards suggests that the physical world may be read as a sign or type,
revealing ultimate spiritual truths. -- p.359 Norton: The signs and types in the book of
nature are representations of spiritual mysteries - See Emerson
Personal Narrative. An account of his Conversion, Experiences and
Religious Exercise given by Himself
His spiritual aubiography - the genre of Puritanism - the condition for
admission into the church with New England puritans was:
-to keep diaries of the movement of the spirit
-they were required to give a brief narrative of their spiritual progress
-like his Puritan forebears, he attempts to address the ear as well as the eye
(uses assonance, alliteration, repetition, progressive and rhythnic expansion of cluases,
careful use of commonly understood simile)
-practitioner of plain style

-His Aim: to convert the believers to the original sense of religious commitment (to be
moved by religious principles)
-Religious feeling should approximate physical sensation ( a delight in Gods
sovereignity) - spirit of revivalism transformed believers - The Great Awakening
-he relied on the power of sermon to instill religious zeal in flagging
CITAT: For instance, he would warn parents that Young people of both sexes are
getting together in the night staging events they called frolics, that included
drinking, dancing, and even different sexes lying in bed together. The practice of
frolicking has been one main thing that has led to that growth of uncleanness that has
been in the land. (Out of Many, p.115)
-Examle of Sermon: The most famous imprecatory (imprecation=cursing)
sermon = Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God delivered by Jonathan Edwards in
1735 in Northampton Mass. It evokes hellfire and damnation: His wrath toward you
burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the
fire. (It is comparable with the sermon heard by Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the
It has the structure of the Puritan Sermon: 1) text (the biblical passage that
is subject of the sermon) 2) doctrine (the lesson or moral); 3) reasons or proofs (of
the truth of doctrine); 4) uses/application of the doctrine.

Consequences and Significance of the Great Awakening:

-a shift from a religion whose ministers spoke from authority to one
whose worshipers spoke from their hearts.
-transition from medieval authoritarianism to participatory democracy
(the right of the people to speak for themselves
-emphasized inner experience over doctrine (part of Am. character)
-Opened unprecedented splits in American Protestantism. The raise in
the number of Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists - the three churches which have
dominated Amercan Protestantism since the late 1700s
-the new denominations stimulated the founding of new colleges:
Presbyterian: Princeton (New Jersey), 1746
Anglican: Kings College (Columbia), 1754
Baptist: The College of Rhode Island (Brown), 1764
Dutch Reformed: Queens College (Rutgers), 1766
Congregationalists: Dartmouth, 1789

Religion under the impact of the Enlightment and the Decline of


When New England Puritanism began to break up, the movement away from
orthodoxy took several directions:
1. Deism (the new religion of the Enlightment) see above
2. Evangelical revivalism in New Enland and the Middle Atlantic (ex. the Great
3. Unitarianism

Religious doctrine of the single personality of God (contrasted with the Trinitarian

-Main Features: liberal rationalism - opposition to doctrines of inherited guilt, loss of

free will, eternal punishment
-First Unitarian church - in Boston in 1785
-1794 - Joseph Priestley emigrated from England to organize unitarian churches
-William Ellery Channing = the great apostle of Unitarianism
-Stimulating force in the intellectual life of New England. Prepared the way for