Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Second Great Awakening and the Burned Over District

Happy holidays everyone! Sorry I have been gone for so long, I've been busy with school and working at a new job, but now that I have some time off from school before the spring semester begins, I can update this blog more often.

Throughout the 1800s, religious fervor roiled in Western and Central New York. Shakers, Mormons, Spiritualists, and others found solace in a land of free thinkers. This region was called the "Burned Over District", a phrase coined by Charles Grandison Finney because it was repeatedly "burned over" by religious revivals during the Second Great Awakening.

The Second Great Awakening was a Christian revival movement, started in the 1790s, which expressed Arminian theology (the belief that faith or non-faith of a man in God is what saves or condemns someone on the day of judgment, not the common Puritan belief of predestination where one was either born elected or damned). Through "fire and brimstone" evangelical sermons, millions of new followers were flocking to Christianity, which led to the formation of new denominations such as Baptists, Methodists, Shakers, and Mormons.

The Shakers

The Shakers, or United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, was led by Mother Ann Lee. In 1774, she and a small group of followers emigrated from England to New York. After serveral years, they gathered at Niskayuna, renting land from the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, Albany County (which is now Colonie). The Shakers got their name from how they worshipped--by ecstatic dancing or shaking. They were dubbed the "Shaking Quakers", or Shakers, for short.

The Mormons

Mormonism traces its origins to the Church of Christ founded by Joseph Smith Jr. in April of 1830 in Western New York during the Second Great Awakening.

Roughly a decade earlier, Joseph Smith Jr. was seeking remission from his sins. He was confused by the doctrines of the many denominations so he went into a grove to pray about which church to join. Smith claimed that God appeared to him in the form of a pillar of light and told him to not join any of the churches. A few years later, an angel directed him to a nearby hillside where indigenous American prophets had buried a book written on gold plates. Smith claimed to have translated the book and published it in March of 1830 as the Book of Mormon.

Today, Mormonism and some of its traditional practices are still practiced today, although the home church is no longer in New York but in Utah, relocating there after Smith's death in 1844 under the leadership of Brigham Young.

The Baptists

Baptists are Christians comprised of different denominations and churches that subscribe to the belief that baptism should only be performed on believing adults and not on infants, and that the baptism should be done via full immersion as opposed to sprinkling or affusion (where the water is poured onto the person's head).

Historians have been able to trace the earliest church labeled "Baptist" to Amsterdam in 1609, with English Separatist John Smyth as its pastor. Smyth rejected the baptism of infants, in accordance with his interpretation of the New Testament, and instituted baptism of believing adults only. Baptist practices spread to England and came here to the United States during the First Great Awakening, and increased in practice during the Second Great Awakening in both the North and South. Today, the practice of this denomination of Christianity continues to be practiced all over the world.

The Methodists

To be honest, I don't know a lot about the origins of the Methodist denomination of Christianity. I know that John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield were leaders of the movement, but that is about it. So, here is a link about Methodism. Although it's from Wikipedia and not a valid academic source, it does provide some good information on the rise of the movement.


I hope this post has left you all enlightened about what the Second Great Awakening and the Burned Over District were about. Regardless of what you celebrate, I wish you all a happy holidays and a happy new year!

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