Reviving the Great Awakening, Part II

Paul Harvey

Don't miss "Reviving the Great Awakening, Part II," Baldblogger's continuing interviews with Thomas Kidd on his works on the Great Awakening. Here's an excerpt, with links to important follow-up reading material:

BB: One of the points you make early in The Great Awakening is that contemporary accounts of the movement overlook the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelical revivalism. This speaks on the one hand to questions surrounding religious practice (i.e., “manifestations” of the Spirit), while on the other hand it brings a focus to the role of “enchantment” (to use a sociological term) in this history of evangelicalism. You effectively sustain this line of argument throughout the book. What exactly does understanding the role of the Holy Spirit add to our understanding of colonial evangelical revival and religious practice? (Reading between the lines here, are readers right to identify this angle of analysis a silent commentary on your own faith tradition?)

Thomas Kidd: The Great Awakening was shot through with mystical manifestations of the Spirit (trances, dreams, visions, healings, spirit journeys, etc.). Historians have often not known what to make of such episodes, and have only recently begun to look seriously at them as an integral part of evangelical history. Historian
Douglas Winiarski has probably done more than anyone to alert us to the teeming presence of the miraculous in early evangelicalism. My sense is that the mysticism of the revivals fed their intensity, subversiveness, and individualistic tendencies. The belief in the Spirit led many common people to believe that they had a more profound experience with God than many of the state-supported, college-educated pastors. I certainly also have personal interest in the ways that experiences in the Spirit tend to fuel a kind of Christian egalitarianism.

UPDATE: Robert Orsi, from a popular Catholicism perspective, addresses this line of thinking and analysis in a
2007 article explaining religious mysteries and human encounters with the transcendent. For further reflections readers might also wish to read Orsi's 2006 interview in Historically Speaking. And of course in this context we should not fail to mention two recent books that help scholars to ponder analysis of the unseen: Orsi's Between Heaven and Earth and Thomas Tweed's Crossing and Dwelling.


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