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On the Great Awakenings

Summary

Albert J. Raboteau describes the significance of two religious revivals – for blacks and for whites.

Summary

Albert J. Raboteau describes the significance of two religious revivals – for blacks and for whites.

Transcript

The two Great Awakenings – the one in the 1740s and then another one in the early 1800s – were significant both for blacks and for whites. For whites, because getting serious about religion began to make them question all of those inconsistences that they began to see between slavery and Christianity – as well as other aspects of their society, such as alcohol consumption and other things, leading to teetotaller movements.

For the slaves, the two awakenings were extremely important because, in the excitement of the awakenings, when people were falling out in trance, people were jerking, and people were dancing, they found an equivalent to something that was important in African religion – that is, religious ecstasy.

If you look at the Latin-American colonies, if you look at Cuba or other areas of the Caribbean, or Brazil, slaves found in the saints, the Catholic saints, an identification they could make with their African gods. There was nothing like that in Protestant North America, but what Protestant North America did have in the awakenings was several moments in time when religious ecstasy – danced religion – religion in which one became possessed by the Spirit, as it were … now the Holy Spirit, not an African spirit, but it’s a spirit nonetheless – slaves saw in this something that was very familiar to them. So this became their way of finding a parallel, finding something similar to the religious traditions of their people.