Description - Inventing the Great Awakening by Frank Lambert
This book is a history of an astounding transatlantic phenomenon, a popular evangelical revival known in America as the first Great Awakening (1735-1745). Beginning in the mid-1730s, supporters and opponents of the revival commented on the extraordinary nature of what one observer called the "great ado," with its extemporaneous outdoor preaching, newspaper publicity, and rallies of up to 20,000 participants. Frank Lambert, biographer of Great Awakening leader George Whitefield, offers an overview of this important episode and proposes a new explanation of its origins. The Great Awakening, however dramatic, was nevertheless unnamed until after its occurrence, and its leaders created no doctrine nor organizational structure that would result in a historical record. That lack of documentation has allowed recent scholars to suggest that the movement was "invented" by nineteenth-century historians. Some specialists even think that it was wholly constructed by succeeding generations, who retroactively linked sporadic happenings to fabricate an alleged historic development.
Challenging these interpretations, Lambert nevertheless demonstrates that the Great Awakening was invented--not by historians but by eighteenth-century evangelicals who were skillful and enthusiastic religious promoters. Reporting a dramatic meeting in one location in order to encourage gatherings in other places, these men used commercial strategies and newly popular print media to build a revival--one that they also believed to be an "extraordinary work of God." They saw a special meaning in contemporary events, looking for a transatlantic pattern of revival and finding a motive for spiritual rebirth in what they viewed as a moral decline in colonial America and abroad. By examining the texts that these preachers skillfully put together, Lambert shows how they told and retold their revival account to themselves, their followers, and their opponents. His inquiries depict revivals as cultural productions and yield fresh understandings of how believers "spread the word" with whatever technical and social methods seem the most effective.
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(229mm x 152mm x 19mm)
Princeton University Press
Publisher: Princeton University Press
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Book Reviews - Inventing the Great Awakening by Frank Lambert
US Kirkus Review »
A refreshing addition to the historiographical debate about the Great Awakening. Lambert (History/Purdue Univ.) broke new ground in 1994 with his study of George Whitefield ("Pedlar in Divinity," not reviewed), arguing that the great 18th-century evangelist needed to be understood as a market-savvy self-promoter who shrewdly created a demand for religious tracts and publications. This volume examines the broader religious movement in which Whitefield was a player, paying close attention to some of the less well known revivalists of the day. Essentially, the author argues that Whitefield was not alone in his ability to give the masses what they wanted before they knew they wanted it. The phenomenon known as the Great Awakening, Lambert asserts, was the "invention" of pastors who strung together isolated revivals and claimed a massive intercolonial, even transatlantic, religious renaissance. He provides many compelling examples of this aggrandizement, including a detailed chapter on the origins of the most famous revivalist tract, Jonathan Edwards's Faithful Narrative. A revivalist "script" emerged, Lambert finds, which encouraged a uniformity of conversion and conviction experiences from Manchester, Vt., to Manchester, England. As always, the author pays keen attention to the sweeping changes in 18th-century consumption, which created a demand for religious goods. He also analyzes the rhetoric of the anti-revivalists, who expressed grave concerns about the itinerant nature of revivals (traveling preachers threatened the religious status quo and the local ministers' "bottom line") and claimed that proponents of the awakening were "puffing" attendance records to fuel public interest. Though the author never actually claims that revivalists were more motivated by money than faith, his arguments frequently teeter on the brink of that conclusion, making the book seem on occasion cynical. Lambert can be criticized for taking his market metaphors too far, but he makes a skillful and original analysis of American religion's early engagements with the market economy. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Frank Lambert
Frank Lambert is Associate Professor of History at Purdue University and the author of "Pedlar in Divinity": George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals. 1737-1770 (Princeton).