Religious interest

The founders of the United States made clear statements in the separation of church and state. They were very aware of the dangers of the influence that a variety of religions had on people and once they took over, there would be a loss of clarity and logic.

Although Christianity remained as the main religion in the 1800s there was an ocean of new twists to the standards that brought about religious transformation and what is now called the Second Great Awakening.

Bear Butte, in South Dakota
Bear Butte, in South Dakota, sacred site for tribes
  • The 1830s saw a change in the religious doctrine in America. The Protestant religions that were brought over from Britain were changing to a split of many denominations. These carried some of the old Congregationalist or Puritan ideas as well as Anglicans (today’s Episcopalians), and Quakers. The revolution of denominations now included Evangelical Baptists and Methodism, with religious revivals as a major portion of their belief system.
  • The Second Great Awakening was known for the revival style “camp meetings.” These were large groups of people that gathered outdoors or in tents to listen to preaching from those that were loud, enthusiastic, and often involved interaction with the congregation or attendees. In some cases there would be one preacher and in other situations there would be multiple preachers all yelling and preaching at the same time. There was praying, singing, dancing, and emotional outbursts from those in the audience.
  • Those that followed the Evangelical doctrine were usually considered to be common citizens and not the social elite. The preachers were typically not trained in the standard university theology but relied on the emotional experience of personal knowledge and being “called” to do the work as a preacher. The Evangelical style was perfectly suited for the pioneer conditions where formal churches were often unavailable.
  • The beliefs shared during the Second Great Awakening altered American religious life. The evangelical movement changed the former Calvinist ideas of being saved by God’s will alone to the concept that the individual had control to be saved and all humans had the option of salvation. This idea empowered each person and offered a better view for the people. The popularity of the Evangelical movement increased the country’s Protestant beliefs.
  • Two of the most important aspects of the Second Great Awakening included the fact that unlike previous religions that placed all of the control in the hands of men, women now had a larger participation. The Evangelicals were largely made up of white women, but the popularity of this form of belief also included African-Americans.
  • While the Evangelicals created the more emotional and loud religions in the south and west, there were denominations in the northeast that were focused on free will. Unitarians had a big following and they thought that there was a loving God as well as rejecting the Catholic concept of original sin. Unitarians often included intellectuals and poets and was part of the transcendentalism movement. There were also other forms of Christianity that included the Millerites who believed that Jesus would be returning to Earth on October 22, 1844. When the date passed with no event some of these people moved to the Mormon faith.
  • Mormons are also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They began as a following of their founder, Joseph Smith, who believed that he was given personal heavenly instructions with a set of gold tablets. The Mormons believed in polygamy (a man having multiple wives) and were not accepted in any place that they moved to. They finally set up their own place in Salt Lake City, Utah, establishing a religious center and over 300 surrounding towns.
  • The other more nontraditional forms of worship began with the establishment of Utopian Communities. These are based on groups of people living together in cooperative union so that everyone works together. Also known as “Communes,” three of the largest during the 1800s were the New Harmony community in the southern antebellum time, the 1841 Brook Farm and the Oneida Community. Only the Oneida had some success as they had what was considered to be radical ideas including communal marriage. The Shakers were another attempt at communal living but they died out due to their belief that you couldn’t marry or have children.


What type of people were Evangelicals?
Average citizens/non-elite

What is another name for the Mormon church?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

What is the name of three of the most well-known Utopian Communities?
New Harmony, Brook Farm, and Oneida Community

What is the name of the religious change in the Protestant beliefs of the 1800s?
The Second Great Awakening

What type of gatherings did the Evangelicals have for their worship?
Camp meetings/revival meetings

What type of people followed the Unitarian belief system?