J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winiarski on the New Lights in Boston, 1 March

On Wednesday, 1 March, the New England Historic Genealogical Society will host a talk by Prof. Douglas L. Winiarski of the University of Richmond based on his new book, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England.

The publisher’s description says:
The 1740s and 1750s were the dark night of the New England soul, as men and women groped toward a restructured religious order. Conflict transformed inclusive parishes into exclusive networks of combative spiritual seekers. Then as now, evangelicalism emboldened ordinary people to question traditional authorities. Their challenge shattered whole communities.

This sweeping history of popular religion in eighteenth-century New England examines the experiences of ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Drawing on an unprecedented quantity of letters, diaries, and testimonies, Douglas Winiarski recovers the pervasive and vigorous lay piety of the early eighteenth century.

George Whitefield’s preaching tour of 1740 called into question the fundamental assumptions of this thriving religious culture. Incited by Whitefield and fascinated by miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit—visions, bodily fits, and sudden conversions—countless New Englanders broke ranks with family, neighbors, and ministers who dismissed their religious experiences as delusive enthusiasm. These new converts, the progenitors of today’s evangelical movement, bitterly assaulted the Congregational establishment.
This conflict was known at the time as the argument between “New Light” and “Old Light” ministers.

In 1842, the Rev. Joseph Tracy dubbed it “the Great Awakening.” That phrase first appeared in Moravian Christian literature of the early 1700s before it became part of the New Lights’ vocabulary. The Rev. John Wesley used it in an extract of his diary he published in 1740. Two years later, Whitefield included the phrase in a letter as a term for a local revival. In 1741, the Rev. John Webb (1687-1750) of Boston’s New North Meeting titled a sermon Christ’s Suit to the Sinner, while He Stands and Knocks at the Door: A Sermon Preach’d in a Time of Great Awakening, at the Tuesday-Evening Lecture in Brattle-Street, Boston.

Prof. Winiarski’s talk is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. at the society’s headquarters on Newbury Street. It is free, and attendees can register here.

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