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Third Great Awakening

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The Third Great Awakening was a period of religious activism in American history from the late 1850s to the 1900s. It affected pietistic Protestant denominations and had a strong sense of social activism, known as the Social Gospel. It gathered strength from the postmillennial theology that the Second Coming of Christ would come after mankind had reformed the entire earth. The Social Gospel Movement gained its force from the Awakening, as did the worldwide missionary movement. New groupings emerged, such as the Holiness movement and Nazarene movements, and Christian Science.


Protestant mainline churches in the United States were growing rapidly in numbers, wealth and educational levels, throwing off their frontier beginnings and become centered in towns and cities. Intellectuals and writers such as Josiah Strong advocated a muscular Christianity with systematic outreach to the unchurched in America and around the globe. Others built colleges and universities to train the next generation. Each denomination supported active missionary societies, and made the role of missionary one of high prestige. The great majority of pietistic mainline Protestants (in the North) supported the Republican Party, and urged it to endorse prohibition and social reforms. See Third Party System

The awakening in numerous cities in 1858 was interrupted by the American Civil War. In the South, on the other hand, the Civil War stimulated revivals, especially in General Robert E. Lee's army. After the war, Dwight Moody made revivalism the centerpiece of his activities in Chicago by founding the Moody Bible Institute. The hymns of Ira Sankey were especially influential.

The Gilded Age plutocracy came under harsh attack from the Social Gospel preachers and with reformers in the Progressive Era. Historian Robert Fogel identifies numerous reforms, especially the battles involving child labor, compulsory elementary education and the protection of women from exploitation in factories. [1] The most powerful force was a crusade for the prohibition of alcohol. The major pietistic Protestant denominations all sponsored growing missionary activities inside the United States and around the world. Colleges associated with denominations rapidly expanded in number, size and quality of curriculum. The YMCA became a force in many cities, as did denominational youth groups such as the Epworth League (Methodist) and the Walther League (Lutheran).

New sects

Mary Baker Eddy introduced Christian Science, which gained a national following. In 1880, the Salvation Army denomination arrived in America. Although its theology was based on ideals expressed during the Second Great Awakening, its focus on poverty was of the Third. The Society for Ethical Culture was established in New York in 1876 by Felix Adler attracted a Reform Jewish clientèle.

With Jane Addams's Hull House in Chicago as its center, the settlement house movement and the vocation of social work became a new career opportunity for reforming society directly, without using government agencies.

International impact

Im (2000) compared the evangelistic method and results of the Third Great Awakening in America with the Korean revivals of 1884-1910. Many techniques of the Second and Third Great Awakenings were transposed from America to Europe, including the circuit-riding system of the Methodists, the Baptist farmer preachers, the campus revivals of the eastern seaboard, the camp meetings in the West, the new measures of Charles G. Finney, the Layman's Prayer Revival, urban mass revivalism of D. L. Moody, and the Student Volunteer Movement. Im discovered four areas of influence from a comparison and analysis of the two countries' revivals: the establishment of tradition, the adoption of similar emphases, the incorporation of evangelistic methodologies, and the observation of the results of the revivals. The American revivals had a major influence on the Korean revivals, and the American revival tradition and enthusiasm toward missions helped Korean Christians develop their own religious experience and tradition. This tradition has influenced Korean churches even into the 21st century.[2]


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Primary sources

  • McLoughlin, William G. ed. The American Evangelicals, 1800-1900: An Anthology 1976.

  1. Fogel p 108
  2. Im (2000)

See also