If we look at the whole of American history, a distinct pattern emerges. Times of rapid socioeconomic change and commercialism lead to psychological disturbance in the population. Fear, insecurity, envy, and rage are natural emotional reactions that arise in response to such changes. Emile Durkheim would add anomie and alienation to the mix. Such negative feelings create a hunger for normalcy, a longing to return to norms in a world that has lost them. With the old rules not working anymore, new rules, or new old rules are required. Evangelical Christian revivalism becomes the agency that feeds the hungers of the psychologically dispossessed American and provides good old-time religion with its good old rules. In American History we call these movements the “Great Awakenings.”
The revival movements promise a return to the status quo but it’s a promise on which they can’t deliver. However, the Awakenings can offer some solace and succor via religious revival meetings, prayers and the promise of redemption. The public sermons of Whitfield, Edwards and Tenant drew huge crowds. As a consequence of these gatherings, participants developed a sense of social connectedness to each other. Indeed, The First Great Awakening may have been the very first time colonists saw themselves as part of a larger cause than their narrow parochial and provincial interests.
The Awakenings in American history tend to stir up trouble in political, social, and cultural realms. Evangelicals who believe they have a personal relationship with God become radicalized. Intensified individualism feeds into growing political and social activity, and success in social and political action builds egos that want more power. Grass roots movements become outlets for the leaders and followers of the Awakenings. See the Sons of Liberty after the First Great Awakening and the Temperance Movement, Abolitionism and Asylum Movement after the Second Great Awakening.
Rapid socio-economic changes that cause these Awakenings also radicalize secular intellectuals but they apply rational, empirical methods in a search for pragmatic solutions. See Transcendentalism after the Second Great Awakening. See the Public Education movement of Horace Greely. It may be the case that the Secular Awakenings complement the Religious ones and in a synergistic spiral that leads to the ultimate outcome of Revolution and/or Civil War.
The following three stages are illustrative of Ewing’s Grand Theory:
1. Stage One: Early 18th Century:
a. First Industrial Revolution,
b. First Great Awakening,
c. Intensified colonial political activity
d. Culture wars: Loyalists vs. Patriots
e. American Revolution in 1776.
2. Stage Two: Early 19th Century
a. Second industrial revolution
b. Second Great Awakening,
c. Explosion of social reform movements including Abolitionism
d. Culture Wars: Abolitionists and Republicans vs. slaveholders
e. The American Civil War in 1861
3. Stage Three: Late 20th Century- Early 21st Century
a. End of the Industrial Revolutions and Dawn of information age
b. Third Great Awakening (Ewing was one of the first to call it that)
c. Family Values movement, the 700 Club, Tea Party (irony abounds)
d. Culture Wars: Liberals versus Conservatives
e. 2013 Constitutional Crisis; Government shut down by radical minority of evangelicals and Tea Party.