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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. (5 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-04379-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


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