FitzGerald locates some of the deepest roots of U.S. culture in the two Protestant revivals of the 18th and early 19th centuries, known as the Great Awakenings. The revivalists of these movements transformed the rigid and hierarchical colonial society into the more democratic and free-thinking one of the 19th century. Their version of Christianity dominated the U.S. for a hundred years and "brought a populist anti-intellectual strain into American Protestantism" that still reverberates in American distrust of expertise and belief in individual freedom and conscience.
Early revivalists lobbied for the separation of church and state, and many fought against social hierarchies and religious organizations. But they eventually split over the abolition of slavery and the civil war. In the South, "the rejection of emancipation led to the rejection of all social reform," as well as a separation of religion from social and political life that mostly held until the Moral Majority and Roe v. Wade.
This book is not only for those with a particular interest in religious history; it is for anyone with a serious interest in American social movements, politics and culture. It is a history that strongly re-emphasizes the evolution of a nation, and those who hope to shape the future are wise to study the past. --Sara Catterall