Reviews: Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England

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Book Review

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History & Political Science


The radicalism of Whitefieldarian revivalism, with its emphasis on the bodily presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, continued revelation, dramatic visionary phenomena, and ecclesiastical anarchy, left New England towns like Sturbridge riven with factionalism that later nineteenth-century town histories belie through selectively interpreting these years, which “were the dark night of the collective New England soul” (19). In an effort to avoid misleading or anachronistic terms, he prefers the more cumbersome but sanitary term “Whitefieldarian” to “Old” or “New Lights,” though the emphasis on social breakdown and divisiveness evokes more sympathy for clergy and the Congregationalist establishment in the face of a radical assault on ministerial authority and long-standing ecclesiological practices. [...]the intensity captured in individual admissions records, their adoption of revivalist language, and the rising defiance of the laity in response to the clerical backlash after 1743 suggests that men and women internalized meaningful religious experiences that empowered them to break with established practices and venture into uncharted spiritual territory. Darkness Falls on the Land of Light assumes expert familiarity with Congregationalist theology and the major figures and details of New England's history, and its emphasis on “thick description” will prove especially daunting for undergraduate students, though subsections could be utilized for readings in advanced undergraduate courses in lieu of one of the five lengthier sections.



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Publication Title

Journal of American Studies


Cambridge University Press