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Early American Religion History


According to Mark (2007), colonies that formed the U.S had people who were deeply rooted in religion, which resulted in the movement across the Atlantic Ocean where they spread their beliefs freely. However, it was thought that this vigor would last for only a short period and then diminishes but to the surprise of many, immigrants who entered the Atlantic later in the 18th Century brought with them more passion for religion, which increased the religious revival that already existed in America. As a result, religious people joined hands and rebelled against powers that were colonizing them as they formed their own governments. All this time, Americans were being guided by the belief that religion was a very essential factor that necessitated the formation of political institutions.

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Religion in American History and Its Role in Shaping American History

In the 17th century, a large number of British colonies that formed the U.S were comprised of inhabitants, who had refused to follow the kind of religion that was being practiced by Europeans because; according to them was inappropriate. After settling in North America, they got engaged in a different kind of religion which they believed to be the correct way of worshipping. Previously, the group that shifted to North America had suffered persecution at the hands of Europeans, who were forcing them to conform to a uniform religious practice that raised disagreements between Catholics and Protestants. (Jeffrey, 1998)

Americans carried with them the vigor of religion into the 18th century, where more converts were acquired leading to an increased number of churches that were built to accommodate those converts. At this point, religion was experiencing intense growth in America, which was contrary to earlier expectations. In mid 18th century, it was realized that about three-quarters of the American population went to church. This was an indication of a very high rate at which people were converted. A characteristic religious revival was experienced in America, which spread over a number of countries that were inhabited by English speakers among them being England, American colonies, Scotland and Wales. The awakening that occurred in America was known as evangelicalism, where Americans believed that religious experiences which they went through would lead them to “new birth”. Evangelicalism had a great impact on the state of religion in America since it re-energized a portion of believers who supported it and at the same time brought division in those who were against it.

Among the supporters of evangelicalism were Methodists, Presbyterians as well as Baptists who came together to form the largest denomination of American protestants during the better part of the 19th century. The group that was against evangelicalism and was thereby divided by its introduction was comprised of Congregationalists, Anglicans as well as Quakers. An example of people who were involved in spreading Christian teachings through evangelizing was George Whitefield who went all around American colonies, where he managed to attract large masses of people. He was known to have a good presentation of messages in a simple and clever manner and people would not dare to ignore him. Actually; he has been likened to the televangelists of modern time. Whitefield suffered attacks from people who were against evangelicalism, where some threw stones at him even when he opted to preach from open fields since he would not be allowed to preach in some churches. However, he still managed to make a large number of converts from an estimated number of 2000 services that he held in open fields. (Mark, 2007)

James (2003) argued that Evangelicalism was not the only movement that led to increased energy in American religion in the 18th century since deism was also introduced at the same period. However, this new movement had lesser supporters when compared to evangelicalism whose teachings were preached against. Deism was grounded on the teachings of maintaining morality amongst Americans but was against teachings that preached of the divine nature of Christ. Its supporters were mainly from the group of Americans in the upper class since most middle and lower-class Americans were supporters of evangelicalism. However, due to the limited number of its supporters, deism did not last long and in the 19th century, it was overpowered by evangelicalism but it had already secured some influential supporters like John Adams together with Thomas Jefferson.

Since Christianity had emerged as the religion with the largest number of believers, a good number of Indians were influenced by Christian practices. Previously, Indian societies sacrificed a number of valuable items to appease their gods who were then supposed to accord them success in war as well as good harvests. When private sacrifices showed limitations in giving desired results, the societies collectively presented their needs to priests and shamans who had portrayed their superiority through the interpretation of dreams. Indian societies also believed that priests and shamans possessed the ability to make predictions of weather and other occurrences of the future. Some of these practices are found to resemble those that are currently exercised by some modern European Protestant as well as Catholic believers. The resemblance occurs in the belief of a superior creation and an inferior one as well as the life that is to be experienced after death. However, the conversion that occurred to Indian societies concerning Christianity was not a direct kind of conversion as one faith was not practically replaced with another, but it is the rituals as well as beliefs practiced by both religions that were intermixed. The resultant state of religion was an integration of religious aspects that were represented in a wide variety of loyalties among them being the acceptance of modern practices by native Indian societies. However, in the process, some Christians managed to get a few Indians into Christianity.

James (2003) found that another characteristic of the state of religion in America during the early years is the way in which churches appeared. It was found that American churches were built in a variety of shapes as well as sizes and were widely spread from rural areas extending all the way to the cities. The manner in which churches were built reflected a number of characteristics of those denominations that put them up among them being constituent traditions, social status, and customs. Those built-in regions inhabited by people of higher social status were quite elegant than those put up in areas inhabited by people of a lower social status. Examples of the different shapes that were in accordance with the denomination’s traditions include an Anglican church that was put up in the rural area of South Carolina which had a pulpit carved from wooden material. Another was a Baptist church that was spotted in Virginia’s rural area which had a chicken-like shape. There were also differences in the features found in churches that were put up by Germans as well as those put up by Englishmen. It, therefore, occurred that, religion shaped the lives of Americans in a manner that they always wanted to show their beliefs in physical forms, which is the reason why they put much effort into building good churches. (Jeffrey, 1998)

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A Point in American History Where Religion Motivated Actions of Individuals and Impacted Direction of America

According to Stanley (2003), religious practices that had been taken up by a large portion of Americans were at some point noticed to influence the direction in which political practices turned especially during American Revolution. It occurred that, Americans viewed revolution as a practice that was morally acceptable and most of them were made to believe that, the action of opposing British was justified even before God. American colonial resistance was made to take the appearance of some divine cause, which was necessitated by Christian ministers who spread messages of this resistance in a number of colonies, where they also preached against sin and secular practices.

Moreover, Christian ministers were found to serve in a number of capacities at the time of the American Revolution, which helped them spread their messages as widely as possible. Among the capacities, they served to include national congress representatives, military chaplains, constitutional conventions representatives, and correspondence committees’ members. There are other cases where the ministers contradicted their cause by taking arms as they led troops in the war against Europeans. However, American Revolution did not only get influenced by religion but it also had a considerable impact on American religion as it made believers be divided. There are those who believed in war and backed the king in the fight for revolution among them being ministers of England church.

On the other hand, there were other ministers who were fully committed to peacekeeping and opposed war during the revolution including Quakers. The use of ministers in the revolution resulted in deficits in some churches which were even destroyed in the absence of their ministers, while other churches that were against the war took that time to spread their teachings to Americans. Religion also motivated the actions of America during the revolution since “they wanted to prepare the way for the Lord”. This was based on the “millennialist belief” where God was believed to make America his chosen kingdom which shall be raised in the Last Days. So; when America won, believers were made to have a better ground in their belief as God was taken to have shown His favor to the land of America, which even stimulated overwhelming expectations for millennialists where God would let people enjoy a thousand years of His rule here on earth. (Stanley, 2003)


Research shows that religion contributed a lot to the history of America since it was taken up when America was under the rule of the British. However, inhabitants of American colonies were not comfortable with the kind of religion that was being exercised by Europeans; where people were forced into practices they did not believe in order to come up with a religion that was uniform for all. Therefore, Catholics opted to persecute Protestants who did not want to join Catholicism, while some Protestants persecuted those Catholics who were against them. The decision to practice a unique kind of religion where everyone had freedom was just but a starting point of situations where religion influenced American history and the Revolution. (James, 2003)


James H. (2003): The recovery of religious themes inn the early American Republic: Lexington Books pp12-17.

Jeffrey S. (1998): American Jewish history: Taylor & Francis pp 57-60.

Mark A. (2007): Religion and American politics: Oxford University Press pp 45-48.

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Stanley I. (2003): American History: Charles Scribner’s Sons pp 47-49.

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