Second Great Awakening - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
One popular theory on great awakenings is that they occur during times of profound transformation. They're a kind of counter-revolution, though the 2nd GA was thought to have mutated so as to eventually support rather than oppose the transformations of the 1830s.
The 1830s were shockingly turbulent times. Across the US the Euro invasion was in full force, with new lands being overrun daily. Communities were very transient, growing and vanishing with a speed seen only in China today. Clerics went from 30 year tenures to a mere 4 year visit. The industrial revolution was gearing up; steam engines, agricultural transformation, the cotton gin, new weapons. Darwin was doing his basic research (though he'd not yet published). The American economy was going through boom and bust.
So it's easy, in retrospect, to see why religious ecstacy swept through various regions, leaving behind burned out zones of exhausted spirituality. It took about 30 years for the 2nd GA to run its course -- smack into the civil war.
So are we in a 4th GA? That's the great question. Perhaps our times are not yet turbulent enough; but it is likely they will get there. Given our current burst of fundamentalism, and given the rough waters ahead, I think a 4th GA is quite likely in the next two decades. Perhaps it's time to resign oneself to President Frist ...