The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism

The Phases of the Four Great Awakenings
Robert William Fogel
from The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism

To understand what is taking place today, we need to understand the nature of the recurring political-religious cycles called "Great Awakenings." Each lasting about 100 years, Great Awakenings consist of three phases, each about a generation long.

A cycle begins with a phase of religious revival, propelled by the tendency of new technological advances to outpace the human capacity to cope with ethical and practical complexities that those new technologies entail. The phase of religious revival is followed by one of rising political effect and reform, followed by a phase in which the new ethics and politics of the religious awakening come under increasing challenge and the political coalition promoted by the awakening goes into decline. These cycles overlap, the end of one cycle coinciding with the beginning of the next.

Phases of the Four Great Awakenings
Phase of Religious Revival Phase of Rising Political Effect Phase of Increasing Challenge to Dominance of the Political Program
First Great Awakening,
1730-60: Weakening of predestination doctrine; recognition that many sinners may be predestined for salvation; introduction of revival meetings emphasizing spiritual rebirth; rise of ethic of benevolence. 1760-90: Attack on British corruption; American Revolution; belief in equality of opportunity (the principle that accepted the inequality of income and other circumstances of life as natural, but held that persons of low social rank could raise themselves up—by industry, perseverance, talent, and righteous behavior—to the top of the economic and social order); establishment of egalitarianism as national ethic. 1790-1830: Breakup of revolutionary coalition.
Second Great Awakening,
1800-1840: Rise of belief that anyone can achieve saving grace through inner and outer struggle against sin; introduction of camp meetings and intensified levels of revivals; widespread adoption of ethic of benevolence; upsurge of millennialism. 1840-1879: Rise of single issue reform movements, each intending to contribute to making America fit for the Second Coming of Christ (these included the nativist movement, the temperance movement which was successful in prohibiting the sale of alcoholic drinks in 13 states, and the abolitionist movement that culminated in the formation of the republican party); sweeping reform agendas aimed at eliminating all barriers to equal opportunity; antislavery; attack on corruption of the South; Civil War; women's suffrage; continuation of belief in equality of opportunity. 1870-1920: Replacement of prewar evangelical leaders; Darwinian crisis; urban crisis.
Third Great Awakening,
1890-1930: Shift from emphasis on personal to social sin; rise in belief that poverty is not a personal failure ("the wages of sin") but a societal failure that can be addressed by the state; shift to more secular interpretation of the Bible and creed. 1930-1970: Attack on corruption of big business and the right; labor reforms; civil rights and women's rights movements; belief in equality of condition (principle that equality is to be achieved primarily by government programs aimed at raising wages and transferring income from rich to poor through income taxes and finance welfare programs); rise in belief that poverty is not a personal failure but a societal failure; expansion of secondary and higher education; attack on religious and racial barriers to equal opportunity (leading to later attacks on gender-based assumptions of behavior and discrimination based on sexual orientation). 1970-?: Attack on liberal reforms; defeat of Equal Rights Amendment; rise of tax revolt; rise of Christian Coalition and other political groups of the religious Right.
Fourth, and Current, Great Awakening,
1960-?: Return to sensuous religion and reassertion of experiential content of the Bible; rapid growth of the enthusiastic religions (including fundamentalist, Pentacostal, and Protestant charismatic denominations, "born-again" Catholics, Mormons); reassertion of concept of personal sin; stress on an ethic of individual responsibility, hard work, a simple life, and dedication to family. 1990-?: Attack on materialist corruption; rise of pro-life, pro-family, and media reform movements; campaign for more value-oriented school curriculum; expansion of tax revolt; attack on entitlements; return to a belief in equality of opportunity. ?:


More about
The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism
and Robert William Fogel

Press release for The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism.

Historical perspectives from The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism.

Fogel's predictions for our future.

About Robert William Fogel, the 1993 Nobel Laureate in Economics.

Copyright notice: Adapted from The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism by Robert William Fogel, © 2000 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.

Robert William Fogel
The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism
©2000, 394 pages
Cloth $25.00 ISBN: 0-226-25662-6
Paper $19.00 ISBN: 0-226-256634

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