Darkness Falls on the Land of Light

Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England
Douglas L. Winiarski
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Paperback price: $34.95
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Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Imprint: OIEAHC
Cloth/Hardcover Publication Date: 03/2017
Pages: 632
Cloth ISBN: 9781469628264
Paperback ISBN: 9781469652276
Paperback Publication Date: 03/2019
Ebook ISBN: 9781469628271


This sweeping history of popular religion in eighteenth-century New England examines the experiences of ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Drawing on an unprecedented quantity of letters, diaries, and testimonies, Douglas Winiarski recovers the pervasive and vigorous lay piety of the early eighteenth century. George Whitefield’s preaching tour of 1740 called into question the fundamental assumptions of this thriving religious culture. Incited by Whitefield and fascinated by miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit–visions, bodily fits, and sudden conversions–countless New Englanders broke ranks with family, neighbors, and ministers who dismissed their religious experiences as delusive enthusiasm. These new converts, the progenitors of today’s evangelical movement, bitterly assaulted the Congregational establishment.

The 1740s and 1750s were the dark night of the New England soul, as men and women groped toward a restructured religious order. Conflict transformed inclusive parishes into exclusive networks of combative spiritual seekers. Then as now, evangelicalism emboldened ordinary people to question traditional authorities. Their challenge shattered whole communities.

About The Author

Douglas L. Winiarski is professor of religious studies and American studies at the University of Richmond.


Bancroft Prize, Columbia University Libraries (2018)

Literary Award for Non-Fiction, Library of Virginia (2018)

Finalist, George Washington Prize (2018)

New England Society Book Award in Nonfiction, New England Society in the City of New York (2018)

Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize, Massachusetts Historical Society (2018)

Choice Outstanding Academic Title (2017)

Book of the Year, Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (2017)


“[T]he most compelling history of the Awakening in New England we have. . . . Nowhere else in studies of religious practice in early America is social behavior so thoroughly mapped. And nowhere else have vernacular descriptions of religious experience been so acutely analyzed.”–David D. Hall, in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture

“By parsing the distinctive vocabularies and rich tropes that ordinary New Englanders devised to describe their tumult within, [Winiarski] lends freshness and immediacy to the familiar narrative of the Awakening.”–Christine Heyrman, in Reviews in American History

“Winiarski brings new life to eighteenth-century religion. Perhaps as significantly, he sets a high bar for the use of compelling narrative and imaginative prose in the writing of early American history . . . [T]hrough his expert presentation of lived experience, he has at last made the stories of the awakened as compelling as those of the awakeners.”–Peter Manseau, in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“Essential reading for students of early American ‘evangelicalism.'”–John Turner, Patheos

“Admirably models how the methods and gaze of lived religion can expand and humanize well established narratives.”–Reading Religion

“[Winiarski] weaves together biographies of believers seeking spiritual refreshment and by turns finding in New England’s established religion a font of joy or an empty, arid, and spiritless desert. Essential.”–Choice

“This finely researched project is a gold mine for students of New England church history. . . . One of the best compendia of New England social history to appear in many years. . . . Students of the region will be building on its findings for decades to come.”–Douglas Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“An absolute must-read for students, scholars, pastors, and laypeople who care about the legacy of the Great Awakening.”–The Gospel Coalition

“The scope of Winiarski’s research is remarkable, far surpassing the work of other historians before him.”–Southeastern Theological Review

“Winiarski’s breathtaking research and writing share the vocabularies and religious experiences through richly analyzed extended examples.”–American Historical Review

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