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Religious Revival

Religious Revival

Historically, the popularity of religion in America has been raised during periods of religious revival. In the years after WWII and into the 1950s, religion began to once again peak in American life. Revival meetings, fears of Communism, and excitement for new movements all helped to reignite interest. How did Americans again place religion in the center of American life after declining interest since the 1930s?

Religious Revival Meaning

A religious revival is when a religious movement enters a period of greater interest or excitement. This can create more excitement among the members and spread in the larger society. Religious revivals have occurred at various times and in multiple places worldwide. Religious belief on a societal scale is not a straight line of increasing or decreasing but ebbs and flows over time.

US History Revival Meeting StudySmarterFig.1 - Revival Meeting

Earlier religious revivals include the Second and Third Great Awakenings in the nineteenth century. After World War II, America was primed for another such period of religious resurgence.

Revival Meetings

Revival meetings are a different activity from a religious revival. The difference is that a revival meeting is a single event attempting to stir up religious excitement and a religious revival is a period of large-scale, prolonged religious interest or excitement. A revival meeting can be a tool to begin or recruit people into a religious revival.

Meetings usually occur in a rented hall, large tent, or outdoor venue. Usually, a preacher from outside the community comes to preach exciting and flamboyant to excite existing believers and win new ones. Occasionally, examples of miracles or faith healing are a part of revival meetings but not always.

Faith Healing: Faith healing is a practice in which it is believed that prayer or believers placing their hands on an unwell individual will result in divine intervention, miraculously curing the person. This is also known as "laying on of hands." The practice is controversial as it may result in people leaving their medical problems untreated. Additionally, faith healer Peter Popoff was exposed by magician James Randi to be using stage magicians' tricks to defraud people expecting true miracles.

WWII Religious Resurgence

The America of the 1940s would likely be surprisingly low on religiosity to many modern people. The Third Great Awakening had ended in the 1920s, and the Great Depression did not result in large-scale turning to religion. The crisis placed such a strain on many churches that church buildings were closed, ministers were left without jobs, and membership declined. During the war, many were overseas fighting, and the emphasis was on nationalism and the war effort instead of religion. It was not until after the war that America truly encountered another period of religious fervor.

Cause of Religious Revival

When faced with the enemy of Communism in the 1950s, America grappled with defining its way of life in contrast to that of the Communists. While the Soviet Union strongly opposed religion, many in the US sought to redefine America as a Christian nation. In 1956, "in God we trust" was made the official motto of the United States by Congress. Religion separated "us" from "them" in many Americans' minds during the Cold War.

It was not only the Cold War directly but the social changes and pressures of the 1950s that encouraged religion. In the booming post-war economy, many married had children and moved into comfortable suburban homes. After almost two decades of decline, more churches began to open up to serve these economically secure families. As Americans sought stability and security, church membership became increasingly attractive.

The Healing Revival

Less than a year after WWII ended, the Healing Revival kicked off in June 1946. Its leader, William Branham, was a notoriously shady character. He was ordained as a priest by KKK leader Roy Davis, and in turn, he mentored suicide cult leader Jim Jones. Branham claimed to have been visited by an angel who instructed him to go forth and preach. Branham's meetings were full of miracles, healings, and stories often disputed as fraudulent. He was charged with tax evasion in the US and banned in some other countries.

Many of those declared healed by Branham during revival services were later found to be frauds planted in the audience or that their issues had not been diminished.

US History William Branham StudySmarterFig.2 - William Branham

Religious Revival of the 1950s

The 1950s saw a change in American religious feelings built on the work of the late 1940s. The mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Methodists and the Episcopalians, declined in favor of more conservative churches like the Southern Baptists and charismatic churches like the Pentecostals. Noteworthy leaders of this period included Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr, and Norman Vincent Peale.

Charismatic Church: a church that focuses on prayer and belief in divine gifts, such as speaking in tongues, faith healing, and casting out demons.

Billy Graham

In the late 1940s, Billy Graham began his "Crusades," large revival meetings where he would preach and call the audience to accept Christianity. Thousands attended these meetings, which became headline news and attracted many adherents to Graham's brand of Evangelical Christianity. His political influence was enormous, having met directly with every president from Harry Truman to Barrack Obama. Although socially conservative on many issues, Graham strongly supported integration and social welfare initiatives. He was an ally of Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights struggle and helped many of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society policies.

US History Billy Graham StudySmarterFig.3 - Billy Graham

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a Civil Rights activist but also a religious leader. His Ph.D. was in theology, and he was the pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama, when the Montgomery bus boycott launched him into activist leadership. His appeals throughout the Civil rights movement were often made on religious grounds. He even appeared with Billy Graham during Graham's Crusades on a more significant spiritual stage.

Norman Vincent Peale

In the late 1920s, Norman Vincent Peale entered the ministry and soon radio. His interest in psychology set Peale apart, authoring the book Faith Is the Answer: A Psychiatrist and a Pastor Discuss Your Problems with Smile Blanton in 1940. It was in 1952 that Peale released his most well-known work: The Power of Positive Thinking. Some preachers criticized the book as poor psychology and sinful, but it sold millions of copies. Despite the controversy, Billy Graham considered Norman Peale an ally and a highly successful proponent of Christianity through his church ministry, books, and radio program.

More partisan than Graham, Peale met with several Republican presidents and actively opposed Democratic candidates returning to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Former US President Donald Trump attended Peale's Brooklyn church as a child and continually credited Peale as an influence.

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell became a well-known pastor through the Thomas Road Baptist Church and The Old-Time Gospel Hour radio program, founded in 1956. Although friends with Bill Graham, he held staunchly different ideas on segregation. Falwell actively opposed Martin Luther King Jr and attempted to desegregate southern schools.

Religious Resurgence Significance

What became of this religious resurgence? It laid the groundwork for many of the cultural and political divides still felt in America today. Billy Graham became heavily associated with presidents of both parties and encouraged some policy ideas presented by both sides, but many did not follow his example. Jerry Falwell became a significant leader in the New Right movement when he founded the Moral Majority in 1979.

The Moral Majority was a political organization working to tie together Christianity and right-wing politics. In the 1950s, religion separated Americans from what they called "Godless Communists." As social change erupted in the 1960s, though, the nature of the struggle changed. Many began to believe that the battle was not just against international Communism but secularism at home. This led to increasingly overt efforts to politicize churches in the late 1970s with the New Right.

Religious Resurgence - Key takeaways

  • Church attendance had been in decline since the Great Depression
  • The influence of personalities like Billy Graham and William Brannan led to the religious resurgence
  • The Cold War led to Americans using religion to define themselves against Communists
  • The economic prosperity, suburbanization, and baby boom led to increased church attendance

Frequently Asked Questions about Religious Revival

A religious revivial is a period of increased excitement for religion. 

The purpose of religious resurgeance is to increase excitement for religion. 

The societal changes after WWII, the Cold War, and strong religious leaders all led to the religious revival in the 1950s. 

Final Religious Revival Quiz

Question

Which religious leader was known for holding events called "Crusades"?

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Answer

Billy Graham.

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Question

Christianity and psychology were combined in the work of _______.

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Answer

Norman Vincent Peale.

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Question

Which religious leader focused on Civil Rights?

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Answer

Martin Luther King Jr.

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Question

How did the Cold War effect the religious resurgeance of the 1950s?

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Answer

Americans defined themselves as Christian against the atheist Communists.

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Question

What is a revival meeting?

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Answer

A revival meeting is an event designed to stir up religious excitement.

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Question

_____ lead the Healing Revival.

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Answer

William Brannan.

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Question

American involvement with religion was at an all time high at the beginning of WWII

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Answer

False.

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Question

Membership in mainline churches _______ during the 1950s religious resurgeance. 

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Answer

Declined.

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Question

American interest in religion remained quite stable from the birth of the country until relatively recently 

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Answer

False.

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Question

What is a charasmatic church?

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Answer

A church that focuses on miracles and spiritual gifts.

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