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The First Great Awakening was an evangelical and revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, especially the American colonies, in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American Protestantism. It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of deep personal revelation of their need of salvation by Jesus Christ. The Great Awakening pulled away from ritual, ceremony, sacramentalism, and hierarchy, and made Christianity intensely personal to the average person by fostering a deep sense of spiritual conviction and redemption, and by encouraging introspection and a commitment to a new standard of personal morality.

The movement was an important social event in New England, which challenged established authority and incited rancor and division between traditionalist Protestants, who insisted on the continuing importance of ritual and doctrine, and the revivalists, who encouraged emotional involvement. It had an impact in reshaping the Congregational church, the Presbyterian church, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the German Reformed denominations, and strengthened the small Baptist and Methodist Anglican denominations. It had little impact on most Anglicans, Lutherans, Quakers, and non-Protestants. Throughout the colonies, especially in the south, the revivalist movement increased the number of African slaves and free blacks who were exposed to and subsequently converted to Christianity.

The Second Great Awakening began about 1800 and reached out to the unchurched, whereas the First Great Awakening focused on people who were already church members. 18th-century American Christians added an emphasis on "outpourings of the Holy Spirit" to the evangelical imperatives of Reformation Protestantism. Revivals encapsulated those hallmarks and spread the newly created evangelicalism in the early republic. Evangelical preachers "sought to include every person in conversion, regardless of gender, race, and status."