Thursday, 3 December 2009

Second Great Awakening

Tonight I watched the latest programme on BBC Four in a series entitled A History of Christianity.  The series is presented by Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, who is professor of church history at the University of Oxford.  The subject was Protestantism - The Evangelical Explosion and part of the programme was about the growth of evangelicalism in America.  It covered the Great Awakening in the early 18th century, before the American Revolution, and also the Second Great Awakening, an evangelical revival which started in Kentucky at the start of the 19th century.

My attention was taken when he stated unequivocally that the Second Great Awakening arose among Scots Presbyterians who moved to Ulster and then on to America.  It was particularly good to hear a prominent historian use the word Ulster and of course he was talking about the Ulster-Scots who emigrated from Ulster to America in the course of the 18th century.  The Ulster-Scots who crossed the Atlantic had a significant impact on the religious life of America and especially on the development of Protestantism. 

Too often the Ulster-Scots influence in America is seen as simply a series of presidents and pioneers of Ulster descent.  In fact the Ulster influence is much broader and much deeper.


  1. Hi Nelson

    Why should you be surprised at someon using the term Ulster correctly? Even the ex-leader of your party revealed in a radio interview on rte one time that he was fully aware of the correct use of the term Ulster when he said that 'he wouldn't mind getting Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan back". Ulster = 9 counties, Northern Ireland = 6 counties.

  2. As regards the meaning of the term 'Ulster', the situation is not quite as simple as you suggest. The extent of 'Ulster' has varied from time to time throughout the course of history, For example, the Earldom of Ulster consisted of an area that was equivalent to just two counties, Antrim and Down. On the other hand at least one organisation has operated on the basis of a ten-county Ulster, including Louth. The nine-county Ulster to which you refer was only created during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
    In this case however Professor MacCulloch was clearly referring to the province of Ulster, since there were many Ulster-Scots who emigrated from Donegal.
    In my post I was simply noting that the Presbyterian emigrants were overwhelmingly Ulster-Scots from Ulster, rather than Protestants from some other part of Ireland.

  3. ...And the Earldom of Ulster is a title held by the Crown.

    Lord Ulster is 20th in line to the Throne and his father is HRH Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

    The title merged in the Crown as far back as 1461.

  4. Nelson, yes, this was an excellent program. One of the points MacCulloch makes is that Evangelical Protestantism was socially radical and in relation to slavery, 'led a great rebellion against the common understanding of the bible, overturning the moral assumptions of their time' We live in different times now when Evangelical Protestantism is primarily associated with social conservatism and a literal interpretation of the Bible.