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Emotionalism in the Cane Ridge Revival Meeting Essay

At the beginning of the XIX century, the news of the Revival meeting spread throughout Kentucky and beyond prompting plenty of people to organize and participate in religious meetings. The biggest and the most well-known meeting of the United States occurred in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in August 1801 under the leadership of Barton Stone (1772-1844) and many other preachers. It attended from 10,000 to 30,000 people (Conlin, 2014).

The meeting was a symbol of the Great Awakening, a religious movement that began in New England in the 30s of the 18th century and speeded in all the North American colonies (Butler, 2008). This paper is aimed at revealing the notion of the emotionalism of a Cane Ridge experience and its place in the religion of nowadays America.

Emotionalism is the belief that all religious relates to the senses identified with emotions and subjective manifestations of mental life (Galli, n.d.). The principal feature of the Cane Ridge meeting is the fact that it was initiated in field conditions. Inspired by preaching, the phenomenon when people barked like a dog and fell into fits in convulsions became commonly occurring. This religious meeting was characterized by the fact that it was accompanied by public expression of feelings.

The power of the divine truth of Holy Spirit and its impact was determined by stormy manifestations of emotions and deep impression made on people. Preachers have tried to arouse passions deeply penetrating into people’s souls. They were trying to convey to the people calm, solemn, and poignant faith by means of passionate and noisy speech.

The emotionalism was expressed in the key method utilized during the Great Awakening, in particular, the revival of worship. It consisted primarily of acute and severe sermons that vividly portrayed dire consequences of sin and comforting miracle of God’s redeeming love in Christ along with a sincere appeal to accept this love while there is still such a possibility. These services were held in church buildings or on the bluff as in the case of the Cane Ridge.

Often such crowds were flocked and could not accommodate in any building, and then the service was performed in the open air. At times, the preacher was a local minister. Preaching was usually emotional and, what is more, sincere and rousing causing a strong emotional response. Affected by the preaching, the audience wept with fear, or joy, and some people fainted. Such reaction was considered to be the evidence of the presence and power of God. It should be stressed that a benchmark of the meeting was a highly emotional style of preaching that make listeners weep and repent of their sins (Butler, 2008).

For plenty of people, it became a turning point of the spiritual revival and led not only to a strong inner experience but also to active spiritual life, behaviour change, and the desire to involve others in the process. In addition to the religious aspect, the revival has been dramatic and surprising social phenomenon. Occasionally, some communities were entirely covered by this phenomenon. Precisely speaking, the emotionalism of the Cane Ridge meeting made people involved in church life more and encouraged to share the gospel with others.

As a matter of fact, the emotionalism of that period played an important part in the social and cultural development of society. The problem of survival distracted the majority of colonists from spiritual concerns. At the same time, those who have succeeded were placing their career and enjoyment of abundance much higher than religion. In the environment of spiritual stagnation among the bustling flow of social change and the terrible social tension, some churches began to show new signs of life. As a result, the vigorous revival came soon. Some scientists consider the Great Awakening as a process of adaptation to the cultural and social changes (Galli, n.d.).

On this point of view, it was both a spiritual and emotional recovery of people who, relying on basic concepts of faith, forged a new religion-ethical foundation that enabled them to survive the collapse of old ideas and institutions and build new ones. Thus, the emotionalism was understood as the belief that every religious person experiences his conversion personally and then reflects it genuinely in spiritual and moral life.

Speaking of the emotionalism in today’s American religion, it is difficult to note it in the same form as during the Cane Ridge meeting. Analyzing human behaviour, Illouz (2012) examines the contemporary discourse of relationships arguing that the emotional is an integral part of a human being regardless of the time period. In spite of the fact that people do not barking or falling during prayer now, they remain emotional.

It is significant to concern this issue as emotionalism tends to develop not only senses but also feelings, and the personality in its creative depth. Religious emotionalism does not reduce religion to one of its parts considering religion as complex because there is no religion without a certain creed, in other words, without the aggregate claims, and therefore, no one religion cannot be reduced only to a range of emotions. However, emotionalism in modern American religion exists only in some extent.

It is also very important to point out the fact that nowadays one could also find emotionalism in American religion, for instance, in African-American religion. “The powerful emotionalism, ecstatic behaviour, and congregational responses of the revival were amendable to the African religious heritage, and forms of African dance and song remained in the shout and the spirituals of Afro-American converts to evangelical Protestantism” (Fulop & Raboteau, 2011, p. 301). They perceive the Bible as a book of ritual prescriptions for envisioning and attitude. Likewise, in the Afro-American worship experience, there is one more point of view.

According to White III (2014), “religious emotionalism comes from an outside source and depended on musical entertainment and theatrical preaching” (p. 67). It demonstrates that religious emotionalism is achieved by person’s extortion while genuine worship is motivated by God. The author argues that there is almost no need for religious emotionalism. In spite of the fact that it makes people feel good, it would not benefit their souls. Therefore, people should control their thoughts and behaviour.

In conclusion, it should be stressed that the religious emotionalism played an integral part in the Cane Ridge meeting making people express their emotions and feelings in public resulting in the change of their attitude towards cultural and social aspects of life of that period. Nowadays, one might observe emotionalism in African-American religion. It goes without saying that this issue is relevant and worth considering as it takes into account some points of the modern American religion.


Butler, J. (2008). Religion in American life: A short history. New York: Oxford University Press.

Conlin, J. R. (2014). The American past: A survey of American history (10th ed.). New York: Cengage Learning.

Fulop, T. E., & Raboteau, A. J. (2011). African-American religion: Interpretive essays in history and culture. New York: Routledge.

Galli, M. (n.d.). . Christianity Today. Web.

Illouz, E. (2012). Saving the Modern Soul: Therapy, Emotions, and the Culture of Self-Help. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

White III, S. (2014). My Brother’s Keeper: Church Ministry for Young African American Males. Bloomington, IN: WestBowPress.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Emotionalism in the Cane Ridge Revival Meeting'. 11 September.

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