Darkness Falls on the Land of Light

Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England

By Douglas L. Winiarski

632 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 27 halftones, 6 maps, 1 chart, 9 tables, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2826-4
    Published: March 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2827-1
    Published: February 2017

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Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Awards & distinctions

Book of the Year, Jonathan Edwards Center

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 associate professor of religious studies at the University of Richmond.
For more information about Douglas L. Winiarski, visit the Author Page.


“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

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

“Drawing on letters, diaries, and testimonies, Winiarski recovers the pervasive and vigorous lay piety of the early 18th century.”--Cushwa Center

"Filled with fresh discoveries and attuned to the experiences of a fascinating cast of characters, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light offers a compelling narrative of religious revival and social discord in early New England. Beautifully written, cogently argued, and astonishingly researched, this is the most riveting book on America’s eighteenth-century revivals to appear in decades."--Mark Valeri, Washington University in St. Louis

"For those who thought that little more could be done with colonial New England religious life, here comes Doug Winiarski to prove them, oh, so wrong. With a nose for manuscripts like no other, he has scoured the repositories, churches, and historical societies of the region for sources that delight and amaze, offering us new voices, the voices of the awakened. The results of his searches, presented with sensitivity and expert analysis, give us a truly innovative and fresh view of the transition, not so much from puritan to Yankee, but from puritanism to evangelicalism."--Kenneth P. Minkema, Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University

"A richly textured account of the daily rhythms of religious life in colonial New England over a century of awakening and tumult. Winiarski's account of Congregational hegemony and collapse in the fabled New England town is a masterful synthesis by a scholar especially attentive to the cadences of pietistic language and ritual."--Susan Juster, University of Michigan