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 graph, 9 tables, notes, index

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

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

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

Awards & distinctions

Bancroft Prize, Columbia University

Finalist, 2018 George Washington Prize

2018 New England Society Book Award in Nonfiction, New England Society in the City of New York

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2017

Book of the Year, Jonathan Edwards Center, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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.


“[Winiarski] weaves together biographies of believers seeking spiritual refreshment and by turns finding in New England's established religion a font of joy or an empty, arid, and spiritless desert. Essential.”--Choice

“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

“An absolute must-read for students, scholars, pastors, and laypeople who care about the legacy of the Great Awakening.”--The Gospel Coalition

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

“Admirably models how the methods and gaze of lived religion can expand and humanize well established narratives.”--Reading Religion

"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