Religion has always been a cultural component that influenced the social life of United States citizens. Moreover, it is the core element of the American culture that defines it and maintains it in one direction of development. As some destructive events occurred, such as financial hysteria, Americans managed to overcome them and retrieve their values and moral constructs due to the Great Awakenings. These are a series of episodes in the United States history that led to the abrupt rise of religious feelings among the population. Although religious movements’ leaders like protestants organize revivals regularly to promote their churches, Awakenings are different from them, as they concern cultural rebirths (McLoughlin xiii). The three Awakenings preceding the 20th century have served as the constitutes of Early American identity formation. The Fourth Awakening is a controversial issue for scholars; it was marked by increasing amounts of believers after World War II and the Vietnam War, and the recent American Indians’ confederation. Nowadays, Americans reap the outcomes of their Fourth Awakening while observing the increscent revival in the religion of the Native peoples as uninvolved spectators.
After World War II, American citizens entered a stage of self-doubt and angst that was never known before. During the early history of America, its cultural core presented a strong belief “in the self-reliant, morally free, and responsible individual” (McLoughlin 185). However, new challenges to this faith emerged: redistributing political power among the population, including small businesses in the overall economy, and governmental fallacies. Additionally, the new span of technological progress and ensuing atheistic conceptions of Liberalists threatened the traditional views that had been formative elements of the United States before. Americans were in despair because of the ruthless catastrophes driven by humanity and almost lost faith in salvation. As a reaction to the perversion of worldviews, religious movements with large audiences like Youth of Christ arose, its leader being a proponent of conservative education and spiritual renovation (McLoughlin 187). Thus, after disillusionment with Liberal concepts, consequences of scientific progress, and social changes, the citizens invoked religion to reclaim their faith in humanity and the American nation.
The literary groups, primarily the Beat generation of authors in California, provoked the other stage of American culture modification. Before them, Christianity was a dominant religious doctrine in the United States. The Beats were educated people who accepted their epoch’s call, an invitation to re-evaluate the old beliefs and introduce foreign perspectives into the Western world, popularizing them. For example, such authors as Allen Ginsberg spread the Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism beliefs in a society that was not yet closely acquainted with them, complementing the spiritual experiences with marijuana use (McLoughlin 198). Consequently, the academic elite renovated their set of beliefs, admixing new elements into popular spirituality as well, urging a wave of revival.
The next great conflict that endangered the American culture core was the Vietnam war. Apart from despair and disgust toward humanity, the Americans experienced an upheaval of heroic feelings after World War II. In contrast, the Vietnam situation darkened the self-identity of US citizens; they were not heroes bringing salvation to other nations. Veterans and non-military population alike doubted their values, being unsure of their fundamental role in history. Marini et al. (138) cited that more than half of the soldiers had PTSD after the war, which signifies the tremendous traumatic impact of the conflict. The violent politics of the USA and guilt for committing war crimes inflamed a reaction and spiritual revival. First, some people tried to fight the despair and find consolation in substances like LSD, revealing individual religion in such a way. Next, protests from hippies followed; opposers to governmental decisions participated in drug use and professed Oriental religions, rendering the paradigms present in the society. Finally, occult groups gained much popularity among hopeless, lost people (McLoughlin). This Awakening was different from others; spirituality arose, but “people are ready to believe almost anything,” even countercultural concepts (McLoughlin 207). In brief, the Vietnam War provoked a dispute between the state and people, delving the citizens into a new era of belief distinctive from ever before.
Considering the described above, the twentieth century founded modern American society on the new grounds, not stable and optimistic, but diverse and anxious. Technological power, a new global economy, and the emergence of the middle class, wars, and violence fretted the cultural core. The new generation stopped counting governmental authorities as respectful and the American nation as approved by God. Thus, the American culture underwent renewal and finished the Fourth Awakening with beliefs defined by catastrophes from the previous century.
Meanwhile, the Indian Americans started practicing their native religion publicly and entered their holy revival. Since the Europeans’ arrival and establishment in North America, the Native population suffered constant hostility, discrimination, and oppression. In cultural matters, numerous American Indians lost their identity and assimilated the new traditions, values, and religion. Those who persisted in native practices were persecuted; only about half a century ago, the American Indians were allowed to exercise their religious rituals (Barry-Bratcher). Hence, they achieved religious freedom, which is an essential component of any culture’s existence.
The newly emerged Native American Church united various tribes and nations, obtaining numerous adherents. Even though Native religion is legal to practice, certain ceremonies were questioned by American authorities. Namely, peyote, a plant with some hallucinogen properties, was employed by the Indians for their ritual revelations for years. When the substance was legalized, some non-Native groups demanded the legalization of other plants with similar effects, disrupting the Native religious movement (Barry-Bratcher). Nevertheless, the Indigenous people rejected their connection to such organizations and asserted their Church. Thereby, the Native American culture retrieved its core incorporated in religion despite the misfortunes endured by them.
Presently, not the American Europeans experience the Great Awakening but the people united by the Native American Church. The believers organize ceremonies and rites in the open air, wear traditional clothes, and arrange colorful festivals that reproduce their cultural core beliefs. The Church has consolidated the disparate tribal groups and unified them under one dominant faith system so that they present an influential force. Afterward, they may use this strength to fight cultural appropriation, commercialization of their religion, and oppression in legislative matters. Therefore, the revival of spiritual practices and improved legal status allows the Native peoples to sustain their core elements and keep their distinctive culture.
In conclusion, the modern century patterns in culture and religion of the United States are formed by the occurred Fourth Awakening. This revival was influenced by disastrous tragedies and reactions to them in American society. Meanwhile, the American Indians are currently entering the early stage of a similar movement. The cultural identity of the American Indians is in the process of restoration while their religion consolidated them, and awakened the spirit of traditions of the yore.
Barry-Bratcher, Siobhán. “The Native American Church: Ancient Tradition and Modern Controversy.” Medium, Medium, 2019, Web.
Marini, Christina M., et al. “Psychological Adjustment of Aging Vietnam Veterans: The Role of Social Network Ties in Reengaging With Wartime Memories.” Gerontology, vol. 66, no. 2, 2019, pp. 138–48. Crossref.
McLoughlin, W. G. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform (Chicago History of American Religion). Edited by M E Marty, Paperback edition, The University of Chicago Press, 1980.