This week we were thrilled to learn that Douglas L. Winiarski’s Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (OI and UNCP, 2017) was one of three books awarded the 2018 Bancroft Prize. This sweeping history of popular religion in eighteenth-century New England is simultaneously magisterial in scope and carefully attuned to the lives of ordinary congregants. By mining an unprecedented archive, Winiarski recovers the voices and experiences of the men and women who were the progenitors of today’s evangelicals. Fascinated by the “drama of conversion” and seized by visions and fits—all gifts of the Holy Spirit—they mounted a potent challenge to the moderate “godly walkers” who had presided over the region’s religious and political life. In the process, Winiarski demonstrates, they transformed their churches, their communities, and the social fabric itself.
One of the many measures of Winiarski’s success is the sustained and serious engagement his book has generated. Darkness Falls on the Land of Light is a book that invites discussion and sparks debate. That was the case at the January 2018 meeting of the American Society of Church History, where six leading scholars of American religious history took stock of their field following the publication of Darkness Falls. Winiarski’s response to their remarks, posted in full on his blog “The People Called New Lights” is notable for his thoughtful attempt to think about New England as part of Vast Early America, to imagine what a transatlantic history of popular religion might look like.