The year 1840 marked the climax of the first industrial revolution. This era saw new labor-saving inventions, scientific advances, academic theories, and the beginning of increased general education levels. These advancements brought massive societal benefits. At the same time, they created substantial societal dislocation and produced new challenges for people to find meaning in this world.
As the industrial revolution progressed, a profound question about religion emerged: Would the rise of industrial, technological, and academic progress render religion obsolete or would these disruptive societal changes make religion crucial to understanding this new reality and provide meaning to peoples’ lives?
One mystical text portended a religious revolution in 1840. Some interpreted this as a reflection on the need for redemption from the ills of modern innovation. Others focused on the more positive message of newfound opportunities for religious enlightenment in an age when human creativity was being redefined.
Today, we are once again faced with the choices and challenges society confronted in 1840 on an even greater level. While many of the benefits brought by these changes are self-evident, these rapidly accelerating changes are causing new societal and individual challenges. The levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns are rising at an alarming rate, especially among Millennials and Generation Z. Traditional familial and communal emotional support networks are being replaced by impersonal online communities. And the exponential rate of technological development makes the future feel unpredictable.
As a society, how will we construct meaning in today’s age of limitless information? Some will see religion as an anachronistic artifact from a simpler and more naïve time. 18Forty hopes to confront some of those challenges and present a new vision for the value of religion in the modern age.
Was the year 1840 the end of religion or the beginning? In this special podcast, David discusses the significance of the year and how it remains relevant today. Follow along with the source sheet and listen below:
David Bashevkin is the director of education for