Chenoweth, “Practicing and Preaching Quakerism”

Chenoweth, John M. 2014. Practicing and Preaching Quakerism: Creating a Religion of Peace on a Slavery-era Plantation. American Anthropologist 116()1: 94-109. 

Abstract: A meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (“Quakers”) formed in the British Virgin Islands in the 1740s offers a window onto broader practices of religion making. Equality, simplicity, and peace form a basis for Quaker thought, but in the BVI these ideals intersected with the realities of Caribbean life and the central fact that members also held enslaved Africans. What members did to create Quakerism varied for this group, yet it was nonetheless understood to be a part of the broader community of “Friends.” Practice perspectives are employed here to gain access to seemingly ephemeral religion through the concrete objects of archaeology but also as a means of reconciling variation in practice with the idea of a coherent religion. Here religious identity was negotiated through practices on multiple scales, creating unity via larger-scope practices of writing and reading while the most frequent identifications were local and variable. Written works are often seen to encode a static, “real” version of religion against which actions can be measured, but I will argue that religion is better seen in practice, and here Quakerism was created at least as much in the variable minutia of individual performance as in widely shared documents.