Abstract: This article presents a consideration of the ways in which current Quaker belief and practice exemplify the condition identified by Zygmunt Bauman as liquid modernity. After a brief overview of Bauman’s thesis, we describe recent patterns of believing within British Quakerism within its socio-cultural context. While belief has been cast as marginal by scholars of this group, with the creation of habitus centred on behavioural codes or values narratives among participants, the way of believing within British Quakerism has rather unusual significance. An ortho-credence of ‘perhapsness’ maintains an approach to believing that is forever ‘towards’, with any truth considered to be solely personal, partial or provisional. From a rationalist liberal faith position, British Quakers have become cautious about theological truth claims that appear final or complete. They accept the principle of continuing revelation, a progressivist theology in which transition becomes sociologically normative. While wider Christianity may be in transition, British Quakers see perpetual modulation (liquifaction) of belief and practice as both logical and faithful.
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.
Publisher’s Description: The Religious Society of Friends and its service organization, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), have long been known for their peace and justice activism. The abolitionist work of Friends during the antebellum era has been well documented, and their contemporary anti-war and anti-racism work is familiar to activists around the world. Quaker Brotherhood is the first extensive study of the AFSC’s interracial activism in the first half of the twentieth century, filling a major gap in scholarship on the Quakers’ race relations work from the AFSC’s founding in 1917 to the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the early 1950s.
Allan W. Austin tracks the evolution of key AFSC projects, such as the Interracial Section and the American Interracial Peace Committee, that demonstrate the tentativeness of the Friends’ activism in the 1920s, as well as efforts in the 1930s to make scholarly ideas and activist work more theologically relevant for Friends. Documenting the AFSC’s efforts to help European and Japanese American refugees during World War II, Austin shows that by 1950 Quakers in the AFSC had honed a distinctly Friendly approach to interracial relations that combined scholarly understandings of race with their religious views.
In tracing the transformation of one of the most influential social activist groups in the United States over the first half of the twentieth century, Quaker Brotherhood presents Friends in a thoughtful, thorough, and even-handed manner. Austin portrays the history of the AFSC and race–highlighting the organization’s boldness in some aspects and its timidity in others–as an ongoing struggle that provides a foundation for understanding how shared agency might function in an imperfect and often racist world.
Highlighting the complicated and sometimes controversial connections between Quakers and race during this era, Austin uncovers important aspects of the history of Friends, pacifism, feminism, American religion, immigration, ethnicity, and the early roots of multiculturalism.
Abstract: The British Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) illustrates the management of personal and corporate belief and experience without the use of creedal statements or centralized religious authority. This builds on the work of anthropologists like James Fernandez and Peter Stromberg who introduce forms of consensus responsible for maintaining unity in religious communities. While their work expanded anthropological understanding on diverse interpretations of common symbols, this article builds on their observations to show how the use of tropes also encourages unity. Quakers incorporate diversity and a notion of continuing revelation into their communal belief system, and individual participants are encouraged to explore personal belief. Since the Quaker corporate belief model accommodates change, tensions shift to maintaining identity among the theologically diverse interpretations of truth. To accomplish some homogeneity Friends also employ a journey trope to frame diversity and manage the potential tension between corporate and personal understanding.