British Quakerism, 1860-1920: The Transformation of a Religious Community

British Quakerism, 1860-1920: The Transformation of a Religious Community

British Quakerism, 1860-1920: The Transformation of a Religious Community

British Quakerism, 1860-1920: The Transformation of a Religious Community

Synopsis

In 1860 the British Society of Friends was a peculiar inward-looking sect, diminishing in numbers and influence. By 1920 British Quakerism, theologically liberal, socially active, and radically pacifist, emerged from a dramatic confrontation with the Warrior State possessed of economic, social, and moral influence out of all proportion to its still minuscule size (20,000). This carefully researched study chronicles the story of Quakerism's transformation during one of the most momentous periods in the history of the London (now British) Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Excerpt

My first serious encounter with Quakers occurred in the midst of a study on British conscientious objectors during the First World War. At the time I was particularly struck by a group of nocompromise (absolutist) war resisters who were members of something called the Friends Service Committee (FSC), a group appointed to assist Quakers of military age who were determined to resist the implementation of compulsory military service. My being drawn to these young men was, no doubt, related to my own opposition to the American intervention in Vietnam, then in its most intense and deadly phase. I admired the courage and tenacity of all the men who faced imprisonment and worse for refusing, for conscience’s sake, to partake in Britain’s war effort, but the FSC Friends, exuding unwavering confidence in the rightness of their stand, impressed me most. What was it about the Society of Friends that inspired these men to remain so steadfast in their resistance to the demands of both public opinion and the warrior state? My curiosity about the nature of this tiny body of believers (20,000 in 1914) was the beginning of a process which has culminated, after many years, in the completion of this book.

I did not, to be sure, begin with the idea of embarking upon an intellectual, and I must say, spiritual journey which would encompass nearly two decades of intermittent but sometimes obsessive toil. My initial aims were modest: to investigate ideas and actions which might help to account for the depth and persistence of Quaker resistance to the Great War and conscription. Because of my previous work, I already knew some things about Quakers. I was aware of the odd organizational structure of British Quakerism, wherein an annual Spring gathering called London Yearly Meeting gave guidance and direction to subordinate but largely

London Yearly Meeting, with final constitutional authority for the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain, outside Ireland, was comprised of about two dozen quarterly

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