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A practice based on experience

by
07 November 2014

This common thread runs through variety of faith, says Jill Segger

The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies
Stephen W. Angell and Ben Pink Dandelion, editors
OUP £95
(978-0-19-960867-6)
Church Times Bookshop £85.50 (Use code CT463 )

THE Oxford Handbook series is widely acclaimed for the depth of its research and authoritative overview of a wide range of subjects. This volume of Quaker studies is a welcome addition to the literature on the Society of Friends.

The book comprises a series of essays by 42 experts in fields ranging from the historical foundations of Quakerism across the theology and sociology of the movement to its expression in today's world. Each chapter offers suggestions for further reading, and an extensive bibliography is also provided.

Students of the history and sociology of religion in general and of Quakerism in particular will find the gathering of this information into one volume both useful and overdue. Its appeal to the general Quaker reader is less clear, although there will be few among us - whether birthright Friends or "Quakers by convincement" - who will not learn something by browsing this work of reference.

Robynne Rogers Healey's essay on Quietist Quakerism is particularly illuminating. The century that followed the death of George Fox brought the development of attitudes and practices that are widely seen as defining characteristics of the Quaker way of life. The creative tensions of modern Quakerism may perhaps be best understood by reference to this period, during which the original founding zeal of the "enthusiastic" 17th-century Seekers and "Publishers of Truth" evolved into something closer to present-day experience, with its emphasis on the humanitarian work that is an outworking of the Testimonies to peace, equality, simplicity, and truth.

The excellent historical expositions of the development and varied manifestations of what is essentially an experiential rather than a doctrinal faith also serve to remind us that the European tradition is not the only expression of Quaker faith and practice. The more Evangelically inclined "programmed" worship common in some parts of the United States and much of Africa is just as much part of the tradition as are the non-credal ethos and largely silent worship with which more of us are familiar.

There are, unfortunately, several typos, factual errors, and contradictions within the text. The latter probably result from the multi-author format. But it is not unreasonable to expect a higher standard of proof-reading in a work of this importance.

The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies should ideally be in the library of every Meeting House. At a price of £95, however, this seems unlikely. If it is to find the readership that it merits beyond the academic world, we must hope that OUP will issue a paperback edition before too long.

Jill Segger is a freelance journalist, and is an associate director of the think tank Ekklesia.

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