The Spirit of Pendle Hill and the Origin of Quaker Institute for the Future

When I first came to Pendle Hill in the spring of 1965, Alan Hunter was visiting from Los Angeles. I knew his book, Courage in Both Hands, from my study of nonviolent resistance, and this was an unexpected opportunity to speak with him directly on this important subject. I was in my late 20s, and he was probably in his 70s. He took me under his wing for the weekend, and his mentoring has stayed with me over all these years.

I remember, in particular, sitting around the patio tables as the evening shadows lengthened across the lawn, listening to Alan Hunter, Howard Brinton, and others speak of mutual acquaintances that had come within the orbit of Pendle Hill, and about the important work these people were doing. They spoke of Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Krishnamurti, Laurens van der Post, A.J. Muste, and Lewis Mumford. The ambience of this conversation left an indelible mark on my soul and placed Pendle Hill on the shelf of vocational possibilities in my mind. But my road turned otherwise, and by late 1966 I was deeply ensconced in the early development of Friends World College.

Pendle Hill had first come to my attention when I discovered its pamphlets in a small Iowa City bookshop in the late 1950s. I knew something about the history of Quakerism, but these publications really piqued my interest. What kind of place is this that is publishing work by Lewis Mumford on one hand, and by Peter Viereck on the other? Who at a Quaker study center had contacted Dwight MacDonald for permission to reprint Simone Weil’s classic essay on The Iliad that he had recently rescued from obscurity?

Then, about the time Amiya Chakravarty, a Hindu-Quaker Gandhian, visited Iowa City, I found his Pendle Hill pamphlet, The Indian Testimony, dedicated to Clarence Pickett, and I realized you didn’t have to sit foursquare in the Christian fold to be aligned with Quakerism. I then read Harold Goddard’s pamphlet, Blake’s Fourfold Vision, and became even more deeply attracted to the broad perspective and universal spirit that was afoot at this place called Pendle Hill. Thus began my investigation of the Quaker world and the path of spiritual consciousness and human betterment it has pioneered to such good effect.

In 1964, Pendle Hill published Kenneth Boulding’s James Backhouse Lecture, The Evolutionary Potential of Quakerism. Boulding was a Quaker, an economist, and a social scientist who clearly understood the significance of the range of spiritual and social innovations Friends had seeded into the cultural development of the modern world. He saw that the potential of Quakerism to enter still further into the great work of human betterment was more relevant than ever. In his 1964 lecture he wrote:

I suggest that the Society of Friends has a great intellectual task ahead of it, in the translation of its religious and ethical experiences and insights into a conscious understanding of the way in which the kind of love we treasure . . . can be produced, defended and extended. . . . I believe the next major task of the Society of Friends is to mobilize this intellectual potential and catch a vision of the great . . . task to which it is called. If it can respond to this vision its evolutionary potential may be great indeed.

In 1965, Boulding coined the expression "spaceship Earth" and explained that a "spaceship economy," designed to keep the planet in good working order, must replace the current "cowboy economy" of unlimited frontier growth if we hoped to avoid a planetary human catastrophe. In Boulding’s view, the great project of human betterment that Quakers and others have earnestly built into our cultural story must now construct a new kind of economic adaptation within the larger economy of Earth’s ecosystem— a whole-Earth economy.

In his later years, Boulding developed a project he called Quaker Studies on Human Betterment and spoke of the need for an "institute" under Quaker auspices for studying the future. In this idea he brought together his ecological understanding of economics, the great work of human betterment, and the evolutionary potential of Quakerism. Once again, Pendle Hill was an important agent in the way this scenario was being mapped out among Friends.

In June 2003, members of the Environmental Working Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, under the guidance of Ed Dreby, picked up the Boulding legacy and organized a consultation of Quaker economists, ecologists, and public policy professionals at Pendle Hill. The purpose of the consultation was to examine the conflict between economics and ecology and, in the light of Friends testimonies, chart a course of response that lived up to Boulding’s faith in the evolutionary potential of Quakerism.

Also by that time, the voices of ecological economists were fully articulate in correcting a fundamental error of conventional economic thinking—that Earth’s natural systems were subsets of the human economy, and that any depletion of resources could be compensated for by technological innovation. Boulding was a pioneer in exposing this error and rethinking economics within the context of Earth’s ecological systems.

Gilbert White—Quaker, past president of Haverford College, preeminent U.S. geographer, and colleague of Boulding— had also become pivotal in advancing ecological understanding. White had a correspondence relationship with our Pendle Hill consultation, but he was unable to attend for health reasons. Having our consultation centered in this confluence of Quaker mentors and the ecological worldview, and having Pendle Hill as our place of meeting, created a synergy of mind and spirit that launched a new trajectory of Friends contribution to the work of human betterment.

By the end of the second day, a proposal for a continuing effort designed around the idea of a "Quaker think tank" was on its feet. That evening is fixed in my memory in much the same way as my first visit to Pendle Hill in 1965. I am a night person and Pendle Hill is a good place for walking meditation at night, even though the motorized "white noise" of the four-lane Blue Route now wipes out the quiet voices of the great trees, and the proliferation of all-night outdoor lighting obscures the company of the stars. Nonetheless, I went walking after the Saturday evening session and thought about all the souls, minds, and hearts that have peopled this place, and about the ripples of Spirit and projects of human betterment that have arisen here at Pendle Hill and moved out into the world.

I often think of the Religious Society of Friends as a sturdy greenhouse attached to the great cathedral of Christendom. Like a greenhouse, it is a structure for maximizing light within a sheltered place. It has beds of soil rich with the accumulation of years. A good deal of current composting goes on as well. Seeds that would find no rooting in the great cathedral are planted here and flourish. Sturdy plants grow here and after careful nurturing, are transplanted into the gardens and fields of the world. I thought about how, over and over, Pendle Hill has played this role in Quaker life and in the life of our greater society. And I thought, here we are, maybe doing it again.

By Sunday noon the working group on a "Quaker think tank" had composed a plan. Gray Cox said he could arrange accommodations for us all to meet in August at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, for an organizational meeting.

And so we did just that. With the help of Ed Snyder, Peter Brown, Walter Haines, Phil Emmi, Anne Mitchell, Sara Waring, Elaine Emmi, Tom Head, Leonard Joy, and later, Mark Myers, Laura Holliday, Dan Seeger, Geoff Garver, and Shelley Tanenbaum, Quaker Institute for the Future was established and has taken root. Thanks to the Shoemaker Fund, a significant personal grant, a small group of supporters, and Institute associates, QIF has grown into a network organization with four main programs: The Moral Economy Project, the Summer Research Seminar, Circles of Discernment, and the QIF Pamphlet Series.

The Moral Economy Project produced and published the book Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, which was chosen by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to inaugurate its "One Book, One Yearly Meeting" reading and study program. Right Relationship is being used at a variety of colleges and universities and in an adult education program in Poland. It has been translated into Russian. It is now being cited by authors of new publications on the future of the human-Earth relationship.

Down a long chain of associations, the witness of Pendle Hill pamphlets helped plant the seeds that led to Quaker Institute for the Future. We are pleased that QIF is now launching its own contribution to this Quaker pamphlet tradition. The first four pamphlets in this new series are now available – Fueling our Future, How on Earth Do We Live Now?, Genetically Modified Crops, and How Does Societal Transformation Happen?

Kenneth Boulding was a scientist and a poet. I think he knew that both streams of endeavor nourish a fully rounded approach to human betterment. QIF, likewise, while deeply concerned with objective data on the state of the world, and on how to intervene against the increasing potential of catastrophe, at the same time turns an open eye to the poetry of the Spirit that lifts our work into love. May Pendle Hill and QIF long fly this flag of Quaker contribution to human betterment.

Keith Helmuth

Keith Helmuth, a member of New Brunswick Monthly Meeting in Canada, is a founding member of the Board of Trustees of Quaker Institute for the Future, on which he serves as secretary.