The Quaker World

Edited by C. Wess Daniels and Rhiannon Grant. Routledge, 2022. 542 pages. $250/hardcover; $56.95/eBook.

The Quaker World is a remarkable volume that could not have been published in an earlier time. It is an example of making the road while walking it. The road here is the road toward critical histories of Quakerism and Quaker heroes that embraces complexity of narrative as well as inclusion of insights of lesser-celebrated Friends. It is also a road toward a coherent convergence of the experiences and theologies present in our communities. This volume transcends our capacity for schism, giving nuanced attention to both Evangelical Friends and Liberal Friends. It also transcends hagiographic tendencies among Friends, telling surprising stories of empire in Quaker history alongside stories of personal frailty and victory.

Bravely life-affirming on a grand scale, The Quaker World does not stand alone, however; it is a sizable contribution to a larger road-building project toward a vibrant Quakerism that celebrates our real lives with one another: something that can be described as a resistance to the values of what Quakers historically referred to as “the world.” Ours are lives that challenge. In this new movement, our lives challenge one another and question the ways in which “the world” is also a part of the Quaker community.

In Mary Crauderueff’s chapter “Dismantling White Supremacy in Quaker Archives: A Case Study,” for instance, we see a case study in this new work. Crauderueff says that her work to address racism in a Quaker context will “take time, persistence, and resistance to the status quo.” The Quaker World may well be an introduction to the work of Friends active in this movement of resistance.

The Quaker World grounds itself provocatively—and for many of us, unfamiliarly—in the global experience of Quakers, as opposed to the more common grounding of the seventeenth-century European experience of the Valiant Sixty. To do so exposes the reader to Quaker lives and contributions that are primarily not those of White people but the lives and contributions of Quakers in Africa, South America, and Asia. Quakerism in these contexts is a product of White mission work—problematic in clear ways—and of a conversation between mature theologies converging in new and exciting ways.

The first of three sections that make up this heavy volume begins with an exploration of African theologies,  as they existed long before European colonial powers entered those lands. Indeed Robert J. Wafula, the author of this first chapter, asserts there was a robust African egalitarianism that predated any Quaker theology of equality by hundreds of years. A new question emerges: how much is global Quakerism influenced by this conversation between the theologies of the world, and how does this disrupt White supremacy culture?

On the topic of the Valiant Sixty, we have the example of Elizabeth Fletcher, a child who was violently assaulted during her Quaker-supported call to ministry, as recounted by contributor Barbara Schell Luetke. Typically remembered as one of many Quakers persecuted in the seventeenth century, Fletcher seems different in this portrayal, more three dimensional: a real 14-year-old beaten so badly by seminarians that she never fully recovered, not quite under any adult’s care, not quite anyone’s beloved child. The question emerging here is about how we are called to protect those under our care as if they are truly beloved to us, and one might well ask: where have we not made amends, and how can we now make them?

Are other Quakers, with different theologies or practice, really Quaker? This is a perennial question asked in public space. In Stewart David Yarlett’s chapter, the answer is yes. Exploring what he calls “typical assumptions” about the mystical experience being beyond words, Yarlett concludes that we are called to be more “self-aware” and move “beyond the labels and oppositional conceptual framework of the theism-nontheism divide” into something perhaps unstable. The question emerging here: Is not a lack of stability at the heart of the mystical experience? How do our meetings embrace and nurture new, destabilizing insight?

New, destabilizing insight can be gained about luminaries, such as Thomas Kelly, who suffered from profound mental illness that was relieved only through mystical experience that followed a devastating personal failure. After having found success through communicating this experience, he died immediately of a heart attack, happily drying dishes near his wife on the “greatest day of [his] life,” the day in 1941 that he learned that his A Testament of Devotion had found a publisher.

But the lives explored in The Quaker World are also not primarily those of long dead ancestors throughout  the world but of living new voices in Quaker scholarship and ministry. Indeed many of the 61 chapters are written by Friends emerging as leaders in recent years, alongside Friends whose names might be better known to readers of Quaker theology and history. It is a road of opportunity being built by scholars and ministers linking arms, as well as stories that surprise, challenge, and delight. That these voices are emerging now is the reason this volume could not have been compiled in an earlier time.

One might ask: How many introductions to Quakerism do we need? Certainly we have been introduced to the history and practices of Quakerism many times. But what is different about each inspiring introduction is the way some new facet of what it means to be in Quaker community is shown. Each text allows the facets of Quakerism to glow in new light. The Quaker World is one such inspiring introduction, but it is less an introduction to the seasoned Quaker than it is an invitation to truly live with Quakerism, as it is for individual people and as it is for diverse communities all over the world. It is also an invitation to co-create and embody Quakerism now. One has a sense of vitality reading The Quaker World. Indeed, one reason to explore history is to let it free us into something new. Given the high list price, I suggest meeting libraries view The Quaker World as an investment—one that will prompt discussion and learning for years to come.

Windy Cooler, a member of Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting, describes herself as a practical theologian, public minister, good Quaker pirate, and cultural worker. She is currently the convener of Life and Power, a discernment project on abuse in Quaker community.

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6 thoughts on “The Quaker World

    1. Of course you’re probably aware that the editors did not price the book, nor do we have control over it. This part is out of our control and we wish it were different, but I don’t believe it should diminish the voices in this book, it just calls for some creativity in how to get a hold of it. We have been encouraging monthly meetings and libraries to buy the hard-cover or get the ebook, which is more reasonable considering the book is 61 chapters and over 500 pages. The paperback will likely be out in the spring, if you prefer to wait.

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