The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism

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Stephen W. Angell, Pink Dandelion
Cambridge Companions to Religion
  • Cambridge, England: 
    Cambridge University Press
    , April
     404 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


A publishing renaissance has occurred in Quaker studies in the 21st century as Quaker thought and practice has become a lively new field of research. Recent titles are no longer insular conversations between Quaker scholars; they are printed by mainstream academic presses for a wide audience of researchers in diverse fields of study. The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism is the most recent example, and the most useful resource on all things Quaker in its breadth and multi-disciplinary approach. It is the most concise, yet comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and up-to-date guide to Quaker faith and practice in its diverse contemporary manifestations.

The strength of this handbook lies in two areas: the combination of established and emerging scholars, including a set of regional and case studies by non-western scholars/practitioners, the first of its kind; and its exploration of emerging spiritualities, including the recent development of “Convergent Friends” drawn together through the wide use of social media.  

An overarching theme of The Cambridge Companion is how a small, culturally-specific historical faith with a strong tendency to preserve its radical, counter-cultural tradition can yet have a strong proclivity for change, adapting and evolving into a wide array of religious branches, spiritual expressions, and humanitarian organizations. In part this is due to the dual focus of the Quaker heritage, which as one contributor notes, “is one of both universalism and Christian particularity: the Light that enlightens everyone was understood as the Light of Christ that entered human history” (273). Another dynamic appearing in many of the chapters reveals how a denomination that remains a small, outlier group can continue to have an impact beyond its numbers within diverse contexts, attracting adherents from vastly different cultures and theological/political perspectives. 

The book is structured into four parts. Part 1 provides a compact, up-to-date history of Quaker faith and practice from its mid-17th century radical origins to the diverse global Quakerism of today. Part 2 details a variety of expressions of Quaker faith, including literature, social witness, environmentalism, peacemaking, education, and material culture, which will interest the specialist in these topics. Part 3, regional and global studies, includes lesser-known varieties of Quakerism, many not previously researched. Part 4, emerging spiritualities, describes the wide divergence of contemporary Quaker thought and practice, as well as some recent trends toward convergence among Friends from various branches. 

For readers who want to explore the intricacies of early Quaker history or different interpretative theories, this text will provide only a brief introduction and they will need to consult other studies for more in depth analysis. An overview of three hundred and sixty years of the movement’s turbulent and complex history is covered in just three condensed chapters. But The Cambridge Companion uniquely integrates historical developments in localized forms in its case studies of regional cultures, in particular the non-Western forms shaped by the evangelical zeal, paternalism, and colonialism of Quaker missionaries, but also at times by the “unaided discovery of Quaker spirituality.” These studies will introduce the reader to little known personalities in non-Western corners of the world-wide Quaker family, and a colorful Quakerism generally far removed from the traditional silent Quaker meeting of its origins. The regional studies of non-Western Quakers includes a survey and history, the first of its kind, of Quakers in Southeast Asia written by an Asian scholar.

This study underlines in dramatic ways the steady decline in mainline Protestant denominations in the West, even in its non-conformist forms, such as Quakerism. It confirms the rapid rise of Quakerism in Africa and Latin America, and parts of Asia where almost all of the growth is occurring in unapologetically evangelical churches (40% of the world’s Quakers live and worship in Kenya). The chapter on “Quakers in Europe and the Middle East” provides an interesting case study of Norwegian Quakerism, which like British Quakerism is liberal and primarily focused on political and humanitarian concerns. While active and robust, these meetings nevertheless remain quite small, as do most European Yearly meetings.

One regional study that is unexpectedly excluded, particularly in light of current Middle Eastern conflicts, interfaith dialogue, and peace activism, is Palestinian Quakerism. Quakers have a fascinating history in the Middle East that can be traced back to the 17th century. Surprisingly, the chapter on “Quakers in Europe and the Middle East” contains only one brief paragraph on Middle Eastern Quakerism, marking an unfortunate omission in what is an otherwise comprehensive survey of global Quakerism. 

The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism vividly demonstrates the process of secularization and the effect of pluralism within modern Quakerism. The historical section in part 1 clearly establishes that the early Quaker movement had strong Christian beliefs, with radical, biblical, mystical, and missional roots, yet today in its country of origin, England, and in North America and Europe, we see a gradual secularization in Quakerism, with trends toward post-Christian theology, non-theism, and religious hybridity. Regional studies, along with emerging spiritualities and intra-Quaker ecumenism, demonstrate forcefully how modern pluralism affects a particular religious tradition, influencing both individual adherents and its different branches and spiritual communities, enabling them to choose certain aspects or trajectories of the tradition that they agree with, while ignoring others. But on the positive side, this study reveals that even with entirely different worldviews and value systems Quakers can remain true at least to a few of the core traditions, and still be connected to the wider world of the Quaker family. Whether this loyalty to the denomination will continue in the future among the most divergent ends of the Quaker spectrum is still unknown.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Carole Dale Spencer is Adjunct Professor of Spiritual Formation at the Portland Seminary at George Fox University.

Date of Review: 
September 17, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Stephen W. Angell is Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at the Earlham School of Religion, Indiana. He has published extensively in the areas of Quaker Studies and African-American Religious Studies.

Pink Dandelion directs the work of the Centre for Research in Quaker Studies, Woodbrooke and is Professor of Quaker Studies at the University of Birmingham and a Research Fellow at Lancaster University.�e is the author and editor of a number of books, most recently (with Stephen W. Angell), Early Quakers and their Theological Thought (Cambridge, 2015).


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