Who are the Quakers, what do they believe, and what do they practice? The Religious Society of Friends—also known as Quakers-—believes that everyone can have a direct experience of God. Quakers express this in a unique form of worship that inspires them to work for change in themselves and in the world. In The Spirit of the Quakers, Geoffrey Durham, himself a Friend, explains Quakerism through quotations from writings that cover 350 years, from the beginnings of the movement to the present day.
Peace and equality are major themes in the book, but readers will also find thought-provoking passages on the importance of action for social change, the primacy of truth, the value of simplicity, the need for a sense of community, and much more. The quoted texts convey a powerful religious impulse, courage in the face of persecution, the warmth of human relationships, and dedicated perseverance in promoting just causes.
The extended quotations have been carefully selected from well-known Quakers such as George Fox, William Penn, John Greenleaf Whittier, Elizabeth Fry and John Woolman, as well as many contemporary Friends. Together with Geoffrey Durham’s enlightening and sympathetic introductions to the texts, the extracts from these writers form an engaging, often moving guide to this accessible and open-hearted religious faith.
Durham is an English Quaker, "convinced" (the Quaker term for those not born to the faith) to join the faith in 1999. The book is fairly idiosyncratic in its organization. The lengthy history of Quakerism (begun around 1650) is covered in a four-page chronology. Durham's exposition introduces excerpts from major Quaker writers. This principle makes theoretical sense, since Quakers, known early as "publishers of truth," have been voluminous writers and journal-keepers. But major points get submerged; Quakerism has a notable history in America of objecting to the institution of slavery, for example, but that's not apparent in this book. Additional exposition would have better marshaled and provided context for the excerpted material. Durham's British roots and his affiliation with the unprogrammed wing of Quakerism also dramatically affect his selection of essential writers and even his timeline. Rufus Jones and William Penn are underrepresented; Richard Foster, a well-known evangelical Quaker, is altogether absent. Anthologies invariably evoke this kind of debate. Yet this is a disappointingly limited introduction for Americans. British Quakers may well be more satisfied.