Accepted paper:

Vernacular Quakerism and the certainty of uncertainty


Peter Collins (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I intend to describe and discuss the challenges faced by British Quakers, who manage the ambiguities of their belief and practice through a constant process of negotiation and readjustment, in the absence of a guiding credal statement.

Paper long abstract:

British Quakerism, a faith group known more formally as the Religious Society of Friends grew up in seventeenth century England, in the midst of the English Civil War. These were uncertain times, socially, politically, religiously, and it is likely that such uncertainty was constitutive of both the belief and practice of the group. In adopting a historical perspective I intend to shed light on the shape of vernacular Quakerism in contemporary Britain. Fundamental to their position is their continued eschewal of credal statements. While this facilitates both an extraordinary freedom of belief and openness of debate it has also fixed a form of liturgy which has changed little in 350 years. Drawing primarily on an ethnographic study of a single Quaker Meeting (congregation) I will indicate the ways in which participants manage the ambiguities and indeterminacies that populate their religious and spiritual lives.

panel W087
Dealing with doubts, putting to test: the importance of uncertainty in vernacular religion