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This content is taken from the Lancaster University & Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre 's online course, Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Quakerism changed after the 17th century. The sense of intimacy with God remained, but that sense of co-agency, over and against the world, started to fall away as Quakers became accepting and accepted by wider society. Gradually, the unusual forms of Quakerism also waned. Plain dress and plain speech fell out of use in the 19th century, for the most part. And tithes and oaths became less critical issues as the state gave non-conformists additional rights. Like many Christian groups, Quakerism has experienced divergence and schism over the years.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds And there are now Quakers who continue to worship in silence and stillness, and others– indeed, the vast majority– who, over the last 150 years, have adopted a pastoral system, and whose worship contains different elements, such as singing hymns or choruses, hearing a sermon or message, and vocal prayers and praise. Mission work from the 1860s has led to the growth of a global Quaker communion. And one third of all Quakers live in East Africa, with substantial numbers in Central and Southern America. Today Quakerism has half a million adherents in around 40 countries. The separate branches worship differently. And there are also theological and political differences. Some Quakers now rely heavily on scriptural authority instead of spiritual experience.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds Others have taken spiritual experience as the most important, to the point of downplaying a common theology, instead finding a variety of ways to describe their faith experience. Some of these Quakers may identify as Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim Quakers. And some prefer not to use the term God. There are still commonalities between the different kinds of Quakers, however. There is in all the traditions the idea of the direct encounter with God that goes back to George Fox’s 1647 experience. Indeed, the different forms of worship are designed to nurture that experience of encounter. Pastors don’t have any greater spiritual authority than anyone else. They simply have the spiritual gift to maximise the experience of worship.

Skip to 2 minutes and 50 seconds All Quaker groups have always tried to discern God’s guidance in their meetings, seeking unity through worship rather than voting. This practice is still shared by Quakers worldwide. And finally and importantly, peace and social justice work is still a priority for all Quaker groups. What began in 1652 did not have the dramatic nation changing consequences that Fox and Fell and their followers were sure would come within a decade. The second coming, or the Kingdom of Heaven, did not arrive as they expected. However, Quakerism has been able to adapt itself to changed circumstances and a changed sense of vision.

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds Quakers have been able to harness their spiritual energies to work within wider society and continue today to be a distinctive and respected part of the religious landscape. For the Quakers themselves, hundreds return every year to the landscape of 1652 country to learn, as we have done on this course, about the events of that amazing summer.

Quakerism Today

In this video, we hear about the way Quakerism has become a global faith with different branches separated by theological emphases but joined by a strong Quaker heritage.

The counter-cultural days and ways of behaving have been left behind but Quakers still hold distinctive theological ideas and remain committed to peace and social justice.

Does anything surprise you in what you have heard? What questions do you have about present-day Quakerism? Please post them in the comments section.

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This video is from the free online course:

Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers

Lancaster University