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Welcome to this free online course on the beginnings of the Quaker movement. I’m Ben Pink Dandelion. And I look after the Quaker Studies courses at Lancaster University. I’ll be joined on this course by experts in early Quakerism, professor Hilary Hinds and Professor Angus Winchester from Lancaster and Dr. Betty Hagglund and Stuart Masters of Woodbrooke Quaker Studies Centre in Birmingham. Over the next three weeks, we’ll explore the key ideas of the early Quaker message, meet some of its leaders, particularly George Fox, Francis Howgill, and Margaret Fell, and tie these ideas and people in with the dramatic story of the birth of the group, as it unfolded in the Northwest of England in May and June 1652.
Fox’s message of the spiritual equality of all, the possibility of transformation and salvation in this life that accompanied the intimate encounter with God, and a radical understanding of how to live daily life was very appealing to people living in a time of political uncertainty and religious expectation. Quakerism would go on to become the most successful of the non-conformist sects of the 1650s. Estimates suggest that 1% of the population had become Quaker, rising to as much as 10% in some cities as Bristol by 1660. This course is divided into three week long sections, each dealing with a critical moment in that 1652 shift from loose network to coherent movement amongst the Quakers.
In this first week, we will look at the Civil War context that fuelled the appeal of the Quakers, George Fox’s key ideas, and his visionary experience at the top of Pendle Hill.
In week two, we’ll visit Sedbergh, the neighbouring hamlet of Brigflatts, and Firbank Fell, where Fox found so many converts hungry for his message. We’ll examine some of the key aspects of Quaker spirituality, its focus on the inward, and its hostility to organised Christianity, as well as hearing how travel was central to the spread of the Quaker faith. We’ll look also at why Quakerism was so popular and so unpopular.
And in week three, we go to Ulverston and hear how George Fox’s journey landed him at Swarthmore Hall, the home of Margaret Fell and how she became converted to the Quaker message. We’ll hear how important she was to the growth and development of Quakerism. We’ll look too at what happened next and what Quakerism looks like today as a global faith.
Each week contains films like this one, some accompanying readings of George Fox’s journal, a focus on a key text from the period to help us better understand the experience and message of early Quakerism, and some reflection exercises and quizzes. Myself, Hillary, Angus, Betty, and Stuart look forward to exploring with you the beginnings of Quakerism and this critical piece of religious history of a group who gathered around a radical, an outspoken spiritual message, that was to change the face of 1650s England and has since remained a distinctive part of the religious landscape.
Welcome to ‘Radical Spirituality: the early history of the Quakers’. This short video introduces the course.
You are not required to have any knowledge of the Quakers and the course is open to everyone. No prior knowledge is assumed.
During this three week course, you will encounter a range of study materials, including video talks and interviews with experts, readings, discussions, and quizzes. Many of our videos are filmed on location in the key settings of the birth of the Quaker movement in Lancashire and Westmorland (now Cumbria). We hope that the course will give you a strong sense of the importance of place for the birth of this radical spirituality.
The topics for the three weeks are as follows:
  • Week 1: The Vision – introducing George Fox, and his Pendle Hill Experience of May 1652
  • Week 2: Success – Brigflatts and Firbank Fell
  • Week 3: What Happened Next? – Swarthmoor Hall and Margaret Fell
Each week tells a key part of the story of the start of Quakerism and in the third week we also see what happened after 1650 and what the Quaker movement is like today.
You will find some useful files in the downloads section at the end of this page. These include:
  • a timeline of key events in Quaker history
  • biographies of the key people
  • some additional contextual notes and faqs about George Fox and Quaker history
You can work through the materials at your own pace and we encourage you to contribute to the discussions and other activities. You will notice that each step within a week is identified by the type of content contained within (such as video, article and so on). Each ‘step’, regardless of the specific type of content, contains a comment button that you are also encouraged to use in order to create conversation around the items. For content marked as ‘article’, there are often a number of open questions contained in the text, where you can use the comment tool as a method for responding.

Tagging your comments

Learning together is a strength of learning online with a large number of peers, but it will be impossible to read all the comments which interest you, so we have developed an interactive discovery tool to help you find new conversations that you may have missed.
In order to make this tool sort through comments effectively, we ask that you #hashtag important terms in your comments. For example if your comment is about #spirituality or #truth you may wish to add these as tags. Maybe your comment is about the #civilwar or a specific person such as #georgefox or #margaretfell – Feel free to make up your own tags too and be creative!! Later in the week you will see why we are doing this!!
After you have worked through a step, it’s a good idea to click the ‘mark as complete’ button, as this will allow you to track your progress through the materials.
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Radical Spirituality: the Early History of the Quakers

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