Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Steve Angell answers a Quaker Questionnaire

College student Samantha Siebert reached out to ESR's Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies Stephen Angell to complete a questionnaire on Quakerism for a project in her religion class. Below are her questions and his responses. Do you think he got all of the answers right?

Quaker Questionnaire

Thank you for taking the time to do this questionnaire. Please fill out each question to the best of your knowledge.

1.      Please describe your affiliation with/connection to the Quaker religion?
I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

2.      To the best of your knowledge, when was the Quaker religion founded?
The middle of the 17th century (about 1650).

3.      Please describe a typical Quaker service. What takes place? Is there a spiritual or prayer leader? What role does that person play in the service? What is that person called?
It varies from place to place. In some locales, such as the area of Philadelphia, the group meets in silence. If some one is given a message from God, they are free to share that with the group, but then the group returns to the silence. The role of the leader is to close the worship by shaking hands. She or he has no title. In other parts of the world, there is often a pastor who leads the Quaker worship. A short period of silence may be included in the worship, but generally there are lots of hymns, prayers, and a sermon.

4.      What is the house of worship in the Quaker religion called?
Sometimes it is called a meetinghouse. Sometimes it has been called a church.

5.      Does the Quaker religion have a formal liturgy? IF YES, how, if at all, has it changed since the religion was founded? Has it become more or less structured/formalized?
There is no simple answer to this question. (But see my answer to question 3.) Books have been written on it. (Pink Dandelion, Liturgies of Quakerism).

6.      What are the principle teachings/ethics of the Quaker religion?
The Quaker religion is often considered to be centered on certain testimonies that all Quakers believe in, but they may interpret differently. The testimonies are often listed as Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality.

7.      Do Quakers believe that humans can encounter God? If yes, how?
Yes. Most often Quakers encounter God in the silence, where they hear a “still small voice.” See I Kings 19:12.

8.      Where did the name "Quakers" come from?
In 1650, the founder, George Fox, on trial accused of blasphemy, told his judges that he quaked in the presence of the Lord. One Judge Hotham said, in derision, “Oh, you’re a Quaker.”

9.      Do Quakers believe in an afterlife? Reincarnation? Something else? Nothing at all? Please explain.
There is a diversity of views on these matters among Quakers.

10.  Do Quakers believe in Karma? Please explain.
Karma, being a Hindu or Buddhist concept, might attract some Quakers who are attracted to those religions. Belief in karma, however, is not deeply rooted in Quakerism.

11.  How do Quakers view people from other religions?
Quakers believe that all have the Light of God within them. That includes members of other religions.

12.  How does one become a member of the Quaker religion? Is there any sort of special rite of entry or a ceremony?
This varies from place to place, but one way this happens is that when a person requests membership in a Quaker meeting, a clearness committee is appointed to meet with them. The committee makes its recommendation to the whole meeting. If the meeting approves, they are a member.

13.  What is the Quakers’ stance on modern issues such as gay marriage or the death penalty?
Quakers are generally opposed to the death penalty. There is no agreed-upon stance on gay marriage. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends has approved its support of gay marriage, but some other yearly meetings oppose it, while others still have no position at all on the matter.

14.  Are there any issues, such as military service and taking oaths that Quakers oppose? If yes, why?
Quakers have historically opposed military service. Jesus has told us to love our enemies; it seems to us that loving them means not killing them, but finding constructive ways to resolve our differences. Quakers have also opposed taking oaths, because swearing on the Bible does not make something more true than it would be otherwise. Quakers regard it as a central point of life that we should always tell the truth.

15.  Are there aspects of a Quaker school that are different from a non-religious school?
There are plenty of Quaker schools in your area. Why don’t you go visit one and decide for yourself?

16.  If you could use one word to describe what being a Quaker means, what would it be?

17.  Do you think the number of Quakers will grow in the future or decline? Why?
In some parts of the world Quakers are growing, and in some parts declining. There are no simple answers as to why. Social and cultural factors undoubtedly play a part. In general, Quakers aren’t worried. If we listen to what God wants for us to do, that is enough. We must be faithful.

Want to learn more about Quakers? Be sure to check out ESR's Quaker Information Center:


  1. Lots of good responses. Thank you for sharing this.

    In some respects Britain Yearly Meeting is somewhat more unified. For example, it would be unusual to refer to a Friends' Meeting House as a church. British Friends appear to be much more supportive of gay marriage, and, along with the Unitarians, have led the way in Britain. British Friends would wish to include people of no faith amongst those who have within them "that of God".

    On the other hand, British Friends manifest a strong diversity of views about God, the role of the Hebrew and Christian bibles, and the significance of Jesus of Nazareth: there are those Friends whose beliefs are indistinguishable from (the range of) Anglican beliefs; there are Friends whose background is not Christian (such as Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist), and there are Friends, like myself, who are non-theist. Another area of diversity in Britain Yearly Meeting is the extent to which we are called to be political in our everyday lives. Few British Quakers would deny that the essence of Quakerism is 'faith in action' - that is, it is not merely about belief, but choosing to act on that belief. However, there is wide range of positions about how publicly that action should be manifested. For example, I brought 'a concern' to the Business Meeting for Worship last Sunday, regarding growing economic inequality in Britain. The Meeting shared my concern, and we shall hold a silent vigil for economic equality in the centre of Canterbury next March. Not all Quaker Meetings in Britain would be so eager to demonstrate their faith in this way.

    I hope that what I have written is of interest.

  2. Thank you, Peter Hughes, for such a heartfelt and eloquent statement of basic Quaker beliefs from your standpoint as a British Friend. I especially appreciate your characterization of Quakerism as "faith in action" and your example given about your concern regarding economic inequality. This has indeed been a vital part, even the center, of Quaker faith since the beginning. Thank you for your faithful witness.