Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This Silence Gets us Nowhere: Key Symbols and Anglo-American Quakerism

Once upon a time in an academic galaxy far far away I was a Biblical Studies student. When I first matriculated at university I imagined that one day I would grow up to be a Biblical Studies teacher at a major research university in a land not so far far away.

My interest in Biblical Studies developed out of an interest I had in religion in general. The first class I took at university was a 400 level Comparative Religion course with the brilliant and tough Dr. Andrae at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. In that class I met two brilliant students who became good friends, Duane Stigen and Russell Todd, and I learned about academic “higher” Biblical criticism and developed an interest in Biblical Studies as a result.

It was, in retrospect, quite odd that I became a Religious Studies major when I entered university. I was not religious. Nor was my family religious. We were secular Jews. My interest in religion initially had a political source. I became involved in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements when I was a student at T.W. Browne Junior High School in Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas, thanks to my friend John Cirillo. By the time I entered college I had become interested in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) because of its peace testimony. Christians who were peace niks? I suppose I thought that perhaps religious ideology could be used to promote peace in a world in which there was far too many wars. I thus started to attend Quaker meetings now and again though I never really joined. I am not a joiner. Like Mark Twain I could never join a group that would have me as a member.

My interest in Quakerism, and the other peace churches including the Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren, continued long after I gave up the dream of becoming a Biblical Studies scholar. Once I recognized that the Quaker utopian fantasy of converting the world to peace was pie in the sky I became more and more enamoured of Anabaptist separatism. I came to agree with Reinhold Niebuhr and John Howard Yoder that the only viable pacifist Christianity was one that separated from the world and created an alternative beloved community of peace and justice. That hope too was soon dashed as I quickly recognised that it was impossible to escape the "fallen" world of hate, war, perverse ideologies, environmental destruction, and self absorbed narcissism.

Despite my disillusion with worldly Quakerism I still maintained an academic interest in the Society of Friends and wrote my master’s thesis in Anthropology at SUNY Albany on seventeenth century English Quakerism. But I now began to think that my calling, my vocation, was to be a student of American Protestantism with an interest in the role mainstream Protestantism played in the social and cultural construction of American civil religion, of American ideology.

Given my interest in culture and ideology and Quakerism it was almost inevitable that I read Richard Bauman’s book on Quaker key symbols. This paper, written sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is a result of my reflections on Bauman’s work, a work I thought missed the real key symbols at the heart of Quakerism. Needless to say, this paper shows the influence of Max Weber, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Clifford Geertz, Jean Baudrillard, and Roland Barthes on my intellectual life.

Since the 1930s Symbolic Anthropology has been one of the more prominent anthropological approaches to human life in all of its variety. This approach has not only influenced anthropologists, it has also proven to be been influential in the discipline of History. Historians including Keith Thomas, Robert Darnton, Lynn Hunt, Peter Burke, Natalie Zemon Davis, Dickson Bruce, Mary Ryan, and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg have all been influenced by the symbolic anthropologies of Clifford Geertz or Victor Turner.

One major aspect of symbolic anthropology has been its attempt to delineate key cultural symbols. Key symbols are symbolic of a society or a culture. They reveal in summary form the essence of a culture and society. They provide analysts a way into the collective mentalities of social groups. Leading figures in the field like Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, and Sherry Ortner, have (as academics are wont to do) proposed definitions of key, dominant, or core symbol and applied these definitions to the study of a variety of societies and cultures worldwide.

In her work Sherry Ortner excavates the history of the idea of key symbols and explores the varying definitions given to it since social scientists like Ruth Benedict began to use such an approach in the years before and after the Second World War.

Ortner offers a typology of key symbols. She asserts that symbols can be categorised into two general types (both lying on a continuum): summarising symbols and elaborating symbols. Summarising symbols are symbols which sum up or represent for the participants, in an emotionally powerful and relatively undifferentiated way, what their society or culture means to them. Summarising symbols are sacred symbols in the widest sense, objects of reverence and/or catalysts of emotion (e.g., the flag, the cross, and so on). Elaborating symbols, on the other hand, are vehicles for sorting out complex and undifferentiated feelings and ideas in such a way as to make them comprehensible to oneself, communicable to others, and translatable into orderly action. These types of symbols are central to a culture because of their capacity to order experience. The key status of these symbols is due primarily to their recurrence in cultural behaviour or cultural symbolic systems.

There are two forms of elaborating symbols: root metaphors and key scenarios. The former are those which have great conceptual elaborating power. They are the source of categories for conceptualising the world (e.g., the image of the wheel in Sherpa culture). Key scenarios, on the other hand, imply mechanisms for successful social action (e.g., the American Horatio Alger success myth).

Another approach to key symbols is that of Victor Turner. Turner defines symbols as things which refer to something other than themselves. Symbols are characterised by multiple meanings or multivocality, the interconnection of distinct signs or meaning units through analogy or association, the simultaneous representation of many ideas, relations between things, actions, interactions, and transactions, and binary grouping at opposed semantic poles.

Like Ortner, Turner argues that symbols lie on a continuum. On one end of this symbolic continuum are moral or ideological symbols. At the other end are sensory symbols. Turner asserts that we can discern within each symbol system a nucleus of dominant symbols which are characterised by extreme multivocality and a central position in ritual performance.

A number of dependent symbols are associated, in turn, with the dominant symbol. Dominant symbols represent sets of fundamental themes and are learned by members of the culture through repetition, variation, and contrast. Around such symbols one will find symbolic objects, activities, gestures, social relationships between actors of ritual roles, and a variety of verbal behaviour forms (prayers, formulas, chants, songs, recitation of sacred narratives, etc.).

One interesting recent attempt to delineate the key symbols of a culture and society is that of linguist and folklorist Richard Bauman. In his book Let Your Words be Few, Bauman focuses on the key symbols of seventeenth century English Quakerism.

Quakerism arose in an England experiencing great social, political, and economic upheaval in the late 1640s and early 1650s (all of which historian Christopher Hill traces to the rise of early capitalism). The English Revolution was a period of political turmoil. It began with the overthrow of King Charles I, an overthrow that would lead to Charles' execution in 1649, by aristocrats, merchants and a group of sectarian Christians (the Puritans) who wanted to purify the state-church of its Catholic accretions and return the faith to its primitive form. The revolt against the King undermined monarchical or aristocratic control of the state and led to a diminishment of the forces of social control. In this context a number of groups came out from underground. Christian groups such as the Puritans and a number of far more radical Christian and non-Christian sects emerged from the relative safety of the underground and began expressing their views and evangelising for them. Unlike the Calvinist Puritans who saw law and political institutions as institutions necessary for the control human sin, the radical sects were perfectionist proponents of human freedom. Amongst these radical sects were the Levellers, the Diggers, Fifth Monarchists, the Ranters, and the Religious Society of Friends.

The Levellers power base was the army. They urged agrarian reform specifically the opening up of more enclosed land to the poor, security of tenures for copyholders, religious toleration, and legal reform. Levellers believed everyone was equal before the law. They opposed tithes (the state levied tax for support of the priesthood), conscription, excise, privileges for peers, corporations, and trading companies. They were critical of the priests of the state-church and opposed any form of state-church. Levellers were constitutional republicans who favoured the extension of the franchise to all but wage labourers and the poor. They asserted that sovereignty lay with the people and their representatives in the House of Commons. They proposed a new social contract, the "Agreement of the People" in which the franchise would be extended to every free man who approved of this new constitution. Wage labourers would be excluded from voting except for those who fought for the Parliament. Taking note of increasing Puritan political power the Levellers, more than anything else, wanted a piece of the political pie. They wanted to play a similar role in the governance of the new England.

The more radical Diggers emphasised "reason" (believing it to dwell in all men), universal liberty, and equality. Some Diggers denied the existence of God. Others emphasised the freedom that "perfection" brought believing themselves bound only by the pure law of righteousness that existed before "the Fall". Most favoured the extension of the franchise to all men, favoured the abolition of wage labour, opposed tithes, and opposed the state-church. At the time and undoubtedly today, Diggers are best known for their communal ideology and practise. They advocated that land confiscated from the church, the crown, and the royalists be given to the poor. Diggers believed freedom to lie in the free use of the earth and argued that the cultivation of the commons be communal. As a protest against the omnipresence of hunger, particularly amongst the poor, Diggers occupied (usually aristocratic) land and attempted to establish the communes they dreamed of on it.

As one can imagine Digger actions were met with hostility by the powers, particularly the aristocrats on whose land they "squatted". Diggers were harassed, attacked, and boycotted. After their demise some of Diggers, including the infamous Gerrard Winstanley, joined the Religious Society of Friends.

The most political of the sectarian groups was the Fifth Monarchists. Fifth Monarchists were an apocalyptic group who believed that the reign of Christ was about to begin. They asserted that Christ was about to accomplish what political action had not and that the mission of God's elect (Fifth Monarchists, of course) was to eliminate hindrances to Christ's rule on earth. Fifth Monarchists rejected all eartly states and rulers and threatened to overthrow the governments of England several times between 1657 and 1661.

The Ranters were an individualistically oriented group that was anti-monarchical, anti-elitist, and anti-rich. They favoured the abolition of the clergy tax and the abolition of the state-church. Ranters believed in human perfection and that their sinless state made them free from the law. They emphasised the role of the law within which they (like the later Quakers) called the "Divine Light" (though not all Ranters gave this a Christian or even religious meaning). Ranters saw "love" as liberatory and denied the existence of an afterlife. A number of prominent Ranters later became Quakers.

Finally, there was the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers, like many of their radical contemporaries, were anti-monarchical, anti-elitist, anti-clerical, anti-rich, and perfectionist, believing themselves free of sin and the law. Quakers trace their origins to the preaching of the charismatic George Fox. The itinerant Fox preached a radically egalitarian conception of Christianity. He believed that God, in the form of the "Divine light", "the Light within", "the Christ within", "the seed of God", "the pure seed" inhabited every man and woman and had the potential to guide those who attended to that childlike "still voice within" toward the "Christ-like life" (the image of Christ). Fox refused to take oaths and to serve in the military.

The egalitarianism inherent in Fox's conception of the "Inner light" impacted Quakerism in a number of ways. It led Friends to conceive of the ministry in egalitarian terms (the "priesthood of all believers"). All Quakers, whether male or female, regarded themselves as potential ministers and prophesiers of the "Word of God". For Quakers there was no Biblical or spiritual justification for a special priestly caste singularly endowed with a unique relationship with God. Rather, "priestcraft", like other hierarchies, was one aspect of the Church's and worlds fall into error (Roman Catholicism as fallen). Quakers, in a move that was not to win them many friends, prominent or otherwise, urged all Christians abolish this perverse and unbiblical form of ministry.

This notion of a fallen church as well as anti-clericism (Quaker opposition to the "hireling ministry" of the state-church) and opposition to state churches led Friends to create their own worship spaces. Quaker worship took place in homes and later in simple "meeting houses" (as they called their churches). As in Quaker culture in general, Friends made anti-symbolism a symbol in their "meeting houses". Quaker "meeting houses" were free of all forms of "idolatry". Christian symbols such as crosses, baptismal founts, altars separating the priest from the worshippers, were regarded by the Society as priestly creations instituted after "the Fall" and were thus forbidden.

Quakers saw all of these symbols as unnecessary given their constant communion with the "Christ within" (Quakers as perfectionist). Why, they argued, do we need "outward" "baptism" when we have "inward" spirit "baptism". Why do we need "outward" "communion" when our relationship with the "Spirit within" means we are in constant communion with God and Christ through the Holy Spirit?

Quaker "meeting for worship" was also novel and also reflected Quaker anti-symbolism symbolism. "Convinced" Friends and "Seekers" came together every "First Day" (Sunday) to worship (Quakers regarded the terms used for the days of the week as idolatrous and so refused to use them) to sit in a square, silent, eyes generally closed, waiting for the "Spirit" to "move" them to "speak" "preach", or "prophesy" (all of which Friends regarded as intertwined and interrelated).

The "plainess" which characterised Quaker "meeting houses" was also embodied in Quaker dress and speech. Quakers opposed any form of dress that distinguished one Friend from another. They also opposed the use of language which reflected the status and class differentials of seventeenth century England.

Quakers refused to use common greetings and leave-takings such as "you" and "we", preferring instead "thee" and "thou". In seventeenth century English life greetings and leave takings were embedded in rules of use which were intimately tied to status, i.e., to notions of superior, equal, or inferior. One was supposed to address one's "superiors" as "you" and ones inferiors as "thee" and "thou". Friends opposed this practise and refused to use the singular "you" in interactions with their social and cultural superiors. They used "thee" and "thou" when addressing everyone. In another act of symbolic terrorism against ones "betters" Quakers refused to doff their hats to "weighty" members of British society.

Apocalyptic rhetoric and apocalyptically oriented action was another important aspect of early English Quakerism between the late1640s and the late 1660s. Quakers believed that "the Day of the Lord" was at hand, and that this would lead to "loftiness of men [being] laid low". In the world transformed the strong, they believed, would be laid low while the meek would inherit the earth.

Quaker certainty that the world was about to be remade gave rise to a number of (controversial) symbolic body actions. One of these was "going naked as a sign". "Going naked as a sign" involved a symbolic performance in which Friends would go into the "abominable" churches of the English state and prophesy about the coming "Day of Judgement" in the nude. To Quakers "going naked as a sign" was an embodiment of the fact that everyone, regardless of their social or cultural status, would be equally and accordingly, judged by God after the world had been "turned upside down". Neither wealth nor social status, they believed, would save those who lived in the finest homes, dressed in the highest of fashion, and who were adorned with titles and honours, from the judgement of God in the "last days".

Protesting in the nude was not the only form of Quaker symbolic "violence". Another form of Quaker symbolic action saw Friends clothing themselves in "sackcloth and ashes". Friends would attend "meeting for worship", religious revivals, or go to marketplaces and proclaim, in embodied symbolic form, that the world was about to be "laid low".

Still another performance involved "quaking". Quaker apocalyptic prophesying during "meeting" or at outdoor religious revivals or marketplaces often was characterised by Quaker shaking or "quaking" under the influence of the "Holy Spirit", the "voice within". It was from this embodied expression of the "Holy Spirit" that Quakers would get perhaps their most recognisable name.

Perhaps the most famous symbolic performance undertaken by any Friend in the early years of the group was James Naylor's ill-fated ride into Bristol in 1651. Drawing on New Testament descriptions of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem for Passover (with a large pinch of apocalypticism thrown in for good measure), Naylor, resplendent in robes and with Christ-like long hair, rode into Bristol on an ass surrounded by followers many young women amongst them. The ride apparently meant to symbolise the coming cataclysm that would "lay low" the high and the fact that Christ was present within everyone. The powers that were (predictably) weren't all that taken with Naylor's symbolic performance and they very quickly had him arrested. He was tried, sentenced, and brutally tortured for his act of symbolic "terrorism".

Naylor wasn't the only Friend persecuted and viciously mobbed for such actions. Quaker symbolic actions (as well as the activities of other radical groups) and the mobbing and persecution they aroused frightened the powers that be. Combined with the Quaker refusal to pay tithe-taxes, to attend state church services, to take communion, as well as Quaker lobbying and petitioning of Parliament (for the abolition of tithes, religious reform, legal reform, the abolishment of universities, action against evil Catholic Spain and France, and for political reform) these inherently political acts led authorities to take action against the (perceived) Quaker threat to the political, economic, landed, and religious social order of seventeenth century England. The fear of Quakers (as well as other radical groups like the Diggers and Ranters) evident among the ruling elite of seventeenth century England became so tangible that it eventually led to a reconciliation between anti-royalist aristocrats, merchants and Presbyterians (i.e., Puritans), on one side, and their royalist opponents on the other. Together they brought England back from what they considered to be the brink by reestablishing royal rule to the "blessed isle".

Thousands of Quakers were imprisoned for their actions and beliefs. Many were brutally tortured. This persecution was so intense that Friends formed the first executive body in their history to deal with the persecutions, the "Meetings for Suffering. "Meeting for Sufferings" recorded the "sufferings" of imprisoned and persecuted Friends and aided them in their misery as much as they could.

Richard Bauman's linguistically and symbolically sensitive historical anthropology attempts to isolate the key symbols of this political and religious group and movement. He does this by paying (as one would expect from someone who has emphasized linguistic anthropology over the course of his academic career) great attention to the situated use of language in everyday life. For Bauman, language, culture, and society are interrelated and intertwined themselves and with other aspects of human life--political, social, organisational, religious, ideological.

According to Bauman the interrelationship between linguistic, cultural, and social factors becomes clear when one focuses on means of speech such as discourse. For Bauman, discourse is a linguistic variable in which speech style is associated with some particular group or social category, or with some linguistic variable associated with particular contexts and/or genres, i.e., registers. For Bauman it is in key symbols, the richest and most powerful symbols of a discursive group, that one can see most clearly this intertwining of culture, society, and language.

To get at Quaker key symbols Bauman focuses on seventeenth century Quaker speech acts. Bauman asserts that speech acts which are drawn together into a unified and systematically organised frame of reference with settings, goals, genres of communicative means, principles of interpretation and evaluation, and social interactional ground rules, allow the delineation of the key symbols of the Society of Friends, and the ideology which underlies them.

Bauman asserts that the key symbols of seventeenth century English Quakerism were "speaking" and "silence". He points to the ideological importance of waiting in "silence" for the "still voice within" to "move" one to "speak", "preach", "prophesy", or to act. He argues that "speaking" and "silence" expressed itself in all aspects of Quaker thought, behaviour, and organisation. The "Divine Light" spoke out of that "still silence within" and gave individual Friends a testimonies and calling. An individual Quaker's belief that he or she was called to "preach", "prophesy", or "act" came out of the silence. "Going naked as a sign" was a product of divine speech heard in the context of silent worship. Finally the structure of Quaker meetings for worship involved sitting silently in a square, with eyes closed, waiting upon the voice of God to speak out of the silence of worship.

For Bauman, "speaking" and "silence" then constituted seventeenth century English Quaker beliefs, action, and organisation. In other words, speaking and silence gave birth to Quaker culture and Quaker society. Quaker speech and non-speech intertwined to construct Quaker culture and society. They created Quaker meetings. They constructed Quaker worship. They gave birth to Quaker action.

While fully agreeing with Bauman that language, culture, and society interrelate and intertwine, questions inevitably arise as to whether it is language and speech acts, in this instance the key Quaker symbols of "speaking" and "silence", that constructed Quaker culture and society. Can one reduce culture and society to speech acts?

I would argue that it is not language, but ideology (the glue which holds a collectivity together and allows it to speak to itself about itself), along with other cultural (language, theology, philosophy, legal speculation, historical speculation), biological (culture embodied), and social (political, religious, economic, legal) factors which made Quakerism, Quakerism and Quakers, Quakers.

Bauman's contention that language constitutes the cultural and the social, in fact, leads him to miss or ignore a number of factors which are critical for an understanding of seventeenth century English Quakerism and other social groups for that matter. Seventeenth century Quakers, for instance, drew on a number of cultural scripts current in their thought-world. They drew on the Norman Yoke script, a set of philosophical and legal speculations which asserted that England, prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066, had been a representative democracy. They drew on the belief that there had been a pure God-given, Edenic language spoken by Adam and Eve in the paradisiacal Garden of Eden. They drew on historical studies of primitive Christianity which asserted that early Christianity had been egalitarian, communalistic, non-hierarchical, and Holy Spirit led. They drew on Christian views that it was possible to restore the primitive church of Christ to seventeenth century Britain (Christian primitivism). They drew on continental Christian groups like the Anabaptists for some of their ideas and doctrines. They drew on apocalyptic scenarios in which the end of this fallen world and the creation of another better world was near. They drew on a Bible which had recently been translated into English.

Quakers like many of their sectarian contemporaries were also influenced by antiquarianism. Antiquarian notions of an Edenic language and of an egalitarian, charismatic primitive Christianity, were made possible by the translation of the Bible into the English vernacular and the diffusion of this vernacular bible via the technological breakthrough of the printing press. Middle and lower status groups, the less educated classes, could now read holy writ without priestly mediation. What Quakers and their fellow sectarians saw in it was quite different from what self-interested priests said was there. They found a radically communal Christianity which was anti-hierarchical. What they read about was a Holy Spirit who could be present in all humanity. They found an Edenic God-given language (the tongue of speaking in tongues) which Christians could recover with the aid of the "Light within".

Another aspect of this antiquarianism was Quaker primitivism. Quakers regarded themselves, like many other groups at the time (e.g., Puritanism), as a biblical people. They were convinced that they were restoring the Church as it existed in primitive or ancient times. The fact that these biblical peoples did not interpret what the primitive church was in the same way shows that the Bible did not say the same thing to seventeenth century Christians. In other words, even Holy Writ is multivocal.

It was these (and additional) ideological and cultural scripts made possible by the invention of the printing press and the wide diffusion of the vernacular biblical text, along with novel cultural readings of the Bible by Fox and others within the Quaker community, which constructed Quaker key symbols. These key symbols were not "speaking" and "silence". It was the historically, socially, and culturally constructed and biologically embodied "Light within".

Bauman, perhaps unknowingly or unwittingly, provides evidence that the "Inner light" rather than "speaking" and "silence" is the key symbol of Quakerism. It is clear that the "Divine light" stands behind and gives meaning to every linguistic, cultural, and social aspect of early English Quakerism that he delineates. It defines and makes meaningful the secondary symbols of the Society—simplicity in speech, "plainness" in dress, iconoclastic architecture and worship, and apocalyptic rituals. It activated Quaker egalitarianism, perfectionism, pacifism, silent worship, the ministry of all believers, evangelism or missionary work, opposition to bureaucratisation ", "going naked as a sign", and wearing "sackcloth and ashes", All of these were grounded in the Quaker belief in the "Inner light" which inhabited all men and women (making killing the other problematic since there was no other) and which called them to "godly" service.

Bauman's failure to correctly isolate Quaker key symbols and the secondary symbols to which they give definition and meaning has a number of consequences. He provides us with a somewhat misleading view of seventeenth century Quakerism. More importantly he provides us with an approach which is bound to result in a misunderstanding of later Quaker history and its dynamics.

For example, after 1660 with the restoration of the monarchy in England, persecution of the Friends continued and Parliamentary legal action was taken against them. Laws were passed forbidding the practise of Quakerism. It was at this point that Quaker apocalypticism, Quaker individualism, and Quaker miracle working (which Friends saw as proving the truth of their faith) fell out of favour in Quaker circles for obvious reasons. Quaker apocalypticism, individualism, and miracle working were anti-aristocratic, anti-monarchical, anti-theocratic, and anti-priestly. In other words, they were political arrows aimed at the heart of every part of the social order in late seventeenth century England. In the context of a restored monarchical social order which wasn't afraid to use its police powers to restore the ancient social order, Quaker millennialism, individualism, and miracle working were hazardous to Quaker health. As the meek were laid low, pacifism became an integral part of being a Friend.

Another Quaker response to repression and persecution was Fox's establishment of an organisational, semi-bureaucratic structure for the faith. Defeat restored a sense of sin to Fox and to the Quaker community. To discipline the Society, Fox established a pyramid like system of "monthly meetings" (local autonomous "churches" which met to discuss "business" once a month), "quarterly meetings" ("monthly meetings" in a particular region were grouped into "quarterly meetings" to whom they sent representatives on a quarterly basis to discuss Quaker "business"), and "yearly meetings" (the national body to which "quarterly meetings" sent representatives to discuss "business" once a year).

Both pacifism and Quaker institutionalisation led to a change of emphasis in Quaker thought and action. While Quakers continued to maintain an egalitarian emphasis, this emphasis became, after the decline of an evangelical outward propelling eschatology, an internal symbol, a signifier of Quaker pacifism and quietism. It became a sign that Friends were no longer a threat to the social order.

It also meant that the society of equal Friends was no longer so equal. The semi-bureacratisation of the Society led by George Fox transformed Quakerism. This new structure meant that Friends could now discipline themselves (and thereby avoid the fruits of state brutality and terror). It was "weighty" or important (high status) Friends who did the disciplining by modeling the behaviour expected of proper Friends and through the counseling or "disfellowshiping" of errant Friends. This disciplinary practise was particularly aimed at Friends who still maintained the anti-authoritarian charismatic and apocalyptic emphasis of the early period. No longer are "true" Quakers to talk about the high being "laid low", the world in which God would overthrow the evil and corrupt governments and churches of this world. No longer were they to call for the abolition of government programmes or urge the abolition of universities. Rather they were to peacefully witness to the "Truth" of their faith through defencelessness and calmness in the face of suffering and persecution.

Many "Proud Quakers", the more Ranter-like Friends, bridled at the demise of spiritual freedom within the newly disciplined of Society of Friends. By the 1670s schism would occur in the Society when dissidents accused Quaker discipline of subordinating the "Divine light" to the sense of the meeting and to a hierarchical structure.

With the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660 Quaker conceptions of "speaking" and "silence" changed. Both remained important in Quaker meetings, but their meaning had been transformed because the notion of the "Inner light" had been transformed. The "Inner light" now became oriented toward internal Quaker matters and concerns. While Friends continued to support certain "worldly" causes (e.g., prison reform), but in a less wordly way, they begin to differentiate (with the help of advice from "weighty Friends") between "worldly" activity and Quakerly activity. Additionally, Quaker "meeting for worship" became more and more silent, more quiet (Friends refer to this as their "quietist period"). Friends were no longer sure whether it was the "God within" or something or someone else speaking to them out of the silences of Quaker worship so they stopped preaching (prophesying had declined with the demise of apocalyptic rhetoric in the Society). "Weighty Friends" were the most confident of the source of the "still small voice within". They thus began to play increasingly more prominent roles in Quaker meetings of all types. They came to take their seats on "facing benches" in "meeting houses", symbolising their authority and power in a once putatively egalitarian space. Certain Quakers had now become more equal than others.

Recognising that the Quaker key symbol was the "Inner light" rather than "speaking" and "silence" also gives us better insight into the historical controversies surrounding later Quaker history. In fact, it has been debates surrounding the meaning of "Inner Light" and the relationship of the "divine light" to the Bible which has led to most of the schisms and sectarian movements in Quaker history.

From the beginning there was an inherent tension between the individualism of the "Inner light" and the collective authority of Scripture. While Fox viewed the Bible as a work of men which pointed to the "divine life" of "Christ", he believed that the "Christ within" and the Bible were, in the final analysis, harmonious. However, in practise such harmony has rarely appeared in the Society particularly in America. This discontinuity between spirit and Bible led to varying emphases in different Quaker groups as to what the true basis of religious authority in the Society was. Disagreements over the basis of authority in Quakerism led to controversy, confrontation, and (sometimes) schism.

One of the first schismatic movements in Quakerism occurred in 1691 when a leading Quaker, George Keith, was accused of teaching salvation through the death of Christ rather than through the "Christ within" (the traditional Quaker reading). Keith was "disowned by Friends and, after briefly forming his own Quaker group he joined the Church of England where he became a rather unsuccessful Anglican missionary to the Quakers.

Another schism occurred in the 1820s when the quietist and anti-slavery Long Island farmer Elias Hicks denied the deity of Christ and the saving power of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. He placed almost total emphasis on the "Light Within" A storm of controversy resulted which led the "Hicksites" to form their own organisational forms.

The "Hicksites" eventually became the core of today’s Friends General Conference (FGC). FGC worship style is largely silent. Their meetings are often found in urban areas and in college communities where professional middle class Friends predominate. Conceptions of the "Light within" in the FGC tend to be quite multivocal and range from more traditional Christian Quaker conceptions too more unitarian-deistic, feminist, world religions conceptions. FGC Quakers usually maintain that "Inner light" leads one on to social activism, particularly peace and social justice activism.

Anothor major controversy soon followed the Hicksite one. This time it revolved around the issue of how much nineteenth century evangelicalism should be allowed to impact the Society. Quaker responses to evangelicalism were symbolised by the positions of two important or "weighty" Quaker preachers, John Wilbur and Joseph John Gurney. The "Orthodox" Wilbur and his followers (who came to be called "Wilburites") held to the traditional Quaker position that while the "Inner light" had primacy, the Bible pointed to the divine life of Christ, and that both, when all was said and done, were in harmony with one another. "Wilburites" held that believers should to try to live the "Christ-like life" to which both the "Inner light" and the Bible pointed. Gurney, the leading exponent of Quaker evangelicalism, and his followers (the "Gurneyites"), on the other hand, and in good evangelical fashion, gave preference to the Bible as the basis of authority in Quaker life. One aspect of the "call" or the "Inner light" that Gurney emphasised, and which struck at the heart of the quietist "Wilburite" movement, was evangelicalism. This, of course didn't go over well with the quietist and separtist "Wilburites".

Today the "Orthodox" or "Wilburite" Friends remain a largely rural group. Currently they are declining in numbers. They continue to separate from the world witnessing to it through their community forms and their testimony of nonresistence. They maintain the "silent meeting" style characteristic of traditional Quakerism, a ministry of all believers, and a charismatic ministry. They identify and mark themselves off through their simple black clothing styles. They bear similarities with other Old Order Groups like the Old Order Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren.

Gurney's group, on the other hand, eventually institutionalised first, as the Five Year's Meeting, and later as Friends United Meeting (FUM). FUM has been strongly influenced by American Protestantism and Protestant evangelicalism. Officially, it sees the "Inner light" and the Bible as harmonious and authoritative. It is thus a very Christian brand of Quakerism. FUM prizes social activism and pacifism and these are important markers of FUM identity. In terms of worship, FUM, more than other Quaker "sects" (save the Evangelical Friends Alliance which is the most "un-Quakerly" of Quaker groups), has adopted Protestant styles of worship. Most FUM "meetings" are "programmed" (i.e., directed services with ministers and quoirs with much in common with Methodist or Presbyterian services) or "semi-programmed" (i.e., directed services with a minister and "silent" worship). FUM has a seminary to train these ministers. Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, an institution run by FUM, has attached to it a School of Religion attached to it which trains ministers.

It was also the egalitarian character of the "Inner light" key symbol which gave impetus to the belief that Quaker women should be allowed to "preach" and "prophesy" alongside Quaker men. Quaker women have long been active both within and outside of Quaker meetings. Quaker women have always preached and prophesied along with Quaker men. Over the years, Quaker women have played active leading roles in a number of reform efforts. They aided Friends imprisoned by the authorities in seventeenth century Britain. They served as missionaries for the faith throughout the world. In this capacity they often become martyrs for the cause of "Truth". In the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries Quaker women have been active in British and American reform movements such as the Indian rights movement, the abolition movement, the peace movement, the temperance movement, and the women's rights movement.

Today the "Inner light" provides the impetus for Quaker activism in peace, social justice, women's rights, prison reform, and economic justice movements. The fact that Quakers see all of these activities against the backdrop of previous Society activities seen as progressive is a major factor in constitution and reconstitution (continuously) of a Quaker sense of identity and the Quaker feeling of historical, social, and cultural superiority. Quakers see their long-term activism as a sign of their chosenness and as a sign that Quakerism is superior to any other form of religion. For Quakers then the guiding "Inner light" has become a dynamic living catechism which represents Quaker choseness through "progressive" Quaker action in the world.

The study of key symbols is important. It allows us to study the relationship between the macro-(broader historical, social, and cultural contexts of action) and micro-(internal historical, social, cultural, and embodied or personal contexts of action) areas of analysis. Within key symbols one can pinpoint the external social and cultural factors which impact key symbols themselves. Key symbols, in turn, can be used to delineate the impact of these external forces on the symbols themselves. They also allow us to explore the ideologies of social groups, contestations over symbols within social groups, and the process or processes by which these symbols are embodied in practise and action. In other words, we can explore how identity is formed and recapitulated in social groups and how that ideology affects the actions of members of a social group.

Since both external and internal dynamics are the products of history it is essential that the study of group symbology and key symbols be historical. More than anything else Bauman's work (if somewhat unsuccessfully) shows us that it is only in this way that we can understand the impact external social, political, economic, cultural, and ideological factors have had on the symbols and identities of social groups.

The study of key symbols and secondary symbols also allows us to explore how symbols have been used by powerful or "weighty" members of social collectivities to legitimise themselves and there particular ideologies regardless of how novel or "traditional" these might be. Symbols are not univocal, as the contestations over the meaning of the "Inner light" in Quaker culture show. They have multiple meanings and these can lead to ideological crises within identity groups.

In the end, while an exploration of speech acts is important and necessary, it is just as (if not more) important to ascertain the key symbols of social groups which constitute the speech acts themselves and which are themselves products of wider external and internal ideological, cultural, social, and biological factors and the interplay and interaction between these. In the final analysis, language is a historical, ideological, cultural, social, and biological product which reflects these factors in its structure and history. We need to treat it as such.

On key symbols see Sherry Ortner; "On Key Symbols", American Anthropologist, 75:5, October 1973, pp. 1338-1346, Ruth Benedict; The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1967), the various essays of Clifford Geertz; The Interpretation of Culture (New York: Basic, 1973), Victor Turner; "Symbols in African Ritual"; Science, vol. 179, no. 4078 (March 1973) and From Ritual to Theatre, Marshall Sahlins; Critique of Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1976), and David Schneider; American Kinship: A Cultural Account (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).

On Quakerism and its contexts see Richard Bauman; Let Your Words be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth Century Quakers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Christopher Hill; The Century of Revolution 1603-1714 (NYC: Norton, 1961), Christopher Hill; The World Turned Upside Down (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), Christopher Hill; The English Bible and the 17th Century Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), Christopher Hill; The Antichrist in Seventeenth Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), Barry Reay, The Quakers and the English Revolution (London: Maurice Temple Smith, 1985), Alan Cole; "The Quakers and the English Revolution", Past and Present 10 (1956), H. Larry Ingle; First Among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism (NYC: Oxford University Press, 1994), J.F. Maclear "Quakerism and the End of the Interregnum: A Chapter in the Domestication of Radical Puritanism", Church History 19:4 (1950), pp. 240-270, Elisabeth Potts Brown and Susan Mosher Stuard (eds.); Witnesses for Change: Quaker Women Over Three Centuries (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989), Sydney James: A People Among Peoples: Quaker Benevolence in Eighteenth Century America (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press), Peter Brock; The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1660-1914 (York, England: Sessions of York, 1991), Hugh Barbour; The Quakers in the Puritan Revolution (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1964), Hugh Barbour and J. William Frost; The Quakers (Westport, CT.: Greenwood, 1988), Richard Vann; The Social Development of English Quakerism, 1655-1755 (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1969), and Stephen Kent: "Relative Deprivation and Resource Mobilization: A Study of Early Quakerism" British Journal of Sociology 33 (1982).

On American Quakerism see W. Williams; The Rich Heritage of Quakerism (Newburg, OR.: Barclay Press, 1989), J. William Frost; The Quaker Family in Colonial America (NYC: St. Martin's Press, 1973), Frederick Tolles; Meeting House and Counting House (NYC: Norton, 1948), Tolles; Quakers and the Atlantic Culture (NYC: Macmillan, 1960), Jack Marietta; The Reformation of American Quakerism, 1748-1783 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), Larry Hingle; Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986), and Thomas Hamm; The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends 1800-1907 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

On Quaker women see Margaret Bacon; Mother's of Feminism: The Story of Quaker Women in America (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986) and Keith Thomas; "Woman and the Civil War Sects", Past and Present 13:1 (1958), pp. 42-62.


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  2. Bill RushbyJuly 27, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    I just stumbled onto ( "was led to"!) this essay this evening. I adhere to the Conservative/Orthodox Quaker faith. I also happen to be a graduate of Albany State, and an ABD in Sociology. My research interests are very close to yours. See "Cyrus Cooper's Memorial and the Free Gospel Ministry" in Quaker History, Spring, 2000. I have a couple of other papers I would like to share with you. Please contact if you are interested.