Quaker beliefs and practice
Quakerism is a spiritual path based on direct experience of the divine Truth. There are many aspects of Quaker beliefs and practice that will seem new and unusual to a person encountering Quakerism for the first time. There are no official creeds, dogmas or hierarchy. Quakers instead obtain spiritual guidance from the individual experience of each person and the collective discernment of the Quaker community.
Quakerism 101 – Quakerism Explained
There are no official creeds, dogmas or hierarchy. Quakers instead obtain spiritual guidance from the individual experience of each person and the collective discernment of the Quaker community. Quakers refer to the Divine in a variety of ways, for example God, Light Within or Inner Light, Spirit, or Inward Teacher.
Many Quakers feel that there is ‘that of God in everyone’ and commonly speak of the ‘inner light’ in each person. This has inspired a dedication to the principles—or Testimonies—of simplicity, peace, integrity and equality as well as commitments to the value of community and need for care of the earth (see Testimonies & Commitment and Diversity & Inclusion Statement). The Quaker Peace Testimony, which has inspired the rejection of all violence and wars, is one of the most well-known aspects of Quakerism.
While Quakerism has Christian roots, not all Quakers identify as Christian, preferring to draw their spiritual nurture from various religious and spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and the earth religions. Or from none at all.
Quakers believe in reason — one of the great scientists, A.S Eddington, was a Quaker. But as well as ordinary observation and the scientific methods, Quakers believe that the soul can be inwardly visited by God.
As a body, Quakers put God`s leadings (a sense of being called by God to undertake a specific course of action) central: leadings to speak in Meetings for Worship, and to act in the world. When such leadings concern the life of the meeting or the wider world, they are put before the group which is silently waiting for guidance.
God or spirit may come to the soul in forms different from leadings, for example, simply as a loving presence or, in other words, as a mystical experience.
Our minds are not apart from the world…our yet deeper feelings are not of ourselves alone…
“If I were to try to put into words the essential truth revealed in the mystic experience, it would be that our minds are not apart from the world…our yet deeper feelings are not of ourselves alone, but are glimpses of a reality transcending the narrow limits of our particular consciousness – that the harmony and beauty of the face of nature is at root one with the gladness that transfigures the face of man…in the mystical feeling the truth is apprehended from within.” Arthur Stanley Eddington, Quaker and Plumian Professor of Astronomy
Life After Death and the Bible
The emphasis in a Quaker’s life is on the present by following and experiencing the leadings of the Light within. There is no fixed view about what follows or does not follow our lives on Earth once we have died.
The Bible is important to many Quakers, who turn to the Scripture for guidance and inspiration. However, most Quakers do not consider the Bible the final authority or source of sacred wisdom. Other sources include the Light Within – Quakers’ direct experience of truth and wisdom, which is an essential part of Quakerism.
Because there is no dogma in Quakerism and we are guided by our direct experience of the truth and divine wisdom, Quakers are open to change. For example, Quakers’ leading to reject slavery in Colonial America was one of the first challenges to Biblical authority.
As previously mentioned, Quaker worship is characterised by silent contemplation and meditation interspersed, at times, with spontaneous vocal ministry. More information about Quaker Worship can be found on our page Meetings for Worship.
Further Reading & Listening
- A Glossary of Quaker Terms – A list of terms commonly used by Quakers
- Australian Quakers information – More information about Quakers in Australia
- Small But Mighty Podcast – Australian Quakers Speak to the ABC Radio National’s “Religion Report”
- Advices and Queries – A compendium of Quaker wisdom, practice and advice
- Being Friends Together – An extensive library of Quaker Learning Resources sponsored by the Woodbrooke Quaker Conference Centre in the UK
- Quaker Electronic Archive – An excellent source of Quaker readings on a wide range of subjects
- Also see our pages on Earthcare, Justice for Refugees and Marriage Equality.
- Why Quakers Don’t Swear Oaths (BBC Podcast)
- Quakers Redefine What it Means to Believe in God — British Quaker Podcast