By Chuck Fager.
We didn’t plan it that way, but this issue is about learning Quaker theology from history, mostly recent history. And some of the best recent historical insights into Quaker theology that I’ve seen have come from outside, from our sister denomination the Unitarian-Universalists. Specifically, through the work of John C. Morgan, a Unitarian minister and scholar who recently spent a long sabbatical sojourning among Friends in central Pennsylvania, before returning to serve a Unitarian congregation in Reading.
Morgan has long been concerned with spiritual renewal among Unitarian-Universalists, and he distilled years of study and reflection in a small, pithy book, The Devotional Heart. Both the history from which he draws and the patterns of decline and growth he charts parallel and intersect the course of liberal Quaker religion at many, varied and often surprising points. All of this made us want to share the results with Friends. Morgan was good enough to permit us to reprint excerpts here; his only condition was that we give a plug to his newest publication: Awakening the Soul: a Book of Daily Devotions, just published by Skinner House.
Stephen W. Angell, a professor at Florida A&M University, looks further into the interaction of Quaker thought with that of larger groups in his account of Rufus Jones’s key role in a widely-discussed 1932 report analyzing the character and direction of foreign missions. As was the case with many of Jones’s projects, this one proved quite controversial, but also cast a long shadow over a broad field, one that is of continuing interest.
Rufus Jones was one of many who praised the work of Caroline Stephen, author of the classic, Quaker Strongholds. But the person behind this title is not well-known. We’re indebted to Alison M. Lewis, a scholar on the staff of the American Philosophical Society, for “filling in the blanks” on this remarkable figure, whose influence quietly extended far beyond the Society. Lewis’s research also clears up some misconceptions in earlier accounts of Stephen’s life.
Another remarkable Quaker life is recounted in Growing Up Plain, the memoir by Wilmer Cooper, the founder and first Dean of Earlham School of Religion. His story is also that of an entire stream of American Quakerism, the Wilburite or Conservative branch. The account of his boyhood among our version of the “plain people” tells much about the entire tradition, and our review attempts to take the measure of this story.
Filling out this issue is the Editor’s own “work in progress,” an examination of some of the origins and shaping convictions of what became the modern liberal branch of Friends in America, much (but not all) of which has come under the organizational umbrella of Friends General Conference. This is all-but unexplored territory, for both historians and theologians, and we hope readers will find this exploration as illuminating as it has been for us.
As always, your comments are welcome.