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Author: Hilary Hinds

What was distinctive about the founding principles and practices of Quakerism? This book explores how the Light Within became the organising principles of this seventeenth-century movement, inaugurating an influential dissolution of the boundary between the human and the divine. Taking an original perspective on this most enduring of radical religious groups, it combines literary and historical approaches to produce a fresh study of Quaker cultural practice. Close readings of George Fox's Journal are put in dialogue with the voices of other early Friends and their critics to argue that the ‘light within’ set the terms for the unique Quaker mode of embodying spirituality and inhabiting the world. This study of the cultural consequences of a bedrock belief shows how the Quaker spiritual self was premised on a profound continuity between sinful subjects and godly omnipotence. It will be of interest not only to scholars and students of seventeenth-century literature and history, but also to those concerned with the Quaker movement, spirituality and the changing meanings of religious practice in the early modern period.

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Seamless subjects
Hilary Hinds

The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, are generally known today as an inclusive and tolerant movement, broadly Christian, committed to working for peace and consensus, socially activist, politically radical and culturally liberal, although, at the time of their inception in the 1650s, their reputation was less benign. This introductory chapter sets out the purpose of the book, which is to explore early Quaker discourse, comprising not only Friends' words but also their deeds. Their written testimonies, warnings and exhortations are examined, but so too are accounts of the ways that they inhabited and moved through the social and material world. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture
The Quaker culture of convincement
Hilary Hinds

This chapter asks how it was that the concept of the indwelling Christ, or light within – in many ways a conventional, familiar and uncontentious Christian trope – set the terms and established the structure both for the scathing Quaker condemnations of their opponents and for the discourse of inclusivity and consensus among Friends. It finds an answer to this question in the ways in which the Quaker model of that inward light provided conceptual underpinning for both the ‘spirit of discernment’ and the ‘spirit of unity’ by which Friends judged those whom they encountered. The chapter analyses two defining qualities of the light, as perceived by Friends: its universality and its immanence. The universality of the light introduced a renewed and transformed sense of individual agency into the soteriological equation, as the human subject turned, was turned, or refused to turn, to that light. This agency was intensified by the insistence on its immanence, an indwelling divine presence which transformed the fallen human subject by emphasising his or her access to ‘that of God within’, thereby erasing any absolute boundary between human subject and divine presence. This erasure served to unsettle the Calvinist binary of the elect and the reprobate, producing a third constituency of human subject: those open to being turned to the light through a process of convincement.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture
The embodied rhetoric of the early Quakers
Hilary Hinds

This chapter examines how the inward light figured in the ministry of the First Publishers of Truth – in the convincement of new Friends, and in the condemnation of those who hardened their hearts towards the light. It suggests that the opprobrium levelled at early Friends was not so much owing to the divergence of the forms and strategies of the rhetoric of Quaker ministry, which had much in common with orthodox preaching practice, but much more to do with the Quaker refusal to set limits to the place, time or manner in which that ministry was carried out. The erasure of the boundary between the sacred and the secular entailed the rejection of the notions of consecrated ground, of the ordination of ministers and of formalised acts of worship, so that Quaker preaching could be performed by any Friend experiencing an immediate call to such work, in any place and at any time. Quaker rhetoric thus occupied an unbounded field of operation, and drew on a wide repertoire of linguistic and symbolic modes of preaching, since, by definition, the inward light rendered out of bounds nothing that it touched.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture
Anxiety, confidence and masculinity in Fox’s Journal
Hilary Hinds

Turning more directly to the pivotal figure of George Fox himself, this chapter suggests that the foundational dissolution of boundaries between human and divine established in the earlier chapters generated access to a quality in Fox and other early Friends characterised by Thomas Carlyle as a ‘sacred Self-confidence’. Taking his Journal as the focus, it examines Fox's own account of his affective transformation from an anxious seeker after truth in a predominantly Calvinist religious context to a confident, assured bearer of that truth in a world still torn between the forces of light and darkness. How, the chapter asks, did the inward light structure and direct this shift towards an unshakeable assurance in Fox, and how did it maintain it, in the face of a range of contrary pressures? How does the subjectivity constructed by the Journal negotiate not only the forces of opposition in the wider culture, but also the forces of ‘anxious masculinity’ so often found in other kinds of seventeenth-century self-inscription? The chapter locates this transformation in a relationship of ‘heteronomous agency’ predicated on the movement's conception of the indwelling Christ. It argues that this model of dependent potency established a mode of confident subjectivity rarely found in other contemporary radical religious groups.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture
Genre and temporality in Fox’s Journal
Hilary Hinds

This chapter investigates the Journal's paradoxical commitment to an insistently chronological structure in the service of a faith that found the dissolution of chronological time inherent in the turn to the inward light. It argues that this can be explained through seeing the Journal itself as, in effect, a ‘technology of presence’, a means of ceaselessly demonstrating and performing the continual and multi-temporal irruption of the inward light.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture
The contingent itinerancy of early Friends
Hilary Hinds

This chapter turns to the Journal's structuring focus on Fox's journeys, and raises questions about the movement's commitment to an itinerant ministry and the ways in which, in Edward Burrough's words, ‘The worship of God in itself … is a walking with God’. While an itinerant Christian proselytising ministry was as old as the journeys of St Paul, there was none the less something unusual about the Quaker commitment to such a practice – unusual in that no other radical religious groups at the time made physical travail such a cornerstone of their modus Vivendi, but unusual too in that such restlessness sits strangely with a faith premised on the silent stillness of the meeting for worship. The chapter argues, however, that the itinerancy of Fox and other early Friends, as memorialised in the Journal, becomes itself a means of demonstrating the ceaseless presence of the indwelling Christ.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture
Silence and slavery in Quaker narratives of journeys to America and Barbados
Hilary Hinds

This chapter focuses on the seventeenth-century Quaker presence in transatlantic English colonies in the Caribbean and North America. Its starting point is a puzzling discrepancy between Quaker accounts of visits to Barbados and those to the American mainland: while the latter are detailed, complex and recognisably constructed around the same kinds of oppositions and alliances as are to be found in the accounts of English journeys, the former are short, general and often bland. Why, when the terrain, the social structures and the cultures must have been equally strange to visiting Friends, was there such a disparity of textual engagement? An answer is found in the ambivalent Quaker response to the Barbadian slave-owning economy, in which Friends themselves actively participated. While the commitment to spiritual equality was advocated as strongly as ever, there was, equally, a commitment to the status quo of the social order. Rather than the inward light dissolving the boundary between the social and the spiritual – such that the one is read as a dimension of the other, linked through the frequently reiterated assertion that God is no ‘respecter of persons’ (see Acts 10.34; Romans 2.11; Ephesians 6.9), as was more typically the case – here instead the assertion of spiritual equality is maintained separately from the upholding of a system manifestly dependent on an absolute ‘respect of’ or distinction between, persons. It is argued, therefore, that the capacity of the early Quaker conception of the inward light to dissolve boundaries and fuse categories here met an unusual and unwonted limit, with the result that the seamlessly continuous culture of the early Friends faltered in its unerringly inclusive remit.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture
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Singularity and doubleness
Hilary Hinds

This chapter summarises the preceding discussions and presents some concluding thoughts from the author. Quakerism was one answer to the pressure and uncertainty of the dominant predestinarian position on election and reprobation. Saint and sinner were unified, co-existing in the same human subject, as in more orthodox reformed interpretations, but, for Quakers, in a different configuration. Quakerism announced the reality of a single spiritual condition: the universally present inward light, available to all. The sharply bifurcated doubleness of the human condition (those who turned to, and those who refused so to turn) hereby revealed itself to be unreliable – itself evidence of human frailty and sin, in people's refusal to accept the unity with the divine and with humanity that was delivered by an indwelling Christ. Quakers reversed the Calvinist structural dynamic of spiritual subjectivity, perceiving duality to be definitive only of the fallen human state, which masked the greater reality, both actual and potential, of divine unity.

in George Fox and early Quaker culture