The Quakers: A Society of Friends

La comunità, che si è dissociata dalla Chiesa anglicana, pratica uno stile di vita austero. Il suo nome in inglese deriva dal verbo ‘quake’, un riferimento all’insegnamento del suo fondatore di “tremare davanti a Dio”.

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Also called the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers are a religious community with a history dating back to the 17th century. The movement originated in England and was founded by George Fox, who intended to go back to the roots of Christianity and to Jesus’ teachings of non-violence, simple living and concern for those in need. Quakers gained a considerable following, which quickly spread to American colonies and to various parts of the world. Members of this movement (called “The Friends”) played a significant role in the abolition of slavery and were among the earliest advocates of women’s rights. They are also known for their humanitarian work, addressing issues such as poverty, public education and healthcare.

QUAKERS TODAY

Today there are an estimated 370,000 society members worldwide, in over eighty different countries. The majority however are in Africa and the Americas, with almost a hundred thousand members in the United States. Kenya has the largest number of Quakers in a single nation.

CUSTOMS AND BELIEFS

Central to Quakers' beliefs is the presence of an inner light within each individual, a direct connection to God that guides them in their spiritual journey. Quaker worship is simple and takes place in silence: no one speaks unlessmoved to by God, then they may share their thoughts with others. When this happens, Quakers believe that the spirit of God is speaking through the speaker. Decisions are made collectively without a designated leader and everyone has an equal voice. Quakers have peace-oriented values, are active in civil rights movements and reject participation in wars. They emphasise simplicity and equality, extending these principles to their lifestyle choices as well.

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QUAKER JOKE

More than just a set of beliefs, Quakerism is a way of life. Quakers today don’t look any different from other people, even though they tend to avoid excess and have a reflective, meditative and peaceful conduct. These traits have endured for 370 years and, inevitably, have inspired plenty of jokes, like Woody Allen’s line in Sleeper (1973): “I’m telling you. You got the wrong man. I’m not the heroic type. Really. I was beaten up by Quakers.”  

FAMOUS FRIENDS

Famous Quakers or people who were raised as Quakers include Richard Nixon, who married in a Quaker ceremony in California; Joan Baez, who grew up in a Quaker family (her father, a physicist, refused to work on the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos); the Cadbury family, who believing that alcohol would only worsen society's problems, decided to focus their business on chocolate as a welcome alternative; James Dean, who was raised a Quaker and is today buried in a Quaker cemetery; and actress Judi Dench, who converted to Quakerism after attending a Friends school, reportedly because she loved the school uniforms.

 

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