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The Quakers. Their Origin, Ideology, and Meeting Houses


The Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, were the participants of the religious movement of the 17th century in England. In the course of its expansion, the movement extended into numerous parts of the world, particularly to Africa and America.

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With time, the Quakers started constructing separate buildings for their gatherings known as meeting houses. Their Yearly meetings were held in Philadelphia, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Baltimore. At this, Philadelphia became a place where the meeting houses started to be constructed for men and women Friends separately. The Quakers as a religious movement have their unique origin, ideology, and rules for carrying out their meetings; they differ from other Christian groups because of their accepting Christ as the only authority.

Origin of the Quakers

Quakers originated in America in the 1650s, though officially the Society of Friends was founded in England by George Fox. Fox stated that his calling was to preach the renunciation of worldly pleasures to other people. None of the religious groups which have already existed in those times was able to give Fox the inner peace which he has been searching for this is why he founded his group, the Society of Friends, in 1652.

In its origin, Quakerism “was an integral part of the movement we call Puritanism, the left-wing, the radical extreme, of that pervasive phenomenon in the religious life of seventeenth-century England and America.” (Tolles 484) Fox’s followers were called “Quakers” because they trembled (or quaked) at the word of the Lord. The Quakers believed in the regeneration of man through the Holy Spirit and preached an idea that God could give people “an immediate knowledge of His Truth.” (Tolles 484) The followers of Quakerism were taught that each of them had Inner Light and could hear God’s voice in his breast.

In the beginning, the Quakers used to meet at any time and in any place, but later they constructed meeting houses that served as their places of worship. From the political and economic perspective, “the outstanding accomplishment of the Quakers was the founding of Pennsylvania by William Penn, who was [a] rare combination in one person of the idealist and political economist.” (Pennypacker 400) The Church of England never adopted Quakers’ practices and beliefs. Since the Quakers preached that the leaders in religion were unnecessary, the ruling class of England was set against them and branded them as revolutionaries. For these reasons, George Fox and his followers were often prosecuted and publicly punished.

The Ideology of the Quakers

Quaker ideology centered on the inwardly empowering “Light”. This Light gave to Quakers knowledge of God’s will; it was leading them into the purity of life “restoring among them the conditions that had prevailed among the primitive Christians.” (Tolles 486) They believed that the Inward Light was their direct experience and that this Light was easily accessible for any person, not only for the saints. A Quaker “did not need to evoke human reason or Spiritual authority to establish his faith or to work out its implications; his religion was … a matter of experience, of direct illumination.” (Tolles 485)

In this sense, Quakers were anti-intellectual; this was because Fox saw religion as a matter of spirit, rather than a matter of intellect. They also viewed “plainness as a divinely sanctioned virtue” (Heatwole 65); this belief of theirs could be observed in the architecture of their meeting houses, which were quite simple since the Quakers kept to the point that “people were the essence of a church and that an extravagant house of worship diverted attention from what was truly important.” (Heatwole 65) Like for any Puritan, life was a pilgrimage for the Quakers, and observing the beauty of the holiness was the main purpose of their journeys.

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A Quaker was expected to have a love for the world, but at this, he had to be careful in order “not to let his sensibilities linger in sensuous appreciation upon the fading things of this world, lest he forget the lasting beauty that existed only in the world of the spirit.” (Tolles 485) The Quakers avoided ideas that were too complicated. They were absolutely satisfied with the simplicity of truth which allowed them to enjoy the beauty which their souls were longing for.

Quaker Meeting Houses

Despite being a place of worship, the Quaker meeting houses were not sacred places. The Quakers did not differentiate between sacred objects or places, because, “according to the doctrine of the Religious Society of Friends, there is no distinction between sacred and secular spheres – all aspects of life are encompassed by the sacred once a proper understanding is achieved.” (Garfinkel 78) Meetinghouses were a mere convenience for them. They served as symbolic centers for their communities where they gathered for worship. The primary purpose of the Quakers’ meeting was communication. They led discussions on the proper understanding of the Inner Light, which testifies to the fact that the role of these meetings was shaping group consensus.

Closer to the end of the 17th century, the Quakers started moving to Philadelphia which was founded in 1682. Five years before this, Jersey was the place of their settlement. A group of the colonists who lived there moved from Jersey to the land which later became Pennsylvania. Some of them “held meetings for worship in the home of Thomas and Elizabeth Kinsey Fairman, at Shackamaxon, the site of the famed Treaty Elm, which made it the first meeting place for Quakers in the vicinity of Philadelphia.” (Bronner 210) By the end of the 18th century, meeting houses started to be constructed for men and women separately.

Thus, for instance, “Philadelphia’s Arch Street meeting house was built in 1803, with a second wing added in 1810 at the repeated urging of women Friends.” (Garfinkel 80) When the building of this meeting house was finished, it became a symbolic center for American Quakerism with the Arch Street serving as a home for Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly meetings of the Quakers. The architecture of the meeting houses allowed carrying out meetings for hundreds of people. The hall of a house usually had several rows of benches and raised seating for ministers and overseers. Several meeting houses were built in Pine Street and Green Street of Philadelphia; these partitions “served as visible reminders of the need for gender differentiation.” (Garfinkel 81)

Views of Other Christians on the Quakers

Quakers are believed to preach Christianity and originally all the members of their religious movement were Christians. Nevertheless, these days the movement includes people of other religions as well. Other Christians assume that the Quakers have their ideas about the real aims of Christianity. They try to make their lives simple and in this desire, they are close to Jesus’ example. Since Quakerism centers its faith on Jesus, non-Quakers admit that it has roots in Christianity, though they believe that their ideology is based on the way of life, rather than on a set of certain beliefs, morals, and principles.

What does not let other Christians accept the Quakers’ Christianity is that they reject all the Christian rites including the administration of the Sacrament of the Supper and water baptism. They explain it by the fact that Jesus is their food and drink and emphasize that the word “Sacrament” as such never appears in the Bible. They reject water-baptizing because they believe that Jesus baptizes his followers in the Holy Spirit. Moreover, unlike Christians, the Quakers do not accept the Bible as a Word of God; for them, Jesus is the word of God, as well as he is the only one who has the power to set the agenda for their worship.

Thus, the main difference between the Quakers and other Christian groups is that their authority comes from Christ, rather than from the Bible (in the case with Protestants) or the church (in the case with Catholics).

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Quakerism is the religious movement founded by George Fox. This movement has its own ideology based on the belief in Inward Light which connects the Quakers with God and which directs them through their lives. Pennsylvania (particularly Philadelphia) is the place where the Quakers settled at the end of the 19th century and started their active functioning which consisted of building meeting houses for shaping group consensus. Quakers’ authority comes not from the Bible or the church, but directly from Christ, which is the main distinction between them and other Christian groups.

Works Cited

Bronner, Edwin B. “Quaker Landmark in Early Philadelphia.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series 43.1 (1953): 210-216.

Garfinkel, Susan. Letting in the World”: 9Re)interpretive Tensions in the Quaker Meeting house.” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 5 (1995): 78-92.

Heatwole, Charles A. ‘Sectarian Ideology and Church Architecture.” Geographical Review 79.1 (1989): 63-78.

Pennypacker, Isaac. R. “The Quaker origins.” American Speech 2.9. (1927): 395-402.

Tolles, Frederick B. “Of the Best Sort but Plain”: The Quaker Esthetic.” American Quarterly 11.4 (1959): 484-502.

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StudyCorgi. "The Quakers. Their Origin, Ideology, and Meeting Houses." November 23, 2021.


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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Quakers. Their Origin, Ideology, and Meeting Houses'. 23 November.

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