British Quakerism: 1860-1920
Oxford University Press
Quakerism is a religious sect renowned for its commitment to nonviolence. But in a new book, history professor Thomas Kennedy indicates that the commitment was not always as strong as it is today. In fact, it would take a handful of young men and a world war to make pacifism a central tenet of the religion.
The 19th century represented an era of relative peace in Britain. Amidst this tranquility, the Quakers underwent a transformation of values that diminished their commitment to pacifism.
To increase its dwindling membership, 19th century Quakers strove to converge with mainstream Protestantism. From a faith that emphasized personal introspection, the Quakers evolved into an evangelical religion.
Many young Quakers, disillusioned by the Society’s new outlook, began agitating for a return to traditional Quaker values, including a commitment to pacifism. The reformers numbered only 150 out of 20,000 Quakers, but their arguments soon acquired weight with the outbreak of the first World War.
Despite persecution, many young Quakers refused to support or participate in the war. They opposed exemption based on their religion in the belief that all men should have the option not to fight. The war’s brutality and the convictions of these young men persuaded British Quakerism to commit its followers to pacifism.