17.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Quakers (English: literally “trembling”) or, as they call themselves, the Religious Society of Friends.

Quakers is a Protestant Christian movement that emerged during the English Revolution (1640-1660) in England and Wales.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact date of the appearance of the Quakers. Often it is believed to be 1652, but sometimes 1648 (the year of the first sermon of George Fox, an English craftsman, religious dissident, mystic and founder of the Religious Society of Friends).

The Quakers encompass an alliance of independent communities with various doctrines and practices, from Evangelicals and liberal Protestants to Universalists and non-Theists.

The Religious Society of Friends has approximately 377,000 followers (2012 data). Most of them live in Africa (Kenya), North America (USA), Great Britain, Guatemala and Bolivia. Different groups of Quakers conduct their services in different ways. These can be sermons, readings, chants, or silent prayers conducted without programs and pastors.


History of origin

Originally, the movement was called the “Christian Society of Friends of the Inner Light”. In the 1660s, the name changed to Quakers – “trembling”. The term “Quakers” was first used by opponents of the movement and was initially considered an insult. According to one version, this name appeared when the creator of the direction, George Fox, during a court hearing, demanded that the judge “tremble before the name of God”. The judge responded by calling Fox “quaker”. According to another version, Quakers were so called because they experienced spiritual awe from the feeling of the constant divine presence i.e. they trembled before God.

The formation of the Quaker philosophy was influenced by various theological and social European trends of the sixteenth and seventeenth  centuries. They are geographically divided into:

  • Continental influence – these are the views of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jacob Boehme, Meister Eckhart, various folk movements, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Pietists etc.

– Directly from the English influence – these are Anglican and Puritan (Presbyterian) religious movements, the views of the Seekers, Baptists, Fifth Monarchy Men etc.

It is believed that the first Quaker community was created by George Fox, who was a weaver’s son. He left home at the age of eighteen and began to trade in wool. In 1646 or 1647, he proclaimed that he had found strength in the “inner light of the living Christ” and began preaching the doctrine of the “inner light”. Fox believed that the truth is hidden not in the Holy Scriptures or the Creed, but the Revelation of God to the human soul. He recognized the principle of the universal priesthood, denied visible ordinances, church trips, and salaried clergy. In 1652-1653, Fox’s supporters united in the community “Friends of God”, “Friends of Truth”, “Children of the Light”.

According to the Russian historian T.A. Pavlova, the history of the Quakers can be divided into three periods:

  1. “Revolutionary” (1648-1661)
  2. Persecution of the Restoration Age and weak resistance of the Quakers (1661-1689)
  3. “Conformist” (after 1689)

During the first period, the Quakers were active in missionary work, but without a clear organization. A group of missionary travellers formed who  were called the “First Heralds of Truth” or “The Valiant Sixty”. These were Fox’s first adherents. They preached in Ireland, Britain, Europe, Turkey and the North American colonies. Their work resulted in the spread of the teaching in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

In their writings, the Friends sharply criticized the Catholic, Puritan, Presbyterian and Anglican churches. The Quakers were persecuted for anti-church statements, refusing to pay taxes in favour of the church and refusing to swear oaths. In 1659 W. Robinson and M. Stephenson were executed in the colonies of North America, and Mary Dyer in Boston a ear later. George Fox himself was imprisoned eight times.

There are differing opinions among historians about the social status of Fox’s early followers. Some think that they were the lower and middle rural and urban bourgeoisie and the minor nobility i.e. gentry, others believe that the first Quakers were artisans, peasants, merchants and waged labourers.

During the second and third periods, as the historian Pavlova writes, “embourgeoisement and the organizational formation had place and a theological doctrine was developed”.

In 1660, with the completion of the restoration of the monarchy, the persecution of the Quakers did not stop. Adherents of different radical religious trends joined the “Society of Friends”. Both during the Cromwellian age and the age of Stuarts it seemed like the dangerous union of sectarians and conspirators. Some historians believe that the Uniformity Act was reinstated in 1662 precisely to combat the Quakers. Also, the authorities adopted other acts that significantly complicated the spread and strengthening of the movement (for example, the Quaker Act passed in 1662, according to which those who refused to swear allegiance to the church became criminals). This Act also imposed a ban on services that were held outside the state church.

In 1660, the Quakers presented the Declaration of Peace to Charles II. In this declaration, they explained what their beliefs were based upon. Despite the similarities with radical movements, the Quakers separated themselves from the Protestant sects because of their nihilistic philosophy, from the “Fifth Monarchy Men” and the revolutionary movements like the Levellers and the Diggers. According to historians, the Quakers have become more “peaceful” since this declaration.

Fox’s close associates included Robert Barkley and William Penn. In 1681, as payment of a debt, Charles II gave Penn land in the colonies of North America, which became Pennsylvania. This territory had a constitution that provided more civil and religious freedoms, and this attracted different people to the settlement.

In 1681, Penn and the local tribes signed a treaty of friendship. This was the beginning of the “sacred experiment” that lasted until the middle of the eighteenth century. After that, the Quakers lost their power in this province. Fox himself preached in Holland, Ireland and North America, where he formed new movements and groups.

The Quakers cooled off in their revolutionary impulses and fenced off from the outer world until the early nineteenth century.

In the eighteenth century however, John Woolman emerged among the Quakers in North America and became famous for his struggle against slavery. In the history of Quaker literature, his Diary is still considered an outstanding work.

In the nineteeth century, several schisms occurred among Quakers in America and in 1827, a more liberal offshoot emerged. It was led by Elias Hicks (a travelling Quaker preacher from Long Island, New York).

In 1845 and 1854, the traditional movement split into conservative and evangelical sections. From 1875 to 1900, evangelical services became pastoral services.

In 1900, the Liberal Quaker congregations in North America united to form the Friends General Conference. The centre was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1902, evangelical congregations formed the Five Years Meeting, which in 1966 split into the United Congregation of Friends, centred at Richmond and the Evangelical Friends Alliance, now the Evangelical Friends Church International.



The basis of philosophy is the doctrine of the inner revelation of the Holy Spirit, which is more significant than the Holy Scriptures. A person can perceive the Holy Spirit since in everyone there is a part of the divine nature i.e. “Inner Light”, which is not a part of human nature.

Quakers believe that a certain divine substance lives in a person and that true life lies in following its will, and through this communication with God becomes possible.

The four main principles of Quakers:

  1. All people, regardless of origin and position, are equal before God. Any discrimination is evil.
  2. One should always tell the truth. At the same time, any oaths are rejected.
  3. Life should be simple, without luxury and frills.
  4. Pacifism – the denying of violence and military service.

Quakers reject the sacrament and ordinance of baptism.

Quakers in Russia

Peter I met the Quakers in 1697. They tried to explain to him the importance of schools for ordinary people.

Quaker Daniel Wheeler drained a swampy area near St. Petersburg at the request of Alexander I.

Three Quakers from England met with Nicholas I on a mission to prevent the Crimean War.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Quakers from Great Britain and the United States helped the victims of the First World War who were starving in the Volga region as well as other people in need.

During Stalin’s time, the Quaker office in Moscow, which existed from 1921 to 1931, was the last among other foreign religious offices to be closed.

In 1995, the monthly meeting of the Quakers in Moscow acquired an official status.

Some Quakers live in St. Petersburg, Kazan and Barnaul.

Liberal Quakers exist in Estonia, Latvia and Georgia.

The Quakers opposed slavery, made friends with Native Americans, considered women and men equal and adhered to pacifist views. All of these principles were ahead of the time in which the Religious Society of Friends was formed.