Quakerism emerged in England in the 17th century, a time of rapid political and religious change, as a form of Christianity that emphasized the direct relationship between people and God. Quaker forms of worship developed which focused on the group encounter with the divine, rather than on dogma or creed. Worldwide, Quakers (who also use the name 'Religious Society of Friends', or just 'Friends') now number around 400,000, with the majority in Africa and the Americas and considerable diversity among us in religious observance and the words used to express spiritual experience.
Quakerism is rooted in Christianity but has always had a deep respect for other faiths from which many Quakers have learned over the years. Most Quakers see spiritual experience as central to Quakerism, and not the use of a particular form of words, because words can become a barrier rather than a search for understanding our shared human experience.
Spiritual insights, often called “testimonies”, tend to unite Quakers worldwide. They spring from deep experience and have been reaffirmed by successive generations of Quakers. These testimonies are to integrity, equality, simplicity, community, stewardship of the Earth, and peace. They arise from an inner conviction and challenge our normal ways of living. They exist in spiritually-led actions rather than in rigid written forms. They are not imposed in any way and they require us to search for ways in which we can live them out for ourselves. Our commitment to non-violence in thought, word and deed is based on the idea that all human beings have something of the divine with us. This idea can be described, in the words of founder George Fox (1624-1691), as "answering that of God in every one" and “seeking the inner light” in each person.
Throughout our history, Quakers have sought the challenging task of living out these values, both individually and as a community, in the ordinary detail of our lives and in the wider world. Following this path has led Quakers to be early advocates against slavery, for women’s rights, for better prison conditions, and for harmonious relationships between peoples and nations. In particular, most Quakers are pacifists, and seek non-violent, sustainable ways of addressing challenges, whether at a personal, communal, national or international level.
The following summaries of Quaker testimonies provide more information: