A Day Trip to AAR to Have Theological Discussions on Quakerism

I had the chance to have a little road trip and drive down on Friday to San Diego and go to AAR (American Academy of Religion). I went down because of the Quaker theological discussion group that met from 4-10pm. I had a really great time meeting tons of new faces and Quaker scholars I’ve heard about (and often read) but haven’t met. I was really pleased to meet Paul Anderson, Corey Beals, Carole Spencer and Robert Gonzalez, among others. Oh, and it was really fun seeing Margery Post Abbott again as well. There were two sessions for the night. The first was called “A Quaker Sacramentology,” and while all the papers that were read we really interesting and put together well, they seemed to mainly present classic Quaker arguments for why historically we have the particular perspectives on the Sacraments we hold. But, to be honest, I found the criticisms more interesting and exciting then the papers themselves and would really like to see some of these criticisms fleshed out better (something I’ve attempted to begin in my Quaker Life article, “Sacramental Living, Redemptive Practices and Convergent Friends,” March/April 2007.)

I think David Johns, professor at Earlham School of Religion, offered some very important claims challenging classic Quaker sacramentology. One of the main areas of his critique was over the over-spiritualization of the sacraments.  The problems with this include: a) it is rooted in a unrelenting Platonistic dualism that reflects Descartes’ own culture more than our own, b) it doesn’t take into account the rise in physicalism and the overwhelming challenges to these dualistic notions, c) the idea of revelation as being “unmediated” is something that is both philosophically and theologically rooted in an antiquated epistemology. A further complication, in my own mind, is the increasing importance for communities of faith to allow creativity and art into its worship and create space for “redemptive practices” both during worship and within the world.

The second portion of the evening turned to reviewing Carole Spencer’s new book, Holiness:The Soul of Quakerism. Spencer, a professor at Geroge Fox and associate pastor at Reedwood Friends, did her dissertation on Quaker history and this is the book version of that work. According to everyone reviewing the book and other Quaker scholars such as Pink Dandelion and John Punshon, this is an absolute must-read book if you are interested in re-thinking Quaker history. Spencer approaches Quaker history with “Holiness” as an interpretive grid for understanding what constitutes Quakerism. The nine aspects she sees in authentic Quakerism are: scripture, eschatology, conversion, evangelicalism, charisma, suffering, mysticism and perfection. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve read some of her articles and I appreciate the perspective she presents in the book; it’s certainly something I will be using in my own scholarship and trying to build on.

Overall the meeting was a lot of fun, very stimulating and it was great meeting Quakers who are in the academic world.