The Wonders and Woes of Quaker Business Method: Egalitarian Decision Making in The Religious Society of Friends

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Haverford College. Department of Political Science
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Dark Archive until 2023-01-01, afterwards Haverford users only.
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Many peoples’ understanding of Quakers may be limited to notions of hippie peaceniks, the man on the Quaker Oats box, and maybe some knowledge of their tendency to hold church services sitting in silence. This thesis is an exploration of a lesser-known facet of this fundamentally egalitarian religion. The unique decision-making mechanism of many Quaker-identifying institutions, referred to as the Quaker Business Method, is egalitarian in nature, widely applicable, and politically charged. It is also highly susceptible to malpractice and the institution of hierarchies. Because of this, it serves as an interesting case to study what happens when a system that represents the egalitarian ideals of a community’s internal politics, and facilitates its relationships with external political institutions, is confronted by its vulnerabilities? What happens when the process through which these decisions for action/reform are made, is perceived to have developed unacceptable flaws? What happens, more specifically, when an egalitarian decision-making system is confronted by its weaknesses? This paper explores the role that factors such as wealth, and attachment to belief systems play in the community through the structure of the Quaker Business Method and how an aversion to the way the internal political process, as it operates in the historic and more formalized Quaker institution of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, played a role in the decision of the recently formed non-violent direct action organization, the Earth Quaker Action Team, to conduct their egalitarian-inspired organizing energies and civil disobedience outside of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The findings reemphasize that Quakerism takes anti-establishment forms in the interest of preserving its egalitarian principles and how that trend includes periods of being averse to the faith's “own” establishments. A case study on the founding of the The Earth Quaker Action Team serves as a prime example, as EQAT developed its own organization after the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting structure proved to be too rigid to accomplish their goals of prompting egalitarian reforms. The spirit of egalitarianism is still present in EQAT – the collective discernment of the Quaker Business Method is there, but to a limited extent and, while it seems that the Business Method in certain ways is failing, it should be conceded that there may be more than one way for people to re-aligned their relationships with one another to make decisions free of the ego and achieve more egalitarian processes and outcomes. The Business Process can still maintain its egalitarian nature and still be malleable to new contexts as shown by EQAT’s partial adoption of its spirit but applied to its unique organizational needs.