Posted by: Gray | September 14, 2014

Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Research

This summer I and a team of others from the Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) published a new short book on Quaker approaches to research that draw on Friends’  traditions of communal discernment to enrich and frame investigations — including variations of spirit-led work that involves “meeting for worship for the conduct of research”.  This work is available through mainstream online book sellers as well as through the QIF  website at


The aim of this pamphlet is to describe 1) the vision, theory, and traditions of practice inspiring a Quaker approach to research; 2) experiments with specific methods used; 3) initial results and findings; and 4) the key challenges and puzzles that remain. It further aims to explore the relevance of Quaker process when the participants are not Quaker or even religious.

Chapter I begins with a description of the vision, theory, and tradition of practices that emerged among early Quakers in the 1600s and that have been refined and extended in a variety of decision-making contexts over the last 350 years. Chapter II provides a more detailed account of the procedures and practices with which QIF has experimented in its first ten years.

Chapter III compares other traditions with these Quaker practices of communal discernment in research, policy analysis and collective decision making. There is much to be learned through dialogue with other faith-based traditions. Further, it is useful to consider how Quaker practices may be usefully modified and adapted in secular settings.

Chapter IV explores some of the philosophical issues and challenges that are raised by the very idea of having a “Quaker Epistemology” or way of knowing and the distinctive assumptions made about the process of research, the norms and criteria for knowledge, and the nature of reality. Especially challenging are the historic splits that have been framed between church and state, and between faith and reason. This chapter does not provide final resolution to the important methodological and metaphysical issues raised but try to frame them in reasonable and useful ways to facilitate ongoing dialogue amongst Quakers and others, even ardent atheists.

Chapter V closes with some reflections on the future of collaborative and communal research.

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