Book review by Tony Arden, Queensland Regional Meeting
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS, IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE INTERNATIONAL SACRED LITERATURE TRUST, 2010, NEW HAVEN & LONDON, PAPERBACK, 244 PAGES.
The International Sacred Literature Trust describes itself as being ‘established to promote understanding and open discussion between and within faiths… The publishing program is planned so that each faith community articulates its own teachings with the intention of enhancing its self-understanding as well as the understanding of those of other faiths and those of no faith.’
The Trust has already issued nine titles, most of Asian religions, but also one on Australian Aboriginal traditions and one on Christianity.
The author, Geoffrey Durham, became a Quaker in 1999 and was a founding member of Quaker Quest. He has provided a brief introduction, useful for those with very little experience of Friends, that covers our history, the Meeting for Worship, non-credalism, the major testimonies and some of our recent major concerns.
From there on, however, at a rough estimate, he has written less than one-tenth of the book, as a brief commentary scattered through the 80 authors and 200-odd citations.
Among these, he has also placed the British Advices and queries, and considerable extracts from Quaker journals – those of George Fox, Mary Pennington, John Woolman and Pierre Cérésole.
Apart from the journal extracts, the overall format is similar to, though only one-third of the size of Quaker faith and practice or this we can say. Durham has selected his material well. His authors are to the point, simple and direct.
One of the very useful pieces of advice I was given when I first started hanging around with Friends was ‘Don’t idealize Quakers.’ Useful in keeping one’s feet on the ground, and in avoiding the ‘illusionment’ that invariably precedes disillusionment. The difficulty with a book such as this, a compilation of extracts from the best of Friends’ writing, is that it is designed to show us at our best. So although it is well worth having on your own bookshelf, and it should certainly be in every Regional Meeting’s library, a word of warning when lent to non-Friends might not go astray.