QUAKER STUDIES 12/2 (2008) [264-273]
CANTOR, Geoffrey, Quakers, Jews and Science: Religious Responses to Modernity and
the Sciences in Britain, 1650â€“1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 432.
ISBN 0-19-927668-4, Hardback, Â£56.
The primary question addressed in this well-researched, informative book is how
speciï¬c religious communities engaged in and with science, the latter being deï¬ned
broadly as the physical and biological sciences, together with geology, anthropology
and mathematics. The speciï¬c communities investigated are the Quakers and Jews
in Britain, particularly England, from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth
centuries. The author is eager to show that any depth of understanding of this can
only come from careful contextual underpinning, a point that he fully exempliï¬es
throughout his text. The reader is made very aware not only of the contrast of the
Quaker and Jewish communities with other religious groups in England, especially
Anglicans, but also is helped to see the complex and changing differences there were
within these communities themselves. How to deï¬ne a Quaker or a Jew is explored
cautiously and a brief history of both communities in England is given. Careful
attention is given to issues of time and space and location and how these affected
variations in the groups and their reactions to science. Class differences within both
communities are also shown to be signiï¬cant and the almost complete absence of
women is noted, but not discussed in any depth.
Although clear divergences become apparent in the way Quakers and Jews viewed
and connected with science, it is shown that there were also similarities, not least
because both communities were dissenters from the established form of religion.
More than that they were outsiders: Quakers because their form of Christianity
marked them as separate from others of their religion; Jews because they had long
been the â€˜otherâ€™ for most Christians. Such issues of identity and distinctiveness are
demonstrated to be crucial in understanding the two groups in all their activities,
science being an important aspect of this. This was especially so because science was
one area where (especially if you were socially afï¬‚uent and you were male), people
of varying religious persuasions could come together on equal terms.
In tackling his basic question, the author explores the educational institutions set
up or favoured by Quakers and Jews and what scientiï¬c education they were likely
to receive in them. Excluded from any institutions which enforced subscription to