Quaker Studies

Book Reviews

Quaker Studies (2008), 12, (2), 264–273.


QUAKER STUDIES 12/2 (2008) [264-273] ISSN 1363-013X BOOK REVIEWS CANTOR, Geoffrey, Quakers, Jews and Science: Religious Responses to Modernity and the Sciences in Britain, 1650–1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 432. ISBN 0-19-927668-4, Hardback, £56. The primary question addressed in this well-researched, informative book is how specific religious communities engaged in and with science, the latter being defined broadly as the physical and biological sciences, together with geology, anthropology and mathematics. The specific 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 exemplifies 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 define 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 significant 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 ‘other’ 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 affluent 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 scientific education they were likely to receive in them. Excluded from any institutions which enforced subscription to

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Author details

Watts, Ruth

Seid, Timothy W.

Hamm, Thomas D.

Hagglund, Betty

Jung, Jiseok