Whilst based on Traditional Christian theology, Quakerism is distinct from other Christian groups in terms of the non-hierarchical structure of the group, a lack of clergy and a particular style of worship. The British Quaker worshipping style, characterised by still and silent waiting, allows for a diversity of beliefs to be held that may not necessarily be recognised by the group. It is argued that it is the conservative attitude towards how the Society is organised and certain behaviours (such as how decisions for church affairs are conducted), rather than coherence of belief, that unites the group. However, some researchers have voiced concern that diversity of belief, if taken to the extreme, may lead to a disruption of adherence to this ‘behavioural creed’ and thus disrupt the Society as a whole. This concern, coupled with declining numbers, has inspired research to be conducted that examines the types and trends of those who call themselves Quaker.
The current research had four aims: to summarise the dominant beliefs and characteristics of British Quakers (Aim 1); to investigate the characteristics of those taking on clerking responsibilities (Aim 2) ; to identify patterns of religious beliefs and practices amongst British Quakers (Aim 3); to make temporal comparisons over three national surveys of British Quakers, spanning 25 years (Aim 4). A questionnaire was developed and administered via Local Meetings. 649 responses were obtained using a quasi-random sampling method. Exploratory statistics showed that the majority of respondents were members (70%) rather than recognised attenders (29%). Other exploratory statistics addressing Aim 1 revealed that 14% of those that identified as Quaker did not hold a belief in God. Although a statistically non-significant association, such a result was unlike that which one would expect from a religious group and added support to investigation of beliefs held by those in the Society. Aim 2 was addressed using logistic regression techniques. A multivariate analysis, following a series of univariate analyses, revealed twelve predictors to be statistically significant for taking on clerking responsibilities. Temporal comparisons (Aim 4) were conducted using chi-square techniques and found a statistically significant decrease in belief in God.
The latent class analysis, conducted to investigate the religious beliefs and practices of modern British Quakers (Aim 3), can be thought of as the main contribution of this study. Using questions from the survey concerning religious beliefs, attitudes and practices, the analysis revealed three distinct underlying classes. The first class, labelled Traditional Quakers, represented 32% of those identifying as Quaker. This group held traditionally Christian attitudes in terms of belief in God, Jesus as Saviour and the importance of the Bible. The second class, labelled Non-theist Quakers, represented 18% of those identifying as Quaker. The labelling and constituency of these groups are informed by the latent class analysis results rather than any formal groupings, e.g. the Non-theist group referred to throughout the paper is based on this study alone rather than any formal Non-theist group such as the Non-Theist Network. This group held a distinctly different set of beliefs, the most striking of which was an apparent lack of belief in God. The third class, labelled Liberal Quakers, represented 50% of those identifying as Quaker. This group held a pattern of beliefs similar to, but less pronounced than, the Traditional Group.