Meanings of Silence in Quaker Worship

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This study draws upon original qualitative research in which the author – in systematic and analytical ways – asked nearly fifty Quakers from both the eastern part of the United States and in England to describe their understandings of Quaker silent workshop in the unprogrammed tradition. The research draws upon contemporary theory and integrates an interdisciplinary perspective about the complex relationship between silence and words. In addition, drawing upon the work of contemporary feminist scholarship, the book offers a critique of some key twentieth century studies about silent worship.


“Friends, and those interested in the phenomenon of Quaker life, have good cause to be grateful to Dr. Stan Searl for this exciting and illuminating study. My own horizons have been considerably broadened by reading it ... This book combines a broad sympathy with the research group and the desire to let people speak for themselves. The author has an exciting gift for asking the ordinary person’s question, and then putting what they say in context to illuminate our understanding …” – (from the Preface) John Punshon, Professor Emeritus, Earlham College

“Dr. Searl opens for us an intimate window upon that most private, yet most central of all Quaker activities – the individual seeker’s approach to God in the deep hush of Friends Meeting for Worship. Dr. Searl’s qualitative research methods allow him to navigate a middle path between the sterility of conventional academic analysis, and a sheer subjectivism of undisciplined narrative. His study retains reverent appreciation for the act of worship while bringing critical theory to bear upon the many personal and social dimensions of that act ... This book offers rich ground for scholars – and a feast for the spiritually curious.” – Steve Smith, Professor Emeritus, Claremont McKenna College

“Dr. Searl’s well-designed study of Quaker silent worship is particularly useful for those who want to understand what Friends experience in worship. This book furthers our understanding of metaphor and paradox in the ministry and silence of Quaker worship ... As qualitative research based upon interviews with a large sample of mostly unprogrammed Friends, the findings here are suppoted by individuals’ living experiences as well as by current scholarship on Quaker faith, plain speech, and feminist theory. This study offers important insights for those who want to understand the faith and practice of contemporary Quaker unprogrammed worship.” – Professor Mike Heller, Roanoke College, Virginia

Table of Contents

1. Varieties of Quaker Worship
2. The Worship Silence and Its Meanings: Challenges and Dilemmas
3. Worship and Issues of Community
4. The Challenges of Feminist Scholarship
5. Unresolved Dilemmas in Quakerism

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