Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Faith on the Hill: Quakers

"If your life could speak, what would it say?"

This essay question, based on a Quaker phrase, is familiar to those Jumbos who chose to answer it on their on their Undergraduate Admissions applications. The reference, however, is no coincidence. The Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakerism, hold central tenants that Tufts Quakers say are compatible with ideals and spirit of life on the Hill.

Although the community of Quakers and Quaker high school graduates boasts a solid constituency on the Hill, there are no organizations or networks for Quaker students in recent Tufts history. Recognizing this lack of community, freshman Dan Jubelirer decided to bring together students of the Quaker faith as well as any students who might be interested in attending Quaker meetings.

Jubelirer's first initiative began with the organization of an informal meeting, publicized through a post on TuftsLife.

"I'd been told that several years ago there was an informal Friends meeting [at Tufts], and I was talking with some Friends who went to Quaker school, and we were all sort of a little bit sad that there wasn't a group or a meeting," Jubelirer said.

During the first meeting on November 20th, about a dozen students showed up to participate in the silent reflection and community, guided by a sheet made by Jubelirer that outlined the main points of a Quaker meeting as well as ideas for what to think about during the meeting.

For about 45 minutes, the students sat in silence, with a student occasionally standing up to share a thought about some aspect of faith or life with the rest of the group. Mostly, though, the group basked in the kind of deep silence that is all too often missing on a busy college campus.

Jubelirer said that this first meeting was both a relative success and a testament to the need for such an organization.

"A lot of the people I've talked to who [said they would be at the meeting] went to Quaker high schools and had a silent meeting as part of their week," he said. "It was cool and I really enjoyed it. I didn't realize the value it had to me, until I left and I didn't have it anymore, and that's similar to a lot of people, where they miss having that time."

The religious movement that resulted in the Religious Society of Friends first began in England, sophomore Alex Goodhouse explained, where preacher George Fox held that within everyone there is an inner light and voice of God that can be heard through deep reflection and focus. People associated with the faith are called Friends, and the term Quaker was a term initially only used outside the group.

"The term Quakerism came from other people calling them that because when they were moved to speak in their meetings they would physically start shaking," Goodhouse said.

Quakerism, a sect of Christianity, differs from the more dominant forms of the religion through its emphasis on the complete equality of all humans, its disregard for formalities and complicated dogma and its silent reflection−based meetings. Quakerism also emphasizes peace and simplicity and focuses on individual spirituality.

"It's about seeing the light inside of everyone," Goodhouse said. This approach to worship, he explained, is widely attractive to those who do not wish to align with a hard−line faith.

"Especially with young people, it's really appealing to kids that will say, ‘I'm spiritual but I'm not religious.' So you can take it as the light of being alive."

For some, being a Quaker is less a matter of faith and more a lifestyle that can be followed by people of any religious beliefs

"Quakerism is more of a practice and a set of philosophies," Jubelirer said. "It's an individual process, so for some people it very much is their religion and their faith, but for others it can be just a lifestyle or sort of a set of beliefs that you hold."

Although the focus on community is an important part of Quakerism, it implies no rigid structure within the organization of each community. In addition, Quaker meetings stand out from the sermons and prayer sessions of other religions because of their distinct informality.

"Central to Quakerism is a sort of non−hierarchical worship setting," Jubelirer said. "So there's no priest who leads a service, but members sit at a circle, and members sit in silence. If you feel moved to speak, you can say something, and there's no dogma. It's light on rules and commandments and heavy on reflection and community."

Not all meetings are held in silence. Occasionally, a prompt or query is given in order to give people something to talk about. For the most part though, Jubelirer said, meeting attendees simply sit in contemplative silence for long stretches of time, occasionally standing up to share a personal thought, feeling, insight or prayer to the group.

Quaker students are hoping to start up a regular meeting group on campus. If enough consistent interest is shown, Jubelirer said, he hopes to help out in the creation of some type of Quaker student organization.

He stressed that all students would be welcome to attend the Quaker meetings, and that if there were to be a student organization for Quaker students on campus, it would be open to all.

"It's not just for people who would call themselves Quakers," Jubelirer said. "I think that anyone of any particular faith would be welcome to come to a meeting, and I guess my biggest hope is that it can be a place of reflection for people who want to have that in their week."

Jubelirer and Goodhouse agreed that part of what drew them to Tufts in the first place was how the atmosphere on the Hill seemed to be consistent with their Quaker beliefs.

"Tufts is sort of known −− or markets itself −− as being very humanistic and caring about turning knowledge into action and all that, which actually sounded similar to a lot of the ways that my Quaker high school marketed itself, too," Jubelirer said.

Jubelirer added that being open to new ideas is an important part of Quakerism, and that this attitude fits in perfectly at Tufts.

"There's the quote, ‘The truth is continually revealed.' You have to sort of be open to hearing other opinions and open to change, and that's a big part of it to me," he said.

Raised under the Jewish faith, Jubelirer now identifies as Quaker after graduating from the Quaker Carolina Friends School in Durham, S.C..

Goodhouse, who does not identify religiously as a Quaker but went to a Quaker high school, says that he sees parallels between the style of his education at Tufts and the Quaker line of thinking.

"There's a real practical pragmatic aspect of Tufts, and that fits in with the Quaker ideas about integrity, about living what you do and not just saying ‘we're going to learn about stuff,'" he said.

"Tufts has a lot in common with the mindset, it's a really good fit," he added.

Parker MacClure, a freshman who also attended a Quaker high school, echoed these sentiments.

"At Tufts, they have the entire ‘Global Citizen' thing, and it's very outward thinking, which I feel like went along very well with a lot of what I learned in high school at my Quaker school," MacClure said. "I was just really drawn to Tufts because I really like that active citizenship, because that went really well with what I believed and what my school taught me."

MacLure says he was eager to incorporate a weekly Quaker meeting back into his life.

"I did appreciate it when I was in high school, but I didn't realize how much I appreciated it until I didn't have it," he said.

"It's nice to sort of have that time for personal reflection and reflection on other things going on."