Quakers are an interesting bunch in that our religious practice is precisely that: practice. Surrounding this word, minds like de Certeau1 and Jackson2 are summoned. Perhaps no greater, however, comes to the forefront than the [in]famous Pierre Bourdieu. Known most contentiously for his theory of habitus (which he spent the bulk of his life defending), I believe the true gem of his work is nestled deeper in his theory of practice (which, ironically, is what he titled his initial, seminal text, and which very few remember him for). It is in his theory of practice that I feel I can best represent my religious community.
To fully explain how I relate Bourdieu to Quakers, some groundwork must be laid. Fellow anthropologist and Quaker Peter Collins calls attention to two of Bourdieu’s terms which lie in tandem with one-another: doxa and praxis3; 4. Whilst these two may lie in direct opposition, they do so only in terms of manifestation, and they are, therefore, not entirely incompatible. Doxa – what a person believes – is an inherently personal, internal process. Praxis – what a person does – is, eo ipso, public: actions are performed externally in the sphere of ‘us’.
Collins has, elsewhere5, explored Quaker-ism more fully than I can lay out here. I do not want to edge in on his field. I do, however, want to express a personal voice within it.
It is common vernacular, in Quaker circles, that Quaker-ism is less about ortho-doxy and more about ortho-praxy; it is less about correct-belief, and more about correct-action. Our semi-canonic text, even, is titled ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’ (emphasis mine). The smaller, portable, text is the first two sections of that text, known as ‘Advices and Queries’, implying no certainty, merely 'more conversation needed'.
Many Meetings (the equivalent of a synagogue, temple, or church service) vary greatly in terms of what each member believes. I remember one of my first Meetings. We worship in the ‘traditional’ Quaker fashion: the Unprogrammed Meeting. In these, Friends gather, sit in concentric circles, and meditate/ruminate in silence. If any one Friend feels prompted to speak, they stand and do so.
In this particular Meeting, a woman spoke on God’s love, and the Quaker concept that this love is a light all persons have within them. After a period of silent reflection, an elderly man stood and stated: ‘The only problem with ‘god’, is that it’s missing an ‘o’ [good].’
This dialogue solidified my desire to be a part of this community intentionally. I do not present this in an attempt to glibly gloss over the inherently theological nature of Quaker faith and practice. Nor do I present this account as an apology, nor certainly an advert, for Quakers. Rather, I do so to note how encouraging of internal differences of doxa they are, whilst holding to a strict doxa of praxis. The confines of Quaker doxa are that all members are encouraged to actively participate. This Meeting practiced their faiths with each other. They created a third entity, one of intersubjectivity, where lives could be shared in auto/biography.
Doxa – the central, unifying belief – creates structure, fosters cohesion, and maintains consistency; praxis – the act of engaging oneself, and others, in our faith communities –engenders agency, encourages divergence, and promotes change. To thrive, a faith community – or any community of voluntary association – will enact both. The most successful of these, that I have seen or been a part of, have done so in a doxa-cum-praxis manner, an agency-cum-patiency.
Doxa-cum-praxis: paradox. Simultaneous cohesive divergence; structured freedom; lived belief. This sounds, to me, like the very essence of interfaith. The lived-out, third space of us-ness, wherein we are freed to live our structure, encouraged to practice our beliefs.
I would like, therefore, to leave on a number of questions:
1. de Certeau, Michel. 1984. The practice of everyday life. Berkeley: University of California Press
2. Jackson, Michael. 1995. At home in the world. Durham: Duke University Press
3. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
4. Collins, Peter. 2008. ‘The Practice of Discipline and the Discipline of Practice.’ In N. Dyke, ed., Exploring regimes of discipline: The dynamics of restraint. Oxford: Berghahn
5. Collins, Peter. 1996. ‘Auto/biography, narrative and the Quaker meeting’, Auto/Biography, 4 (2/3):27-38; 2002. ‘Habitus and the Storied Self: Religious faith and practice as a dynamic means of consolidating identities’. Culture and Religion 3: 147-161; 2003. ‘Storying Self and Others: The construction of narrative identity’, Journal of Politics and Language, 2; 243-65
Joseph is a professor, Quaker, husband, and friend. He teaches anthropology and humanities courses for a liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. He commutes by bike, plays guitar, and enjoys fine Scotch, wines, and foods with his wife. Current projects include: Workshop seminars on the intersection of Christian Theology and Western Pop-Culture; Collaborative immersion projects for students within religious communities divergent to their own.