Sharing My MA Thesis: Aggression in the Quaker Meeting for Worship

Over ten years ago, I spent a year pursuing the role of the instinct for aggression–the instinct to act, behave, take part, stand up, speak out, and so on–in my masters thesis, “’Ecstasy Has Been Given to the Tiger:’ Aggression in the Quaker Meeting for Worship,” which I share below.

ABSTRACT. Together, aggression and Quakerism are two seemingly disparate aspects of the intersection of psychiatry and religion. Society generally encourages disavowing aggression because of its incitement of and pairing with hatred and violence. Quakerism is branded at the other end of the spectrum as entirely passive for its silence (in the worship service) and dedication to peace (evident in its renowned social justice efforts). Yet aggression and Quakerism are intrinsically and necessarily intertwined for any religion’s healthy survival. Drawing upon work by Winnicott, Holbrook, and Ulanov to theorize the place of aggression in Quaker Meeting, I use William James’ method of presenting a variety of experiences of Meeting for Worship–primarily on unprogrammed Meetings in the Friends General Counsel (FGC). I make my arguments based on close readings of Quaker materials, including seminal histories, spiritual works, and Pendle Hill Pamphlets, as well as my personal experience of Quaker Meeting. I argue of the need for aggression within Quakerism and why Quakerism is a key channel for aggression. My aim is that the model of aggression in Quaker Meeting afford other religious groups who seek to address their aggression, and also for Quakers to be further aware of the roots of their own experiences.

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