The Quaker faith is one with a number of beliefs that set it aside from other religions and Christian sects. These beliefs make members very difficult to define, since they are largely governed by their own personal faith and ethics, and the religion actually lacks a governing universal creed. Since the Quakers have had a surprisingly large impact on society, given how small their global membership is, understanding their basic beliefs can be very helpful.
The origins of the Quakers, also called the Religious Society of Friends, can be found in England during the mid-1600s. This was a period of extreme religious turmoil, and some people felt that the Christianity of England at that time was no longer true to the teachings of Christ. As a result, they founded their own religious group, which is closely associated with Christianity. Some modern branches, however, can also profess another faith at the same time, such as Buddhism, and they may also say that they are agnostic.
The central guiding principle of the faith is that the spirit comes from within, in a concept called “inner light.” An individual's inner light governs his or her beliefs, and no one in the faith will tell someone else what he or she should believe. This is a reflection of the larger belief that all people can commune with God, should they choose to do so, without the actions of an intermediary. In addition, members are expected to translate their inner faith into direct action. For example, if the spirit moves someone to believe that the mistreatment of animals is wrong, he or she must act to put a stop to that practice.
Quakers also do not believe in a hierarchy of any kind, and they have a very egalitarian religious practice. Men and women of all social ranks are considered equal, just as they are in the eyes of God. Member of the faith also tend to believe in living simply and honestly, and they prefer to take affirmations rather than oaths. This preference stems from the idea that taking an oath implies that one might lie, whereas an affirmation implies agreement with the principle of honesty. As a result of this belief, some nations allow people to take affirmations rather than oaths in court or similar situations.
At a set time every week, Quakers meet together. Most branches follow a specific program of worship that includes readings and a sermon. A few practice waiting worship, which consists of sitting in silence, only speaking if they feel particularly moved by the spirit. Otherwise, the group sits quietly, taking the time to contemplate God and their daily lives. In organizations run by the group, a silent period may be held daily for the purposes of contemplation.