Holy NationThe Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution

Holy NationThe Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution

Sarah Crabtree

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226255767

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Holy Nation reconstructs the transnational religious community forged by the Society of Friends during the Age of Revolution. It utilizes the public and private writings of 76 ministers (40 male and 36 female) who crossed the Atlantic Ocean from 1750–1820 in order to reinforce religious ties across national borders. It argues that these Quakers envisioned themselves as the ancient Hebraic nation of Zion in order to articulate an identity not only separate from but in opposition to the nation-state during this critical period. This positionality, however, represented a triple threat to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century governments. First, Friends' primary political identity was invested not in the nation or the empire but rather in a loose, transatlantic alliance of Society members, undermining the idea of a cohesive citizenry. Second, Quakers were united in their opposition to the practices used by those in power to secure and exert their authority, challenging exclusionary definitions of citizenship. Finally, Friends' activism underscored the distance between the promise of democracy and the practices that violated it, highlighting the oppressive power of the state. In these three ways, the Friends' holy nation challenges the common supposition that religion and nationalism were mutually constitutive during this period, highlighting instead the role of religion in questioning the form and character of the nation-state. Holy Nation thus intervenes in religious and Atlantic World historiography, demonstrating how religious identity subverted the project of nation-building by offering concrete alternative definitions of nation and citizen at the turn of the nineteenth century.