Circles of Discernment

Many Friends are increasingly concerned about the human prospect and the future of Earth’s whole community of life.

What is the potential for Quaker testimonies in helping create a more hopeful path into the future?

The Circles of Discernment program is a method for advancing critical understanding and applying Quaker testimonies to the economic, ecological, and public policy crisis of the 21st century.

What are Circles of Discernment and What Do They Do?

Circles of Discernment (CoD) are small groups of Friends who study and research topics of critical importance for the future of life on Earth. Some CoDs prepare pamphlet length texts on their findings. which are published as QIF Focus Books. The Focus Book series is oriented toward advancing further study and consultation among Friends, and toward making a Quaker contribution to the larger public dialogue on how human communities can live in right relationship with Earth’s commonwealth of life.

How Are Circles of Discernment Formed?

CoDs can be formed in a variety of ways. A person with as particular leading can take the initiative to compose a CoD within his or her Monthly Meeting. CoDs can also be composed by Friends at a distance who share a common interest. Peace and Social Concerns Committees can initiate CoDs. Individuals with a theme of study they would like to advance, but who lack a collaborative discernment context, can contact the CoD coordinator (see below) for assistance in becoming part of the CoD process. For individual researchers and writers working on texts they wish to publish, the QIF editorial process itself can become a CoD. In all cases QIF provides guidance as necessary.

A Word About “Study and Collaborative Discernment”:

“Study” in this context means secondary research – the review and synthesis of information from existing sources. It means a more systematic approach to the investigation of a topic than would be the case with casual reading. “Collaborative discernment” means the shared allocation of study and reflection. It means collectively reviewing what has been learned and deciding how to frame and present the critical issues in the light of Quaker testimonies. QIF expects that CoDs will form most readily where strong study interests are already present and where Friends are looking for ways to engage in a larger public dialogue.

Preparing a Text:

In this kind of group process, it often works well for one member to prepare a draft text which is then collectively reviewed until participants are satisfied with the outcome. Alternatively, specific sections of the text can be prepared by different participants. This method usually requires some re-writing to harmonize voice and style. A third approach is to have specific sections written by individual authors as distinct essays. QIF can help with the writing and editing process.

Extending the Context, Enhancing the Voice

CoDs may be especially appropriate for enhancing the effect of study and research work in which Friends are already engaged. The publications created by CoDs will advance Friends’ understanding of critical issues for the human future, and help contribute a Quaker voice to the dialogue on public policy for the common good.

First Step:

If you are interested in initiating a CoD, or in relating work in which you are already engaged to the CoD process, please contact QIF. We are eager to hear of your interest and to discuss next steps with you. See contact information below.


The focus of the Institute’s concerns can be characterized in the following way:

* Economic behavior that increasingly undermines the ecological processes on which life depends.
* The development of technologies and capabilities that hold us responsible for the future of humanity and the earth.
* Structural violence and lethal conflict arising from the pressures of change, increasing inequity, concentrations of power and wealth, declining natural capital, and increasing militarism.
* The increasing separation of people into areas of poverty and wealth, and into social domains of aggrandizement and deprivation.
* The prevailing philosophy of individualism and its aggressive promotion as the principal means for the achievement of the common good.
* The complexity of global interdependence and its demands on governance systems and citizen’s responsibilities.
* The convergence of ecological and social crisis into life-support and societal breakdown.

The Institute expects CoDs will take up concerns relating to one or more of these broad themes. The mission of QIF is to “advance a global future of inclusion, social justice, and ecological integrity through participatory research and discernment.”

QIF Linkage:

QIF sees the CoD program as an effective and ecologically responsible, mode of development. QIF’s Research Committee and Publications Committee provide guidance and support, linking CoDs to the Institute. QIF’s website provides a communication link between CoDs. QIF plays a clearinghouse role with regard to themes and issues. Click here for a listing of specific CoDs which have been completed or are in progress.

Contact: Judy Lumb

Quaker Institute for the Future