Summer Research Seminar 2005

Summary Report on the 2005 Summer Research Seminar

Held by the Quaker Institute for the Future

The Quaker Institute for the Future held its first Summer Research Seminar in Bar Harbor, Maine, from July 1-31, 2005. The aim was to bring together Quakers interested in making the experiment of framing their public policy research in terms of Quaker testimonies and modeling their research methodology on Quaker practices of communal discernment. The ten Friends who took part worshiped, worked, lived, ate and played together in what turned out to be a very productive experience and a very promising model for future collaboration in spirit-led research. Offices, library access, internet connections and meeting spaces were provided by College of the Atlantic. Very helpful support and oversight were provided by members of Acadia Friends Meeting (who also provided the three houses where participants stayed).

Participants’ areas of research included:
– ethical behavior in corporations
– challenges in managing biotechnology
– relationships between values maturation and human development
– the writings of African American Friends
– agricultural policy regarding trade
– community life and farm policy
– experiences of Silence and forms of leadership amongst Friends
– the growth and changes in the progressive religious movement in the U. S.
– relations between Quaker and Buddhist views

A variety of grant proposals and drafts for ongoing projects on these themes came out of the summer seminar. A central theme of special interest to all the participants came to be referred to as the question of “a Quaker epistemology”. The core idea was that the search for truth in research on public policy might use spirit-led methods modeled on Friends’ spirit-led search for truth in other contexts – just as we have “meetings for worship for the conduct of business” we might have “meetings for worship for the conduct of research”. Throughout the month-long seminar a variety of experiments on this theme were tried, and were found, in many cases, to be very nurturing for a spirit-led process of investigation.

The participants (including two Canadians and two African Americans) brought a diversity of backgrounds to their work on these themes including prior experience in a variety of parts of the world, prior work in business, government, NGOs and academia, and prior training in sociology, law, economics, philosophy, rhetoric, cultural studies, anthropology and other fields. Three members of the Quaker Institute’s board took part: Leonard Joy, Anne Mitchell and Gray Cox. (Peter Brown was also able to attend briefly for a Saturday Seminar and Keith Helmuth made the experiment of taking part as a virtual member, worshiping at the same time and sharing work in progress – and messages from the Silence – via email.) Other Friends participating included Stan Searl, Laura Holliday, Tracey McCowen, Sara Wolcott, Al Connor, Hal Weaver, and Doug Uranick. Several needed to arrive late or leave early but all found it possible to join in as members of a very convivial, collegial, Friendly community. Visitors able to attend for a day and share in the process included Peter and Cindy Trueblood, Pri Keene, and Robert and Diane Phipps from Acadia Friends Meeting, and Bonnie Tai, a non-Quaker professor of education from College of the Atlantic.

The group met daily through the week at 8:30 am for a half hour or so of worship out of the silence. This was normally followed up from 9:30 to 11:00 with meetings to share works in progress or to decide business matters for the seminar. The formats of these meetings varied considerably. We experimented with various procedures Friends have developed for spirit-led communal discernment including, for example, “worship dialogues”, “threshing sessions”, “clearness committees”, and formally clerked “meetings for worship for the conduct of business”. We also experimented with mixing formats – shifting, for example, into a “brainstorming” mode as a group when we sought to generate ideas and then shifting formally back into a meeting that was quiet, still and attentive to the leadings of the Spirit. People worked on separate tasks for the rest of the morning, shared lunch together at the College cafeteria, and then worked individually or in small groups through the afternoon.

Suppers were often shared – both in the making and the eating. Evenings and weekends provided further opportunity to not only work but to appreciate the wonderful natural landscape of Acadia National Park and the delightful cultural events that occur in the summer on Mount Desert Island. Sunday mornings we shared worship with Acadia Friends Meeting. We also met jointly with Acadia Friends twice at the home of Bonnie and Ed Snyder. The first time took the form of a discussion of issues raised by an article by Gray Cox that appeared in the May issues of FRIENDS JOURNAL (“Meeting God Halfway”) and the second time was to report out to Acadia Friends some of the activities of the Summer Research Seminar and to invite their comments and queries to help the seminar group seek clearness about its work.

Appendices provide further information about the participants and their projects. Works in progress discussed by the Seminar group included a series of grant proposals, materials from a book on the Quaker experience of Silence by Stan Searl (published afterward as Voices from the Silence, AuthorHouse 2005), as well as papers which are available on this website, including Gray Cox:’s “Communal Discernment and Academic Research: Is there a Quaker Epistemology for the study of Public Policy and Social Change?” and Leonard Joy’s “Individual and Societal Transformation: The Connection”.

Costs of the program were minimal (approximately $200 per person for the month) because College of the Atlantic very generously donated the use of office and meeting spaces and because local Friends provided inexpensive and, in some cases, free housing. The participants purchased food on their own and cooked together – in meals that were always a delight to eat and which provided opportunities for very convivial and productive sharing.

Overall, the seminar was viewed as a wonderful experience for the participants, a basic format that is very much worth repeating again in future years, and a very suggestive model that can be used in designing and developing other kinds of seminars, conferences, grant projects and other activities in which the Quaker Institute for the Future hopes to foster spirit-led research.

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