The way cast up
This dissertation uses the Keithian Schism, a split within the Society of Friends in the last decade of the seventeenth century led by George Keith, to integrate and thus better explore several aspects of Quakerism, the public sphere, and early Enlightenment fears of religious heterodoxy. Quaker history has often narrowly focused on those aspects of Quakerism that set it apart from English society as a whole. The Schism, I first seek to show, reveals how very early modern the Quakers were in their handling of honor culture, public dispute, identity, and political authority. At the same time, these common elements of Quakerism and early modern society are examined within the specific needs of the Society. Starting in the 1670s, the Society of Friends pursued a project of theological reform, and political lobbying in order to achieve legal toleration of their sect. Central to this effort was their ability to control how it was represented by opponents and members alike. Keith was involved with this project, at the levels of creating a less heterodox theological façade for the doctrine of the Inner Light and of using his more educated demeanor to cultivate elite allies (such as the Cambridge professor Dr. Henry More and his student, Anne Conway). Keith's adoption of a Renaissance system of ideas known as the "Ancient Theology" led him toward a more traditional formulation of the nature of Christ that helped provoke the Schism (without determining it). Influenced by English "revisionist" historians, however, I then focus on the narrative of the Schism, first within Pennsilvania and then London, to show that the Schism was also very much about personal honor, corporate identities, and reputation. Finally, the dissertation turns to the period after Keith's expulsion from the Society to reveal two often neglected aspect of the Schism: the role of non-Quakers and of the public sphere produced by the lapsing of the Licensing Act in 1695. These events reveal first the interest of a broader public in what is usually understood as an event solely within Quaker or colonial Pennsylvanian history. Likewise the entry into the press of numerous former Quakers, Dissenters, Anglicans and printers seeking to use the Schism to their own religious or commercial advantage elaborates recent historical literature concerning the perceived dangers of the public sphere. I set a portion of this Keithian literature, which consisted of a High Anglican attack on Quakerism as Deistic, within the contemporaneous Socinian Crisis and the rise of "societies for the reformation of manners," such as the Anglican S.P.G. and S.P.C.K., which were fundamentally anti-Quaker in their focus, both in England and the colonies. Ultimately, the ability of the Society to utilize it highly organized meeting structure to control its representation in the public sphere demonstrates the manner in which the public sphere of 1690s England was simultaneous dangerous and essential to the Quaker effort to achieve a toleration that extended beyond the merely legal.