The Swarthmore Project

The Swarthmore Lecture is an institution that has found its home as a significant part of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham and Britain Yearly Meeting.

The first lecture was delivered in 1908 by Rufus Jones and since then, a new lecture has been commissioned every year. We’ve now had 102 lectures.

The preface to the first lecture sets the scene:

“This book is the first of a series of public addresses to be known as the Swarthmore Lectures. The Lectureship was established by the Woodbrooke Extension Committee, at a meeting held December 9th, 1907. The Minute of the Committee provides for “an annual lecture on some subject relating to the Message and Work of the Society of Friends.” The name “Swarthmore” was chosen in memory of the home of Margaret Fox, which was always open to the earnest seeker after Truth, and from which loving words of sympathy and substantial material help were sent to fellow-workers.

“The Woodbrooke Extension Committee requested Rufus M Jones, M.A., D.Litt., of Haverford College, Pennsylvania, to give the first lecture on the evening preceding the holding of the Friends’ Yearly Meeting of 1908. In accordance with this decision, the lecture was delivered in the Central Hall, Birmingham, on May 19th.

“The Swarthmore Lectureship has been founded with a two-fold purpose: firstly, to interpret further to the members of the Society of Friends their Message and Mission; and secondly, to bring before the public the spirit, the aims and the fundamental principles of the Friends. This first lecture presents Quakerism as a religion of experience and first-hand reality—a dynamic, practical religion of life.”

But how do the lectures stand the test of the time? With The Swarthmore Project, Nayler is asking Quakers from across Britain to assess a lecture with a perspective from today, decide whether it is still relevant and what inspiration you can take from the lecture. Does the argument stand up? And what do you like about this lecture? Anything else you can add in is welcome too.

As ever, the deadline is always as soon as possible and the world limit is 300-2,000 words.

We’re willing to publish more than one review of each lecture, but if you want to write about one that hasn’t been done yet, here’s our list of what has been published and what we know is in motion.

If you’d like to take part, leave a comment marked ‘not for publication’ and we’ll be in touch.


1974 – Prophets and reconcilers by Wolf Mendl

1978 – Signs of life by John Ormerod Greenwood

1981 – True Justice by Adam Curle

1985 – Steps in a large room by Christopher Greenwood

1994 – Being together by Margaret Heathfield

2000 – Forgiving Justice by Tim Newell

2008 – Minding the future by Christine AM Davis

2009 – The presence in the midst by Peter Eccles

2011 – Costing not less than everything by Pam Lunn

In review

1908 – Quakerism a religion for life by Rufus M Jones

1912 – The nature and purpose of a Christian society by Terrot Reaveley Glover

1919 – Silent worship by Lucy Violet Holdsworth

1920 – Quakerism and the future of the church by Herbert Wood

1929 – Science and the unseen world by Arthur Eddington

1934 – Christ, yesterday and today by George Barker Jeffery

1947 – The salt and the leaven by George W Harvey

1949 – Authority leadership and concern by Roger C Wilson

1969 – Bearings, or, Friends and the new reformation by Maurice Creasey

1988 – Minority of one by Harvey Gillman

1990 – Testimony and tradition by John Punshon

2006 – Reflections from a long marriage by Roger and Susan Sawtell

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