Ali Mctar was raised Muslim in an Iraqi family on the San Diego-Tijuana border, but he found Quakerism in 2012 as a student at Williams College, where he attended the Old Chatham Friends Meeting in New York. As a Watson fellow, he lived in Quaker communities around the world, specifically in countries with histories of conflict, learning how international Friends lived out their peace and justice testimonies. He is an active member of the Princeton Monthly Meeting where he clerks the Peace and Social Concerns Committee. He recently finished his Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton and works on early modern literature and theology, focusing on antinomianism, which is to say on critiques of the law, mostly in poetry. He currently teaches in the English department at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.
During the month of August, Ali will be at Pendle Hill, writing an account of the Quakers within the Reformation, surveying the further reaches of the Protestant influence in early modern English radical religion. Ali writes:
“The Reformation presents one important and still unconsidered model for any thinker within the various revolutionary and transformative traditions (of feminism and anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism). We have inherited from the twentieth century various programs of cultural transformation, but we rarely pause to consider the most obvious precedent for such a thing – to consider, that is, how the Protestant Reformation succeeded, but also where it didn’t, its localized failures, and its unevenness and possible paradoxes.
During my time at Pendle Hill, I will focus on the early Quakers within the context of Luther and Calvin’s theologies. I rewrite the story of the Protestant Reformation with the Quakers as the repressed center of Reformation theology. Reformation scholarship has recently taken a strange turn. James Simpson, the prominent senior professor of English at Harvard, has argued against Protestantism. Modernity, for Simpson, is a disaster. He advances the thesis that we would be better off without the Protestant Reformation. Rather than Luther’s innovative theology, Simpson proposes a return to medieval Catholicism as the ideal social form.
But Simpson seems unaware of the Quakers. Indeed, once the Quaker and antinomian dimensions of Reformation theology come into view, I argue that Simpson, along with many Reformation scholars, must dramatically alter the conventional story of the Reformation. That is, the Quakers are often viewed as a fringe group within the Protestant Reformation, but my project argues that early Quakers rekindle the sparks of early Luther’s Pauline writing that ignited the entire Protestant Reformation. In short, I contend that Quakerism is the key to rediscovering the emancipatory message of the Protestant Reformation. At the heart of my project is a simple thesis: the Quakers are not a radical offshoot of the Reformation. Rather, they are the culmination of Luther’s theology and represent the cohesive formulation of Reformation theology. Moreover, cultural, literary, and religious historians would benefit from a more detailed account of Quaker theology and writings from within the context of Reformation Europe, and specifically early modern England. I write that account.”