chapter  9
16 Pages

The layered theoscape of Philadelphia

The Quaker experiment as a religious crucible
WithPink Dandelion

Philadelphia was a spiritual vision of urban planning but not of material sacramentality. Philadelphia has remained Quaker at heart, but Quakers now represent a tiny minority of the city's population. This chapter explores the translation of Penn's utopian vision into a functioning city and how the rapid accretion of worldly layers on the Quaker experiment transformed the ideal city on earth. Quaker theological optimism based on the sense of direct connection with God led to an assumption of self-regulation. The challenge for the Quaker proprietor and the ruling Quakers was how to switch from living as oppressed sectarians to societal leaders while remaining true to their spiritual 'leadings'. The experiment was compromised by the fact that Quakers were, in spite of their best intentions, irresolutely human and subject to temptation like everyone else. Syncretism is about addition rather than replacement, and as such, Quakerism has remained a foundational, if compromised and marginalized, layer in the city's cultural and religious history.