Conference 2017

The next Quaker Universalist Annual Conference will be held on May 5th-7th 2017 at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham.

‘Exploring the mystery of mysticism’

‘Is mysticism an experience of oneness with the divine, an altered state of consciousness, being at one with nature, a way of explaining the unexplainable or something else?’


During this conference we will be ‘exploring the mystery of mysticism’ by hearing about how it has been viewed and practised by different faith traditions and whether it still has any relevance today.  There will be plenty of space for participants to explore what mysticism means to them and share whether it has or could have a place in their own lives.


Professor Christopher Cook qualified in medicine from St George’s Hospital Medical School, London in 1981. He undertook postgraduate training in psychiatry at the United Medical & Dental Schools of Guys and St Thomas’s in London. His MD thesis was on the genetic predisposition to alcohol misuse, and he published widely in the field of alcohol misuse and addiction, including articles on spirituality and addiction, before making spirituality, theology and health his main area of clinical and academic interest. He has higher degrees in both medicine and theology. He was ordained as an Anglican Priest in 2001.

Professor Cook is Director of the Project for Spirituality, Theology & Health at Durham University, an Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist with Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, and an Honorary Minor Canon at Durham Cathedral. He is President of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality. His book publications include The Philokalia and the Inner Life (James Clarke, 2011), Spirituality, Theology & Mental Health (ed. CCH Cook, publ SCM, 2013), and Spirituality and Narrative in Psychiatric Practice (eds Cook,Powell & Sims, Royal College of Psychiatrists Press, 2016).

Rex Ambler is a retired lecturer (having taught at Birmingham University for 30 years), Quaker Theologian and prolific writer on theology and Quaker beliefs and practices. His books include Truth of the Heart, an anthology of George Fox, The Quaker Way: a rediscovery and Light to Live by: An Exploration of Quaker Spirituality.   He also devised the Quaker approach to meditationExperiment with Light’, based on early Friends’ discoveries. Rex spends much of his time travelling and giving workshops and talks about Quaker faith and practice, teaching Quaker meditation and helping people to set up their own Light groups. We are delighted to welcome back Rex, who was a speaker at the QUG’s 2010 Conference. 

Dr Alinda Damsma is Senior Lecturer at Leo Baeck College, London. She teaches Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Jewish mysticism.  Alinda’s past publications focused on Aramaic, the Targumim and Jewish mysticism, including her well received monograph, The Targumic Toseftot to Ezekiel, 2012. She is currently working on two monographs: a grammar of the Zohar, and a study on the perception of witchcraft in the King James Version. Her research interests are the Hebrew Bible, Bible translations, Semitics (specifically Classical Hebrew and Aramaic), Jewish mysticism, and magic and witchcraft in biblical & post-biblical times.  

Dr Sharada Sugirtharajah is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham.  Sharada’s research focuses on representations of Hinduism in colonial and postcolonial writings.  She also has research interests in Modern Hindu Thought, Religious Pluralism, Interreligious Relations, Hinduism in Diaspora, and Women’s issues.  As Honorary Senior Research Fellow, she is engaged in freelance work and has led sessions for students, counsellors, social workers, nurses, clergy and multi-faith groups. Sharada has acted as a consultant to various Religious Education projects and is on the International Editorial Board of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. We are delighted to welcome back Sharada, who was a speaker at the QUG’s 2012 Conference.

Jan Arriens has had an interest in mysticism going back 50 years to his university days in Melbourne. He has written extensively in the Friend and other Quaker publications, including QUG pamphlet no. 17, The Place of Jesus in Quaker Universalism. Jan is the author of all-age Quaker stories (Journeys in the Light) and stories set in India with mystical overtones (Seeking the Source). He is at present struggling with a book on the theme of head and heart, or the tussle between rational scepticism and personal experience. Jan has been actively involved with prisoners on death row in the USA for nearly 30 years, founding the LifeLines correspondence organisation in 1988.

After last year’s very successful conference we look forward to seeing many old Friends and greeting new ones. Last year’s conference was oversubscribed, so do get in your applications in good time!

All are welcome whether a member of a faith tradition or not

The cost is £210.00 per head.  To make a booking please request a booking forms from Glen Gates, 5 School Street, Church Lawford, Rugby, CV23 9EE ( or on this website here.