QUG Newsletter January 2017

Our next Annual Conference May 5th-7th 2017

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.

Places are filling up fast (40 or so have booked in already) so you are advised to apply as soon as you can, if possible before February 27th .

We have five speakers, as follows: 

Professor Chris Cook qualified in medicine from St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, in 1981. He undertook postgraduate training in psychiatry at 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 was ordained as an Anglican Priest in 2001. Professor Cook is Director of the Project for Spirituality, Theology & Health at Durham University and President of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality. His book publications include The Philokalia and the Inner Life (2011), Spirituality, Theology & Mental Health(2013), and Spirituality and Narrative in Psychiatric Practice, ed. Cook, Powell and Sims (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 meditation ‘Experiment 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.  Sharada is engaged in freelance work and has led sessions for students, counsellors, social workers, nurses, clergy and multi-faith groups. She 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. Sharada edited and wrote two essays in the book Religious Pluralism and the Modern World: An Ongoing Engagement with John Hick (2012) and also wrote Imagining Hinduism: A Postcolonial Perspective (2003).  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.


The cost is £210.00 per head. A booking form is at the end of this newsletter and should be sent with a cheque to Glen Gates, 5 School Street, Church Lawford, Rugby, CV23 9EE. If you have any questions about the conference please contact Glen at gleng@qug.org.uk. A booking form is also in the October edition ofUniversalist and on our website https://qug.org.uk/

 The February edition of Universalist

 The next edition of Universalist will come out soon. It will include, as promised, a report on the talk at last year’s conference entitled The Essence of Enlightenment – Unconditional Compassion by the Buddhist speaker, Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche. We hope to produce a report on the talk The Compassionate Mind by the anthropologist and sociologist Hannah Gilbert later this year.

We were delighted to receive so many ‘letters to the Editor’ for the February 2017 issue of the Universalist.  Hazel Nelson, Universalist editor, would welcome hearing your responses on the matters raised there, or on any other issue you would like to raise or comment on. Hazel’s email address is hazeln@qug.org.uk.

Our Annual Conference in 2018 – April 13th – 15th 2018

Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham

The QUG Committee has started to plan this conference and has come up with four possible themes. These are:

a. Universalism and interfaith activities. They involve understanding the commonality of and differences between the various worldviews/religions. They are a defence against negative pressures in our society to drive people apart. They go beyond mere ‘tolerance’ of other views and mean entering an interspiritual world.

b. Science. Maybe it is time to have another science based conference? There are so many relevant areas – e.g. spiritual belief and the brain; altruism versus selfishness (is there a ‘moral gene’?); the conscious and the unconscious. 

c. Business and morality. How do the social ethics of different religions serve the needs of people? Is capitalism leading to a fragmented society with the well-off and the ‘precariat’? Is the Quaker business model a better ‘third way’ to run our society?

d. Welcoming the stranger. Does our belief /faith exclude others? How does this relate to how people feel in the political climate today?

We welcome your thoughts on these ideas (or any other ideas for a conference), preferably by the end of February (because the QUG committee meets early in March). Please send them to Tony Philpott (e.g. by replying directly to this email or by emailing to tonyp@qug.org.uk). 

Contacting us, questions and unsubscribing

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