Quakerism and Jungian Psychology
by John R. Yungblut

The Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology is itself testimony to the affinities that exist between Quakerism and Jungian psychology. The Conference has been held annually for more than 50 years. Since its focus is on Jungian psychology, it would seem that the dialogue between Quakerism and Jungian psychology is potentially inexhaustible. Is this not because the “mythologies” of the two are on convergent courses? The purpose of this statement is to explore these affinities and to identify differences.

Depth Psychology and Religious Experience

Let us begin by recollecting that the word religion springs from the Latin religlo, religare, which means literally to bind together in one sheaf. Quakerism is concerned to further a “gathered” quality in the individual. Jungian psychology has much to say about wholeness. The distinctive province of religion, including the Quaker form of spirituality, is the quest to “get it all together.” Jungian psychology extends this quest to include incorporating the contents of the unconscious and integrating them with consciousness. It seeks to bind into one sheaf the whole of the personality.

Jung has said that the unconscious is “the only accessible source of religious experience.” The ultimate source is presumably God. But the only accessible source is the unconscious. For Jung access to the unconscious was primarily through dreams and fantasy. For Friends a third means of access has been contemplative prayer in solitude and corporate prayer in the context of the silence of Meeting for Worship. In these two ways that of God within, the God who dwells in the “thick darkness” of the unconscious, is given an opportunity to speak and to be heard. Quakers are not only admonished to answer to that of God in everyone, but by implication to answer to that of God in themselves.

Jung’s reverence for the Self God within hidden in the depths of the unconscious, made his practice of analysis a form of spiritual guidance. His approach can be seen as a way of answering to that of God.

The Question of the Shadow

Jungian psychology is reminding Quakers that in addition to there being that of God in everyone, there is also that of the Devil (speaking metaphorically) in everyone. Sweetness and light must not conceal the presence of meanness and darkness in each of us. Friends are learning that the historic aspiration to perfection must be replaced by the Jungian aspiration to wholeness. The Biblical directive, “Be ye therefore perfect” becomes “Be ye therefore whole.”

The idea of the shadow looms large in Jungian psychology. Many Quakers who are concerned to “follow the light” are perplexed by the persistence of a tug in the opposite direction. They are aware experientially on occasion of a built-in perversity that decrees that the higher the aspiration the greater the potential fall therefrom. They may be comforted by Paul’s confession: “The good that I would I do not, and the evil I would not, that I do.”2 But Jungian psychology is likely to comfort them even more by offering them an understanding of the psyche which takes this phenomenon into account, even if it does not ultimately solve the problem of evil.

Quakerism lends support to the consensus of the mystics that the world is one. Mystics are characteristically monist rather than pluralist in their ultimate view of the universe. Jung was clearly a mystic, as his autobiography amply attests, the criteria being an experience of identification with all things and a sense of the interpenetration of all things. It is therefore not surprising that Jung holds God accountable for the presence of evil in the world, though not of course, for its individual manifestations. There is Biblical precedence in the statement Isaiah attributes to God: “I create good. I also create evil.” (Isaiah 45:7)

One of the most distinctive aspects of Jung’s mythology was his development of the idea of the “dark side of God.” In response to a query by a journalist as to his understanding of God, he replied:

To this day, God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or for worse.3

In the experience of George Fox the ocean of darkness was overcome by the ocean of light. But darkness is still unaccountably there. The universe reflects now and again the cosmic shadow. The indifference of the elements to human comfort is one aspect of its ever–present manifestations. The inhumanity of men and women to one another and to other life forms is another. Unmerited suffering is a third area. But the impulse to evil, this demonic element in the human psyche, remains the closest and most pervasive reminder of the existence of evil. Perhaps it is their emphasis on the light that makes Quakers peculiarly vulnerable to this insight of Jungian psychology.

Individuation and the Voice Within

The objective of Jungian psychology is to assist us in the process of realizing individuation. Though Quakers have not characteristically used this term, they have attached supreme value to the individual’s discernment of the voice within, regardless of whether it corresponds with the collective voice or not. Jung raised what was for him the crucial question:

Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God, and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving in the crowd?4

The Quaker counterpart to Jung’s query is expressed in the words of George Fox, “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say?”5 It is true that from one point of view the Quaker Meeting for Business pays tribute to the importance of the collective in its practice of waiting until the sense of the Meeting is reached before taking action. But a solitary individual can effectively block a decision by failing to consent to it.

Jung draws a distinction between a creed and a religion. The adherents of a creed are satisfied with membership in a collective. Those who are possessed of a first-hand religious experience depend primarily on a relation to “an authority which is not of this world.” Quakers do not have a formal creed. Their nearest approach to one is the conviction that there is that of God in every person. Jung makes a special plea to credal Christians that they interpret their creeds, just for once, in a metaphorical sense, if indeed they retain them at all.

Openness to Fresh Revelation

The absence of a formal creed in Quakerism makes possible a certain open–endedness theologically. This is another reason why Quakers feel confirmed by Jungian psychology. This open-endedness has enabled Quakers to accommodate scientific discoveries in their world view more readily, generally speaking, than those of other denominations. They believe passionately in the continuing possibility of fresh revelation. The ease with which Quakers assimilated the discovery of the fact of evolution is a case in point. There is a marked interest in the findings of scientific research among members of the Society of Friends and a readiness to embrace new truths so revealed. This accounts in part for the fascination psychology, especially depth psychology, holds for Quakers. Has not psychology been defined as “the newest of the sciences, the oldest of the arts?” Both as science and as art Jungian psychology attracts Friends.

Yet another point of convergence between Quakerism and Jungian psychology arises from Jung’s idea of synchronicity, a term he used for meaningful coincidences. Quakers have a metaphor for the experience of synchronicity: “as way opens.” It denotes trust in the meaningfulness of seeming coincidences. Both Quakerism and Jungian psychology acknowledge this mystery with appropriate wonder. Both views are more modest than the claims of divine providence or predestination. Once again, the new science of psychology would seem to substantiate Quaker experience.

Archetypes and Continuing Evolution

The archetypes of Jungian psychology could be likened to guardian angels that point the way to greater consciousness. To change the metaphor, they act as guard rails to keep us safely on the road that leads to ever greater individuation and wholeness. These numinous images that appear in dreams and fantasies are to be respected, even honored. Historic Quakerism and Jungian psychology are together on this, though they have not used the same words for the same reality.

Some Friends, like Kenneth Boulding, whose thinking was in the context of continuing creation through evolution, might well want to extend Jung’s concept of archetypes to include the don vital that fuels the further development of the species, Homo sapiens. The numinous images that can keep the individual on course to individuation must indeed be augmented by archetypal images intended to keep the whole species on course toward a mutation from Homo sapiens to the next possible step in human evolution, Homo spiritus. The child within may not only symbolize the need for nourishing some neglected talent or healing some unresolved early conflict, but could speak to us as well of undeveloped qualities for which the future of the species languishes. Jung’s vision cries aloud to be expanded in an evolutionary context. Archetypes afford the species direction toward the capacity for developing higher consciousness.

Quakerism and the Collective Unconscious

When Jung says that the archetype of the self and the archetype of the Self, God within, are ultimately indistinguishable, he is certainly affirming the Quaker position that there is that of God in everyone. This is a mystical affirmation. The distinction of Quakerism, and one of the points at which it has something to offer Jungian psychology, is that its Meeting for Worship is an experiment in group mysticism. It attests that the presence of the Self can be experienced in the collective of a Meeting for Worship.

If, as Jung insists, the unconscious is the only accessible source of religious experience, the Friends Meeting for Worship offers a means for collective access to the unconscious and hence to religious experience. Perhaps that is why in the occasional “covered” Meeting the sense of Presence is so compelling. It is a corporate experience of the numinous interpenetrating the unconscious of those present. This would account for the unconscious prestige manifested by “weighty” Friends whose charisma lies in their power to quicken the Spirit in the unconscious of others. But Jung rightly warns that this power is forfeited the moment it becomes a self-conscious intent.

The strength of the historic Peace Testimony and the witness of Quaker commitment to corporate social action substantiate Jung’s insights into the nature and dynamics of the collective unconscious. This would explain the deep experience of bondedness that emerges from a corporate commitment to non-violent direct action. The individual remains, as Jung says, the “makeweight” of social change. But many individuals united in a corporate witness enhance the energy and in turn the depth and effectiveness of that witness.

Masculine and Feminine Together

Finally, Jung’s insight into the function of the animus and anima is congenial to Friends’ experience historically. From the beginning the Society of Friends has recognized the importance of acknowledging the equality of the sexes. A Quaker “apostolic succession” has had equal representation of men and women. Though at some places and at some times Quaker men and women have held separate Meetings for Business, there was always coordination between them and the shared discipline of waiting upon the attainment of the sense of the Meeting. Moreover, the leaders of the Society have in their own persons reflected an observable balance between masculine and feminine qualities. Though Friends have been aware of distinctions between masculine and feminine characteristics, in general they have recognized the infinite variety of these components in individual men and women. And they have intuitively known that integration between the masculine and feminine, the animus and the anima, must be pursued if an individual is to attain a measure of individuation and become “a gathered person.”

It is not surprising then that Jungian psychology and Quakerism should find themselves on convergent courses. May the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology continue to explore these affinities and to further the growth of Quakerism and Jungian psychology to their mutual benefit!

End Notes

1. C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1958, p. 89.

2. Romans 7:15.

3. Interview with C. G. Jung, “Good Housekeeping Magazine,” December 1961.

4. C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1958, p.88.

5. Journal of George Fox, edited by John L. Nickalls, London: Religious Society of Friends, 1975, p. xxvi.


John Yungblut was well known for much of his life in both the Quaker and the Jungian worlds. He was born and raised in Dayton, Kentucky. He was a graduate of Harvard College and did his graduate study in theology at Harvard Divinity School and the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He served in the Episcopal ministry for 20 years, and in 1960 became a member of the Religious Society of Friends. He since served successively as Director of Quaker House, Atlanta; Director of International Student House, Washington, D. C.; Director of Studies at Pendle Hill, Wallingford, Pennsylvania; and, Director of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance in Rye, New York. Encouraged by Rufus Jones to study the mystics, John was a lifelong student of the mystical approach to religious experience, and a student of the writing of C. G. Jung and Teilhard de Chardin. He aspired to be an apologist for the mystical heritage in Christianity, updated by Jung’s myth of the psyche and Teilhard’s myth of cosmogenesis (a universe still being born). He was the author of five books and several Pendle Hill pamphlets.


© Estate of John Yungblut
Reprinted with permission