In Holy Nation, Sarah Crabtree argues that Quakers responded to budding nationalism in the United States and Europe during the age of revolutions by embracing a theology of Zion. As she does so, she provides an important contribution to the ongoing discussion of religion and nationalism. By examining an outsider group, one that challenged state power and maintained a transnational identity, Crabtree offers insights on the role of religion in the tumultuous years between the 1750s and 1820s. During these years, Quakers began referring to themselves as a Holy Nation. This was, Crabtree argues, a "theological, political, and emotional response" to the times (4). Through their embrace of Zion, Quakers asserted a transnational identity and created a role for themselves as individuals who were in, but not of, the political nations in which they lived.
Crabtree traces the use of this transnational vision by Public Friends who spent these years traveling between the United States, Britain, France, and the Caribbean. As revolution, war, and nationalism emerged in these various places, Quakers insisted that they belonged to no nation but God's. Their construction of Zion challenged aspects of nations' demands for political membership. The book traces the emergence and decline of this idea over the age of revolutions. It is an ambitious book, and one that provides fascinating new insight to the nature and practice of nation-building.
The book is organized into five chapters divided into three parts. These look at the rise of the Zion idea in the crucible of war, the emergence of Quaker schools as way of fostering children's connections to Zion, and finally the collapse of the idea in the early nineteenth century. The conclusion examines the role of Zion in the Hicksite–Orthodox [End Page 360] schism of the 1820s. By that division in 1827–28, the idea of Quakers being primarily identified with each other—across and against national lines—had faltered in the face of political change. To tell this story, Crabtree works with the writings of one hundred and ten Public Friends from North America, England, Scotland, Ireland, and France who crossed the Atlantic during this period. Their networks, she argues, were essential to the creation of this Holy Nation and to the ability of the Friends to create a transnational identity. Given the richness of these sources and their importance to the story, the book might have included more details about the experiences of these individuals. Some of the highlights of the book are moments when Crabtree includes this type of close view of specific people and their relationship to the larger concepts that are the book's main focus.
One of Crabtree's central arguments is that the Quaker Zion was in many ways its own form of nationalism, formed in response to and in opposition of state-based nationalisms emerging in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. This language first emerged during the Seven Years' War, when Quakers began invoking the Biblical Jewish Zion tradition and claimed an identity as a transnational, diasporic community of chosen people. This identity would serve to unify Quakers across the Atlantic even after they no longer found themselves members of the same empire.
The age of revolutions presented several problems for Quakers. The American Revolution created a political rift between American and British Friends and threatened to break their connections. Further, Quakers experienced local pressure to bow to the power of the state as the countries in which they lived attempted to encourage nationalism. This early nationalism was understood to require a homogenous population, and Quakers presented a challenge. It was in this era of conflict that the Zion idea emerged.
This new Quaker Zion was supported through the creation of separate Quaker schools. Just as nationalist educational reformers saw schools as important institutions to raise good future citizens, Quaker educators sought to teach young Friends about their distinct role outside of and within society. Even in this isolation, students were learning about the importance of philanthropy and of...