Political science major, environmental studies minor, and lifelong Quaker Jeremy Graf Evans ’18 chose to write his thesis on a topic that’s deeply personal to him: his faith, or, rather, the rituals that characterize it. While the vast majority of Haverford students are familiar with “Meeting for Worship,” a weekly tradition comparable to church services, very few have heard of “Meeting for Business,” a once-a-month event that engages clerk and congregation alike in the process of making business decisions—with a twist. Besides the fact that it takes place in a meetinghouse and not a corporate boardroom, the main difference between Meeting for Business and a conventional business meeting is that the former prioritizes the health of the community above all else—even, and especially, the financial success of the individual, a sentiment inspired by the Quaker belief that “there is that of God in everyone.”
Graf Evans, a member of the Committee for Environmental Responsibility throughout his four years at Haverford, thinks that the principles central to Meeting for Business can be applied to non-denominational affairs as well—namely, the processes by which natural resources are allocated and environmental policies are instated. In his thesis, “The Wonders and Woes of Quaker Business Method: Egalitarian Decision-Making in the Religious Society of Friends,” he examines the practical intersections between his religious beliefs and environmental activism.
What inspired your thesis work?
Ecosystem and resource management/distribution/sustainability are often on my mind. Decisions have to constantly be made about how humans are going to relate to each other and their environment. I was raised in the Quaker tradition and if a premise of Quakerism is recognizing there is that of the divine to be nurtured in all beings, then it is important to critically analyze how current patterns of resource distribution do or do not reflect that belief.
I saw an interesting matrix around a collective decision-making process often used by Quaker communities to make communal decisions. The process is akin to what is widely known as consensus, although rather than just being a secular process where participants negotiate between the interests of those in the room, it seeks to find unity among participants (e.g., that they have found a relationship with each other and the wider universe that is good enough to move forward with at that time.) The matrix includes the scope of the decision (who/what the outcome affects), who is included in the collective making of the decision, what causes one piece of input to carry more influence that another, the speed at which unity is reached, as well as interactions with government laws (i.e., what happens when the group decides that breaking the state’s law is what their collective conscience compels them to do?). All of these dynamics, and more, are at play in trying to negotiate outcomes that are reflective of the belief that all beings (or at least human beings) ought to be revered as divine.
What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do with helping to guide your future career path?
In September, I will be beginning an 11-month Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) program working for the New Economy Coalition (NEC). In the midst of my research, it became pretty clear that while I was raised identifying with the Quaker faith, there is an incredibly complex Quaker ecosystem that operates outside of the Quaker camp and school institutions that I grew up in. This ecosystem is theologically held together by a belief in the divine existing in all people (and for some, all things) but the number of permutations in how this is expressed is significant.
This year will be an opportunity to both experience another ecosystem that claims the Quaker label (QVS), as well as work with NEC to help its 200+ member organizations (such as SustainUS and the Toolbox for Education and Social Action, both of which recognize and seek systemic solutions to issues [like] economic discrimination, climate change and wealth inequality, as these pose threats to maintaining thriving ecosystems for humans of all backgrounds to prosper within.) I will be surveying member organizations to understand their needs and coordinating working groups that allow for members to come together to brainstorm and bring to fruition the systemic changes they seek in their never-ending pursuit of the right relationship with each other and the environment. Some of these organizations argue for market-based approaches, others for localized ownership, and others for [changes to] public policy through nation-states.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.
Photo: Jeremy Graf Evans ’18 will work for the New Economy Coalition this fall as a Quaker Voluntary Service fellow. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Graf Evans ’18.