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The Religous Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers) founded in 17th century England. Traditionally, George Fox is credited as its founder or most important early person. Since its beginnings in England, Quakerism has spread to other countries, chiefly Kenya, the United States, Guatemala, Peru and Bolivia. The number of Quakers in the world is relatively small (approximately 600,000 in the US and UK), although there are places, such as Pennsylvania, particularly Philadelphia, in which Quaker influence is concentrated. There are more than a million Quakers in Kenya, who have divided (like US Friends) into several Yearly Meetings. East African Friends tend to suffer from not being recognised as 'true Quakers', in part because their main connections are to the more evangelical branch of US Quakerism, via the FWCC (Friends World Committee for Consultation).

Unlike other groups that emerged from Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has tended not to have a hierarchical structure, a creed, or paid clergy, though there are exceptions to this among evangelical Friends. Therefore, there are several branches of Friends, which can be roughly divided into two main groups — the unprogrammed tradition and the programmed tradition.

The various branches have widely divergent beliefs and practices, but the central concept to many Friends may be the Inner Light or "that of God within" each of us. Some contemporary Friends speak of the Inner Light as a guiding force within each person, as part of the individual human personality, but early Friends beginning with George Fox identified the Light with Christ and emphasized that the Light comes from God and is given in order to show people how to live in harmony with God's will.

Many Quakers feel their faith does not fall into the traditional categories of Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, but rather it is an expression of another way to experience God in their lives. Although Quakers throughout most of their history and in most parts of the world today have considered Quakerism to be a Christian movement, there are some Friends today (principally in the unprogrammed Meetings of the United States and the United Kingdom) who consider themselves universalist, agnostic, atheist, or pagan, or who do not accept any religious label. This phenomenon has become increasingly evident during the latter half of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st century, it is still controversial and the subject of much discussion and debate among Friends.


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