To read this content please select one of the options below:

Religion and social network analysis: the discipline of early modern quakers

Andrew Fincham (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Nicholas Burton (Department of Business and Law, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 2 November 2020

Issue publication date: 7 July 2021




The importance of networks has been established in the development of commerce and capitalism, with key concepts reflecting both the dynamic and permeable characteristics of networks. Such attributes are exemplified by religious networks, which have been typically dismissed in terms of economic contribution as being both risk-averse and bounded by ethical barriers imposed by theology. This paper aims to examine the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in the long 18th century to evidence the multi-plexity and density of connections and suggest that adherence to the Quaker discipline acted as a trust-based attribute and substituted for repeated iteration.


The archival investigation centres upon an analysis of “The Catalogue of Quaker Writing” and a close re-reading of the seminal text “Quakers in Science and Industry”, an authoritative account of Quaker firms and families in industry and commerce. By identifying multiple possible social network connections in Raistrick’s work, this paper reviewed and analysed The Catalogue of Quaker Writing to examine the presence or absence of these connections in the Quaker network in the long 18th century.


This paper shows how the Quaker network was an unusually dense network that benefited co-religionists by enabling commerce through its unique topography. In a period characterized by the absence of formal institutional mechanisms to regulate behaviour, Quaker discipline acted as a quasi-regulatory mechanism to regulate membership of the network and to govern member moral behaviour.


The Quakers offer an opportunity to examine an early modern network to gain important insights into key aspects of network topography. By using social network analysis, this paper shows how Quakers performed a multiplicity of roles, which encouraged multiple modes of contact between members of the society in a dense network of contexts, which, in turn, provided high levels of connectedness between individuals. This unique range of roles, shared among a relatively small group of individuals, ensured that the degrees of separation between roles were very few; similarly, the plethora of connections resulted in a density, which not only allowed for multiple ways to engage with other individuals but also ensured no individual would become a bottle-neck or indeed a gateway that would prevent access. This unique topography was also highly unusual in that it was permeable to any aspirant member upon acceptance of the discipline – neither poverty nor lack of social status was barriers to membership. This unusual network offered atypical commercial advantages for its members.



Fincham, A. and Burton, N. (2021), "Religion and social network analysis: the discipline of early modern quakers", Journal of Management History, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 339-358.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles