The Map of Life

By: Janet Moore Lindman  

From the Buddhist Eight-fold Path to the Native American Red Road, spiritual practice as a well-trod track through life has been a dominant trope among several faith traditions. As a metaphorical construct, the path framed the spiritual identity of the Religious Society of Friends in the early American Republic. Both as a symbol and allegory, life as a journey has a long history in Christianity. The Bible as well as the medieval literature and art of Europe abound with this image. Instead of physically traveling to a holy site like Catholics, however, Protestants journeyed inward in their minds and hearts to affirm and experience faith. This was evident in the faith practice of Quakers, who envisioned their piety as an active, daily undertaking. Friends followed a series of meandering pathways, in which they advanced or retreated repeatedly before reaching their journey’s end. George Dilwyn, an American Quaker, portrayed this religious trek in an image entitled “The Map of Various Paths,” which outlined the possible routes a Friend might follow during their lifetime. Analysis of this material artifact will demonstrate the ways in which American Quakers visualized spirituality. Study of this image is particularly important for religious history because it provides striking evidence of Friends’ spiritual path that--as inward, silent and atomized--is not always readily discernible.

Quakers, Bible, Europe
2019 Special Focus—Universal Religious Symbols: Mutual Influences and Specific Relationships
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Janet Moore Lindman

Professor, History, Rowan University, United States
New Jersey, United States

Dr. Janet Moore Lindman is a professor of history at Rowan University in New Jersey, USA. She is the author of Bodies of Belief: Baptist Community in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) and co-editor of A Centre of Wonders: Bodies in Early America (Cornell University Press, 2001). She has published articles in the William and Mary Quarterly, the Journal of the Early Republic and the Journal of Social istory as well as chapters in several anthologies. She is the recipient of fellowships from the McNeil Center of Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the Virginia Historical Society, the Quaker Collection at Haverford College and the John Carter Brown Center at Brown University.