Quaker Universalist Voice

Speaking truth in the global public square…

Experience Verification of Truth as Authority for Faith and Practice

A Book Review of D. Elton Trueblood, The Trustworthiness of Religious Experience (1939)

Elton Trueblood was a major public intellectual and Christian Quaker in the mid-20th century. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._Elton_Trueblood). He delivered the Swarthmore Lecture in 1939 for London Yearly Meeting entitled “The Trustworthiness of Religious Experience.” The lecture unpacked each element in that  trusted conclusion regarding the authority of experience.  It remains the clearest Quaker statement in validation of religious experience as a dependable way of knowing reality. The book title is The Trustworthiness of Religious Experience (1939).

Verification of personal experience is grounded in assessment of the testimonies of other humans. For Trueblood, the best, workable, available, and reliable human verification (authority) of personal experience of reality (truth) in faith (trust) and on the basis of future free-will practice is grounded in the cumulative assessment of the reputation, number, repetition, consistency, quality, independence, and a diversity (variety) of testimonies of the experience of faith and practice by trusted people of character, reputation, honesty, and critical thinking over a broad scope of time, geography, and circumstance.  That is the Quaker way.

Verification of personal experience is combined and tested further in assessing consistency of experience with human traditions and reason in the context of personal and community discernment. Discernment requires time for reflection (prayer).

This is a big idea in a small book, which is worth a library visit or an Amazon visit.  This book does not seem to be currently available from Quaker sources.

Quakers:  This lecture is exclusively focused on Quakers.   However, the analysis is clearly applicable to all humans and all traditions.  The analysis has universal application.


  • What do we rely on for the validation of our spiritual experience as Quakers?
  • What have Quakers learned through our tradition to improve the validation of our spiritual experience as Quakers?
  • Can Quakers today improve or replace the Trueblood analysis of the verification of truth?


  • D. Elton Trueblood, The Trustworthiness of Religious Experience (1939)
  • Y. Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018)
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