Thomas Raymond Kelly (Quaker mystic)

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Thomas Raymond Kelly (June 4, 1893 – January 17, 1941) was an American Quaker educator. He taught and wrote on the subject of mysticism. His books are widely read, especially by people interested in spirituality.

Mysticism Practice of religious experiences during alternate states of consciousness

Mysticism is the practice of religious ecstasies, together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them. It may also refer to the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.

Spirituality philosophical / theological term

The meaning of spirituality has developed and expanded over time, and various connotations can be found alongside each other.


Kelly was born in 1893 in Chillicothe, Ohio to a Quaker family (members of the Religious Society of Friends). The branch of Quakerism in which he was raised (Wilmington Yearly Meeting) had been influenced by the 19th century revivalists and worship services were similar to other low-church Protestant groups.

Chillicothe, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Chillicothe is a city in and the county seat of Ross County, Ohio, United States. Located along the Scioto River 45 miles south of Columbus, Chillicothe was the first and third capital of Ohio.

He graduated in 1913 from Wilmington College as a chemistry major. Then he went to Haverford College just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he came under the mentoring of Rufus Jones, a prominent Friend. It was at this time that he came into contact with the more traditional mystical vein of the Religious Society of Friends.

Wilmington College (Ohio)

Wilmington College is a private career-oriented liberal arts institution established by Quakers in 1870 in Wilmington, Ohio, United States. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Haverford College college in Pennsylvania

Haverford College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college in Haverford, Pennsylvania. All students of the college are undergraduates and nearly all reside on campus.

Rufus Matthew Jones was an American religious leader, writer, magazine editor, philosopher, and college professor. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Haverford Emergency Unit. One of the most influential Quakers of the 20th century, he was a Quaker historian and theologian as well as a philosopher. He is the only person to have delivered two Swarthmore Lectures.

Kelly went to Hartford Theological Seminary to be trained as a missionary and he desired to serve in Asia. When World War I broke out, he signed up to work for the YMCA with the troops in training at Salisbury Plain. He eventually worked with German prisoners of war. He was fired as he and many of his colleagues became ardent pacifists and the military did not want persons with those views to have access to military personnel. When he returned to the United States he completed his Seminary training and married Lael Macy.

Asia Earths largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres

Asia is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the continent of Europe and the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with both Europe and Africa. Asia covers an area of 44,579,000 square kilometres (17,212,000 sq mi), about 30% of Earth's total land area and 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area. The continent, which has long been home to the majority of the human population, was the site of many of the first civilizations. Asia is notable for not only its overall large size and population, but also dense and large settlements, as well as vast barely populated regions. Its 4.5 billion people constitute roughly 60% of the world's population.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

YMCA worldwide organization

The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), sometimes regionally called the Y, is a worldwide organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, with more than 64 million beneficiaries from 120 national associations. It was founded on 6 June 1844 by Sir George Williams in London and aims to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy "body, mind, and spirit".

Kelly taught for two years (1919–1921) at his alma mater, Wilmington College. Then he went back to Hartford Seminary where he earned a doctorate in philosophy and an induction to Phi Beta Kappa. He and his wife then went to Berlin and worked with the American Friends' Service Committee in the child feeding program, where they were instrumental in founding the Quaker community in Germany.

Hartford Seminary

Hartford Seminary is a non-denominational theological college in Hartford, Connecticut.

Doctorate academic or professional degree

A doctorate or doctor's degree or doctoral degree is an academic degree awarded by universities that is, in most countries, a research degree that qualifies the holder to teach at the university level in the degree's field, or to work in a specific profession. There are a variety of doctoral degrees, with the most common being the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which is awarded in many different fields, ranging from the humanities to the scientific disciplines.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

When he returned he was appointed head of the Philosophy Department of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He was unhappy there and came to realize that he did not agree with much of his evangelical background anymore.

Earlham College

Earlham College is a private liberal arts college in Richmond, Indiana. The college was established in 1847 by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and has a strong focus on Quaker values such as integrity, a commitment to peace and social justice, mutual respect, and community decision-making. It is primarily a residential undergraduate college but it offers a Master of Arts in Teaching and has an affiliated graduate seminary, the Earlham School of Religion, which offers three master's degrees: a Master of Divinity, Master of Ministry, and Master of Arts in Religion.

Richmond, Indiana City in Indiana, United States

Richmond is a city in east central Indiana, United States, bordering on Ohio. It is the county seat of Wayne County, and in the 2010 census had a population of 36,812. Situated largely within Wayne Township, its area includes a non-contiguous portion in nearby Boston Township, where the Richmond Municipal Airport is located.

Evangelicalism, evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide, transdenominational movement within Protestant Christianity which maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or "born again" experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message. The movement has had a long presence in the Anglosphere before spreading further afield in the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries.

In 1930 Kelly began working on a second Ph.D. at Harvard. While working on this degree he taught at Wellesley College (1931–1932) and again at Earlham (1932–1935). In 1935, he went to teach at the University of Hawaii and began advanced research in Eastern philosophies.

In 1936, Kelly became a professor at Haverford College. He published the dissertation for his second doctorate in 1937, but he failed in the oral defense due to a memory lapse. This failure put Kelly into a period of grief, during which time he apparently had a spiritual awakening.

In 1938, Kelly went to Germany to encourage Friends living under Hitler's regime.

Kelly received word on January 17, 1941, that Harper and Brothers was willing to meet with him to discuss the publication of a devotional book. He died of a heart attack in Haverford, Pennsylvania later that same day. [1] Three months later Kelly's colleague, Douglas V. Steere, submitted five of Kelly's devotional essays to the publisher along with a biographical sketch of Kelly. The book was published under the title A Testament of Devotion. Some of his other essays have been collected in a book entitled The Eternal Promise. A formal biography was written by his son, Richard Kelly in 1966, and published by Harper and Row.

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  1. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1964; Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania