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What is the Oxford Group? Principles & History

The Oxford Group is an evangelical bible study group that gained popularity and support at Oxford University and laid the foundation for the philosophy behind Alcoholics Anonymous. Founded by Lutheran minister Dr. Frank Buchman, the group centers around the belief that a personal relationship with God is necessary to receive life’s blessings. 

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    Oxford Group Principles

    The guiding principles of the Oxford Group are love, purity, honesty, and unselfishness. Dr. Buchman believed that selfishness and fear were the source of all personal and global problems and that surrendering one’s life to the will of God would alleviate a great deal of suffering and even bring about peace. As a devout follower of Christ, Buchman drew inspiration from writings by a fellow minister on the life principles of Jesus to develop these guiding principles, which he called the “Four Absolutes” to live in alignment with the will of God. Some of the Principles from the early Oxford Groups served as a basis and foundation for other groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.


    The power of love can redeem the seemingly unredeemable within each person. By choosing love as a verb, one can determine if their actions are truly loving based on how they affect themselves and others.


    Pursuing purity can help us know if an action is right or wrong, especially in complex situations where things seem uncertain. When it comes down to it, we often know if something is right or wrong, and simply require the courage to ask ourselves the question.


    Honesty and integrity are essential to living a wholesome, spiritual life. A sure sign that we have slipped into unhealthy behavior is the need for deception–of self and others. By shining the light of truth on our circumstances, we can face reality and do the necessary work to improve it. 


    Being sensitive to the needs of others and being of service is a cornerstone of recovery and living a spiritually led life. By considering how our actions affect others, we can ask if we are guided by self-interest or by something that has greater meaning. 


    Difference Between Oxford Groups and The 12 Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous

    One of the main differences between Oxford Groups and Alcoholics Anonymous is that the Oxford Groups are Evangelical and believe in Jesus, while AA is nondenominational, allowing people from all faiths or none at all to feel welcome. There are also many similarities between the two organizations, and the importance of the Oxford Group is undeniable because it served as the inspiration for many of the 12 steps as they exist today. 

    The concept of surrendering to a higher power and taking a personal inventory of one’s actions are one of the most important parts of any AA program, and are ideas that were popularized by the Oxford Group. Another crucial difference between the Oxford Group and AA is the choice of language. AA uses far more compassionate language than the Oxford Group in many instances Another crucial difference between the two is that the Oxford Group viewed misconduct as a “sin” and moral failing, while the 12 steps uses far more compassionate language that people are more receptive to. 

    FAQs: Oxford Group

    When did the Oxford group start?

    The Oxford Group was founded in 1921, and began to gain popularity at Oxford University in the years that followed. The Oxford Group continued to spread to South Africa, the United States, and several European countries throughout the 1930s with the goal of helping individuals recover from alcoholism and drug addiction.

    How many people still attend Oxford groups?

    Oxford Groups still exist but are not as popular or easy to find as 12 step programs. 

    Where can you find Oxford Groups?

    There are Christian treatment centers that use the Oxford Group’s guiding principles in their programs. There are also AA meetings that follow the 12 steps but also draw inspiration from Oxford Group ideas. 

    Other Peer Recovery Groups

    The Oxford Group is well known as one of the first peer recovery groups that helped people find spirituality and sobriety. Since then, many different groups have come about that help individuals that struggle with substance use disorder find a new life free from drugs like cocaine and alcohol. Some of the most prominent self-help, peer recovery groups include:

    These groups have helped millions of people and are a great option for maintaining sobriety after substance abuse rehab.

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    This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

    This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

    Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

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