Thursday, June 21, 2012

Freemasonry and Higher Education

Liberal Arts Lodge, LA California
The contemporary  interaction between Freemasonry and Higher Education is bearing fruit.

Unlike today, it was once evident to others in society that Freemasonry had something to contribute to Civil Society. Mainstream Freemasonry may still hold onto that assumption, but whether it be correct or not, convincing modern society to share that belief becomes every day more difficult.  Is there any truth to our assumption?

As the writer of this blog, it is safe to make some assumptions concerning my view. Looking back in time, one clear piece of evidence that Freemasonry was considered valuable are the number of legacy lodges with names such as University Lodge.

University of Pennsylvania Regalia
Until at least the last half of the 20th Century, many universities, including the Ivy Leagues, had active lodges, not merely in their neighborhoods or near their campuses, but quite often on them, and made up almost entirely of current students and alumni. A very few of these have survived, such as Liberal Arts Lodge in Los Angeles ( ). Others remain as vestiges of their former selves, having been folded into other lodges through merger or even multiple mergers as the presence of Freemasonry has diminished over the years. An example of such a lodge was University Lodge formerly associated with my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. By the time I attended Penn, I doubt anyone on campus had heard of University Lodge, and it was no longer meeting on campus.  I note that Rutgers University in New Jersey has a Masonic Alumni Association, which is apparently still active and even has an online presence (

In Europe, at least in England and Scotland, Masonic Lodges may be found on a number of University Campuses, and generally Masonic efforts at outreach to university students there is less half-hearted than it is in the US.

However, there is another way in which Freemasonry is associated with Higher Education and in this case, it is beginning to advance rather than retreat.  I am referring to Freemasonry as the subject of academic study.

When academics look at Freemasonry as an institution, and at its history, what passes for historic fact among some segments of both regular and liberal  may not stand up to their objective scrutiny.  "Regular" Masonic definitions of what constitutes Freemasonry will only be viewed as applying to "Regular" Masonry, and that will not be privileged over other forms of Freemasonry and vise versa. That is the objectivity of academia.  Such views will inevitably impact the discussion and the literature on Freemasonry, and ultimately, however uncomfortable such "revelations" may be to some, they will aid in creating a more accurate and complete understanding of the institution.

What will be gained by the growth of academic scrutiny will be a more accurate understanding of the factual history of the Craft, and greater serious attention to its role, both historic and contemporary, in the development of civil society and social institutions.  It is important to emphasize that this academic interest and scrutiny is already happening.

There are a number of Academic programs already in place or in development that deal either solely with Freemasonry or place it in the context of larger social or philosophical systems. Some of these will be noted here.

One of the earliest was The Center for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield, which launched back in 2000.  While this program was lamentably suspended in 2010, the work begun in this program continues elsewhere.

One such place is at UCLA in the United States. UCLA under the excellent guidance of Dr. Margarite Jacobs, is providing a home for the study of Freemasonry in Civil Socirty and the opportunity for doctoral candidates to produce and offer courses related to this research ( ).  Further, the Roosevelt Center, also in Los Angeles, and in close communication with UCLA, is developing avenues for further research and is soon to include publishing among its concerns ( ,

Under the umbrella of another advancing field in academic study, the School of Humanities at the University of Exeter, in England, offers a  MPhil/PhD Western Esotericism and  MA in Western Esotericism, under the auspices of their Exeter Center for the Study of Esotericism (EXESECO) (  For those unfamiliar with the structure of such disciplines, the following text taken from the Exeter Center's site should make it clear that such programs are not devoted to the practice of esotericism, although students may or may not persue such concerns personally, but rather are committed to examining the development and distribution of such systems in human society and their impact upon everything from religion, popular culture and politics.

The purpose of the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO) is to foster advanced research into historical and comparative aspects of the esoteric traditions from the Hellenistic period in late antiquity through the Renaissance and early modern period to the present. Staff members in the departments of History (with interests in religion, culture, science and medicine), Sociology and Philosophy, Theology, Classics and Ancient History, and the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, collaborate in seminars, research and publications. Literary and philosophical traditions are also examined by colleagues in the Schools of English and Modern Languages (departments of French, German, Italian, Hispanic Studies, and Russian).
Postgraduate and postdoctoral members of EXESESO will be able to pursue research projects with the support of the Centre's panel of distinguished scholars across a number of departments and disciplines.
There are three main objectives:
to document and analyse new subjects (figures, groups and movements) in the history of esotericism, thereby making an original contribution to scholarly knowledge.
to gain insight into the social, religious and philosophical changes, which are conducive to esotericism and to assess its influence on culture, politics and society.
to develop an understanding of the fundamental characteristics which define esoteric spirituality, which often manifests as a form of religious experience, while offering a perspective upon the individual soul in the context of nature and the universe.  (

Not to be outdone, such endeavors are not occurring only in Anglophone institutions of Higher Learning. The Spanish University UNED, through its Department of History of Law and Institutions, provides the following information about its programs:

Master in History of Freemasonry in Spain (60 credits)
Specialist College in History of Fraternal Philanthropic Orders, Corporations, Schools and Societies (40 credits)
University Expert in the History of Freemasonry in Spain and Latin America (25 credits)

This program provides a grant of 20% over the official price of tuition to all students enrolled during the academic year 2012-2013.

This modular program provides a rigorous and methodical knowledge of the history of Masonic associations in its various forms, orders, corporations, academies and scientific societies, cultural, philanthropic, fraternal, charitable, philosophical and developments. Particular reference is made to fraternal and philanthropic movements and utopian thought and modern and contemporary perennialism,  studying its culture, both spiritual and ideological.

Gracias a Victor Guerra / Thanks to John Slifko.


Sachem81 said...

In Massachusetts, Boston University Lodge, associated with Boston University, is about to be rechartered after having been dark for some time. See the facebook link above.

E C Ballard ஃ said...

Thank you for sharing the information! Good to hear, as well. Best of luck and fraternal wishes!