Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Random Sampling of Some (Relatively) Recent Academic Articles on Freemasonry

For far too long, as far as scholarship was concerned, Freemasonry was left to its own devices. While this no doubt pleased some within Freemasonry for whom outside opinions were not welcome, it did Freemasonry a great disservice. Now and then, some farsighted academic would take an interest and write on the subject, but by and large academia considered it a subject not worth investigation.

The result of this neglect was that on the one hand, little objective research into the origins or the societal impact of Freemasonry existed of any professional calibre. On the other hand, it also allowed fable, myth, and too often, outright lies to take the place of knowledge. The truth of this can be seen that today, in that at least in Anglophone circles, what passes for scholarship, with a few worthy exceptions, remains the pseudo-scholarship of 19th century authors who were themselves Freemasons, and frequently invested in either establishing the status quo or maintaining it. 

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. 

Today, we are on the verge of a monumental change. In the past couple of decades, some adventurous scholars have begun to turn their eyes toward the fraternity, and it is now the subject of a small but growing scholarly study, which is itself beginning to take on the shape of a discipline. It is to be hoped that before long we will see stable departments where such scholarship is a serious academic focus. Keep on eye on UCLA, for one. 

There are great benefits in this for Freemasonry, but as with all growth, there will be some inevitable discomfort. For one, Freemasons will have to recognize that myth will no longer be acceptable as an alternative to documentable fact. At least a few treasured beliefs about the history of Freemasonry will be jettisoned, to be replaced by hard, modern research. While this may be extremely uncomfortable for some, it results in more light. I have always, at least after becoming a reasoning adult, responded to emotional resistance to better understanding of a subject by pointing out that shedding light on historical reality is a worthy, even necessary thing, and it does not decrease the value of what we cherish, if we can also analyze it soberly.

With that in mind, I want to open a small window onto this scholarship by highlighting some relatively recent academic articles which touch on the subject of Freemasonry. They are very diverse, and some represent micro examinations of one or another aspect of Freemasonry. They were specifically chosen, not to touch necessary on topics that would revolutionize our thought on Freemasonry, although some may do exactly that, but rather to demonstrate the diversity of subjects that are coming out of this new scrutiny of fraternal organizations, their role and impact on society, and society's impact upon them. They also do not include some of the larger names in this field of study, as I wanted to highlight some things that might have escaped general attention. This sampling is also miniscule. It doesn't even represent the tip of the iceberg. The idea is to incite some curiosity rather than to serve as a guide to a broad picture of what current scholarship is producing.

As always, there are likely to be a variety of reactions and responses to such attention. While some will doubtlessly react negatively, it should be remembered that such a response will not slow down a process which is by now well underway. I think it wiser, and certainly healthier, to embrace what we cannot resist and enjoy this remarkable moment in time. We will emerge on the other side with a far better understanding of our own traditions and practices, and a renewed appreciation for the impact Freemasonry has had upon the world. 

If you're not afraid to face the eye of the storm, and want some small insight into what is bound to reach our Masonic shores before long, read on.

"Making Degenerates into Men" by Doing Shots, Breaking Plates, and Embracing Brothers in Eighteenth-Century Freemasonry
Heather Morrison
Journal of Social History
Vol. 46, No. 1 (Fall 2012) (pp. 48-65)
Oxford University Press
This article explores the significance behind ritual celebrations depicted in the published drinking songs and toasts that emanated from a freemasonic lodge active in the early 1780s in Vienna. Bacchanalian overindulgence within the exclusive association aimed to create a fraternity that would act together to bring progress to Habsburg lands. Publication of their celebrations aimed to bring the same benefits to the rest of the western world. By excluding women, by acting like apes, by singing and chanting formulaic verses while ritually eating and drinking, men became part of a community and found a new identity. Drunken homosocial celebration provided the antidote to the constructed problem of a contemporary society still dominated by aristocratic women or religious institutions. Masons believed their lodge provided them freedom from societal constraints and a social transparency necessary to uncovering a more natural self. The tension inherent in the form of masculinity in the Viennese lodge's songs and toasts, whereby what may be termed the "high" and the "low" mixed, was the basis of freemasonry's appeal and effectiveness. Belly laughter and base behavior were by no means oppositional to a rational program of societal reform. Through these drinking songs and ritual practices, the association emphasized self-improvement and moral development. Publication of their celebrations aimed to bring the same benefits to the rest of the western world. In a time of transformation in social practices and hierarchies, freemasonry taught brothers how to behave as men amongst fellow men and with women. The idealistic intellectual and bacchanalian sociable masculinities combined to allow members to articulate new measures of social worth.

The Bygmester, His Geamatron, and the Triumphs of the Craftygild: "Finnegans Wake" and the Art of Freemasonry
Laura Peterson
James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, Finnegans Wake Issue (Summer, 1990), pp. 777-792
Published by: University of Tulsa

One of the most curious of the many claims made by some Masons about their Craft is that it, like the Hebrew Kabbalah to which it is united, harks back in human history to the creation of the world and the Garden of Eden (as does Finnegans Wake). Also like the Wake, Freemasonry is a compendium of personalities, history, religion, and lore, based on certain unifying principles more easily discernible than those of Joyce's last novel, but irrevocably allied to many of those same principles. Like the Wake, Masonry is cosmic; both the book's and Masonry's inner secrets are known only to persistent initiates. However, there is enough exoteric Masonic material readily available to allow the uninitiated inquirer to trace Joyce's journey through it.

Jayhawker Fraternities: Masons, Klansmen and Kansas in the 1920s
Kristofer Allerfeldt
Journal of American Studies, Vol. 46, No. 4 (November 2012), pp. 1035-1053
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the British Association for American Studies

In the 1920s, like most of the rest of the nation Kansas found itself the target of the attentions of the KKK. One of its main ways of recruiting was via existing fraternities. Using new archival material this article investigates the response of one of the leading fraternities of the times — the Masons. What emerges is a picture of mixed responses — ranging from mutual hostility to active Klan recruitment within Masonic lodges. In many ways Kansas can be seen as a microcosm of the nation, and as such this study can add to our understanding of what drove up to 10 million American men and women to join this mysterious and now hated body.

"That Grand Primeval and Fundamental Religion": The Transformation of Freemasonry into a British Imperial Cult
Vahid Fozdar
Journal of World History, Vol. 22, No. 3 (September 2011), pp. 493-525
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

In light of recent research on the role of Protestant Christianity in the British Empire, this article explores the possibility that the British actually carried to India a "religion" besides Protestantism, something that mimicked a religion so closely that it could virtually serve as an alternative to Christianity for purposes of imperial consolidation— namely, Freemasonry. The article posits that British Freemasonry, although it emerged from a Christian environment, progressively de-Christianized itself in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and increasingly espoused a religious universalism, which in turn allowed it to serve as an institutionalized, quasi-official, and de facto "civil religion" for the British Empire in India.

John Marrant and the Meaning of Early Black Freemasonry
Peter P. Hinks
Source: The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 64, No. 1, Free to Enslave: Politics
and the Escalation of Britain's Translantic (Jan., 2007), pp. 105-116

ON June 24, 1789, at the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, one of the most important days in the Masonic calendar, the Reverend John Marrant, chaplain of Boston's African Lodge no. 459 of Freemasons, delivered a momentous sermon at Mr. Vinal's school in the South End before an audience of black and white Masons as well as non-Masons. Marrant's oration occupies a preeminent place in the history of Freemasonry among African Americans. It was the first printed formal address before the first African Lodge and among the first printed works by an African American in the late eighteenth century.
Marrant's oration broached racial prejudice and slavery in America and condemned them as the antithesis of the fellowship and benevolence Freemasons cherished. More significantly, the sermon identified and extolled the meaningfulness of the African Lodge's founding and the relationship it bore to the deepest virtues and origins of not only Freemasonry but also Christianity as well-virtues and origins that Marrant would clarify in novel contexts.

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