John L. Crow
As the semester is over and I, like so many of my colleagues are busy grading, I will keep this short. Recently David G. Hackett of the University of Florida has published his examination of Freemasonry in America. Entitled That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture (California UP 2014), the book surveys important aspects of Freemasonry spanning 1730s through the 1920s. He looks at the shifting roles of masons in American society in the first part, and then gives focused examinations of topics, such as Prince Hall Freemasonry, Native Americans, and Freemasonry in relationship to Catholics and Jews in the second part.
Importantly, he engages why scholars of religion look at Freemasonry, even though masons themselves do not see it as a religion. He explains, “by expanding and complicating the terrain of American religious history to include a group not usually seen as a carrier of religious beliefs and practices, this book intends to show how Freemasonry’s American history contributes to a broader understanding of the multiple influences that have shaped religion in American culture” (4). By “weaving Freemasonry into American history,” Hackett demonstrates that this so-called “Handmaiden to Religion” was much more active in disseminating religious values and mediating religious conflict. Lastly, his book continually addresses issues of gender, the tensions between public and private, and how masonry mediated these space, often creating a private male sphere, at least semi-autonomous from the private domestic sphere.
Since there are still too few studies of the role of Freemasonry in American religious history, Hackett’s volume is very welcome. Perhaps his work will inspire more scholars of American religion to include freemasonry in their studies. So far, it has been an understudied influence.