That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture

By Johnson, Andrew | Journal of the Early Republic, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture


Johnson, Andrew, Journal of the Early Republic


That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture. By David G. Hackett. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. 317 pp. Cloth, $49.95.)

Reviewed by Andrew Johnson

"Where are the Men?" (ix). This question puzzled David G. Hackett, professor of American Religious Histoiy at the University of Florida. Hackett asked the question after examining membership lists for churches in Albany, New York. What he discovered was that by 1830, 74 percent of the town's male workforce did not belong to a church. City directory lists pointed to males occupying an adjacent social sphere within society-a Masonic sphere. Hackett was searching for "a male world that might broadly complement the Protestant women's sphere" (ix). He noticed that Freemasonry performed its own pivotal part in forging American culture, challenging the conventional religious historical consensus that sets forth Protestantism as the sole protagonist. Hackett contends that "Freemasonry played a vital role in the American religious past" (ix). Ultimately, he believes, changing beliefs and initiation practices within an all-male fraternity closely mirrored broader social and religious trends in American society.

Freemasonry provides an interpretive lens to reshape Americans' understanding of their religious past. Historians of American religion have often designated Freemasonry as a separate sphere from the American religious experience in the early republic. Hackett, however, argues that this is a misrepresentation of Freemasonry. He shows that Freemasonry acted as a catalyst within the American Protestant experience.

Hackett divides his monograph into two sections and eight chapters. The first section, "European American Freemasonry," explores the "transplantation" of Freemasoniy from Great Britain to the American colonies, where it blended with American Protestantism to create a distinct religious identity in the "New World." Chapter 1 explores how British colonial officials brought the cultural baggage of stonemasons' guilds from which Freemasons claimed to descend and the scientific advancements accruing during the Newtonian Revolution. Freemasonry, more than any other American "religion," became almost malleable, as it evolved alongside American Protestantism. As a result, Freemasoniy succeeded more than any other colonial association in "joining together disparate political and religious leaders" (4).

Chapter 2 shows how Masonic Brotherhood continued to join competing groups together: Military lodges created during the American Revolution provided a space for chaplains and Army officers. After the Revolution, Freemasoniy, unlike other fraternal orders, did not disappear from the public sphere. Masons took part in cornerstone ceremonies and built a dynamic social order during this period.

Chapter 3 shows Masonry's building upon Christian rituals and internalizing many of these rituals in its own "degree" work. Chapter 4 traces the Anti-Masonic movement, the attacks of which forced the fraternity to embrace a more general Protestant conservatism. The final chapter in Section One explores the relationship between women and American Freemasoniy. …

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