- That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture by David G. Hackett
“Where are the Men?” (ix). This question puzzled David G. Hackett, professor of American Religious History 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 [End Page 344] “transplantation” of Freemasonry 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, Freemasonry 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, Freemasonry, 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 Freemasonry. The author views that relationship not as a story of subjugation, but as an accommodation to existing norms.
In Section Two, “Beyond the White Protestant Middle Class,” Hackett describes Freemasonry’s relationship to ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. Chapter 6 explores the development of Prince Hall Freemasonry and its relationship to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The fraternity complemented the AME and acted as an ideological force against racism in the United States. Chapter 7 concerns Native Americans and their adaptation of Freemasonry as a means to preserve Native identity, employing new spiritual practices to resist acculturation in white society. Chapter 8 chronicles the experiences of the Jews and Catholics who became Freemasons.
Overall, Hackett’s monograph explains the “religious internalization” of Masonic rituals. He notes that, “unlike Protestant ministers, who emphasized the moral power of the Bible, Masons taught morality through the practice of ritual” (143). Although Hackett does apply a rather generic definition of religion as “shared ideologies and practices that help people become human in relation to transcendent realities” (4), [End Page 345] he is correct in asserting that Masons have relied on an “ancient” pseudo-religious history, which solidifies the organization. Freemasonry, then, like other “religions,” interests itself in discovering a “Truth.” Freemasonry, like religion, provided men with the means to attain a particular kind...