More specifically, how Masonry is perceived in the academic sphere in a past and present light, vs. the contemporary practice of Freemasonry itself, what the fraternity is doing as a whole in creating or generating ideas and philosophy.
One of the limiting aspects of studying the Fraternity is that it has to focus on specific elements: i.e. lodges, meetings, minutes, attendance, composition of lodges in a particular area and the correspondence to and from the lodge. What it doesn’t take into account is what ritual that particular lodge is practicing, which I would suggest, dictates the ideology that is coming out of a particular area.
This becomes less of a concern as you enter into the North American Freemasonry that puts its practice squarely under the United Grand Lodge of England. With a homogenized ritual (Webb-Preston) and a stuff Grand Lodge leadership, innovation is virtually wiped clean from unique practice developing lodge to lodge. Yes, the ritual does vary state to state to some degree, but there is little change to its core metrics. As standardization goes, this is a boon for inter-recognition, but a bust ti innovating new rituals, new philosophy, and new creativity.
How I see this as relating to academia is that as more and more scholarly institutions start to come on line to study Freemasonry, what they may see is the early contribution to civil society (see Bullocks’s Revolutionary Brotherhood Jacob’s Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe, and Harlan-Jacob’s Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism) but little by way of the need to innovate in a tamed and civilized world. Rather, what will be evident is the process by which the different groups (lodges and grand lodges) work to form a network of laws (jurisprudence) to say who is and who isn’t in the main. I see this as a corporation making contractual deals to say who they “recognize” and who they “do not recognize” which is less about philosophical development, and more about partnerships and networks.
(This is a good explanation of what civil society is and how it relates to Freemasonry from the University of Antwerp)
Yet, perhaps these types of partnerships are in fact the foundation of how Freemasonry set about to (inadvertently) shape society. Imagine just such a an agreement today between a masculine Grand Lodge and feminine Grand Lodge, recognition not on principals, but on necessity, which in turn creates a new principal.
Of greater interest to me, however, is the variation of ritual which preceded the dominance of Grand Lodge Masonry (still at play in European Masonry in the milieu of Grand Lodges and Masonic Confederations like Clipsas and Lithos), where the diversity of ideas, practice, and culture become the foundation stones of the fraternity rather than a bane to it.
In many ways, I see this as the practice of Freemasonry in that it exceeds the idea of a lodge business meeting and puts it into an amplified mode of constructive operation.
I hope that academia will be able to pick up on that subtly and explore the internal mechanisms that generate its ability to make such a contribution to the creation of civil society.
In short, the question that comes to mind is as much rich history there is from the past, what is being created today that will be studied by academia tomorrow. How is Freemasonry contributing to the creation of civil society now?