In case you haven’t noticed there is a new guy on the block, The Journal For Research Into Freemasonry & Fraternalism.
This new venture emanates from Sheffield, England and bills itself as “A Bridge between different traditions of scholarship“. In essence this undertaking will publish scholarly contributions in regards to fraternalism in its many forms blending in culture, art, history, music and other disciplines while maintaining a Masonic focus. Its high level of scholarship is evident as the Journal sees itself as “a scholarly journal following strict rules of assessment, peer-review and rigid quality control.”
The JRFF will not be tied to any Grand Lodge as it joins the growing number of scholarly undertakings who do not want to be encumbered by the restrictive definitions and rules of individual Grand Lodges nor Apologists for them. Rather it will be an independent voice employing freedom of inquiry and broadening the scope of research into currents of social, political and cultural crossovers.
Editor Andreas Onnerfors explains why JRFF is needed at this time.
“The historiography of one of the oldest and most fascinating fraternal organizations – freemasonry – has for a long time been dominated and guided by internal needs. Academia has only relatively recently discovered that a better understanding of freemasonry and related fraternal organizations offers a fascinating insight into the many neglected fields of social, cultural and political history. And Masonic scholars have realized that broadening the scope and rigour of research will reveal new insights about their own organizations, alongside a deeper understanding of its proper place in the history of events and ideas.”
I found in its just published first edition a most interesting article which I could access without becoming a member. Nationalism, National Identity and Freemasonry by Timothy Baycroft was a work which I found extremely well written and one that rang my bell.
First there must be an understanding of the concept of “nation.” Baycroft lets us know that this is no easy task.
“One can measure the area, population, Gross National Product (GNP), and identify the institutions of a state, but nations are conceptual, emotional, abstract entities which may be associated with a state, but can only be grasped through their representations, symbols, and the understanding of those who consider themselves to belong to the nation.”
So look here! Freemasons are not the only ones who employ symbolism. And words are not the only or even best way to allow the human brain to conceptualize an abstract concept. But Baycroft doesn’t stop there. Every cake has to have its icing.
“Like nations, freemasonry can also clearly be understood and conceived as an ‘imagined community.’ This is true both in the sense that the number of masons has always been far too great to be known personally, and that members project into the wider community their own individual understanding of the meaning, values and culture of the association as a whole” (bold added by The Beehive).
So we can’t know everybody, yet to have a mass identity something must bind us together. Thus it is the mere fact of abstract imagining using symbols, artistic expressions (statues, music etc.) and shared beliefs that nations and Freemasonry bind themselves together. For just one example, with nations it may be the flag and with Freemasonry it may be the square and compasses which bonds complete strangers into a common community.
For years I have seen the American Masonic scene as one of separatism and parochialism. While some see much merit in that method of organization I have always felt distanced and a lack of bonding, of closeness and community with other American Masons. It even goes so far as to see so much difference between American Grand Lodges that some even seem un-Masonic.
Nobody in the world has as many regular, recognized Grand Lodges in one nation as the United States of America. Fifty Grand Lodges in Mainstream Masonry and around 40 recognized Prince Hall Grand Lodges with more to come pushes the number of separate Grand Lodges in the U.S.A. to bordering on 100. Nobody else in the world even comes close, not even Canada and Australia. And that fracturing of power leads to differences and differences lead to separate ways and separate ways lead to jealousies and animosity. American Freemasonry is like a football team with no coaches. Each player does his own thing and the concept of “team” is ignored.
That has led me to advocate a greater sense of cohesiveness through political means such as a National Grand Lodge or an American Masonic Constitution and Bill of Rights. The fracturing of power in American Masonry has led to a fracturing of fraternalism. In this time of high mobility and “The Information Age” the world is supposed to be getting smaller, everywhere I guess but American Freemasonry.
But I no longer call for a political coup d’état of American Freemasonry but rather a sense of American identity whereby we think of ourselves as American Masons first and Masons of our individual states secondarily.
And nobody reinforces that change of thought on my part better than Timothy Baycroft. We can create symbolism that will allow an “imagined community” to develop from sea to sea. The effect would be to enlarge the Masonic community and bring it into the 21st century where high mobility and the use of the tools of the Information Age will send ripples of wider and wider interconnectiveness, like rocks skipped on a pond.
The pride in which we hold America and the traditions of our hard fought heritage of liberty and freedom need to spill over into our Masonic culture to reinforce the Brethren with a sense of cultural-political-fraternal community.
Marching forward with an American identity, American Freemasonry can forge elements of common purpose and practice, uniting all American Masons in a cooperative effort without diminishing the authority or the hegemony of individual state Grand Lodges.