Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Author's Corner with David Hackett

David Hackett is Associate Professor of American Religious History at the University of Florida, this interview is about his new book, That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture (California, 2014).

JF: What led you to write That Religion in Which All Men Agree?

DH: Where are the men?” I asked myself some years ago, while studying the membership lists of Albany, New York’s early nineteenth-century churches. In 1830, 74 percent of that town’s male work force did not belong to a church, and 72 percent of the members of its churches were women. City directory lists of Masonic lodges and their officers suggested themselves to me as holding possible answers. 

I initially read my way into the literature on Freemasonry while looking for the existence of a male world that might broadly complement the Protestant women’s sphere. As my research progressed, I saw larger implications. The fraternity’s legendary history and ceremonial practices were part of the larger world of wonders inhabited by colonial men and women. Revolutionary-era Christian, republican Freemasonry had an influence on the creation of the United States that rivaled that of Protestantism. The brotherhood’s private ceremonies were centrally involved in changing understandings of the body and sensory experience.

Moreover, at different times Masonic beliefs and practices paralleled, interacted with, and diverged from not only white, mainstream Protestantism but also the black church, Native American world views, and immigrant Jewish and Catholic communal understandings. Though not a religion to its adherents, Freemasonry played a considerable role in the American religious past. 

In 2 sentences, what is the argument of That Religion in Which All Men Agree? 

DH: I argue that from the 1730s through the early twentieth century the religious worlds of an evolving American social order broadly appropriated the beliefs and initiatory practices of this all-male society. 

JF:Why do we need to read That Religion in Which All Men Agree?

DH: This study weaves the story of Freemasonry into the narrative of American religious history. Freighted with the mythical legacies of stonemasons’ guilds and the Newtonian revolution, English Freemasonry arrived in colonial America with a vast array of cultural baggage, which was drawn on, added to, and transformed during its sojourn through American culture. For much of American history, Freemasonry was both counter and complement to Protestant churches, as well as a forum for collective action among racial and ethnic groups outside the European American Protestant mainstream. Moreover, the cultural template of Freemasonry gave shape and content to the American “public sphere.” By including a group not usually seen as a carrier of religious beliefs and rituals, That Religion in Which All Men Agree expands and complicates the terrain of American religious history by showing how Freemasonry has contributed to a broader understanding of the multiple influences that have shaped religion in American culture. 

JF:When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

DH: I began in the late 1970s in theology, seeking a satisfying religious world view. While in seminary I read my way into the sociology of religion, especially Durkheim, Weber, Marx and Freud, and found a social theoretically grounded theology more to my liking. Intending to continue this interest at Emory with Steve Tipton, I became dissatisfied with the lack of sufficient historical grounding to most social theory. This led me to study American religious history with Brooks Holifield and to write a first book, The Rude Hand of Innovation, Religion and Social Order in Albany, New York (Oxford) that sought to bring together these two disciplines of sociological theory and American religious history. 

JF:What is your next project? 

DH: My current research picks up on latent trends present throughout my career and brings them to bear on contemporary developments in American religious culture. Prior to doctoral studies I entered the novitiate of a Catholic monastery (Trappist) and subsequently attended a Franciscan seminary. In the late 1970s I conducted research, funded by a grant from the Center for the Study of New Religious Movements (Berkeley), among young Americans who had entered into Buddhist monasteries in Southeast Asia. In the mid-1990s I published my personal memoir, The Silent Dialogue, on the encounter between contemplative Catholicism and Zen Buddhism. In recent years, I have taught a new course Sacred Journeys, that explores across cultures the common elements of the spiritual journey. My current research brings these interests to bear upon recent studies that have attempted to placed a newfound interest in spirituality into the context of the post World War II history of American religion. Bringing together developments in liberal religion, humanistic psychology, and post-1965 world religions, my intention is to write a broadly inclusive history of spirituality in the context of contemporary American culture.

Thanks, David!  Great stuff

Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author's Corner