2017 World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History (WCFFH)

2017 World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History (WCFFH)

More international Masonic conferences should start with a round table of the world’s best and brightest scholars of the craft talking. Just talking. Shop, mostly.

Which is how the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France kicked off in May, with what was billed as a “pre-conference workshop.” Several dozen scholars of the Craft met around a huge table in a meeting room in the Grand Orient de France headquarters in Rue Cadet in Paris with GOdF Library, Archives and Museum Director Pierre Mollier heading it all up.

It was an afternoon of something that doesn’t happen very much: scholars of Freemasonry talking across borders. In fact, this could well have been the first time it has happened with so many scholars representing so many parts of the world. More usually, scholars of the Craft concentrate on studies within their own language, often only within their own countries and their resulting work is narrow, as if other studies in other languages and countries don’t exist at all.

“We talk about Freemasonry,” said María Eugenia Vázquez Semadeni, who later in the conference participated in panels and chaired one. “We should be talking about Freemasonries.”

That nod toward the independent and yet concurrent evolution of Freemasonry on different continents and in different countries was in the background as the conference considered it’s topic, which was the influence of Andrew Michael Ramsay, commonly referred to as the “Chevalier Ramsay.” If you’re a Freemason and you don’t know who he is, chances are good you don’t live in France.

“He had a profound influence,” Paul Rich, who along with Mollier was one of he WCFFH conference chairs and is president of the Policy Studies Organization Westphalia Press, said during the round table discussion.

However, the influence Ramsey had was more deeply felt in France, where Ramsey’s work helped create a Freemasonry more romantic and less dogmatic than that which developed in English-speaking parts of the world, Rich conceded. “He has long been unreported upon in America,” Rich said.

However, few in those Freemasonries are schooled well enough about scholarship being done in other parts of the world to even notice that divergence. Which means English-speaking Masonic scholars especially are missing quite a lot, folks at the roundtable seemed to agree. “The finest research being done today is being done in France,” said UCLA’s Margaret Jacob, another Masonic scholar of great note who participated in the conference.

So far as that went, the message that came out of the round table discussion could have been a repeat of the call issued the previous weekend in Toulon from the International Meeting of Masonic Research Lodges, the ICOM: Let there be greater international cooperation in Freemasonic scholarship.

However, the round table discussion just couldn’t end with that conclusion. Instead, the conversation went off in an odd direction. Perhaps it was out of respect for our hosts or perhaps it was because, well, Paris. It was less about international cooperation between Masonic scholars and more about how French Masonic scholarship can save the Masonic scholarly world.

It was one of a number of examples that illustrates how disjointed parts of the rest of the conference became. While the better-organized ICOM was able take the message of dozens of scholars from across the world and develop one single call to action, the WCFFH really didn’t. Of course, there’s no reason why it had to.

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers Photo Credit: Olimpia Sandoval

Some of the heavier hitters had not yet arrived the on the day of the round table. Susan Mitchell Sommers arrived the following day and delivered one of the highlights of the WCFFH, a version of the paper she developed with Andrew Prescott, “Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?” In that paper, Sommers and Prescott present their evidence that questions the traditional 1717 origin date for modern Freemasonry, making a good case that the real date probably was closer to 1721.

Another important panel during the conference examined the current state of women in Freemasonry in Europe and the United States, chaired by Drake University’s Natalie Bayer. This panel simply would not have happened, even in France, ten years ago.

While touching on topics such as comparing women and Freemasonry in 18th Century France, England, and Germany, the panel really lit up Cécile Révauger of Université Bordeaux Montaigne gave a very good break down of how the Grand Orient de France decided to allow its lodges to determine whether to accept women, now more than eight years ago.

That was quite a change for an Orient that once explicitly barred women from membership and may indicate how other male-only Masonic supreme bodies could relax its belligerence against other bodies that do accept women, Révauger said.

“It seems that more and more grand lodges are less willing to hold dogmatic views,” she said. “And more and more of them are willing to allow for inclusion and tolerance.”

I think that piece of hope is as good as any to take away from the WCFFH. If no unified call for action came out of the conference, it certainly was a good opportunity for many of the greatest Masonic scholars in the world to come together and pause long enough to review the history of the Freemasonry as they currently are researching it. “And 2017 is an appropriate time to review how that history has been received,” Jacob said near the conclusion of the round table discussion.

Another opportunity for such a pause is scheduled for May 17-18 in 2018 when a sort of mini-WCFFH is planned at the Historic Whittemore House in Washington D.C. The topic of that conference will be “Not Men Only: Sisters, Sororities, and Ritualistic Societies.” I will blog more about then when I know more about that.

 

August in Athens: Summer International Masonic Workshop in Greece

August in Athens: Summer International Masonic Workshop in Greece

If the traveling Craftsman with an eye toward making an advancement in Masonic Knowledge was spoiled for choice with multiple conferences this past spring, another is coming in August.

The third Summer International Masonic Workshop, scheduled from the 23rd to the 27th of August in Athens, is being billed as “a unique opportunity for Freemasons around the world, as well as for anyone interested in Freemasonry, and their families to meet, get acquainted and discuss options and opinions on Freemasonry, while they enjoy a summer break next to an idyllic beach.”

The stated aim of the workshop is “to provide an overview of the most recent topics concerning the Masonic Fraternity, such as the role of Freemasonry in the 21st century, regularity, recognition and fraternal relations, Masonic research etc.”

Organizers are trying to make it very clear that the workshop is not affiliated to any masonic or academic body, is not in any way a tyled event and that there won’t be any associated tyled meetings. Those points are very important to some Freemasons.

The workshop in Greece follows similar conferences in May. There was the International Meeting of European Masonic Lodges in Toulon, the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris and the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary gathering in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The four gatherings are making 2017 one of the most conference-dense in Masonic academic study.

The call for papers at the Greek conference ended May 31 and six guest speakers have been announced.


Susan Mitchell Sommers (Featured Image): Saint Vincent College Professor and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism who, with Andrew Prescott, recently released the so-called “paper heard round the world.” That paper challenges the 1717 Freemason genesis date, maintaining the actual date probably is about four years later. Her paper’s topic is “James Anderson and the Myth of 1717.”


David Harrison

David Harrison

David Harrison: Masonic historian and archaeologist based in the UK and the author ofeight books on the history of Freemasonry, his work has appeared in a variety and magazines. These include Philalethes Magazine, Freemasonry Today, MQ Magazine, The Square, Knight Templar Magazine, Heredom, and New Dawn Magazine. Harrison has also appeared in television and radio spots talking about Freemasonry. His paper’s topic will be “Byron, Freemasonry and the Carbonari.”

 


Remzi Sanver

Remzi Sanver

Remzi Sanver: A Freemason born in Istanbul, he is senior researcher at the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) whose best known research is about “Game Theory” and “Collective Decision Making Theory.” He also has been on the editorial board of various international scientific journals and the administrative board of scientific societies. His paper’s topic will be “Sufism at the Crossroad of Two Traditions: Thoughts on Initiation and Islam.”

 


Robert Bashford

Robert Bashford

Robert Bashford: Masonic Researcher and well-known in Masonic conferences since he presented his first paper in 1984, his work on behalf of Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C. was acknowledged in 2009 with the presentation of the Lodge of Research Jewel of Merit. His more recent appearances were at the International Meeting of European Masonic Lodges in May, Lodge Hope of Kurrachee and the Manchester Association of Masonic Research. His paper’s topic will be “The origins of the Grand Council of Knight Masons in the year 2553 of Knight Masonry.”

Philippa Faulks

Philippa Faulks


Philippa Faulks: Author, ghostwriter, editor and journalist, her first book, “Masonic Magician: the Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and his Egyptian Rite“, co-authored with Robert L. D. Cooper, included the first full English translation of, and commentary on, Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. Her paper’s topic will be “Count Cagliostro’s Egyptian Right of Freemasonry product of a miracle worker or man of straw?”

 


Valdis Pirags

Valdis Pirags

Valdis Pirags: Freemason, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Latvia and the Head of the Clinic of Internal Medicine at the Pauls Stradiņš Clinical University Hospital in Riga. He is a recipient of the Karl Oberdisse Award and the Distinguished Research Award from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. More recently, he has been working on epidemiology of diabetes mellitus in Latvia and creation of the Genome Database of the Latvian Population. His paper’s topic will be “Freemasonry as a Method of Attaining Enlightenment.”


Registration is required. Cost for the event ranges between 500 and 1,000 Euros, depending on the package selected. The costs includes accommodation in a four-star hotel on the Athenian coast.