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Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture

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Both the Prophet Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon have been characterized as ardently, indeed evangelically, anti-Masonic. Yet in this sweeping social, cultural, and religious history of nineteenth-century Mormonism and its milieu, Clyde Forsberg argues that masonry, like evangelical Christianity, was an essential component of Smith's vision. Smith's ability to imaginatively conjoin the two into a powerful and evocative defense of Christian, or Primitive, Freemasonry was, Forsberg shows, more than anything ...

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Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture

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Overview

Both the Prophet Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon have been characterized as ardently, indeed evangelically, anti-Masonic. Yet in this sweeping social, cultural, and religious history of nineteenth-century Mormonism and its milieu, Clyde Forsberg argues that masonry, like evangelical Christianity, was an essential component of Smith's vision. Smith's ability to imaginatively conjoin the two into a powerful and evocative defense of Christian, or Primitive, Freemasonry was, Forsberg shows, more than anything else responsible for the meteoric rise of Mormonism in the nineteenth century.

This was to have significant repercussions for the development of Mormonism, particularly in the articulation of specifically Mormon gender roles. Mormonism's unique contribution to the Masonic tradition was its inclusion of women as active and equal participants in Masonic rituals. Early Mormon dreams of empire in the Book of Mormon were motivated by a strong desire to end social and racial discord, lest the country fall into the grips of civil war. Forsberg demonstrates that by seeking to bring women into previously male-exclusive ceremonies, Mormonism offered an alternative to the male-dominated sphere of the Master Mason. By taking a median and mediating position between Masonry and Evangelicism, Mormonism positioned itself as a religion of the people, going on to become a world religion.

But the original intent of the Book of Mormon gave way as Mormonism moved west, and the temple and polygamy (indeed, the quest for empire) became more prevalent. The murder of Smith by Masonic vigilantes and the move to Utah coincided with a new imperialism--and a new polygamy. Forsberg argues that Masonic artifacts from Smith's life reveal important clues to the precise nature of his early Masonic thought that include no less than a vision of redemption and racial concord.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of American History
Equal Rites is an imaginative and ambitious book.

— Grant Underwood

Choice

This is an important book on the history of American religion, culture, and society.

Reviews in Religion and Theology
[ Equal Rites] is well written and engaging.

— D.E. Mills Jr.

Religous Studies Review

A uniquely insightful answer to scholars' recent calls for greater understanding of Mormon theology, culture, and institutional character.

Reviews in Religion & Theology
[ Equal Rites] is well written and engaging.

— D.E. Mills Jr.

Journal of American History - Grant Underwood

Equal Rites is an imaginative and ambitious book.

Reviews in Religion and Theology - D.E. Mills Jr.

[ Equal Rites] is well written and engaging.

Choice

This is an important book on the history of American religion, culture, and society.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231126403
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2004
  • Series: Religion and American Culture Series
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Clyde R. Forsberg, Jr. is a CEP (Civic Education Project) Fellow and teaches American studies at the American University Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface: Mormon Masonry?Introduction: The Wax and Wane of Masonry in American CulturePart I. The Mormon-Masonic Nexus Reading a Sealed BookWas Joseph Smith a Mason?Dreaming Masonry: Getting the Story PlumbAs the Words of a Book That Is Sealed: The Book of Mormon as Esoteric Male (Hi)StoryFleeing Babel with Mother and Child in TowPart II. The Quest Within the Quest A Bible! A Bible! We Have Got a BibleThe Search for the Long Lost Book in the Book of MormonWhat Manner of (Masonic) Men?Part III. The "Anti-Evangelical'' Mind of Joseph Smith Jr. Whether a Man Can Enter a Second Time into His Mother's WombHeaven and Hell: Divining the Ghost of Emmanuel SwedenborgFather-Son and Holy Ghost--Mother? The Mormon-God QuestionPart IV. The Millennial, Racial, Economic, and Political Confederacy Thy Kingdom Come: On Earth as It Is in HeavenThe Lost Ten Tribes Found: Mormons and JewsThe Curse and Redemption of the LamanitesThe Economic Kingdom of God: Masonic Utopianism UnveiledPostscript: The "Americanness'' of MormonismNotesBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2004

    Unimpressed

    As both a Mormon and a Mason I found the author drew false connectiones between both groups as a result of not having his facts strait.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2004

    Two Wrongs Don't Make a Rite

    Every now and then you hear about a book you just have to read. My traditional Latter-day Saint upbringing fostered an abiding interest in Mormon history. Thus, I gratefully accepted an offer from Wendy Lochner, the Columbia University Press editor who sponsored Clyde Forsberg's book, to review a prepublication copy. My excitement turned to disappointment. Dr. Forsberg's confused views of Mormonism (founded 1830) and Freemasonry do disservice to both. For example, he asserted that the Scottish Rite's philosophy was 'the inspiration for the Book of Mormon and the rationale of the Mormon faith.' He supported this view by referencing Morals and Dogma (which actually expresses the post-1857 philosophical meanderings of Albert Pike). Forsberg did not understand that post-1830 sources do not necessarily reflect earlier Masonic ideas. Dr. Forsberg's errors were rampant. He claimed that Mormon founder Joseph Smith Jr. was a 33° Mason (he was not), that there is no reference to Hiram Abif in the Hebrew Bible (there is, in 2 Chronicles 4:16, '_ganash huram abiv la-melech shlomoh_'), that there were three Degrees in Masonry in 1717 (there were two), that the Chevalier Ramsey invented a system which included the Royal Arch Degree and a 'fanciful tale of Enoch's Golden plates.' All this is wrong. He also claimed Benjamin Franklin abandoned Freemasonry and its 'macabre business of secret suicide pacts.' In fact, Franklin was an active Mason from about 1730/31 (when he joined Old Tun Tavern Lodge) to the end of his life, and there are no such 'suicide pacts.' Forsberg called the Scottish Rite 'a decidedly Christian application' (it isn't), and asserted there are 'religious tests' in Freemasonry, which include a belief in the 'resurrection...of Hiram Abiff' (both are untrue). Dr. Forsberg's occasional sarcasm is forgivable, and even amusing. However, it does his book no service when he suggested that Freemasons are awaiting the discovery of documents to testify to the truth of allegorical legends. In another place, while discussing the Knights Templar, he wrote, '...according to the Masons....' Sadly, the reference is to a book almost universally dismissed by serious Masonic scholars. In a prepublication conversation, Dr. Forsberg admitted to me that he didn't have any authentic pre-1830 Scottish Rite documents or rituals to support his opinions. I informed Ms. Lochner that I read the prepublication copy cover-to-cover. I expressed my dismay with the book, stating that I was not *at all* persuaded by its arguments, as they revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of Freemasonry's history, rituals, and purposes. Dr. Forsberg's superimposed (and seriously flawed) views subsequently do disservice to both Mormonism and Freemasonry. In brief, I have *no confidence* in Dr. Forsberg's 'thesis.' After receiving a copy of the published book, I was further disappointed to discover that he 'corrected' the errors I observed above by simply altering the book on a point-by-point basis. This was inadequate and the book remains fundamentally flawed; it cannot be fixed with a masking-tape approach. My advice is to save your money. Arturo de Hoyos, 33° Grand Archivist and Grand Historian The Supreme Council, 33°, S.J. Washington, DC

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