What is a lodge of research?
That is a simple question, but it does not have a simple answer. For starters, how does one define "research"? This is complicated by the fact that much of early Masonic history is full of myths and unverifiable history, compounded by the controversial legacies by folks like Albert Pike, conspiracy theorists and events like the 1800's Anti-Masonic movement. The Masonic research lodge takes all this in stride.
(Photo: The main Lodge room of the Bangor Masonic Center, Bangor ME.)
The only definite answer to the question is that a research lodge is a legitimate Masonic lodge recognized and chartered under the Grand Lodge of its respective state that meets on a regular basis. Research lodges can be found in every state and there are often multiple lodges. One will even find research lodges attached to the Scottish and York Rites. For those Grand Lodges that do not allow dual lodge membership one will likely find research and historical societies established to achieve the same work as the research lodges.
But, what makes a research lodges special? Research lodges don't work degrees or visitations and inspections, they include only Master Masons, they don't have schools of instruction, nor are they focused on charitable work, nor do they have an array of officer titles and positions unique to them. At its core, a research lodge has been best called a lodge of discovery. One might also say that in a Blue Lodge a Brother receives further light in Masonry, whieh in the research lodge he discovers what that light means today, yesterday and maybe tomorrow. For the student in search of further light in Masonry, particularly for those who have interests not discussed in a normal lodge setting, research lodges cannot be overlooked.
All research lodges approach this path of discovery via some form of individual study, lodge presentation of the studies and many branch into publishing. In more recent decades many lodges have websites that have become invaluable resources of information. Some lodges focus on a particular branch of the Craft to study, but others are broad and ever changing. For example of the former, the Civil War is the focus of Virginia's Civil War Lodge of Research #1865, while Washington D.C's David A. MacWilliams Sr Research and Education Lodge focuses on Prince Hall Masonry.
It is important to note that a research lodge doesn't necessarily study history, but also branches into philosophy, esoterica, sociology and more. This is where the research aspect can be defined in a multiple ways. The goal is not the accumulation or verifying of historical facts and data , like a traditional historian might do, but a research lodge is about learning more about the Craft and in turn improving one's self. It's about inspiring others with new ideas, understanding the Craft deeper, developing one's own passions in the light of Masonry, providing a place for the free exchange of ideas and helping Brethren becomes better writers and speakers.
The world's oldest research lodge is the famed Quatuor Coronati Lodge #2076 founded in 1886 by the United Grand Lodge of England. Since the beginning they have annually published the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum journal and set the standard for quality Masonic research worldwide. Click here to visit the official website of the Lodge. The North Carolina Lodge of Research was the first American research lodge founded in 1930 and closing in 1954. The American Lodge of Research in New York was founded in 1931 and today is credited as the oldest research lodge in the States.